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Open Source Architecture Designs Vibrant Cultural Lounge for Emerging and Underrepresented Artists

 

Sophie’s Artist Lounge is a place for emerging and underrepresented mural and street artists to gain exposure and share their voice in the gallery, music venue and through spoken word events. New artists are fostered through a residency program where the artist curates the gallery space and develops a body of new work in the adjacent artist studio. While most of the artwork is temporary, permanent focal pieces include the chandelier above the bar, the DJ stand and a series of cocktail tables designed and fabricated by OSA, which were then painted by artist collaboratives.

Architizer chatted with Chandler Ahrens, Partner at Open Source Architecture, to learn more about this project.

Architizer: What inspired the initial concept for your design?

Chandler Ahrens: The bar with the large suspended chandelier is both a focal point and divides the space into various zones for different types of events. The chandelier in particular creates a visual identity as a large object, but is also porous to allow views through it. It is composed of two sets of sticks that are combined to create a composite object where the intersection lines create optical effects while providing triangulation for the structure. The combined form subtly changes and is revealed as the people move around to all four sides of the bar. Since it is made from a series of straight sticks with gaps between, the suspended chandelier vacillates between solidity and porosity based on perpendicular or oblique views, vibrating between object and atmosphere.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

What do you believe is the most unique or ‘standout’ component of the project?

The chandelier is the most obvious element due to the subtle curving geometry that differentiates itself from the rectilinear geometry of the rest of the space. The colored lights further draw attention to it. But, upon further inspection, you notice that it is made from two intersection geometries and their line of crossing varies, creating moiré visual effects. A similar method was used to design and fabricate the DJ stand, which is adjacent to the bar, but painted black. So there is a dialog happening between these two elements. This idea of combining different geometries is further developed in a series of cocktail tables where found items are added or subtracted to create a new third condition.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

What was the greatest design challenge you faced during the project, and how did you navigate it?

Designing custom elements with complex geometry that can be bid by a fabricator without being scared of uncertainty is always a challenge. The use of parametric software to create ever single part and demonstrate it is achievable by fabricating a prototype ourselves eased any concerns with the client, general contractor and fabricator. Similar digital tools were used for the DJ stand, but in this case, we fabricated it ourselves. The custom cocktail tables were a separate challenge since having a fabricator build those would have been too expensive. So, we 3D scanned each skateboard deck and beer keg and developed the design accurately in a digital model before translating it to the physical material. Simple templates were made so that any cut was within 1/8” tolerance for the beer kegs and 1/16” tolerance for the skateboard decks and spray paint cans.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

How did the context of your project — environmental, social or cultural — influence your design?

The client is the Kranzberg Arts Foundation, which is incredibly important to the cultural scene in St. Louis. They are huge promoters of music, literary arts and visual arts. Working in this context to help them increase their influence of visual arts, but especially mural artists and in particular underrepresented artists was the main focus. The goal of the project was to create a sense of place for artists to gather and expand the feeling of community. A large part of this is the gallery in the back of the lounge for exhibitions that change periodically as well as smaller details such as the cocktail tables made from elements sometimes associated with mural or street art. The tables were also painted by two different arts collaboratives: Screwed Arts and Painted Black STL. The latter being a group of African American artists.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

What drove the selection of materials used in the project?

Since the lounge is for mural artists, there are some references to more industrial materials such as steel and concrete. The bar and columns are wrapped in blackened steel. The floor is a combination of the original tile when the building was a car showroom in the 1950’s and the back half is the original concrete that has been polished. The gallery is simple white gypsum board on plywood, which is typical and flexible for different types of shows that may happen. The ceiling is black acoustic material that you may find in a parking garage.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

What is your favorite detail in the project and why?

The detailing of the chandelier was designed so that the angle of the sticks would be perfect based on how the parts fit together. They fit together like legos where each part had a different size tenon to fit into its corresponding mortise; therefore, when the parts were plugged in, the geometry was automatic. Each part was parametrically determined to include how the thickness effected by the angle. Each part fit with less than 1/16” (1mm) tolerance.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

How important was sustainability as a design criteria as you worked on this project? 

