The student voice of the Knowlton School of Architecture
by Alex Palmer
After a grueling push before final review week, the main space was all a flutter. In between nearly constant use during the day and echoing emptiness at night, a presence quietly, slowly, materialized in the main space. The project, entitled “Faces” is the result of a quarter-long effort from a handful of dedicated fourth years in Stephen Turk’s seminar class. Starting their work individually, the students were grouped together based on their own projects’ similarity. Ultimately one project was brought to the focus and work began to develop and produce the end result.
The main space is well occupied by the three corresponding elements of the project; the projected face, the wooden faces, and the concrete faces – the source, the forms, and the formed. The three elements can be seen as an expanding array which eventually produced the concrete faces. According to Turk, the notion of the array functions as something more than a distribution, or matrix, of the forms. He defined the array as a way of creating and documenting a series. That is, something more than an even and simple distribution. The faces act in a way similar to that of a hypostyle hall through the creation of an environment in place of a simple gridded ordering. The patterning creates a clear dialogue between the components, projecting the classification of parts and their relationship back to the whole.
The forms all stem from the source image, a composite of many different faces which have been transformed into a typographical object. With the explicit language of face removed, the features are blurred or sharpened to create twelve distinct variations of the face in varying degrees of resolution. This touches on the idea of mask similarly to John Hejduk’s works. After a series of transformative processes, the mask becomes representative of the origin of its evolution, which no longer exists. The concrete used to model the facial forms adds an additional gradient of resolution by the way of variable aggregate; very fine up to large, creating different finishes for the material. The variables of resolution and aggregate are layered, creating an effect that ranges from subtle to haunting. While the muted features of the more static faces blend quietly into their surroundings, the contrasting dynamic faces have a dramatic presence; creating harsh shadow from features both gaunt and protruding. In this way the faces more nearly approximate the mask in their slight plays upon the composition. Some elements are subdued, while others are called out, creating emphasis. This play between the beauty of the source face and the horror of the resultant faces is cast in two tons of concrete and appropriately displayed on the big concrete stairs.
By conforming to the materiality of the stairs, the concrete faces invoke a subtle, yet eerily strong impression on the space. On one hand they disappear into their environment, prompting no change of interaction with the steps. The faces simply become a slight modification of the elevation, potentially fulfilling the routine role of backrest to the unobservant user. Upon observation, the faces distinguish themselves from the concrete and create a presence in the space as a silent audience to the daily activities of Knowlton. As a whole, the distortions of each face do little to affect the notion of collectivity. However, the adjacent variations provide a means of individual contrast, visually recording or documenting the influences placed upon each face. This creates an affective personality cast in concrete that was the unpredicted result of forming.
In contrast to the subtle occupation of the cast concrete faces, the wooden forms are blatantly presented on pedestals. Unlike the concrete, they disrupt the austerity of the space. They might be the first things you notice about the installation. These negatives of the final form are given a slightly disturbing quality by the grain of the wood as it arranges itself into rings following the topography. Impressions for eyes become contoured hills, light and dark lines alternating in the plywood. The source is materialized with a projection of the compiled face on a white hung white foam panel. The projection is difficult to miss, but without its illumination, the topography of the white foam face hardly seems present. It returns to the subtlety of the final concrete forms as a simple white square on the massive wall that defines the boundary of the main space. The differing visual strength of the source, form, and formed seems to stress process as well as document a sort of analytical way of creating the variation in faces. To conclude, I borrow a pertinent and succinct quote from Robert Somol that was considered in the project’s design, “…emergence promises that serial accumulation may itself result in the production of new qualities.”
Special Thanks to Stephen Turk for his insight, Ryan Connolly for advising this article, and the seminar class as a whole for creating a carefully considered and sufficiently haunting reverie on the mask.