Students and teacher explore the possibilities of CNC-driven fabrication
By Mason Riddle
“The question is, how do we make surfaces perform optimally?” asks Mark Parson, visual artist and director of Production and Technology for the Architecture Program at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. “We looked at fabric as shape in relationship to its performance.” The “we” were seven students in Parson’s architecture seminar Fabric: Form and Performance. The result of their individual research is the collaborative project, Light Canopy, a tensile, 80-module, multi-state light filtration surface. Vivid orange and measuring approximately 12m by 6m, Light Canopy’s design consists of invertible apertures that allow variable compositions of direct or reflected sunlight. The vinyl fabric and CNC (computer numerical controlled fabrication) assembly process was donated by outside industry sponsor Sperry Sails Inc. of Marion, Mass.
Light Canopy was first created to function as a cabanalike structure on a private Manhattan rooftop. In a more public role, it was installed between trees on the campus of Pratt Institute last spring. In August, it was installed in the Steven Holl-designed Pratt Architecture building, suspended from the two-story foyer ceiling where it functions as a decorative design element that divides the space.
Parsons, who has taught at Pratt for 10 years, describes Light Canopy as an amalgam of all of the students’ ideas. “It is a simplified and elegant expression, a project that grounds the students in real world circumstances,” explains Parsons. “Due to Sperry’s sponsorship, my students were able to solve a problem creatively and had the opportunity to build something full-scale.” Several of Parson’s studios have been fabric oriented and sponsored by industry leaders such as Designtex and Hunter Douglas.
Light Canopy’s surface is a rigid, tensile grid that does not billow in the wind. Each “eyebrow” window—or opening—is manually operable and can be pulled down or pushed up in a sort of concave and convex structural pattern. Moreover, the canopy can be made to any dimension.
Parsons would like to explore more green, sustainable fabrics for future projects. Previous studio projects included research into the use of OLED’s and photovoltaics but Parson says that this would have been too ambitious for the Light Canopy project. Given Parson’s overriding philosophy of how to get the optimal performance, he points out that Light Canopy controls the environment with regard to light and airflow without using any energy resources. “For future projects, I clearly recognize that fabric is an exciting material to be investigating around issues of sustainability,” he says.