Posts tagged with "Kentucky":

Placeholder Alt Text

University of Kentucky selects finalists for its new College of Design building

According to Archinect, the University of Kentucky (UK) is close to selecting an architect to design the school's new home for its College of Design, which is now scattered in various buildings across UK's campus. The six finalists are The Living, Marlon Blackwell Architects, NADAAA, Oyler Wu Collaborative, Studio Gang, and Trahan Architects. The winner will lead the redesign of the school's Reynolds Building, an old brick tobacco warehouse. According to school's news service, "With 140,000 square feet, the new home in the Reynolds Building will allow for the implementation of the college's ambitious plan to launch new initiatives, expand existing programs, establish new lines of design research and foster creative scholarship."
Placeholder Alt Text

Heaven Hill is the latest bourbon brand to expand its architectural appeal

Building for bourbon brands is all about storytelling. Over the two decades, some of the world’s top distillers have completed multimillion-dollar architectural projects and exhibitions in an effort to communicate the past, present, and future of whiskey culture through their own distinct stories. Since bourbon is one of Kentucky’s biggest tourist attractions, it’s no surprise that brands are turning to seasoned architects and designers to elevate their physical presence and style. Heaven Hill, the largest independent family-owned producer of distilled spirits in the United States, just announced a $65 million operations expansion that includes renovating its Bardstown, Kentucky, headquarters. Led by Louisville-based experience design firm Solid Light, the project will completely renovate the brand’s 14-year-old Bourbon Heritage Center and add 22,300-square-feet of space to the site along the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.    According to Solid Light President Cynthia Torp, Heaven Hill’s goal is to expand guests’ knowledge of the brand’s 83-year history, including the story of the Shapira family that owns the company. The brand also want to provide an immersive, hands-on experience with bourbon that can’t be found anywhere else in the state. “Our philosophy is that we want to connect visitors emotionally with the story of the brand,” Torp said. “Many people who visit the Bourbon Trail are looking to explore the details behind these brands, which is part of the whole mystique behind it. So we’re offering a bourbon education specifically through design.” The $17.5 million visitor center expansion is the latest project Solid Light has undertaken with Heaven Hill. In 2000, the firm helped design and build the structure, which it will now supplement with a brand new rooftop bar, enhanced tasting rooms, retail space, and the “You Do Bourbon” experience where guests will get to bottle their own bourbon. The full-service design and planning firm also completed the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience for Heaven Hill in downtown Louisville, one of the company’s flagship labels. Among its other well-known labels are Elijah Craig, Henry McKenna, Larceny, and Old Fitzgerald.   Christopher Quirk, Solid Light’s director of architecture, explained how this project is unlike some of the firm’s other commissions; they designed the Kentucky Derby Museum as well as the Sagamore Spirit Distillery Experience for Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank in Baltimore. He said that, normally, Solid Light is asked to work within the confines of an existing museum space, but due to a devastating fire that destroyed most of the brand’s plant in 1996, Heaven Hill wanted to reestablish its identity through a new structure built for 21st-century bourbon enthusiasts. “The architecture of the new building is an homage to the heritage of the site,” Quirk said. “The mashup between the older structure and the more modern one is an expression of Heaven Hill’s desire to mark on the future.” Further details behind the expanded structure have not yet been released as Solid Light is still in the schematic design phase of planning and aims to announce more information at a later date. Renovation work will begin on the existing site in January and is expected to be done in the middle of the summer. With this news, Heaven Hill joins a list of other Kentucky-based bourbon distillers that have recently completed or are currently renovating their facilities. Kentucky Owl just announced plans to create a 420-acre campus in Bardstown, designed by Shigeru Ban Architects, while Rabbit Hole just opened up a striking, metal-clad building in Louisville last May, dreamt up by pod a+d. In 2017, Bulleit Distilling Co. completed its headquarters in Shelbyville, Kentucky, while Wild Turkey opened an award-winning visitors center in 2014, designed by Louisville-based De Leon & Primmer Architecture Workshop. Quirk noted that part of the Kentucky bourbon industry’s appeal as a big business is the successful promotion of not only its products but the experiences each brand offers customers at these various locations. “If you go to one visitors center and learn about the history behind one dynamic brand, you’re likely to drive down the road to another local brand to see how they’re different,” Quirk said. “There’s value in showcasing their individual identities and bringing people closer to their products. All have very unique stories to tell.”
Placeholder Alt Text

People aren't using Kentucky's new $1.3 billion bridge and highway system

To some cross-country travelers, Louisville, Kentucky, is considered the gateway to the East. For Southerners, it serves as a transition into the Midwest. From whichever direction you approach the city, it’s a metropolitan area that grants access to other major cities like St. Louis, Nashville, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. But it’s not just a pivotal bypass, it’s also a place where people actually live. As the symbolic southern border for Indiana, it’s home to tens of thousands of drivers who cross the Ohio River every day for work and play, making Louisville’s four major bridges vital to supporting the economies of two separate states.  Over the last decade, Kentucky and Indiana spent $1.3 billion on a 12-lane highway widening project that spliced through several new and old neighborhoods in downtown Louisville in an effort to ease congestion that’s long plagued commuters. The plan was part of the massive Ohio River Bridges Project that rehabilitated the I-65/John F. Kennedy Bridge and built out the new, cable-stayed Abraham Lincoln Bridge that stretches northbound over the Ohio River. According to Streetsblog, the project was critical to Louisville’s growth, but since officially reopening in late 2016, the Kennedy Bridge has proven of little use to drivers.  Per a post-construction study released by the State of Indiana, traffic has fallen 49 percent on the Kennedy bridge, which requires drivers to pay up to a $4 toll. Traffic has subsequently increased by 75 percent on the nearby US 31 Clark Memorial Bridge, a 90-year-old piece of infrastructure that’s completely free.  It’s no surprise that people are essentially boycotting the billion-dollar “transportation boondoggle,” as one local urbanist called it. The project received wide criticism from the start. Streetsblog reported that in 2013 a grassroots group got 11,000 people to sign a petition in support of tearing down the highway instead of expanding it. But with backing from two state governments, it was eventually built. Taxpayers will be paying for the project until 2053.  The result is a half-used bridge and a messy mixture of reconstructed roadway known as Spaghetti Junction. Louisville's crisscrossed 64, 65, 264, and 71 interstates were always tricky to navigate and still are despite this recent update. Throughout construction, thirty-three acres of urban forest and 30 storefronts in mostly minority neighborhoods were destroyed. Historic buildings were also leveled for the revamped highway system. In spite of plowing through these surrounding communities, the project has received national accolades. Louisvillians lament that new highways won’t solve the city's congestion problems, though the increased number of options to pass through the city are a bonus for anyone who doesn’t wish to make a pitstop on their way somewhere bigger and better. It’s a classic, tragic story that’s hurt many American cities suffering from mid-century highway build-outs. Some are making concerted efforts to replace aging infrastructure with beautiful boulevards and walkable, shared streets, but others aren't thinking as clearly about how to keep people in town, as opposed to letting them drive on by. Kentucky’s busiest bridge, the Sherman Minton, sits further outside downtown than its counterparts. As the city’s only toll-free link to Indiana, it sees 90,000 drivers per day. The 56-year-old structure is slated to begin a $90 million rehabilitation project in 2021. Time will tell whether or not its partial or full closure during construction will force people to start crossing the newer structures that spew out of the city’s core. The Indiana Department of Transportation and the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet just ended a public input period to figure out next steps. A recommendation will be made next fall.
Placeholder Alt Text

