Building new hope
Near New York's ground zero, the Moderns construct a temporary Annie Leibovitz exhibition
Jen Renzi -- Interior Design, 1/1/2003 12:00:00 AM
Surrounded by the klieg lights and scarred infrastructure at ground zero in New York, you can't quite discern the purpose of the luminous forms in the American Express Tower's lobby—only that the colorful sight is uplifting and inspiring. You'd have to come closer see that the apparition behind the double-height glazing is "Rewarding Lives," an exhibition of Annie Leibovitz photographs installed by the Moderns, a multidisciplinary think tank. Says Janine James, designer and creative director for the project, "We activated the space to connect it to the community and to humanity." To do so, the Moderns organized the exhibit in seven polyester-mesh pods inspired by organic forms—stones, seashells, water—and enlisted the healing properties of materials and colors.
James worked closely with American Express, the photography curator, and the Moderns's team of architects, industrial and graphic designers, scientists, strategists, and writers. "We're not concerned with titles here. Everyone has the same role, to solve problems," says James, who took a craft-oriented approach. "After September 11, I was longing to work with my hands." The Moderns determined shapes by carving balsa-foam sculptures from which studies were cast in various weights of gauze and wax. After further manipulation to finalize profiles, colors, and interrelationships, the designers wrapped the wax studies in wire and nylon panty hose to create scale models. These were shipped to Maine, where a tensile-structure manufacturer used a boatbuilding program to translate the complex curves into a framework of aluminum tubes. "They were nervous until I reminded them of the rules of physics," says James. "If the models stand up, so will the real things."
Indeed they do. Like giant soap bubbles, the pods run a serpentine course over a raised floor of formaldehyde-free plywood. (The Moderns's credo dictates that all components be donated, up-cycled, or disassembled for reuse after the exhibit closes February 11.) A network of gelled lights casts each pod in a different color that intensifies as the sun sets, and Cesar Pelli's marble lobby is further softened by 5,000 pots of English ivy—chosen for its healing properties—and 11,500 pounds of river stones. By harnessing disciplines from physics to ecology, says James, the project "epitomizes the amount of collaboration and holism our industry should continually aspire to."
EXHIBIT SYSTEM: B&N INDUSTRIES. TENSILE STRUCTURES: MOSS. CUSTOM ART FRAMING: PARIS CUSTOM FRAMING. LIGHTING CONSULTANT: KUGLER TILLOTSON ASSOCIATES. ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR: PETROCELLI ELECTRIC. INSTALLATION COORDINATOR: DIMENSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS.