AMES, Iowa – A true force of nature has landed at Reiman Gardens.
This spring, 77 students in Iowa State University’s second-year architecture studios designed, built and installed a 1,300-square-foot structure at Reiman Gardens for its “Forces of Nature” kinetic art exhibition, which runs April 28 through Nov. 3. The exhibition complements Reiman Gardens’ “Movement” theme for 2018.
“Prisma” is a largely wooden structure that twists 70 feet lengthwise, mirroring the same geometry that appears in nature. Students wove Dacron (polyester fiber) hammocks for the middle and end sections. Plastic-coated metal cables provide tension and structure to the wooden frame. Spinning iridescent panels – 1,500 in total – fill other sections. Fun fact: It took 380 bolts to fasten Prisma together.
“The panels emphasize the wind going through, tumbling as the wind moves and not in a specific direction,” said Oluwatobiloba Fagbule, junior in architecture from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
Students’ designs were inspired by the plants, animals and natural forces at Reiman Gardens.
Prisma plays into the “Movement” theme threefold, said Leslie Forehand, lecturer in architecture and one of five studio instructors for this project. The structure appears kinetic, its parts move in response to natural forces (rain, wind, light, etc.) and it inspires activity, such as play. Visitors are encouraged to interact with the structure.
Students worked long hours installing Prisma last week. It’s a companion piece to the 13 wind- and light-activated stainless-steel sculptures displayed throughout the gardens, created by George Sherwood, an internationally recognized kinetic artist and sculptor.
Creating the larger-than-life Prisma
The project is monumental in size and complexity, as well as in the number of students involved in its construction. Out of the three Architecture 202 spring design-builds since 2016, this has been the most difficult due to the variety of materials used in its creation, said Reinaldo Correa, architecture lecturer.
Design-builds teach students documentation, construction, teamwork and outreach. This project in particular added several new layers with moving components, multiple materials and digital fabrication.
“When people think of architects, they think of designers. They don’t think of us out in the field,” said Christopher Shoemaker, sophomore in architecture from Muscatine. “Now we have some perspective from the engineers’ and contractors’ side. Often in our minds we say, ‘That design looks cool so it should be easy to be build.’ But we’ve learned that’s not always the case.”
At the beginning of the semester, students surveyed the site at the gardens, documenting wind and shade, surveying drainage and taking ground measurements. With input from Reiman Gardens staff, the studio narrowed multiple designs to the final iteration.
“It’s been remarkable seeing their creativity and attention to detail,” said Sara Merritt, education manager at Reiman Gardens. “They took our feedback and really ran with it. They went above and beyond.”
Building designs and relationships
Reiman Gardens’ relationship with the College of Design took off two years ago, when the first combined Architecture 202 studio installed the “TwoxTwo” wooden structure in the college’s atrium.
“We wondered what its afterlife would be,” said Nicholas Senske, assistant professor of architecture and coordinator of the second-year studios. “We had to get it out of the atrium, but we didn’t want to demolish it.”
It caught the attention of Reiman Gardens staff through Correa, who created a structure for their “Intreeguing Treehouses” exhibit in 2015.
They moved TwoxTwo to the gardens last school year – which, in addition to the “Washed Ashore” exhibit, led to Reiman Gardens’ third-highest attendance on record.
This spring’s studio received support and mentoring from Saul Engineering, Howe Welding and Metal Fabrication, Manatts Inc., Star Equipment, Lowe’s and more.
“We want visitors to go back into Ames and talk about this,” said Ayodele Iyanalu, architecture lecturer. “These students have given a lot back to the community, just as the community has given a lot to them.”