Shigeru Ban designs pyramidal bourbon distillery for Kentucky Owl Park

Shigeru Ban Architects (SBA) has been selected to design and plan a new 420-acre campus for the owners of Kentucky Owl bourbon in Bardstown, Kentucky, just south of Louisville. Kentucky Owl Park will convert the former Cedar Creek Quarry into a tourist destination with a distillery, bottling center, and rickhouses, along with a stop for a "vintage dinner train" that will bring visitors in. Renderings from SBA show three timber pyramids housing the distillery at the center of the complex. The three matching buildings are clad in various proportions of diamond-shaped wood and glass panels, presumably to create different lighting conditions inside. The old quarry pits on site will be filled with water, setting the complex in a series of large ponds. The site plan indicates planned spaces for fishing, swimming, and other aquatic activities, along with an art gallery, convention center, and, appropriately enough, an "owl forest." The $150 million project comes on the heels of Stoli Group's purchasing of the Kentucky Owl brand in 2017. The bourbon line initially debuted in 1879 and was produced not far from Bardstown by Charles Mortimer Dedman, but production was discontinued in 1916. Dedman's descendants resurrected the line in 2014 and sold it to Stoli soon thereafter. According to an interview with Dmitry Efimov, head of Stoli Group’s American Whiskey Division, in the Lexington Herald Leader, Stoli was not previously producing brown liquors, and the new park evinces their intention to expand in that area. While Kentucky Owl will continue to be produced separately in small batches, the new distillery will mass produce other, as yet unannounced, brown liquors. Stoli plans to integrate the new park into the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, a collection of distilleries that host tastings and tours in the area. Earthscape and Design Workshop are the landscape architecture firms on the project. The complex is scheduled to open in 2020.
Placeholder Alt Text

Louisville's largest downtown eyesore goes transparent with new redesign

One of Louisville’s largest architectural eyesores recently received a shiny upgrade by Kentucky-based firm EOP Architects and HOK Chicago. The Kentucky International Convention Center (KICC), a 960,000-square-foot facility located downtown in the heart of the state’s largest city, reopened to the public this month after a two-year, $207 million renovation. Thanks to a vision supported by the state, city, and the community, the glass-enclosed structure looks nothing like its dark, concrete-clad former self. The Brutalist building, long-despised by Louisville natives, now features a new transparent face along its western facade and includes improved public circulation spaces representing the structure’s new “extroverted personality,” according to HOK. The KICC has undergone several renovations since opening in 1977, but none of them were this dramatic. The architects collaborated with convention center specialist Donald Grinberg, FAIA, on the transformative design, updating its main entrance on Fourth Street and building a canopy with a colored lighting display to create a more welcoming experience for visitors. The glass panel exterior appears to undulate as the light shines on it throughout the day. Hovering over the sidewalk outside the property line, the upper-level floors provide sweeping views that are unattainable anywhere else in the building.  EOP Architects’ design partner and co-founder Rick Ekhoff explained that the flowing transparent curtain wall is a nod to Louisville’s history as a river city, and the new canopy symbolizes its extensive park system and the many local landscapes designed by Frederick Law Olmsted. “We designed KICC to connect with the culture, people, and spirit of Louisville,” he said. “By incorporating the visual analogies to these images and making them a part of the story behind the design—even in an abstract way—it connected with the community from the very beginning.” Vertical oak wood paneling is a central design feature found throughout the bright interior and references the local bourbon distilleries that populate the Bluegrass State. The material starkly separates the “pre-function” gathering spaces—new areas for people to congregate before events—from the 40,000-square-foot ballroom and the 200,125 square feet of exhibit spaces. The redesign also included the addition of a 175-seat conference theater as well as new hybrid morning and evening restaurant called Oak & Brew. Peter Ruggiero, design principal at HOK’s Chicago practice, highlighted the much-improved wayfinding within the newly-renovated structure and the simplified circulation paths that open up the interiors to the outdoor spaces.   “This structure was what I called an urban introvert,” he said. “It didn’t engage the city and was very inwardly focused. It spoke to the nature of how convention centers were built in big cities forty years ago. There were big pieces of the interior program that needed to be flexible and adapt to differently sized shows, exhibits, and venues, but we believed there was no reason why the circulation and gathering spaces needed to be part of this internalized world.” The architects decided to place those spaces outside the larger, main venues and expose them to the light afforded by the new clear facade. They also integrated a central stair, configured in the spirit of a grand staircase, according to Ruggiero, that doubles as a meeting point with bleacher-like seating for alternative, informal events. Uniquely-shaped skylights create puddles of light and interesting shadows throughout the circulation spaces. At night, the building becomes a lantern in the city and illuminates the downtown streetscape. According to Ekhoff, the new design has already impacted development in the area. He sees the city’s tourism increasing now that the center looks like an inviting place to visit and invest in. “If the city had a living room," Eckhoff said, "KICC would be it."
Placeholder Alt Text

