Seeing stars indoors with Encounter


Simple materials get elevated in a paper-and-staples homage to  Isaac Newton’s cenotaph

French neoclassical architect Étienne-Louis Boullée may have drafted his famous proposal for a cenotaph for Isaac Newton in 1784, but his ideas continue to influence architects to this day, like RISD architecture graduate student, Greg Nemes, whose recent project, Encounter, draws inspiration from the nighttime starlight effect in the interior of Boullée’s proposed monument. “It was an exploration in my thesis project,” said Nemes. “The intention was to make an immersive space out of a ceilingscape using…a defamiliarization of space, scale, and material.”

After defining the curvature of the surface topology in Rhino, Nemes used Grasshopper to create triangular tessellations separated by perforations that “increase in diameter as the triangles increase in elevation, so the triangles at the top of the dome have the largest perforations.” Nemes also used Grasshopper for unrolling, tabbing, labeling and packing the triangles onto sheets that were laser cut with a half-inch tab on all sides. With the help of friends, Nemes folded all the tabs and stapled them together into groups of 10-12.  These grouping were then transported to the Gelman Gallery at RISD’s Design Museum, where they were hung together with monofilaments and strung across the ceiling with four steel cables.

It’s hard to believe that the expansive and transformative ceiling installation was made from such humble materials. Though Encounter functions best when the lights are off, it speaks to Nemes’ abilities as a fabricator, perhaps even as craftsman, that he was able to create an immersive environment with real architectural potential out of paper and staples. In total, Encounter measured 20′ x 13′ x 10,’ filling almost the entire room. A small space was kept open for visitors to watch the light show Nemes created with a “computational color pattern to gradually affect the light and coloring of the space.” It was shown using two projectors during a month-long exhibition called “Tickling Your Eyeballs.” Watch the short video of the making of Encounter and see it in action.

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