A New Take On Nikolas Weinstein

Hello, Emily here. I thought seeing this recent sculpture from an outsider’s perspective might be a nice way to present this new piece from Nikolas. So I spoke with HL Lim, a founder of LTW Design Works in Asia about his partnership with Nikolas on the Shangri-La Hotel Midtown in Hangzhou. He and Nikolas go back a ways and it was a delight for me to spend some time with him.

HL is a wonderful, old-school bon vivant. He has a deep, slightly mischievous laugh and a charm and ease that he brings to his work. With his cigar in hand and coffee at the ready, he and I talked early morning in Beijing. Nikolas would have been uncomfortable with the flattery, but I was gratified. I was especially touched when he said, “Nikolas and his team were very joyful and a pleasure to work with. I like people who are putting their heart into doing a good job. That’s not easy to come by.”

WEINS_SLA_02

Nikolas first worked with HL in 2009 on a large lobby sculpture at the InterContinental Shanghai Puxi. For this latest project the collaboration began back in 2011. The years-long time frame is a testament to the partnership and understanding between these two; their knowledge that it takes time to do something right.

Hangzhou has a long and rich cultural history as an inspirational gathering place for artists, poets, writers, and calligraphers. The landscape and waterways have contributed greatly to this history and the locale was particularly important to the design of the hotel, and Nikolas’s inspiration for the Artwork.

WEINS_SLA_03

Emily Vassos: What is it about Nikolas’s artworks that leads you to collaborate with him on a project?

HL Lim: We really haven’t done a lot of work with renowned artists like Nikolas and I’d like to thank him because he makes it quite easy for us to present his case to the client. He’s always very cooperative and willing to try new ways to create something unique. So the word collaboration to define our relationship is very true.

EV: What were your considerations for the design of this particular project?

HL: We really needed something like Nikolas’s work because we wanted to do something which is a departure from the usual. The client anticipated that they would do something made by the usual companies that do large lighting fixtures. But we thought that when the guests are sitting and drinking and relaxing in the lobby lounge we want them to be able to look up and enjoy a true Artwork. So it was quite gratifying to have Nikolas’s piece there.

EV: Did Nikolas’s artwork influence you in any way?

HL: Nikolas’s work inspired me to tell the story of Hangzhou. When we first started working on this project I told Nikolas that Hangzhou is really a very special place. Throughout the various dynasties in China it was said that every year the Emperor would make a special trip to visit the south of the Yangtze River where poets, painters, and calligraphers would congregate and be inspired by the beauty and romance of the Westlake where Hangzhou is located.

EV: Yes, I remember the early conversations you and Nikolas had about making pleats and tight folds of glass to loosely resemble the ruffled edge of the native Gingko leaf. At some point he integrated the movement of water and it went from there. Is the finished piece what you thought it would be?

HL: Yes, absolutely. In fact, before the piece was finished we got to go up on the scaffolding. I wish we could have a small lift to take guests up to that level. I was so privileged to have been able to see the sculpture from up there. And Nikolas and his team were very joyful and a pleasure to work with. I like people who are really putting their heart into doing a good job. This is not that easy to come by. You and your team really understand what professionalism is all about.

WEINS_SLA_04

EV: Okay, blue sky question… If you had a committed, passionate client with very deep pockets, what would your dream project be?

HL: I created a very unique hotel brand for a very dear friend of mine some while back. The idea is that I will work with only one contemporary artist such as Nikolas for an entire hotel project. His art and philosophy will be immersed and instilled with the interior design and truly be part of the interior. The journey will begin at the guest arrival, going through the main lobby, all public spaces, guest rooms, and suites. Can you imagine that? That will be so very pure and unique! You ask me what my dream project is? This is it. No budget constraint and absolutely unique. The value of this hotel will appreciate as does the value of good art! We will assist the client to identify a like-minded architect in order to create such a unique project.  The end result would be the immersion of the building, interior and art, ‘form, function and beauty’.  I wonder what Nikolas would say to such an opportunity?

EV: I think Nikolas would love the idea. You and he are quite similar in your unrestrained imaginations and passion for dreaming about things that haven’t been done before.

Then I head home to end my day as HL is just getting his underway.

