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 either to build more traditional structures or 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 resulting constructions displayed a 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. By letting gravity work on a suspended membrane and by applying a fluid and quick-setting medium like water, we can produce forms that express a purity of concept and simplicity of means.
In these experiments, the pieces stayed until the heat of the sun melted them away, changing their contours and beauty as they went through the process.
M&A was inspired by the work of Heinz Isler, the renowned Swiss engineer of thin shell concrete structures, who has been experimenting with ice in his winter garden since 1955. 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.