We recently had the opportunity to produce a physical scale-model of an unbuilt design of Iannis Xenakis. Xenakis was the Greek/French composer, music-theorist, and architect, best known for his use of mathematical models, stochastic processes, and game theory in his composition. Xenakis was an important influence on the development of electronic music and he also worked for – and collaborated with – Le Corbusier. Busy fellow.
About 20 years ago, Xenakis designed a residence for his friends Roger and Karen Reynolds. Roger Reynolds is the Distinguished Professor of Composition at the UCSD Department of Music. We came to know Professor Reynolds through our work with him and his colleagues while designing the Conrad Prebys Music Center, which was completed in the spring of 2009. Professor Reynolds sent us the working drawings that Xenakis produced from 1990 to 1991. The house was to be sited in the Anza-Borrego desert in southern California. Xenakis had – over the course of a year – come up with a set of pictographic fenestration across the curvilinear exterior walls. Due to the challenging nature of the geometry, we decided to 3D Print the model using our Objet Alaris30.
The digital model was created in Rhino to be printed at 1:64 scale. Due to print bed size limitations, we broke the model up into about 12 discrete parts. Though not often highlighted, 3D printed parts rarely (if ever) come out of tray ready to present. Some amount of post-processing is always necessary; but the pre-processing – with regard to division into parts – is crucial. A smartly created digital model saves time and material, as well as produces a better end product, but – 9 out of 10 times – some assembly is still required.
Xenakis had drawn furniture and fixtures in the bedrooms, studios, and bathrooms, so we wanted the roof to be removable to get a better view of the interior program. Since it was a two-story design with two accessible roof terraces, removal of the first floor roof segments was separate from the 2nd-floor. There was only one pragmatic deviation from Xenakis’ design: in our model the 2nd-floor could rest on the 1st-floors walls without the roof-planes.
The glass was also modeled in Rhino and then laser-cut from clear acrylic. Each glazing unit could then slide into the mullions. The mullions were extremely small and delicate, but glue was only necessary in two or three locations; otherwise the window details work just as Xenakis drew them.
The final model was mounted on white museum board and set within a wood frame. Xenakis selected sandstone for the exterior walls, but we decided to present the model unpainted, as representing materiality at this scale would have been difficult and not entirely appropriate. The color shown is the unfinished cured acrylic.
Since we had a digital model, we thought it would be instructive to see some renderings of the house in its intended context, with some added materiality and light. Professor Reynolds sent us some site photography and we knew the building orientation from the original plans. These renderings are entirely speculative. Xenakis may or may not have liked this choice of material, but we can certainly learn something about the overall design, especially with regard to the pictographic fenestration. The renderings at left are just one more link in the digital-physical-digital chain, helping us understand what Xenakis might have intended.
Digital model and printing assistance: akudalkar & scrawford. Model photography: ahunter & enothdurft. Renderings: kbeck. Thanks to Roger & Karen Reynolds.
Roger Reynolds has kindly sent along photos of the model, in situ, at MOCA Los Angeles.