WEINS_SLA_01V3

Photo Credits: Michael Weber

Posted in Installation, People, Shangri-La Hangzhou Midtown, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Lecture at SHoP Architects New York

On March 9th, Nikolas will be lecturing at SHoP Architects in New York as part of their Artist’s Series. Fast Company named this 180 person firm the “Most Innovative Architecture Firm in the World” in 2014, and the Smithsonian/Cooper Hewitt awarded them “National Design Award for Architecture” in 2009. They’re designing the new Uber HQ in San Francisco and the Department of State just awarded them the design of the new U.S. Embassy complex in Seoul. It’s a good pairing of innovative artist and innovative architects. Should be a fun evening.NikolasWeinstein_final-Edit-2Shop Architects

SHoP Architects - 626 First Avenue, NYC

SHoP Architects – 626 First Avenue, NYC

SHop Architects, Barclays Center, Brooklyn

SHop Architects, Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Posted in Lecture, People | Leave a comment

Jakarta is “Live”

Just before Christmas, we completed our largest and most complex installation to date. We are now emerging from our new year’s slothdom to announce that the Noble House Sculpture is airborne!

In his more aspirational and caffeinated moments, Nikolas has said that he wants to “build glass sculptures big enough to talk to buildings.” Well, this time he definitely did not fall short of the mark. The largest single element was bigger than an eighteen-wheeler, so the entire glasswork had to be built onsite at the same time that it was being installed. The glasswork is comprised of eight panels that appear to peel off the wall and float through the lobby of this premier office tower in Jakarta. And what was large was also complex; the rigging for this installation was a crazy web of ropes, cables, and pulleys that criss-crossed between ascendant panels and their connections on the ceiling. Like chess, this interwoven system was particularly challenging because one had to predict how early moves would impact subsequent aerial mobility as the lobby slowly filled with a nearly invisible network of suspension. Add to this the fact that the glasswork was in a notorious seismic zone and the requirements of this system could only be worked out in a robust computer model. In concert with Arup Engineers, it was used to simulate and refine how the glasswork responded to earthquakes as well to explore differently phased hoisting configurations. And even then, some problems could only be sorted out in a boom lift… forty feet in the air… that took an hour to thread through a sea of cables you could barely see.

IMG_2564-2IMG_0611-2-EditIMG_7159IMG_0542-2IMG_2161-2IMG_1994-2IMG_0612-2IMG_2659-2IMG_2682-2IMG_6590-2

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Hello New York!

Woohoo! We’re bi-coastal! Our new studio is a light-filled retreat in Long Island City beside the moorings of the Queensborough bridge, just one subway stop from Bloomingdales and midtown Manhattan. The complex, known as The Foundry, is a former 19th century varnish factory that by 1906 had become a metal foundry. We’ve got the second floor and it’s paradise. We can’t hear cabs, only birds. There’s a beautifully planted and cobbled interior courtyard and the brick walls are covered in ivy from top to toe.

We’d been contemplating the establishment of a beachhead on the East Coast for a while and are pleased how things are humming along. Considering that most of our installations are in Southeast Asia, we wanted to make a concerted effort to explore work in our own country and neighboring Europe by plugging-in to the New York design community. Nikolas gave presentations to the talented team of architects at Grimshaw and to our old friends and engineers at Arup, and he will be participating in the Visiting Artist lecture series this spring at ShOp Architects.

 

IMG_4138_retouchedIMG_5255IMG_5368 1406671900140 copyIMG_6867 IMG_6874IMG_6834IMG_4161.JPG

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Nikolas Weinstein Studios Rocks The G20

Question: What do Nikolas Weinstein Studios, President Enrique Pena Nieto, Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Vladimir Putin, and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim have in common?

Answer: Besides an unstoppable quest for power and world domination, they will all be at the 11th Annual G20 Summit Meeting September 4th and 5th in Hangzhou, China. All the Summit guests are staying at the Shangri-la Hangzhou Midtown where we installed a sculpture last year. And since our sculpture was there first, I’m gonna say that they’ll be in our presence rather than vice versa.