New renderings revealed for SCAPE's revamp of downtown Lexington, Kentucky

New York–based SCAPE Landscape Architecture has released new images of an urban park in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky. The city, working with the Bluegrass Community Foundation, has spearheaded the project which will completely transform one of Lexington's main public spaces. The Town Branch Park is part of the larger Town Branch Commons project—originally featured in The Architect's Newspaper's October 2016 issue—which proposes to uncover Lexington's long-buried Town Branch Creek. By revealing the waterway, the city will gain a new large-scale green space, complete with natural and artificial water features. The park will become a major part of the Town Branch Greenway, which connects existing downtown parks. The downtown portion of the Greenway is also being designed by SCAPE. When complete, the system of bike and pedestrian trails will stretch over 22 miles. “Every great American city has a great park,” said Kate Orff, founder and partner at SCAPE, in a press release. “We are very excited for this park to put Lexington in a competitive environment and further enhance the quality of life. This richly textured, activated park space is going to be a big draw for families and businesses.” SCAPE's initial design for the project was picked in a design competition in 2013. Now that the project is moving forward, SCAPE has amassed a team that includes AECOM, Lord Aeck Sargent, Gresham Smith Partners, Element Design, and Beiderman Redevelopment Ventures.
Placeholder Alt Text

Bulleit opens new Kentucky distillery campus

Bulleit Distilling Co., maker of Bulleit whiskey, celebrated its 30th anniversary in a big way with the opening of a completely new distillery (and probably a few sips of its amber-colored product). While Bulleit is now owned by London-based Diageo PLC, the grand opening of the new facility also coincides with founder Tom Bulleit’s birthday.

Set on 300 acres outside Shelbyville, Kentucky, the new distillery leverages the latest in warehousing and distilling processes to reduce its impact on the environment. Included in the new facility is the first industrial solar array in the area. The solar array is able to collect enough energy to run all the distillery’s on-site mobile equipment. An overall modular design also means that the layout was able to be carried out with as little tree clearing as possible. The land planning, civil engineering, surveying, and landscape architecture were all carried out by Louisville-based Land Design & Development (LD&D). LD&D was also the local planning consultant.

Until the completion of the new distillery, Bulleit Bourbon was distilled at another company’s facility. Now able to produce 1.8 million proof gallons of whiskey per year in house, Bulleit has greatly improved control over its own distilling process. The company can now more easily explore the production of other lines of whiskey as well. At the heart of the operation is a 52-foot still, designed and built by Louisville-based Vendome Copper & Brass Works. Four barrel houses on the campus are able to hold 55,000 barrels for aging.

“Seeing this distillery come to life has been a truly surreal experience that couldn’t have been achieved without the tireless work of so many men and women,” said Tom Bulleit at the opening. Yet the story of Bulleit is just as surreal. According to Tom Bulleit, the first Bulleit Bourbon was made by his great-great-grandfather, Augustus Bulleit, in pre-Civil War Kentucky. The legend goes that after loading up a boat with barrels of bourbon and heading off to New Orleans in 1860, Augustus was never seen again. 

While the $115 million project is not yet open to the public, guests can visit the new Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience in the company’s original Louisville, Kentucky, distillery as they work their way down the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

