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04.20.2010
Table Setting
Ball-Nogues create quirky canopy for couryard of UCLA music school
Ball-Nogues have debuted their latest installation at the Herb Alpert School of Music at UCLA.
Scott Mayoral

The undisputed kings of LA installation architecture are Ball-Nogues, whose otherworldly designs like Maximilian’s Schel at Materials and Applications and Liquid Sky at PS1, have given them a well-deserved cult following.

Their latest piece, Table Cloth, has just been completed at UCLA. Located in the courtyard at the Herb Alpert School of Music’s 1970’s-era Schoenberg Hall, it consists of a 268 finished plywood tables and stools, loosely connected via metal rings and flexible plywood members. The whole installation hangs from a steel beam bolted into one of the building’s topmost lintels. From straight on it looks like faceted drapery, its pieces reacting uniquely as the sun hits them from various angles. From the side it more resembles spiky chain-mail armor.

The installation consists of 268 custom fabricated tables and stools strung together with flexible plywood connectors.

“They’re engineered to hang on each other; we’ve essentially made a piece of cloth,” explained principal Ben Ball.

Besides enlivening a drab courtyard, the installation will be used as a backdrop for performances by music department students. A plywood stage can be placed over the parts of the piece that touch the ground, and the irregular geometry of the installation helps reduce echo and reverberation. The first performance will take place next Monday, April 26.

A student inspects the installation, which is hung from a steel i-beam that has been bolted into on of the building's window lintels.

The project’s premise was developed in a class taught by Ball and his partner Gaston Nogues at UCLA’s department of Architecture and Urban Design. Input also came from students at the music school. The irregularly-shaped three-legged tables and stools were formed on a CNC router; each one is shaped differently, explained Ball. “We wanted to make furniture that was appropriate for the [late-modern] era of the building,” he explained.

Perhaps the most innovative feature is what will happen to the piece after it’s taken down at the end of the summer. The tables and stools will be reused by UCLA students and departments. “We thought, how can you build another life out of materials instead of just recycling them?” Ball said. This, he added, is a challenge to other designers to rethink both installation and green architecture. “Something doesn’t have to become less valuable when you take it apart," Ball said.

The designers hope the piece will be recycled as actual tables by UCLA faculty and students once it is taken down. Until then, it will serve as a performance space.

The project was funded by grants from the Graham Foundation For Advanced Studies and the UCLA Arts Initiative. Buro Happold provided engineering pro bono. Table Cloth has already begun to shock music students, who invariably perform a double-take when they enter the brick courtyard. Then they usually ask where the sign-up sheet to perform is.

Sam Lubell