Pretty cool.

b083fe96fb621850739659

 

Posted in Installation, Shangri-La Hangzhou Midtown | Leave a comment

A Frenchman Asks The Big Questions

Imagine our delight when we were contacted by Manuel Fadat, a French curator, researcher, critic and teacher who “geeks out” on technology as much as we do. He works for Oudeis—une laboratoire pour les arts numériques, électroniques et médiatiques aka a laboratory dedicated to the digital, electronic and media arts. And the fact that he’s from distant lands confirms our prejudice that very few people in our own country know we exist.

Manuel has included Nikolas in a series of interviews he’s done about the links between glass and digital technologies seen through a variety of lenses. The Oudeis website, which functions as a hub for artists specializing in digital, electronic and media arts, has a wide variety of information about people and goings-on in the field the world over. From exhibitions and artists to residencies and whatnot. All of the interviews published in this series can be seen here.

Rather than copying the entire interview I’ve pulled a few questions and abbreviated the answers.

Manuel Fadat : First, as an artist, as a designer, what is the relationship you have with “technologies”, in general?

Nikolas Weinstein: The design of my installations is driven by an interest in sculptural forms and how they relate to architectural space. Technology has nonetheless become a principal element in my work. Tools are things that I develop to solve problems rather than parameters that define what I think I can do…. It is only as I approach the completion of a project that I finally appreciate how to really build it. The majority of the project time is spent making mistakes and learning, and the actual fabrication of the work represents only a small fraction of the effort. The solution gives me new ideas. A completed project is an opportunity to see what has been made possible by the new technology. And so the aspirational cycle begins again, and I design new problems to solve.

MF : Which new technologies do you use and why did you choose these new technologies ?

NW : Aside from the custom kilns that we build, we use a lot of computers in our work. The backbone is Rhino 3D, a CAD package with Grasshopper and Kangaroo plugins. Because the installations are principally about the architecture and because the sculptures themselves have a lot of “irrational” or “complex” surfaces, this is a good environment to match organic shapes to built structures. This allows us to do a great deal of analysis on huge sculptures that we can’t fully mockup prior to installation. We can map their relationships to the building very closely (connections points, etc) as well as break the sculpture itself into “digestible” parts such as cut lists for thousands of unique tube lengths, construction maps for molds, and cable lists with corresponding data.

An overview of the Grasshopper programming interface, which uses a visual—rather than traditional— programming interface.

An overview of the Grasshopper programming interface, which uses a visual—rather than traditional—
programming interface.

MF : Can we say that new technologies influence the form, the meaning? Or they are tools, only?

NW : Yes, I think this is especially true with glass as a material because it’s so technically challenging. It’s really hard to blow glass and it’s really hard to manage annealing complex forms. I think this challenge sets a high threshold for entry and this is one of the reasons why there’s not a huge body of highly technical and refined glass art. It takes great effort to get ahead of—and on top of—technology before you can say what you want to say aesthetically or conceptually.

Custom Grasshopper software written to visually describe, analyze, and prevent gaps between neighboring glass tubes on curvilinear surfaces.

Custom Grasshopper software written to visually describe, analyze, and prevent gaps between neighboring glass tubes on curvilinear surfaces.

MF : What do you think about the use of new technologies (digital technologies, new media) in glass arts and design?

NW : I think there’s a huge divide between the industrial and the studio world. Most of the technology available to glass artists is relatively neolithic compared to the highly refined world of industry. I believe that there needs to be a lot more technology and engineering introduced into using glass outside of large commerce. That’s a tough sell and one that’s difficult to underwrite, but I think it would make a big difference in what one is able to imagine doing. Conversely, studio artists are much more agile than large enterprises and they can introduce ideas that corporations would take years to develop much less ever conceive.

This detail shows the adjustable parameters of the sculpture material within the custom Grasshopper software.

This detail shows the adjustable parameters of the sculpture material within the custom Grasshopper software.

MF : May be could you give us some relevant examples of artists, designers, works or experiments ?

NW : I always loved Alexander Calder for his playful creations (the wire trinkets and toys)  and for his appreciation of physics (the mobiles). I’m a big fan of Richard Serra mostly for the minimalism and his adage that the final work must express the way in which it was formed – that you can almost feel the pressure and tension applied by the rollers through which the plates are worked. I also like a lot of the art machines that are being built today, like Theo Jansen’s Strand Beests that have equal measures of poetry and mechanics. These artists are all interested in animation, whether it is by natural forces or mechanics, and that’s what I’m interested in. The technology is just a tool that helps to make glass that looks like it’s “alive.”

