BROOKLYN – The 2016 edition of the Architectural League’s annual Beaux Arts Ball – an evening celebrating creativity and reinvention – centred around the theme of Tabula Rasa: a clean slate; an absence of preconceived expectation. Aaron Forrest and Yasmin Vobis – co-founders of Providence-based firm Ultramoderne – spoke to Frame about their installation, Table’s Clear, that transformed the interior space of the event.
What was your take on the theme of Tabula Rasa? The 2016 ball was held in a warehouse that was in the process of being converted into the Brooklyn headquarters for A/D/O. It was still very much a construction site at the time but it had a beautiful exposed-joist ceiling above. We took the theme quite literally and cleared away the visual clutter by making a new datum to mask the floor and the walls, leaving behind only the experience of the piece of fabric itself and the ceiling above.
How did this inspiration take form? We started thinking about this ‘clearing away’ and thought it was similar in function to a tablecloth, where you use the fabric to mask the age of the table beneath when an event is taking place. We did some research and found a great image of Frank Sinatra tossing a tablecloth in the air in frustration after failing to do the ‘tablecloth trick’. We were mesmerized by the image of the fabric in the air and thought we might try something like that.
Where did the shape come from? Finding the form was a bit of a challenge and we made a number of models trying to test the behaviour of the fabric. We weren’t quite sure how it would behave once it was scaled up to full size, so we started working with an engineer (Brett Schneider from Guy Nordenson and Associates) to develop a computer program that would stimulate the behaviour of the material. We went through a lot of different shapes and models to get the final form!
Did people interact with the piece as you expected? We cut some big openings in the fabric to allow people to enter and experience the space above. These cut-outs became the ‘rooms’ of the space. We had a few large ones for big crowds and some smaller ones for more intimate gatherings. In order to accommodate the fluctuating size of the crowd, we changed the height of the fabric throughout the course of the evening, starting out at waist height and slowly raising it, so that it was just overhead when the crowd was at its most intense. At midnight, we began to slowly lower it down again. Party-goers were hanging out in the openings, playing with the fabric in unexpected ways; I think it was received very well.