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2014 MCHAP.emerge

Maximillian's Schell

Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues

Los Angeles, CA, USA

June 2005


Benjamin Ball / Ball-Nogues Studio, Gaston Nogues / Ball-Nogues Studio


Hardy Wronske/Heyday Partnership (Structural Consultant), James Lumb / Electric Skychurch (Low Frequency Tactile Sound Installation), Dieter Strobel / technet GmbH (Membrane Analysis)


Materials & Applications / Jenna Didier


Scott Mayoral, Benny Chan, Joshua White, Oliver Hess, Neil Cochran, Benjamin Ball


This vortex-shaped, outdoor installation at Materials & Applications in Los Angeles warped the flow of space with a featherweight rendition of a celestial black hole. Hovering over M&A's courtyard, Maximilian's Schell was a spectacle the size of an apartment building constructed in tinted Mylar resembling stained glass. The piece functioned as a temporary shade structure, swirling overhead for the entire summer of 2005. The interior of this experimental installation created a beckoning outdoor room for enhanced social interaction and contemplation by changing the space, color, and sound of the courtyard. During the day as the sun passed overhead, the canopy cast colored fractal light patterns onto the ground. When standing in the center or “singularity” of the piece and gazing upward, the visitor saw only infinite sky. In the evening when viewed from the exterior, the vortex warmly glowed while both obscuring and allowing glimpses of the building behind it. The assembly pays homage to a character played by actor Maximilian Schell in Disney Studio's forgotten sci-fi adventure, The Black Hole. Dr. Reinhardt is a visionary tyrant on a monomaniacal quest to harness the "power of the vortex” and possess “the great truth of the unknown.” The project required more than a year of development and involved several prototypes, though fabrication took only two weeks. The result is an installation that functions as not only architecture and sculpture but as a “made-to-order” product through a unified manufacturing strategy.


To understand context of this temporary pavilions, it is important to understand the time in which it was made. Consider experimental computational architecture in 2005; academic experiments in computation rarely reached beyond the laboratory of the classroom or safety of the gallery to directly engage the public. To the generation who knew architecture by way of the computer, the notion of a temporary yet functional installation providing a testing ground for emerging methods of design and production novel. The notion of bringing this kind experimental work into public space was rare. We wanted to break away from the laboratory to make a project that was both a bold experiment in terms of computation material and assembly, but was also a meaningful for the general public. In short, we wanted to make an inhabitable work of speculative architecture with just a few thousand dollars of budget and a community of volunteers. This work was experimental, practical and polemical.? The physical context was an outdoor exhibitions space, open 24 hours a day, on residential street in Los Angeles heavily trafficked by automobile and pedestrians.


The work turned an anonymous courtyard into a thriving public place. It was a traffic stopping spectacle when seen from the street and a place for gatherings, workshops, musical performances and random public interactions. When it was empty, it could be a place for contemplation. It became a media star over-night; it was published in over one hundred magazines. The media attention generated public discussion about the potential of leftover public space in the City of Los Angeles. To this day, it is point of reference in the debate about underutilized spaces. It remains in the memories of the thousands of people who experienced. It strongly addressed both the car and the pedestrian. It created a public pocket park that was also a spectacular object. It activated public space at street level in a city that some say is devoid of such things. It created an attractor then facilitated public interaction.

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