In the summer of 2008, SCI-Arc dean Eric Owen Moss invited faculty members Jenny Wu and Dwayne Oyler of Los Angeles–based Oyler Wu Collaborative to create an installation for the school's gallery. The result was Live Wire, a functional staircase that connected the first floor to a second-story catwalk from Oct. 24 to Dec. 5.
The staircase's construction is based on a series of loops created from bent 1-inch-diameter aluminum pipe that are welded together to form the stairs and supports. "The loop system starts as a tread and becomes a rail or starts as a tread and becomes a wing element and comes down to be a structural element below," says Oyler. Two previous installations by the collaborative had used aluminum as a medium, but Wu notes that the choice of the specific pipe used in Live Wire balanced the needs for strength with the desire for a streamlined design. "The 1-inch aluminum pipe was chosen because we could achieve a tighter bend. Any bigger, the walls collapse," she says. The team built an "insanely large" jig, Wu remembers, that was set up so that as each loop was constructed, it could be set in place before welding to ensure stability and strength.
Most SCI-Arc gallery installations are fabricated with the help of students, and Live Wire had one of the biggest teams ever—nearly 40 students in all, though never all at one time. "The students would come when they had free time," says Oyler, "so it was important to set things up so that people who did not know the whole scope could come in and bend pipe. The fabrication drawings [done in CATIA and Rhino 3D] were very important." The team also worked closely with engineering firm Buro Happold to identify trouble spots in the design, doubling up loops to add strength or creating new ones to shore up weaknesses.