Physics at the Heart of Aluminium Art

The aluminium work of Marc Fornes is as much science experiment as it is art and architecture.
28 February, 2017
Visitors to the Orange County Convention Center in Florida are finding themselves looking up more often.
The busy community that is already home to Walt Disney World Resort and other tourist attractions has welcomed a new permanent art installation, which is made entirely of thin perforated aluminium sheets and hangs above the main concourse.

The two-story floating sculpture, viewed from the ground-floor hall or the balconies above, appears as a giant coral stretching across the ceiling, although creator Marc Fornes says that the work is meant for engagement and people interpret its knobby orbs and tendrils in a host of different ways.
What they may not realize is that Fornes is as much a scientist as an artist, and his works often reflect new explorations of material science. The French architect, founder of THEVERYMANY studio in the United States, doesn't just exhibit his work at the Guggenheim or sell pieces at Art Paris and Sotherby's.

He also teaches at Harvard and Princeton universities, and offers a graduate studio on computational materials at Columbia University, the University of Southern California and Die Angewandte in Vienna.
Image: Arch Daily © Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY
So when visitors look at his works, they are seeing magnificent creations that are often cast in the lightweight but strong aluminium Fornes chooses as a vehicle for expression. The 4,692 strips of perforated aluminium sheets used in the "Under Magnitude" installation in Orlando are each just one millimeter thick, but their curvature – all constrained to tight maximal radii in the bends and folds of the aluminium – is what gives them strength.
Fornes explains that principles the late architect Frei Otto explored, in terms of tensile strength and lightweight membrane creations, are advanced with an understanding of curvature that is applied in the piece.

"A brick doesn't know its neighbor, it's just a brick," Fornes explains. "Can one know the next one, and the next one, and get a chain?" That theory is at the heart of the piece's exploration of "Intensive Curvature," and Fornes' 10-year theory of stripes, pieces that connect to deliver optimal performance.
Image: Arch Daily © Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY
Each stripe achieves structural stability with a high degree of curvature alone, and then high degrees of double curvature when taken in collective accumulation, resulting in extreme structural rigidity.
"It's thinner than your credit card," he says, "and yet you can stand on the top of a structure like that."
— Marc Fornes
Image: Arch Daily © Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY
The entire coral is completed in bright white, which allows for dramatic shifts as the light changes during the course of a day – but what art enthusiasts might not be aware of is what Fornes, his colleagues and his students are learning about the aluminium materials in the course of constructing their public art.
Image: Arch Daily © Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY
The Orange County project is similar to others that Fornes and his studio have completed. His first public art installation in the United States was in Texas, and serves as a gateway to a popular 100-year-old park. Completed in 2016, the "Spineway" project used more than 1,000 perforated aluminium shingles assembled using nearly 20,000 rivets.
Another project in Argeles, France, was built from the perforated aluminium for a school's outdoor play area. The lacy shadow and lattice of "Pleated Inflation" also serves as canopy when the space is used as an informal amphitheater.

The firm often chooses aluminium because it is durable, lightweight and low-maintenance, Fornes says.
Banner image: Arch Daily © Marc Fornes / THEVERYMANY