Decoi Architects set out to create a dressing screen for a Parisian duplex and wound up making art
Ian Phillips -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
When a film producer commissioned Mark Goulthorpe, an associate professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and principal of his firm Decoi Architects, to unite two Parisian apartments into a single duplex, he made a rather unusual request. "No design," the client demanded. "Give me austerity, material, and mass."
Goulthorpe delivered floors clad in exotic mansonia wood, 2,000-year-old bog oak on the cabinets, and a Teflon-coated bronze bathtub. "Everything was an experiment in the nonstandard," the architect says. He saved the definitive gesture for the master suite, where the lady of the house had requested a dressing-area screen.
Goulthorpe conceived a wavy wall that appears to float. "The space is narrow and dim, so a conventional wall would've killed it," he says. For one that would feel substantial and strong, but also catch the room's limited light, he chose aluminum. A mathematician, Alex Scott, helped him come up with the surface's "infinite, nonrepetitive terrain" of overlapping ripples.
Sculptor Greg Ryan agreed to make the two-sided sand-and-resin mold. One side, whose curves were computer-generated, replicated the form in polystyrene; the other, which Ryan shaped by hand, was plasticine. "You can tell the difference—the back has more relaxed waves," the architect explains.
A foundry south of Paris, which usually makes bells and statues, cast the mold. Two kilns were filled to their capacity with about 573 pounds of aluminum, then injected with sodium rods that specialists had to insert. To guard against the extreme heat, they dressed like astronauts. "It was a throwback to the 19th-century, like something out of a Victor Hugo novel," Goulthorpe says.
Ditto for problems they encountered using the old-world method. In spots, the thickness of the 54-square-foot sheet measured only about 1 inch. And evenly filling the partly handmade mold proved difficult. "We were nervous that holes would result," Goulthorpe recalls. Then the raw screen "looked really awful—like a lunar landscape." Three days of polishing with sanding discs fixed that. When finally bolted to the ceiling, the wall's price tag totalled $14,000. "A lot for a wall, but very little for art," Goulthorpe says.