Placeholder Alt Text

Iconic José Oubrerie-designed Miller House hits the market

One of Kentucky’s most iconic homes is now on the market. The Miller House, designed by Le Corbusier protégé José Oubrerie, is listed for $550,000. That price is nearly half of what the home was sold for in 2008, making this a tempting bargain. Located in Lexington, Kentucky, the single-family home is noted for the complex way in which the interior spaces interact. Held together in a monolithic concrete frame, the home is comprised of three separate dwellings. This allows for family members to each have their own space while living in the same house. The original clients were an older couple, who wanted a home where their grown children could come and stay. Critics have often cited this as a commentary on the role of architecture in mediating family relationships. The house’s suburban setting seems to only exaggerate this point. Completed in 1991, the Miller House is filled with intricate detailing. Woodwork, steel, and concrete are mixed freely throughout, with bright pops of color being used in surprising ways. Nothing in the house seems typical. Its 5,000 square feet are sliced and divided into rooms, lofted spaces, bridges, balconies, and atria. The nine-square grid plan the house is based on is nearly completely illegible thanks to all of these unconventional meetings of space and material. The house has nothing of the austerity so often associated with modernism, despite its very clear modernist pedigree. José Oubrerie was part of Le Corbusier’s studio in the early 1960s. Since then, he has held numerous faculty and administrative roles at different universities. In the late 1980s, he was dean of the University of Kentucky College of Design. In the 1990s he taught and was chair of the architecture department at the Austin E. Knowlton School of Architecture at Ohio State University. He has also taught at the New York Institute of Technology, Columbia University, The Cooper Union, the Polytechnic University of Milan, and the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beux-Arts. Currently he is a visiting professor at the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The listing also includes a virtual tour of the entire house that is well worth checking out.
Placeholder Alt Text

Frank Lloyd Wright’s Kentuck Knob house celebrates its 60th anniversary

Lord Peter Palumbo, outgoing chairman of the Pritzker Prize for Architecture, recently looked back on his decades-long ownership of Kentuck Knob, the Frank Lloyd Wright house in western Pennsylvania, not far from Fallingwater, that is celebrating its 60th anniversary as well as the 20th anniversary of being open to the public.

Wright built Kentuck Knob—a small, one-story Usonian house on the crest of a knob, or hill, 2,050 feet above sea level, in Chalk Hill, Pennsylvania, in the Laurel Highlands mountain range six miles from Fallingwater—for I.N. and Bernardine Hagan, an ice-cream maker and his wife.

According to Lord Palumbo, Wright asked the Hagans when he interviewed them about their commission whether they were “nesters or perchers,” and that they told him they were nesters. If they were nesters, which Wright preferred, this meant, “you site the house just below the top of the knob and then you walk out to the knob. His reasoning was no man can compete with natural beauty and therefore you should not try to compete with it.” Lord Palumbo finds the view from the knob “quite extraordinary, one of the great views from this part of the world.”

He visited the house in the mid-1980s on a trip from Chicago (he once owned the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House outside Chicago, as well as Le Corbusier’s Le Jaoul Houses, outside Paris, selling all of them subsequently). “I fell in love with [Kentuck Knob], but I couldn’t get inside it. I fell in love with the outside, and said to myself, ‘If it’s as beautiful inside as it is outside, I must do something about it.’ So I went back six weeks later and effectively bought it then,” he said.

The architectural core of the open plan house—which is built of native sandstone and tidewater red cypress—is its hexagonal, stonewalled kitchen; its two wings are anchored by stonewalls, which rise to penetrate the horizontal line of its copper roof. Cantilevered overhangs and expanses of glass integrate its interior and exterior.

Shortly after Lord Palumbo purchased the house, a fire destroyed the master bedroom and bathroom. He was fortunate enough to find a retired Carnegie Mellon architect, Robert Taylor, who had worked on the home when it was built, to oversee the reconstruction.

Lord Palumbo and his family lived part-time in the house until the mid-1990s, when they decided to open it to the public. “We were getting quite a lot of interest from people, from students, architects, people interested in Frank Lloyd Wright, to visit the house, so it seemed like an obvious move to open the place to the public,” he explained. “It was also one way of ensuring that if anything happened to me, the house would be self-sufficient financially.”

Visitors, he added, “love the situation, love the house, and find that it has a human dimension because they can go through the house and see more or less how we live; they can see the toothbrushes, hairbrushes, family photographs. I think that family dimension is appreciated.”

Lord Palumbo originally bought 89 acres of land in Chalk Hill from the Hagans and now owns 600 acres and a 1920s farmhouse at the foot of the knob where he and his family stay when they visit. At Kentuck Knob, he has put out an eclectic array of fine and decorative arts and natural objects. On display is a wide array of decor, from Native American, Middle Eastern, and Chinese pottery to furniture by Wright, Mies van der Rohe, Charles and Ray Eames, Tapio Wirkkala, and George Nakashima (the last commissioned by the Hagans), as well as drawings and a collection of birds’ nests Palumbo found nearby. “I’ve always thought that quality goes with quality. I’ve never felt that a ball and claw foot by Chippendale, for example, does not sit anything other than easily with a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair. I think they acknowledge one another as equals and have a good working relationship by being next to one another, because they are all the top quality of their time.”

