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Going with the Flow

Keeping the design flexible

Designing a 30 foot light sculpture at my studio in Chicago is one thing.

BUILDING it in a mountain village in Taiwan 2 hours from the nearest city is another thing entirely. So we came prepared to meet whatever challenges came our way.

Materials can be tough to source on short notice up here. But sometimes people are too.

Some vendors couldn't get enough help, pushing other parts of it behind as well. A few things got changed or removed altogether because they couldn't get coordinated. It's tough to ask your workers to commute 4 hours a day!

We figured that into our scheduling and always kept another idea in our back pockets 😉

One thing I decided to change on short notice was the doors and windows on the tree. Steel frame construction took a bit longer than expected, which bumped out the metal scroll work we'd planned for the curvy openings on the Tree of Light.

Here's their original design:

Lots of curvy scroll work, curved metal supports for the heart door and lots of acrylic supported by a good deal of metal mesh. And a matching star door at the exit, along with two huge windows just like them on the next floor!

We quickly realized that it was going to be too complex for our metal crew and acrylic cutters to accomplish well and quickly.

How do we keep the spirit of the design and get it done with the crews we had available to us?

I whipped out my phone and took a shot of the exit and scribbled this on top of it:

Basically one big triangle, a beam parallel to the ground, and two short pieces connecting them.

Quick to cut and weld, all the acrylic panels would be straight edges, and the math on it was all pretty simple. We could also add in the "feel" of a more rounded opening by trimming the door with curved rope lights.

So I scribbled off a heart shape, showed them both to our Chinese speaking crew chief with a few hand gestures and by the next morning we had this:

Here's the heart window in its finished form, with a live musician performing in it!

It actually fits beautifully with the whole structure design and makes it feel more modern too. Pretty nice, right?

This also saved on acrylic, which helped us a lot as the size of the crucial beacon on top had changed in construction and the panels we'd had cut for it were all too small and needed to be remade on site. We couldn't just pop over to the acrylic store and get more- that'd burn up half a day!

We also needed a fun and simple way to lead people through the space from the lot entrance to the Tree of Light and out again. My partner here had a ton of artificial turf. But strips of that are dull and not very attractive.

So I thought of the circles dotting the sides of the tree and connected that with lily pads and the fun of hopping from spot to spot.

We gave our helpers some sizes and they got busy cutting:

Which we turned into a very organic pathway that was the hit of our opening!

Not bad, right?

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