Screens to Infinity
"Design 1" (1950)
In 1950 Moore's saddle surfaces influenced my sculpture "Design 1." This sculpture evolved into a repeat pattern because of the fact that the saddle surface refuses to permit the closure of form. It contains the seed of infinite expansion and, when used as a module, continues to expand while it goes through repeating convoluted configurations.
Moore had tamed his saddle surfaces by keeping them embedded within a dominant convex topography of his biomorphic sculptures. I permitted their drive toward infinity to take its course, simply to find out what would happen.
The three-dimensional modules I created had boundaries lacking closure and found completion only when joined by replicas of themselves. Thus, multitudes of modules were aligned, much like tiles, adding up to create surfaces that were continuous throughout the entire structure.
Design 1 emphasizes the interaction between the screen and the light. Its appearance varies dramatically in relation to the source of light and the position of the viewer. The myriad apertures of the screen subtly change shape as we perceive them from different angles.
Depending on the light and our distance from the screen, we may notice that these apertures tend to configure as patterns of large, overlapping circles, or outline massive solid forms weaving in and out of the plane.
Light hitting the screen from the front accentuates the continuous, meandering linear patterns that traverse it apparently infinitely, much like the continuo in baroque music. Between these lines, in diffuse light, the surface is shaded with subtle gradients everywhere. Strong light, however, will create striking shadow patterns on the surface of the screen and beyond. If the light source is the sun, these patterns will change with the hour and the season.
For all of its richness, however, this front-lit sculptural landscape pales in comparison with the back-lit screen. When the light comes from behind, it articulates the individual spaces contained within the wall.
Suffused with luminescence, these normally unnoticed interior voids come to our attention for the first time, revealing wonderful, unfamiliar characteristics. All of the internal and most of the external shapes are bounded by saddle surfaces.
While we are familiar with the diffusion of light by a convex surface, and with the concentration and focusing of light by a concave surface, we generally have not experienced what happens when light hits a surface that combines both curvatures simultaneously, such as the saddle.
Light that pours into the wall from the opposite side seems to adhere to the surface, to wrap around the sculpted forms, and to illuminate even those parts of the surface that face away from the source of light. The complex screen transforms the light so completely that the wall appears to radiate far more light than would pass through a flat plane with comparable holes punched through.
The module for Design 1 originated with the formal concept of two opposing bridges that partially contain an interior space. Those bridges are fitted diagonally into a square tile and are connected along the edges to form a single entity.
The shape of the outline of the openings within each tile may bring to mind the clover leaf of a highway overpass or, in its most spacious expansion, the line formed by the stitches of a baseball. A number of these tiles are joined edge to edge and oriented the same way so that the surfaces of contiguous modules flow seamlessly into each other.
Only when a certain number of modules have been assembled does a new configuration emerge, that of a great circle. These sets of aligned and overlapping circles have been a rather universal pattern in various cultures worldwide. However, in Design 1 it was not a planned feature but surprised me by emerging during the assembly of the first dozen tiles. Subsequently and by choice, it became the basis for some of my later designs.
The screen walls developed between 1950 and 1959 were undertaken as purely sculptural studies based on a modular structure; however, their potential for architectural application was soon evident. Beginning in 1954, I added certain features to the designs to facilitate their architectural use.
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Sculptor Erwin Hauer was born in Austria and educated in Vienna, Milan, and the United States. He is now retired from the sculpture faculty of the Yale University School of Art.
This article is excerpted from Erwin Hauer: Continua — Architectural Screens and Walls, copyright © 2004, available from Princeton Architectural Press and at Amazon.com.