The goal of the installations at the Southern California Institute of Architecture’s gallery in Los Angeles is to redefine received notions of space using cutting-edge technologies and to involve students in the construction process. IwamotoScott Architecture of San Francisco endeavored to comply with this mission in its installation at the gallery, the Voussoir Cloud, while taking inspiration from some past masters.
The basic premise behind the Voussoir Cloud is a compression structure made from lightweight petals of thin wood laminate and modeled after voussoirs—the wedge-shaped bricks or stones used to form compression arches. To design the structure, the team used computational hanging chain models (the same method, minus the computer, that Eero Saarinen used for the St. Louis Gateway Arch). Form-finding programs and custom computer scripts helped the architects determine the profile lines and the vault shapes. The jury enthused about the deceptively simple results of the complex process. “It’s minimal in use of materials, it’s spatial, it’s structural—it’s everything architects should be concerning themselves with,” John Ronan said.
The structure uses four types of vaguely triangular petals—those with zero, one, two, or three curved edges, the remaining edges on each petal being flat. Each petal incorporates a series of flanges that fold back to achieve a bowl-like shape. Smaller petals form the structural columns and the petals grow larger toward the top of the vaults. IwamotoScott designed the vaults with gaps between petals, an antithetical approach that admits light from the gallery’s clerestory windows.