Here is the interview in its entirety. Scroll down for the English version.

An installation which was designed with the assistance of the custom Grasshopper program.

An installation which was designed with the assistance of the custom Grasshopper program.

Posted in CAD | Leave a comment

Louis XIV Comes to 1649

Glass conducts light more efficiently than any other material. This efficiency is why glass holds so much dynamic potential for sculpture; by constantly changing the sculpture with the passage of natural light throughout the day. And this is why we never have to lift a finger to help the installations look good most of the time. The sculptures naturally develop an opalescent luster in sunlight, sympathetically reflecting the colors that surround them.

But once the sun goes down, the enterprise is much more difficult. Instead of a wealth of diffuse light with a broad spectrum of color [sunlight], artificial light is emitted by a point source of a single color. The more recent “flexible” sculptures we’ve made express this monotone with each tube focusing the point source into a sharp ring and the collection of rings appearing as a linear highlight across their surface.

So when commissioned last year to do a dining room installation in Singapore, we figured the jig was up. The sculptures were the least spectacular at night and that was the time that most people would see it. We had been trying to finesse this problem for years and our attempts at a solution were both too straight-forward and wrong-minded. With an attendant sense of desperation, we kept trying to place the lights more deftly as if the solution were just out of reach and simply a matter of additional effort and insight. Exasperated and half-joking, we conjectured that the only way out was some sort of “lighting Jujutsu,” which emphasized the objectionable highlights rather than trying to obscure them. Of course, this turned out to be the solution. Admittedly this was not the consequence of an inspired evolution. It would be more fairly described as enlightenment by way of grasping at straws.

Assuming the band of linear highlights as a starting point, we concentrated on what produces this effect: a point of light becomes a radial line or ring perpendicular to the length of each tube.

When the number of tubes is increased the single point of light becomes a radial line or ring perpendicular to the length of each and every tube. So in an array of parallel tubes, one light becomes multiple virtual lights.

A single light source on a single plane of glass tubes.

4

If a second array of parallel tubes is then placed in front of, and perpendicular to the first, each instance of a virtual secondary light is produced along the length of the additional tubes (at a spacing equal to the diameter of each tube).

5

This produces multiple virtual lights and, as in a house of mirrors, it is nearly impossible to identify the original point source. The objectionable light is now lost in a uniform sea of twinkling lights and we have effectively reproduced the medieval conceit of the crystal chandelier, whereby precious candles were multiplied in the various facets of each crystal.

Chatsworth Light Tests_02

Two layers of glass.

Chatsworth_02

The finished sculpture at a private residence in Singapore. Photo credit: Michael Weber

Chatsworth_01

The finished sculpture at a private residence in Singapore. Photo credit: Michael Weber

Posted in Chatsworth, Installation, Residential | Leave a comment

We Refuse To Be A Statistic

Emily here with a wee trifle of life at 1649 Valencia St….
Metropolis Magazine recently posted an article about the meandering lunch table at Snøhetta’s office in New York. They said, “Fewer than 20 percent of American office workers take a lunch break, partly because the average workplace doesn’t have a lunch room.” When I read that I thought a few things. Among them:

  1. Who says you have to have a lunch room to take a lunch break?
  2. Is taking said break a by product of eschewing the life of the office worker and forging a path in the arts?
  3. Is it about the space or is it about the people?

#1 – Every day we confront the impossible—from figuring out how to make Nik’s designs to how to install 3 installations in 3 cities on 2 continents in 3 weeks*—so you could hardly expect that not having a lunch room would stop us from lunching.

#2 – Yay Art.

#3 – I’m the only one here today [3 installs, 3 cities, 2 continents], it’s 3:02pm and I haven’t eaten lunch. Asked and answered.

We’ve talked for years about building a lunch table but it always ends up being something that’s going to hinge or collapse or have some sort of hydraulic system. Or we talk about something off-the-shelf but can’t accept the defeat.

And at this point we’re comfortable hanging out in the parking lot in our rag-tag Weinsteinian fashion and shootin’ the s*%t over some grub. In fact, we prefer it.

* More on the recent craziness and impressive feats of the Weinstein team coming soon.

