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Polycarbonate sheets become an interactive bench, part of Fort Mason Center’s upcoming SEAT exhibition.
San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center will be the stage for an outdoor chair show set to open June 23. Called SEAT, the yearlong exhibition is being curated by artist and landscape designer Topher Delaney, of Seam Studio, and will include work by more than 40 designers, artists, and architects. Each team was given a site on the former Fort’s 13-acre waterfront campus, which now serves as an arts and culture venue. As one of the invited participants, San Francisco-based Nilus Designs is preparing an interactive piece called W.E.T: West End Terminal, an anthropomorphic bench created with carefully stacked strata of clear twin-wall polycarbonate.
With a site at the northwest corner of the Fort’s third pier, the team headed by Nilus de Matran, wanted to create a seat design that would evoke the seaside location. The design came to resemble a beached sea creature and the team spoke in terms of “more muscle” and “too much bone” as the shape was modeled in Rhino. Because of the outdoor location, construction material needed durability, but also some connection with the environment. Clear, twin-wall polycarbonate had the necessary structural strength, and its cellular form will allow salt and sand to accumulate inside, making it one with the site.
The bench, now in the assembly phase, will be formed from 208 vertical sections, cut from 34 sheets of 4-foot-by-8-foot, 16mm polycarbonate. Nilus does not own its own machining equipment, so they used the new San Francisco facilities of Techshop, a public machine shop that offers access to (and training for) a wide range of equipment. Polycarbonate was even a new material for Techshop’s employees, but the team successfully learned how to use a ShopBot CNC router to cut the sheets with a two-flute router bit. The fabricated pieces will be glued together, resulting in a 16-foot long-by-8-foot-wide form that is nearly 6 feet tall.
The bench will also be interactive. An internal cavity wired with LEDs will glow when visitors stand on the bench’s mirrored acrylic platform—they can use laser-etched “dot” and “dash” buttons to send Morse code messages to others on the pier. The mirrored base, bolted to the pier’s surface, will reflect the sky and surroundings, but it will also offer an opportunity for the design to incorporate another interactive feature. Laser-etched QR codes will allow visitors to find information about Fort Mason and donors to the W.E.T. project, as well as details about the 2012 America’s Cup, to which most of the exhibition’s pieces will have a front row seat.