Objects of perception
November 1, 2006
When I first heard of James Carpenter, he was described to me as a glass artist. He certainly is one, but he also is much more. “James Carpenter Environmental Refractions” by Sandro Marpillero is a thorough compilation of the architecturally related projects of the New York City architect. Through many case studies, this publication shows how Carpenter’s work incorporates the art of glass into architectural and environmental design.
Many of the projects that Carpenter has been associated with are at the leading edge of glass technology. Environmental Refractions provides beautiful photographs and illustrations, descriptions of these projects and insights into the design process. Lighting simulation tools and visual mock-up processes essential in realizing innovative design are described. A feature in all of the leading-edge projects is the collaboration between Carpenter and architects, engineers, environmental consultants and glazing suppliers and contractors.
Three ways with glass
Environmental Refractions is divided into sections of thematically related projects; Refractions, Constructions and Apparatuses.
Refractions includes projects with highly optical influences, projects that challenge the typical perception of architectural glazing. Periscope Window, located in Minneapolis, for instance, contains a study in reflection, refraction, transparency and translucence. A beautifully conceived and executed construction in a private residence transforms an ordinary window from the mundane into functional art where pinhole projections, shadows and lens projections create a continuously changing experience on an otherwise obstructed outlook.
Dichroic Light Field has become a wonderful piece of public art that enlivens a Manhattan city block. The properties of light-splitting dichroic glass, with a special vacuum-deposited layer enclosed in laminated glass, provide a spectrally changing and colorful assembly, while reflections of the dichroic fins in the backing, a diffusing glass screen, create a tantalizing sense of depth and ambiguity.
Other projects are Structural Glass Prisms in Indianapolis, featuring dichroic fins; Lichthof in Berlin, featuring dichroic fins integrated into a large cable wall and skylight assembly; and the Moiré Stair Tower in Bonn, Germany, that incorporates an assembly of glass highly reflective on the outside and opacified blue on the inside, creating different visual experiences when viewed from within and without, and allowing for night time lighting to create yet another visual experience.
The Constructions section includes projects that have large structural components and are more “conventional” architecture in nature. These include a major case study of the 7 World Trade Center. The main curtain wall incorporates custom-designed reflective spandrel panels. Stainless steel curved diffusing panels with deeply embossed ribs and small reflecting panels create an illusion of the building emanating light. The base of the building features a substantial electrical sub-station that feeds much of Lower Manhattan. This is clad in two layers of custom-fabricated stainless steel mesh that act both as louvers and as a main visual feature with the outer mesh reflecting daylight and the inner mesh reflecting artificial light. Also included in this section are descriptions of the
• Large cable walls at the Time Warner building in New York, reported to be the largest of their type at the time of construction
• The lens ceiling at the Federal Courthouse in Phoenix
• The minimalist structure of the glass tube field on Tower Place in London
• Glass walls and the elegantly conceived and executed retracting screen for a private residence.
The Apparatuses section contains more “active” projects including straight art pieces as well as environmentally interactive works such as the Luminous Threshold at the Sydney Olympics site. The latter utilizes mirrored daylight and artificial light at night to illuminate plumes of mist. Another project—still on the drawing boards—the Tulane University Center, truly uses glass as apparatus, with large rotating glass fan blades, glass extract cylinders, swaying glass ceiling fans and a heat-exchange water wall (see illustration above).
Other projects still under design include the solar reflector shell on the Fulton Street Transit Center in New York City, fashioned to catch and redirect light into the depths of the new downtown subway interchange; and the sports facility in Brooklyn that utilizes ethylene tetraflurorethylene to achieve a semicondition and naturally ventilated multifunctional space.
I would recommend this book to anyone interested in glazing. It has already generated a lot of interest from people passing my desk. Through a description of the design thoughts and process of James Carpenter, Environmental Refractions provides great examples of what is possible in glass design.