September 16, 2018 to present
South Coast Botanical Garden
"A Fuller Sense of Metal" by Dora Epstein Jones
The work of DOSU Studio Architecture will change your mind about metal. Metal is supposed to be strong and stable. It isn’t meant to bend, and if it did bend, or move, or flutter, that would be a sign of its failure. Not so in the hands of DOSU’s architect and innovator, Doris Sung.
For more than ten years Sung has performed experiments on metal. Her goal has been to animate the material—to make it bend, move, flutter—and then to learn from that animated metal new ways of making metal respond to climate, new ways of fastening it to itself and to other materials, and yes, new ways to achieve structural and synthetic strength. Her experiments have led her into the specific use of thermobimetal, a sheet metal composed of two different alloys with different coefficients of expansion, sandwiched together. When the metal is heated, one side expands more rapidly than the other, causing the entire strip or sheet to curl. Thinner bimetals curl tightly when heated, thicker ones curl more loosely.
In a number of Sung’s projects the metal is asked to perform immediately. The massive Bloom at the M&A in 2012 literally bloomed when the sun hit it and closed up when the shadows stole over it. The strips of metal that make up the sides of the assemblage Drift (2016), for Toyota’s Future Forward initiative, moved to admit beams of light to pass through the volume. In other projects, such as the towering eXo (2013) or, here , Fuller (2018), the animated metal contracts and then expands to “lock itself into place.” The movement of the metal is crucial to finding new forms of fitting and then placing pieces into tension. Fuller is in tension—a perfect, balanced tension.
Fuller needs to be a sphere. In an obvious nod to Buckminster Fuller, the sphere is made up of a repeated connecting module. But more than what Bucky could have imagined, this module is nonequivalent: there are larger triangles and smaller triangles and then, of course, the bowed curves of bimetal that hold the ball together. Even the bowed curves are nonequivalent, popping out slightly from the semblance of a single monotone structure in a more traditional Buckyball. Geometry is at play in Fuller, pushing the ball to be composed not of joints and connectors but of an exquisite equipoise.
While many engineers and architects might practice a kind of material callousness or a more muscular show of strength, Sung indeed has a more gentle poetic. Strips of shiny metal dominate, but the ways in which the strips are woven together, usually without fasteners, speak to a more cultural effect, a craft rather than an assembly. Her Invert Window (Ongoing research) is like a string of butterflies fluttering when the sunlight heats them up. Her Armoured Corset (2009) is like a large hanging lantern. Fuller, while more of a proof of stability, is also not straightforward. Every geometry has a reason and a performance-based proof of heritage, but Sung happily bends the strips into petals and the petals into flowers.
And this is the crux on which Fuller spins or rolls: most objects of innovation try very hard to look sleek, aloof, and new. Sung’s Fuller is more like a found object, an architecture of a longer cultural heritage. Fuller is one part a test of material, another part a fifteenth-century Italian diagram of the universe, a demonstration of Leibniz’s monad, or a mathematical model found in an ancient madrassah. One discovers in encountering a work by DOSU that the world is full of secrets that we do not yet know. Fuller asks us more.
Credits and Information
MATERIALS: Thermobimetal, aluminum, nylon string
PUBLISHED ESSAY for COLA: Dora Epstein Jones
DESIGN TEAM: Doris Sung, Elizabeth Phillips, Adelfrid Ramirez
CONSULTING ENGINEER: Matthew Melnyk, Nous Engineering
FABRICATORS: Neal Feay Co.
FUNDING: Long Family Foundation, COLA Fellowship and Neal Feay Co.