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.

 

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Dining and knitting a l’asphalt.

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Hanging out with a sandwich and a forklift.

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

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

Lunch Room / Work Room Hybrid

Lunch Room / Work Room Hybrid

 

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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.

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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.

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Carl Gets a Toy

Chaos reigns here at the studio. It is so full of glass, scaffolding, and people that we are too embarrassed to reveal photos. While this level of action is invigorating, it appears highly unprofessional and the scene would not be described as battened down and ready for battle.

But despite the obstacles, Carl offered to give the new scissor lift a test drive down one of the few remaining “open spaces” left inside. Clearly, he has no idea what he is doing.

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Play It Again, Steve

Puttering about this afternoon, we came across this jewel in the video archive. Though previously posted, it’s worth a second pass. An ode to former colleague Steve Cipoletto, it summoned wistful tears of laughter because he was hilarious company and because he’s long gone. Mind you, Steve’s not dead, he just lives in Palm Springs.

And if you knew Steve, the locale is as perfect as it is absurd. This is a man who was known to regularly chase a tin of sardines with a shot of espresso each morning at the shop, stage-dive at Ramones shows, and regularly copy Old Masters’ etchings in the evenings. In one sense, he seemed too ragged and urban raw to end up in a resort town. Then again, legend has it that Palm Springs is peopled with many unlikely types, so I guess he fits right in. Either way, we really miss him.

This video was taken during an installation in Hong Kong. At the end, he quips that he’ll retire to Hollywood. He was prescient. A year later he bid farewell, we wept, and he strode into the desert to lounge by pools in the county next door.

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Panel Ascending

Coffee. Lots of coffee. And then more coffee.

We’re knee-deep in glass tubes, cable, and thousands upon thousands of tiny hardware bits that comprise each of fourteen giant glass “leaves.” They range in size from roughly 3.5 meters (12 feet) to 6 meters (19 feet) and collectively appear to float down and through a vast atrium space. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. We have miles of cable to go before we sleep and more coffee to drink.

Here’s a time-lapse video of Carl and Matt’s afternoon. Before buttoning things up, they were doing a little “check-your-head” mock-up to verify how the pieces would be installed. Check!

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Bon Voyage

While this transport may seem mundane, we’re clicking our heals over here. The strike at the Port of Oakland was averted, the clouds parted and a large shipping container was dumped in our parking lot!

Although we had nothing to do with any of this, we’re nonetheless grateful as we got rid of too many crates that were in too small a space with too much work going on. After waiting nearly six weeks, we got a call the night before and by sundown the next day, it was gone. Bon Voyage and we’ll see you in Singapore next month.

The dropoff was over before it began. Bill claims the guy did the whole maneuver in less than ten minutes and was a sight to behold!

The dropoff was over before it began. Bill claims the guy did the whole maneuver in less than ten minutes and was a sight to behold!

Bill "blocks" the crates against the inside of the container to arrest any shifting during transport.

Bill “blocks” the crates against the inside of the container to arrest any shifting during transport.

Matt affixes shock-absorbing "donuts" in a tight spot between crates.

Matt affixes shock-absorbing “donuts” in a tight spot between crates.

The faithful twins. One let's us know upon arrival if the contents were unduly shocked or tilted.

The faithful twins. One let’s us know upon arrival if the contents were unduly shocked and one if they were tilted.

Goodbye.

Goodbye.

Behold, Apolo! This is the vessel and one of those is ours. It's also incredible to note that each one of those containers is forty feet long.

Behold, Apollo! This is the vessel and one of those is ours. It’s also incredible to note that each one of those containers is forty feet long.

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Up to Our Eyeballs in Crates

The sound of industry is eerily silent in our part of the world. The big boats and cranes that define the Port of Oakland are listless. And others up and down the West Coast are largely inactive due to a spate of work stoppages and contract negotiations. Container ships are stacking up in the harbor with no place to unload or fill up. It reminds me of the surreal spectacle of hundreds of enormous ships dead in the water off the coast of Singapore during the 2009 financial crisis. It’s not that bad, but this time it has hit home in a more personal and spatial way.

We have been trying to ship a completed sculpture to Singapore for over six weeks now. The correspondence with our shipping agent is nearly comical:

“Not sure what is going to happen.  ILWU/PMA announced a tentative agreement on Friday.  On that basis – the ILWU was hired for work on the weekend.  PMA had shut them out weekends and nights for the past two weeks.

On Sunday – the ILWU all took a break at the same time – prompting the terminals to fire all Union Labor.

The Union still has to vote on the contract.  If they accept – we should start seeing some improvement.  Not sure how quickly – but will keep you advised.  I suspect March 2 may be ambitious.  I’m beginning to think at least another week and maybe two.”

We have no real sense of when the crates might leave. They’re too big for planes and they could ship very soon. Or not. And so, we have six very large crates underfoot while we’re in the thick of building another project. Each morning, we perform an absurd ballet: we forklift crates into parking spaces outside or stack them here and then there and then move them back to their original location. It’s maddening. It derails our work and upsets our client’s plans. Grrrrr. And all the while, the unions bluster and management pretends at impassivity.