 

IMG_3484

Dining and knitting a l’asphalt.

IMG_3490

Hanging out with a sandwich and a forklift.

IMG_3505

Who wouldn’t want to share their lunchroom with an old pallet?

IMG_3487

If we don’t need a table, why would we need chairs?

Lunch Room / Work Room Hybrid

Lunch Room / Work Room Hybrid

 

Posted in People, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Weinstein and Warwick Take It On The Road

Every summer the Glass Art Society [GAS] holds their annual conference in a different US city. This year it was just a hop-skip-and a jump down the road from us in San Jose and the theme for the conference was “Glass, Art, and Technology.” This was a great fit for us and we were pleased they invited Nikolas to speak. His lecture was titled, “Engineering Art.”

In contrast to past lectures—which have been somewhat broader—this presentation focused a bit more pointedly on the challenges that can, and inevitably do, arise when working in glass at the scale we do. And how our toolbox has, and continues to evolve….

Here’s Nik to get things started:

“The design of my installations is driven by an interest in sculptural forms and how they relate to architectural space. Technology has nonetheless become a principal element in my work. I take what I see in my head and figure out how to make it rather than looking at the available tools and deciding what to make with them. Tools are things that I develop to solve problems rather than parameters that define what I think I can do. Of course, I can’t just make anything that I want to, without regard for real physical and logistical constraints. I do have a vague idea of what is possible and an attendant “gut feeling.” But I start the process of designing projects in an aspirational mode. The balance of my team’s time on projects is spent in a highly iterative and experimental search for solutions to building the original design.”

One item in the experimental and problem solving toolbox is the software that the studio uses to make Nikolas’s ideas a reality. Specifically a plug-in for Rhinoceros, which is the 3D CAD program we use. The plugin is called Grasshopper.

An example of the Grasshopper plugin. The sculpture at left and the “guts” of the software at right. Around the studio, this application is know as The Gapulator. It lets our team study the spacing between the tubes.

Rather than struggling to write a layman’s explanation of this software, here’s a post with Sam Prest and Dave Johnson discussing and describing the marvels of this technology with Nikolas. 

A new tool we’ll be working with shortly is a custom tube cutting machine en route from Germany. It will be hooked up to a recent arrival that is the “Accucut Gold Digital Linear Measurement and Positioning System.” Stayed tuned for the scoop on this in the coming weeks.

In addition to Nikolas’s lecture, GAS featured the studio in the summer issue of their quarterly publication. Glass Art Society News, Summer 2015

AND in conjunction with the presentation, Nikolas was invited to submit an article to the GAS  Journal. For those among you who can’t get enough of Nikolas Weinstein Studios, his full article is below:

Creating Problems
The design of my installations is driven by an interest in sculptural forms and how they relate to architectural space. Technology has nonetheless become a principal element in my work. I take what I see in my head and figure out how to make it rather than looking at the available tools and deciding what to make with them. Tools are things that I develop to solve problems rather than parameters that define what I think I can do. Of course, I can’t just make anything that I want to, without regard for real physical and logistical constraints. I do have a vague idea of what is possible and an attendant “gut feeling.” But I start the process of designing projects in an aspirational mode. The balance of my time on projects is spent in a highly iterative and experimental search for solutions to building the original design.

While this would seem to be a somewhat backward approach (why not design based on what you know you can build?), it ensures for me innovation in methodology and, consequently, an evolution in aesthetics. When I face problems with no clear roadmap, I experiment. Most of the time it doesn’t work. But one out of every ten times, I see something unexpected and compelling that sparks an idea. I end up building tools and machines with different functions than I originally intended. This forces my work to change, and it allows me to dream of possibilities that are different and more complex than I would have previously imagined.

My first big project came when I was 26. I was very green and had only made blown pieces no bigger than myself. The commission was wildly outsized for where I was in my career but it was one that you just don’t pass up, an installation for the main public space in a Frank O. Gehry building at the center of Berlin next to the Brandenburg Gates. I had no idea what I was doing and spent nearly five years flailing. It was grueling and filled with moments of extreme doubt and deep despair, but I would never trade it in.