Another change wrought by the Palumbos at Kentuck Knob is the addition of outdoor sculptures: Over 30 works by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, Sir Anthony Caro, and Claes Oldenburg have been placed in the landscape around the house and along the trail to the visitor center. They have also converted Kentuck Knob’s greenhouse—which once stood at Fallingwater and was brought to Kentuck Knob by the Hagans in the early 1960s—into a gift shop and cafe, and have restored the house’s original, triangular, man-made pond, built from boulders by Taylor.

The “great message of Kentuck Knob,” according to Lord Palumbo, is “the relationship between the art of Frank Lloyd Wright and nature—as it is at Fallingwater. It is the interaction between the genius of Frank Lloyd Wright and the beauty of nature. It was something that he always put great store by.”

A National Historic Landmark, Kentuck Knob can be seen only by formal tour, offered in 40- and 90-minute lengths from March through November and on a limited basis in December.

Placeholder Alt Text

SCAPE turns Lexington, Kentucky’s long-buried water into an asset

Most Lexingtonians don’t know it, but the porous limestone landscape under their feet—called karst—created their bluegrass identity. The basic water that flows through karst reportedly makes their grass grow green, their racehorses grow strong, and their bourbon taste smooth. So when downtown Lexington held a competition to revitalize and re-pedestrianize the concrete, car-driven downtown, New York–based SCAPE Landscape Architecture chose to reveal and celebrate its geology. As SCAPE founder and partner Kate Orff said, the Town Branch Commons Corridor project is “a reinterpretation, a transformation of the karst landscape into public space.”

The ambitious project, which just received a major $14.1 million funding boost from the U.S. Department of Transportation, will carve pedestrian and bike paths through the heart of Lexington, creating new green spaces and linking with regional trails at both ends. To create freshwater pools—SCAPE calls them “karst windows,” in reference to similar naturally occurring formations—the design will tap old culverts (essentially large pipes) that previously kept Lexington’s karst water out of sight.

The trail will be narrow in some areas, but wide for the Karst Commons, a new public plaza and park at the project’s northern end that will feature multiple “habitat rooms,” an amphitheater, and recreation areas. The park can flood safely in a deluge. “There’s no site here, it’s a hybrid project,” said Orff. “Sidewalk here, empty lot there, parking lot there… The thread of water means each entity has to somehow come in contact with it and embrace it.”

The road to realizing the project—now in schematic design—has been long. After winning the 2013 competition, SCAPE worked with the University of Kentucky and the Lexington Downtown Development Authority to foster public support. They created a large model of the city’s hidden Town Branch Creek, paired with self-guided podcast tours, that generated excitement and helped propel the project. The karst, citizens realized, was part of the bluegrass identity they hold dear (and market to tourists). “Here it’s all about finding a unique identity framed around a cultural and geological history of a place,” said Gena Wirth, SCAPE design principal. “What’s replicable is the multipurpose infrastructure that unites the city, its story, and its systems.”

Placeholder Alt Text

Breathe easy: Louisville art installation tracks air pollution in real time

Save for the extreme examples—Beijing's “airpocalypse,” for exampleair pollution is often an invisible problem. For at least a brief period, designers from Brooklyn and data scientists from San Francisco hope to change that in Louisville, Kentucky. Across the city 25 sensors gather data on air quality, including the concentrations of particulate matter and carbon monoxide, transmitting the data to a colorful, interactive kiosk on the corner of Fourth and Liberty streets in Downtown Louisville. Designers at Brooklyn-based Urban Matter, Inc. dubbed their project Air Bare. As the downtown screen displays real-time air quality data, they invite passersby to engage with the installation. Encased in bright orange, powder-coated steel, a video screen fills with bubbles representing particles of air pollution. Poke your head into the display and you can pop the bubbles, earning points and taking air quality quizzes. Urban Matter's Rick Lin told WFPL the playfulness is meant to inspire action:
A big part of the component of this piece is educational, so once we grab people’s attention, we want—without being too preachy—to give them some information to help them make better decisions every day.
Urban Matter conceived the short-term piece with the Office of Civic Innovation, Louisville Metro Government, and San Francisco's Creative Commons. On their website, the firm said they hope the project “creates awareness, identifies sources of pollution and propels the public to take action.” Open in time for a health symposium attended by Prince Charles, the piece will be up for six to eight months.
Placeholder Alt Text