Stop parking your crate in my spot!

Stop parking your crate in my spot!

Oh, don't mind those two large boxes there. Or the two behind you. Or the one in the back. Oh, yeah. There's one outside as well.

Oh, don’t mind those two large boxes there. Or the two behind you. Or the one in the back. Oh, yeah. There’s one outside as well.

Sooner or later, we’ll still saddle-up and head across the waters to install this sculpture. We’ve become awfully fond of the piece and each day makes us a little more expectant. Let’s just hope this all breaks soon. Until then, here are some early model photos of what lies ahead:

View upon entering the room.

View upon entering the room.

Staring at the ceiling.

Staring at the ceiling.

View along the length.

View along the length.

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Back in Play

Even though we’re up to our gills in work, it feels like ages since we’ve installed a project. So before disappearing into the wormhole again, we wanted to post a couple of photos of a project that we just completed for a new Hong Kong residential tower. It’s our second collaboration with Swire Properties, the developers with whom we worked on the Frank O. Gehry building. It was a quick affair with a team of six, powered by Japanese energy drinks, Vietnamese pho, and a dizzying array of chocolate treats.

Matt up in the boom futzing.

Matt up in the boom futzing.

A view of the sculpture as it peels away from the balcony's glass balustrade.

A view of the sculpture as it peels away from the balcony’s glass balustrade.

Jenn and Matt preparations for the next lift.

Jenn and Matt make preparations for the next lift.

Happy Kaitlin makes some final adjustments with a dental tool.

Happy Kaitlin makes some final adjustments with a dental tool.

Jennifer commands the "Airman scissor tank."

Jennifer commands the “Airman scissor tank.”

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What’s Afoot at NWS

Hi, this is Emily. Since we haven’t posted in a while and I actually have some pretty cool things to share, I’m commandeering the blog today. Who am I and what do I do here? I spend my days managing how we engage with the outside world – talking to new clients, staying in touch with architects and designers, and organizing investigatory trips to distant lands. Generally, letting the world beyond our doors know that we exist. So, I’m excited to tell you about two recent events that put us in the public spotlight.

This month, we’re featured in the Art and Design issue of 7×7, a San Francisco-centric magazine. [Article PDF[Article Link] The photo editor, Jodi Nakatsuka, has been an enthusiastic supporter of Nik’s work and has been putting us under the noses of her editors, looking for the right time to showcase the work. The current feature article is great with lots of photos and some good background information. I’m not sure how I feel about the quotes. They kind of make Nik sound a bit full of himself. I mean, he has enough of an ego to keep this endeavor going, but he by no means thinks he’s an Art God. But who am I to critique positive publicity. We’re grateful to 7×7 and thrilled to have the work seen by people out in the public sphere.

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On a broader public note, we took home some gold in New York last week! I’ve always got my eye out for competitions we can enter, but until recently I couldn’t find one we were suited for. I mean, what do we really do anyway? Sometimes Nik says he’s a designer. Other times he refers to himself as a sculptor or an engineer. Long story short, we’re in a pretty niche market. Architectural competitions say we don’t meet the criteria and interiors competitions don’t have a category that suits us. So I was thrilled to hear about the “Judges’ So Cool” category of the 33rd Annual Gold Key Awards sponsored by Boutique Design and Hotels magazines. The competition was part of a large hospitality design and trade event at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. I entered a recent project we did in Hong Kong thinking whether we won or not it would be great to have our work seen by the esteemed panel of judges.

Shatin

When I learned we were finalists, I told Nik that the winners would be announced at a gala award event in New York. I had somewhat predicted Nik’s response, so when his eyes were on the ascending arc of the anticipated eye roll, I jumped right in with, “I know, not really your kind of thing so why don’t I go.” So I was off to a gala event and a few vacation days in New York. Nice perk. And if I could bring home an award, all the better. It was the last award of the evening and when they put images of our project up on the screen, the whole room oohed and ahhh-ed. I blushed under the dimmed lights and wished the rest of the team were there to hear it too.

As the winners were announced each recipient went on stage to accept their award and take a photo, but there were no acceptance speeches.

So, as long as I have the floor now, here’s what I would have said…

“The Artworks at Nikolas Weinstein Studios are 100% Nikolas but the figuring out, the making, the business, and all the rest is the group effort of Nikolas and a bunch of really committed, talented, unique, and hard-working people.  And even though he’s not here tonight, I’d like to thank Nikolas for always using the pronoun “we” when talking about his work and the studio.”

And also as long as I have the floor, I’ll let you know that we just got a small project in Russia (a new country for us), and will be installing artworks in Jakarta and Shenzhen soon. And this summer, we’ll install a very large piece in Singapore. So my plan for World Domination by Art is shaping up quite nicely.

Boutique Design article about Gold Key Awards is here.

Posted in Nan Fung Sha Tin, People | 2 Comments