Materials & Applications and the Rochester Art Center in Minnesota hosted an outdoor construction event over a melty weekend in February.
Architects and artists invited to participate constructed temporary forms and structures of ice on the Rochester Art Center grounds. Unlike typical ice constructions that use blocks of ice to build more traditional structures, or use blocks of ice as a solid medium for carving sculpture, the constructions took advantage of two properties of water: its fluidity while in the liquid state, and its hardness in the solid or frozen state.
Some of the resultant constructions displayed structural physical phenomenon derived by hanging membranes to create parabolic free form shells. Because double curved shell models are now computer generated by architects and engineers who wish to explore the potential of thin shell structures, physical models of these structures are rarely built. However, there is a vast morphology to be explored by letting gravity work on a suspended membrane and applying a fluid medium like water that will set up quickly in sub-freezing temperatures to produce forms that express a purity of concept and simplicity of means.
In these experiments, the pieces created stayed until the heat of the sun melted them away, changing their contours and beauty as they went through the process.
Inspired by the work of Heinz Isler, the renowned Swiss engineer of thin shell concrete structures, who since 1955, has been experimenting with ice in his winter garden, M&A and the invitees hoped to further explore thin shell construction. Using a garden hose, a spray attachment, and rubber coveralls, Isler creates both beautiful sculptures and functional shelters in ice. He sets up simple supports in the snow, drapes them with a light mesh fabric, and sprays them with layers of fine mist until an icy shell forms. He explains that there is only one rule when playing with the transformation of water into ice; “one has to listen and obey what the water/ice wants to do!”
In the spirit of creative play we were joined by PADLAB of Los Angeles, Mark and Galatea Wojahn of Minneapolis, a very skilled team of architects from NBBJ, and several local participants to recreate some of Isler’s experiments and to create some new forms at the Rochester Art Center in Minnesota. The images shown here reveal that some of the sculptures are examples of parabolic shells which when inverted had a structural integrity beyond our expectations.