PART Studio Plays Peek-a-boo with Plywood

Louisville installation elicits fabric-like behavior from wood.

PART Studio designed and built their plywood Peek-a-boo Curtain in just four days, after a last-minute invitation from Louisville arts and business networking organization I.D.E.A.S. 40203. "We went to a meeting, talked about it, then drove to the plywood store," recalled principal Nathan Smith. Luckily, the architects were not starting from scratch. Rather, Smith and partner Mark Foxworth seized the opportunity to build a full-scale mock-up of an idea they had been tossing around for some time: a curtain that, though built of wood, would behave like fabric. Staged at FirstBuild, a design and fabrication studio run through a partnership between GE Appliances and Local Motors, the exhibition also gave the designers a chance to explore the space between art and commerce. "With our piece we were looking not only to span the specific interests of the groups involved, but also to consider the relationships between product design, art, and architectural design," said Smith. The imminent deadline meant that Smith and Foxworth had to use the tools at hand, namely their studio’s own small-format laser cutter. The choice placed certain limits on the design. "Laser-cutting is great, but it gives you a lot of constraints because there aren’t that many materials you can use," said Smith. The architects opted for 1/8-inch-thick plywood. The size of the cutting bed also informed the scale of the individual tiles. The upside was that "because the tiles were so small, we could get a certain amount of fabric behavior," explained Smith. PART Studio developed the tiles' perforation pattern in Grasshopper, using a twisting-triangle shape to simulate a human body passing through the curtain, and exploring multiple iterations until they found one they liked. The designers had earlier tested the curtain concept for an interior design project, a dressing room. "In that, the open and closed relationships were pretty specific to the pattern," said Smith. "In the context of an art exhibit, it was more important to take the openness and opacity to extremes because it was a compositional thing."
  • Fabricator PART Studio
  • Designers PART Studio
  • Location Louisville, KY
  • Date of Completion 2014
  • Material plywood, zip ties
  • Process Grasshopper, laser cutting, tying, hanging
With respect to assembly, said Smith, Peek-a-boo Curtain "is frankly not a very difficult project from a technical standpoint." The architects wanted to laser-cut or otherwise fabricate square metal rings to attach the tiles to one another. But with just a few days to build, and with zero budget, they opted for an easier solution: yellow zip ties. The tiles are arranged in vertical columns, then staggered horizontally. Each component has a total of six holes for vertical and lateral connections. "The original hole pattern didn't work out; the tie holes were a little close," said Smith. As for staggering the tiles, "that was a big discussion that actually ended up making it a little less fluid," he said. "We liked the pattern, but it would’ve been a little more graceful if we'd done it straight. We thought it would have a more fabric-like stitched-together visual, and it does, but it behaves more like fabric as an actual grid." Peek-a-Boo Curtain, which Smith and Foxworth hope to refine for specific interiors projects, is part of the firm's broader mission to change Louisville’s design culture, one small project at a time. "We prefer to do installations and micro design-builds to competitions," said Smith. "We're in a very small market. For our practice, it doesn't really help us to show our clients a museum in Helsinki." But what they can do is participate in the area's nascent art scene, from organizing a competition for the annual Festival of Riverboats to putting on design-based shows at the Kentucky Museum of Art & Craft. "We've been able to have a consistent practice in a way that wouldn’t have been possible two years ago," said Smith. "We're trying to do work, to do things like Peek-a-boo Curtain and whatever comes through the door, but at the same time we’re trying to improve the conditions, culturally, for where we are working."