Conceptually In Between
In an effort to advance this dialog, Bullseye Glass Company and Columbia Wire and Iron Works invited a group of architects and designers to collaborate using the companies' facilities. The experimental field grew to involve eight of Portland's most talented designers with dozens of the city's most accomplished manufacturers, fabricators, and support companies. Three of those projects are shown here.
Staring into Glass
Composer John Cage's notion of "viewer participation" and the compressed spaces of artist Marcel Duchamp's "Large Glass" inspired Susan Emmons' partition. "In the idea of betweenness, I saw connection rather than separation," she said. "In the 'Large Glass,' you look in, but you're still working with outer boundaries."
Emmons designed her screen to be easily moveable and customized. "It can be something that rolls across a door or window," she said, "blocking a space physically but still allowing a connection to it." Unlike many of the designers who tamed the glass into potentially mass-produced parts, Emmons said she "was taken with the sculptural possibilities" of glass and with emphasizing the handmade.
Yet, she also designed her partition so the glass could be easily switched out like the band of a Swatch watch. With a simple, mobile stand, the partition is a piece of furniture usable in any type of building without special ceiling or floor conditions.
At first, Emmons hoped to build the piece 3 inches (76 millimeters) thick to create "a world that a child would want to stare into." But she discovered the internal magnifying qualifies of glass made that unnecessary. She concluded that six layers of glass could create "an entire universe in three-quarters of an inch" (19 millimeters). Working with Batho Studios, Emmons varied the translucency from clear to cloudy by using a combination of sheet and crushed glass for an effect of an explosion with ripples.
Struck by the layered glass section's resemblance to the bars on sheet music, Emmons decided to make a composition of slashes through the screen. But Ted Sawyer, Bullseye's director of research and education, persuaded her to try only penetrating a few of the layers with all but one of the slashes. The result, she said, better exhibits the world within the glass rather than the world on the other side. Glass, she contends, achieves "conflicting desires of separation and connection."
Eugene Sandoval, of Zimmer Gunsul Frasca Partnership, hoped to create a partition that was not only planar but also dimensional in which the glass would be tectonic. "Light defines betweenness," he said. "Glass is a translation of light. We asked, how could we capture light and make a room? Is there a way that a screen could become a vessel of light defining a juncture?"
Sandoval and a team from ZGF that included Jennifer Russina, Ryon Thomson, and Matthew Fleck took advantage of glass's most exploitable structural quality, compression. They pursued what Sandoval describes as an "anthropomorphic" model of creating glass membranes that resemble the vertebrae of a spine. Working with Tice Industries along with Arakawa, the team developed an intricate aluminum divider system that, with the glass, is strung on steel wire like beads on a string.
Wanting the light "to be the color," according to Sandoval, they chose a low-iron glass. But to enhance the prismatic effect, they worked with Bullseye's technicians to develop a low-temperature "tack" in the fusing to retain the stratified construct of each module while creating irregular bubbles between the layers of glass.
The effect creates a solidity but also a further awareness of the stratification and compression, as well as a shimmering water-like appearance. This is further enhanced with a few strings of a subtle green that, in the overall piece, creates the elegant optical effect of a tint. As the individual strings gradually shift from horizontal to vertical to horizontal again, the resulting "partition" twists in space.
Lighter than Glass
The partition by Allied Works Architecture began with founder Brad Cloepfil's desire to explore the inherent qualities of light and air within glass. Cloepfil also wanted to create a system that could be mass-produced and easily customized.
As realized by Allied designers Andrew Kudless and Keith Alnwick, the piece achieves both with elegant simplicity: a luminescence based in relative transparency and opacity and an infinite variability using only two different shapes of long, vertical glass panels and a three-track mounting system.
The 7-foot-9-inch- (2.4-meter-) long, 7-inch- (178-millimeter-) wide panels are made of varying sizes of glass frit that, when melted, trap varying sizes of air bubbles. Larger bubbles result in greater transparency and smaller, greater opacity.
Made at Batho Studios, Studio Ramp, and Bullseye, each panel displays the same gradation from transparent to opaque. But the ability to arrange, invert, and layer the panels in multiple ways creates a diverse system composed of the most minimal elements.
Though Allied used a fairly simple steel track system that allows the panels to slide and overlap, steel plays a deeper conceptual and visual role in the actual glass. Glass frit is ground by steel. Glass beads are used to finish steel. Steel molds are used to slump the glass panels.
To Allied, the piece embodies a "betweenness" by engaging boundaries both spatial and material. As the viewer moves around the piece, seeing it from oblique angles or perpendicularly and from close or far, the borders are blurred between mass and lightness, solid and void, and material and immaterial.
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Randy Gragg has written on architecture and art for magazines ranging from Harpers to Metropolis. He is the architecture critic for The Oregonian, Portland's daily newspaper.
Besides Bullseye and Columbia, other participating companies were Fire Art, Inc., Batho Studios, and ABHT Structural Engineers, Studio Ramp, LLC, Water Jet Design, Siglam Resins, and Tice Industries. All the screens are on view at The Bullseye Connection online gallery. The screens were auctioned with proceeds going to the Architectural Foundation of Oregon.
This article is excerpted from Betweenness, by Randy Gragg, copyright © 2003, with permission from the publisher,Bullseye Glass Company.