One of the most sustainable aspects of the project was the adaptive reuse of the old building. Most of the effort was put into saving the building by reinforcing the structure through tuckpointing the load-bearing brick walls and reinforcing beams in other locations. The building was originally a car showroom, but then became a factory/ warehouse. Saving the old building adds another narrative to its life, while reducing the amount of materials compared to constructing a new building.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

In what ways did you collaborate with others, and how did that add value to the project?

The most important collaboration was with the client- Kranzberg Arts Foundation. They are composed of musicians and artists who care deeply about contributing to culture in St. Louis. The director, Chris Hansen, is a musician and brings a wealth of knowledge in creating cultural venues for both performing and visual arts. We also collaborated with Creative Exchange Lab, which is a non-profit practice that advocates for design for underserved communities. The director, Jasmin Aber, provided insight into how to make the design more inclusive and shared in the design and production process. Working with two different art collaboratives to paint the cocktail tables, Screwed Arts and Painted Black STL, provided a new narrative onto the reading of the tables.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

Were any parts of the project dramatically altered from conception to construction, and if so, why?

The lounge size increased over the course of the design as space in the building became available. This increase allowed a more significant gallery space and second more intimate seating area behind the bar.

How have your clients responded to the finished project?

The clients have said that they have more patrons than they expected and have had more requests for special events. They attribute part of the success to the design, while of course providing very good cocktails. They wanted to create a space that has a strong identity and are very happy with the visibility and unique design aspects such as the chandelier and cocktail tables. Architizer was the first international recognition of the design, which helped reinforce their trust in the design team.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

What key lesson did you learn in the process of conceiving the project?

Developing the design concept that is specific to your client’s vision is important, but creating the materials to convince them and provide a sense of comfort that the project is achievable is critical. One of the elements that helped the client understand the design was a physical model. Even though renderings can show an accurate representation, a physical model is still easier to understand through the coordination of hand and eye. The second lesson was fabricating a full-scale prototype several sticks from the chandelier. This proved that we had control of the geometry and could design the system so that it would be easily fabricated.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

How do you believe this project represents you or your firm as a whole?

This project was particularly ideal because the client’s mission to promote the arts and culture, but especially under-represented artists, aligns with our belief. Open Source Architecture was named due to our openness to collaborate with a range of collaborators and this project exemplifies how working together with a range of experts who push each other can achieve better solutions than they could alone. In terms of design expression, the more industrial character of mural/street art aligns with our material sensibility. Furthermore, the architectural problem of combination as a technique is exemplified with the chandelier, DJ stand and cocktail tables. Combination was explored in creating field conditions, but also interaction of multiple systems in additive and subtractive techniques.

© Open Source Architecture

© Open Source Architecture

How do you imagine this project influencing your work in the future?

Our goal is to continue working with organizations that promote arts and culture, so having this space as an example shows the potential of what we can help bring to life for future clients and projects. The architectural problem of combining multiple systems is an ongoing project and this project shows several different approaches towards this. The chandelier and DJ stand shows overlapping fields while the cocktail tables show aggregation and subtraction. Expanding on these ideas in future projects is the goal.

Team Members

Ken and Nancy Kranzberg; Mary Ann Srenco; Chris Hansen, Executive Director, Kranzberg Arts Foundation; Gina Grafos, Director of Visual Infrastructure, Kranzberg Arts Foundation; Jasmin Aber, Creative Exchange Lab; Shiyao Li, Creative Exchange Lab; Scott McLain, Lockwood Construction and Development; Patrick Barnidge, Lockwood Construction and Development; Joel Leon, OSA; Artists: Katherine Bernhardt, Screwed Arts Collaborative, Painted Black STL

Consultants

Brian Forse , Frontenac Engineering Group; Don Wurth, Ford Hotel Supply

Products / Materials

CNC milled plywood by Gravois Planing & Milling; Steel panels by Sudholt Sheet Metal; Exterior signage by Engraphix; Furniture: Charter, SKY (sofa); Valley Forge, Ocean Tide (sofa fabric); Industry West, Sinclair (side chair); OYOY Cork Trisse (cork stool); Blu Dot Between Us (bar stools)

For more on Sophie’s Artist Lounge, please visit the in-depth project page on Architizer.

Sophie’s Artist Lounge Gallery

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