Combining art, architecture, engineering and technology
Stainless steel architecture can be visually striking, but glass sculptor James Carpenter can make it quite literally glow.
Carpenter's firm, James Carpenter Design Associates, is designing the new 42-floor Seven World Trade Center, the third building to collapse on Sept. 11, 2001, and the first to be rebuilt. Carpenter found a way to treat the building's street-level exterior -- which discreetly houses concrete vaults containing 10 Con Edison transformers -- with light-refracting prisms. When the building is completed next year, passersby won't simply see their reflections in stainless steel, they will perceive an ambient blue glow emanating from inside.
Carpenter's unusual ability to combine diverse disciplines -- art, architecture, engineering and technology -- in original, productive ways recently earned him more than a coveted World Trade Center contract. This month Carpenter received a no-strings-attached $500,000 fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, which selected 23 winners to receive the prestigious genius award this year.
"Jamie understands how to straddle the line between fine art and actual design and architecture," said Craig Hartman, design partner at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architectural firm that collaborated with Carpenter on Seven World Trade Center and other projects. "Because of the extraordinary poetics of light and material, the visual effects of his work are often stunning."
For the World Trade Center project, Carpenter selected low-iron glass for the most transparency possible. Direct and reflected sun from adjacent buildings will create subtle changes as one passes the tower. The ever-shifting color accent captured in the facade is intended to enhance the viewer's experience and perception of light.
Carpenter's talent lies not only in making steel act like glowing glass. He is a glass sculptor, so his true skill lies with glass itself. In another recent collaboration with Skidmore, he made glass behave like a spectrograph.
When the Skidmore architects won the contract for San Francisco International Airport's international terminal, they asked Carpenter to design the interior atmosphere.
"It's all about bringing light into the space," said Skidmore's Hartman. "So we have a series of skylights. But Jamie took it a step further with a series of scrims (translucent curtains) that gave a constantly changing cinemagraphic play of light and shadow.
"He also introduced dichroic glass, a special glass that breaks sunlight into color spectra with colored bands across the floor of the building. As you move through it, it drapes over your body and really connects you to the environment."
Photo: Seattle City Council with Carpenter's Blue Glass Passage
Using light to connect people and environment is a Carpenter hallmark. One of his favorite projects is at the Columbus Centre development, where his 15-person studio developed a scheme for an atrium on New York's Columbus Circle.
Between two 70-story towers is a 150-foot tall entrance of glass, the upper 60 feet of which is a suspended wall that encloses an area for jazz performance.
"What is noteworthy is the ability to produce a transparent glass wall with minimal support structure," said Carpenter. "It has very delicate cables and that type of wall is a new structure in this country.
"The idea was to obtain maximum openness to the city of New York for the audience, for the people down on the street to be able to look right up into the performance hall, to make jazz have a connection to the city."
Also notable is the method Carpenter designed to create stability.
"Typically with a conventional glass wall, you would have substantial beams that resist forces of wind with their robustness and stiffness," Carpenter said. "But these are more tensile forces, like a tennis racquet, absorbing the forces though flexibility and movement.
"It contradicts people's notion of strength."
WIRED News By Kari Lynn Dean
02:00 AM Oct. 26, 2004 PT
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,65457,00.html
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