suckerPUNCH: Describe your project.
Kathy VELIKOV & Geoffrey THÜN (RVTR): Nervous Ether is a full-scale responsive physical environment consisting of a cellular pneumatic skin, operating as an instrument to register and communicate remote environmental information while also generating specific sensations and effects within the immediate (inhabitable) environment. It aims to lever the agency of air and information to spatially and physically materialize the immaterial into a palpable and sensate environment. The installation was undertaken through the 333 Summer Studio at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco, August 2013.
The topology of Nervous Ether is developed through a tessellated array of tetrahedral forms, defined through the constraints of material behavior (polyethylene film under air pressure), manufacturing (laser contour welding bed dimensions) and aggregation. Two pneumatically interconnected layers of cellular cushions intertwine to create a membrane structure that is hung and tensioned within the space. The tessellated weave is inflated to a constant air pressure.
The weave forms an open framework supporting a number of actuatable membrane components that are integrated with the structure and air supply. Three types of responsive components are developed through iterative physical prototyping and testing: palpitating-cells and S-cells, which respond based on a translation of live weather station inputs of barometric pressure and wind speed, respectively; and wing-cells which respond to local proximity sensors, opening and fluttering when visitors approach the installation.
The title of the project is derived from the history of physics, where philosophers and scientists have speculated on the existence of nervous ether, a material atmosphere that is a conductor of the vibrations of heat, light, sound, electromagnetic impulses and mechanical frictions. In the late nineteenth century, the physicist John Tyndall theorized that the “transported shiver of bodies” of the cosmos and the stars could be intimately felt within our own physical bodies and consciousness. The installation explores material architectures of soft aggregate bodies, sensitive to frequencies and periodicity, to situated and extrinsic energies; yet spatial and experiential propositions in and of themselves.
This work forms part of a larger body of research by Kathy Velikov and Geoffrey Thün of RVTR and faculty at the University of Michigan, into kinetic, environmentally-responsive envelope systems that develop continual information and material exchange, and dialogue between ourselves and the soft systems of architecture – such as light, thermal gradients, air quality and acoustics. Most recently, this research is testing the formal, material and operational possibilities of cellular pneumatic aggregates to function as deep building skins, imbued with environmental response, interaction and intelligence.
sP: What or who influenced this project?
RVTR: (See project narrative.)
sP: What were you reading/listening to/watching while developing this project?
RVTR: Listening to: Justice, Metallica, Arvo Pärt—among many others; watching: Dead Man, dir. Jim Jarmusch; reading: Malcolm McCullough, Ambient Commons.
sP: Whose work is currently on your radar?
RVTR: Whitesides Research Group, Tomás Saraceno, Cedric Price, and Otherlab.
Additional credits and links:
Project Leads: Kathy Velikov (RVTR) and Geoffrey Thün (RVTR) with Benjamin Rice (MATTER MGMT) Mary O’Malley (RVTR) and Dan McTavish (RVTR)
CCA 333 Students: Irma Acosta, Fernanda Bernardes, Welbert Bonilla, Harrison Chou, Jojit Diaz, Sirada Laomanutsak, Veronica Leung, Max Sanchez, Alexandre Silveira, Aaron Tam, Jia Wu, Mark Zannad
Special thanks for support: California College of the Arts; University of Michigan Taubman College Research Through Making; Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; SMC Corporation of America