The sculpture was comprised of 36 glass elements the size of small cars that flew through the public atrium of a bank headquarters in three groups. It was about a year into the project when I realized that the scale and complexity of the project was way beyond my ability. I had proposed a cellular matrix of glass tubes as the sculptural material. To build this, we ultimately arrived at a process that required laying individual tubes in parallel on a flat kiln floor and firing them to a temperature hot enough to weld them together, but cool enough to prevent them from collapsing. This yielded a final assembly with structural integrity and a high strength to weight ratio. Once the matrix was fused and annealed, it then had to be shaped over a large mold during a second kiln cycle.

When the project began, I hadn’t appreciated that the process would require two separate cycles nor that the fused tubes would be such a fragile assembly highly prone to failure during the second heating. Even if we had built two kilns instead of one and figured out how to protect the panels in their interim fragile state, the molds were a problem unto themselves. The panels were massive and each one uniquely shaped. I couldn’t even get my head around how to build and store 36 molds the size of cars!

In what was to be the first of many unforeseen and insurmountable-feeling problems, I sought refuge at home with pasta and wine. Lost in an inebriated reverie, I found myself recalling the coffee-table novelty pin molds of the 70s—small, perforated boards filled with pins. When you pushed your hand against one side, it would mold the impression on the reverse. It was a shot in the dark, but I sketched a concept for a kiln bed constructed in a similar manner. My team quickly made a small version to proof-test the idea before fabricating the final kiln, which arrived in a dedicated eighteen-wheeler.

The kiln had a motorized undercarriage that could be programmed and raised to introduce a stippled topography on the interior floor. This allowed us to collapse two kiln cycles into one: beginning with a flat floor and pins unraised, the tubes could be arranged and fused together; then the floor could be actuated to incrementally introduce a mold form at the same rate the glass was bending such that it was continuously supported in its fragile state. Additionally, it allowed us to dispense with inefficient and ungainly molds in favor of an infinitely programmable floor with no thermal mass.

Even though I hadn’t conceived of the kiln before I began the Berlin project, it became its primary tool. Now that I had a kiln with a dynamic and programmable bed, I started to come up with new sculptural shapes that leveraged this technology. When I felt that the kiln was no longer enabling ideas but limiting creativity, I started to hack my hack. To solve other problems that my newer designs introduced, I began drilling holes all over the kiln so that I could remotely pull the glass via cables that ran over weighted pulley systems on the kiln’s exterior.

It is only as I approach the completion of a project that I finally appreciate how to really build it. The majority of the project time is spent making mistakes and learning, and the actual fabrication of the work represents only a small fraction of the effort. The solution gives me new ideas. A completed project is an opportunity to see what has been made possible by the new technology. And so the aspirational cycle begins again, and I design new problems to solve.

Photo Credit: Michael Weber

Overview of installation in Hong Kong hotel lobby.

Photo Credit: Michael Weber

Overview of installation in Singapore hotel ballroom designed by Norman Foster

Photo Credit: Bruce Damonte

One of three pieces in a triptych installation in San Francisco.

Photo Credit: Katsunasa Tanaka

Overview of installation in public atrium of Berlin bank headquarters designed by Frank O. Gehry.

Photo Credit: Katsunasa Tanaka

Detail of glass panels from installation in public atrium of Berlin bank headquarters designed by Frank O. Gehry.

Photo Credit: Jeff Benroth

Proof of concept dynamic pin-molding bed from small test kiln.

Rolling out the motorized bed of the full-scale custom kiln.

Rolling out the motorized bed of the full-scale custom kiln.

Posted in CAD, Mechanics, People, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Signed, Sealed, & Delivered

Nikolas posted about this project in Hong Kong when it was being installed back in February. Now that we’ve got final photography I wanted to pop in quickly and share these images of the Artwork we did for Swire Properties’ Arezzo residential tower.

This piece is interesting in the way it integrates with the architecture. It literally peels off from the balcony like a second skin. As it departs it becomes more sculptural and independent—finishing in a technically intricate, three-dimensional knot.

The sculpture builds on Nikolas’ previous ribbon-like pieces, in which each tube had the same curve. In this iteration we introduced a variety of different profiles, which makes the glass more visually alive and allows the tight and complex curves.

Thanks to Michael Weber for the beautiful photos.

AREZZO_13

AREZZO_09

AREZZO_11

AREZZO_01v2-2

AREZZO_06v2

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment