SPEAKER 1: Peter Niessen-- the firm, Inside Outside where Peter is the lead designer and our next speaker, represents a novel form of practice somewhere between interior design and landscape architecture. Initially specializing in curtains and textile finishes, the firm has expanded to include projects from fabric walls to landscape conditions.
Peter Niessen was the lead designer on the curtains you see here and up in the studio, and brings to this conversation a decade of working with textiles to qualify architectural space in terms of light, air, visibility, and tactility. Please help me welcome Peter.
PETER NIESSEN: Petra Blaisse started her career at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, in the department of applied arts after studying fine arts in England and the Netherlands. From 1987, she worked as a freelance designer and won distinction for her installations of architectural work in which the exhibited work was challenged more than displayed.
Gradually, her focus shifted to the use of curtains and soft finishes as tools to organize sound, influence light, and create space to introduce movement into the static architectural environment. At the same time, she started to design gardens and landscape, which, in her view, seamlessly connected to the interior interventions, combining both professions under the name, Inside Outside.
In 1998, she found a space in an old school building where she invited professionals of various disciplines to join her in her creative adventures. Since then, Inside Outside has grown into a team of about 10 to 12 people each of different creative, cultural, and religious background, making it symbol for what our work is about-- a perpetual search for new answers and solutions to often, complex, demanding issues in the fields of interior and landscape architecture practiced in many countries, in service of many different clients and cultures.
I didn't click fast enough. I have a lot more to show, so I'll need to go to the next subject. Yes-- collaboration.
Inside Outside is a design firm that accepts commissions of small to very large scale, both within the Netherlands and internationally. We focus on the interaction with architecture and the intent of the architect, on sharing the initial speculative moments of a project and taking part in its development from beginning to end.
Our work continuously anticipates various aspects of a project from meaning to use, cultural, or social expectation, and the economic and political context in which a project evolves. Therefore, our works runs parallel with the architectural process and can take between six months and six years to complete.
Our work is about the experience of space itself, and the emotional or physical connection between the interior and the exterior. We create openings, views, and perspectives. We introduce movement through the orchestration of trajectories. We implement texture and color. We influence light, sound, and climate. We manipulate floors, walls, and ceilings, facades, and furniture, and create surroundings with inserted objects, layers, or planters, the trigger movement, or move through space and time themselves.
In the end, our projects link widen, limit, open up, divide, or multiply a space, enriching it with a multitude of physical affects. But now the question is, of course, why gardens and curtains? Because they have something in common. Both are defined by the elements, and climate, time, growth, and finitude. Both depend on the human touch. And both cannot be completely controlled.
It is actually this unpredictability and changeability that we like to reintroduce through our work. It is, namely, the unique and exceptional qualities of the mysterious and the unexpected. How the reintroduction of pace, emotion, and surprise impacts our static and controlled urbanized environment, and how it counteracts the speed and money driven development strategies of today's politics.
Again, I didn't click enough quickly, so--
This was actually about the politics that we need to counteract upon. I dare to state that Inside Outside has helped the curtain to emancipate from its traditional responsibilities, to discover entirely new roles. One important tool to achieve this is the form of the track.
The track choreographs movement, and thus leads the curtain in, out, and through space, changing its appearance and effect with the speed with which it moves, and detaching it from the architectural form itself. The curtain thus becomes a personality of its own, invading, inhabiting, and deserting a space, opening it up, dividing, or multiplying it.
A curtain can be anything. A curtain can be silent. It can be restrained, noisy, elegant, overwhelming, blunt, or breakable. But it can, at any given time, diminish, or expand its volume, undulate, or stretch, fold, lead, roll, or shift, flutter, or wallop, reflect, absorb, irradiate, thus forever changing the acoustic, visual, and mental atmosphere of a space in its passing.
Given programs and the expected deliverables for our interior interventions are as complex by now as they are for build volumes. Apart from requirements linked to use, safety, environmental restrictions, labor regulations, maintenance levels, available budgets, and local culture, our curtains need to answer to meticulously detailed programs, from acoustic absorbency, reflection, or isolation, to sun reflection, glare, and climate controlling levels, and from view filtering darkening, shading, to wind reduction, protection, or isolations. They need to be fire resistant, color-fast, long-lasting, easy to handle, and they have to meet size specific, maintenance, and life expectation levels up to 15 to 20 years.
Their weight requires specific constructions and roofs. Their trajectory impacts the design of the ceilings, the floor plan, the pattern of the transparent facades, and a storage volume influences the size and positioning of walls.
Wow. That was about Inside Outside-- just our working mentality. I'll continue to say a bit more about the curtains that we designed for this. Our commission for the Paul Millstein Hall was to design a darkening curtain for the auditorium enabling the use of projections in the space, and a second more festive curtain to be used for special occasions and gatherings of the Board of Trustees.
Then, for the AP forum, we were asked to design a sun-reflective and glare-control curtain, creating a pleasant working space. We usually start the design process by studying the building, your general context, and the architects intent. Then, we map the given spaces and study materials, colors, and furniture. What weight can the ceiling carry? What plane should it cover? What other roles could it play? Does it need to integrate information-- media, logo, specific colors? What are the so-called allergies of the client that we need to consider? What is trajectory of the sun? And where can the curtain be more permeable and where does it really have to be closed?
Then we start designing the track configuration, deciding about the trajectory of the curtain through the space and defining its storage area. For the auditorium, we originally designed two separate tracks with two separate storage areas. The track configuration for the darkening curtain-- this is the blue one here-- followed the north and west facade obediently and ended its storage in the southwest corner, which would be there.
The festive boardroom curtain would run parallel to this track, more inward to the space, but then curve to envelop the stairs at the balcony and keeping for its stored position-- sorry, so it was done to store it-- to envelop the stairs, thus welcoming the students on the balcony and keeping the facades as open and transparent as possible.
Since Cornell is famous for its architectural education program, which has cultivated many renowned architects, we find it an interesting idea to derive inspiration for the curtain from the discipline of architecture itself. The Dutch architect, an artist and architect, Hans Vredeman de Vries, who lived in the 16th century, was one of the first artists that thoroughly researched a newly found system of perspective drawing.
The [INAUDIBLE] in Amsterdam kindly gave his permission to reproduce some of his original etchings for our design. We carefully selected a number of images from their archive, which were scanned at the highest possible resolution, thus enabling us to blow up the scale of these meticulously etched, but rather small images, to what you see today.
In the auditorium-- wait-- yes-- in the auditorium, we mainly zoomed in on the columns of these drawings. These are digitally printed on both sides of the black-out material. Looking at it from inside, the curtain suggests a colonnade outward, distorting and enlarging the actual auditorium space. But seen from the outside, the columns create the alienating suggestion of a classical foundation supporting [INAUDIBLE] modern architecture.
Then, for a more spatial effect, we perforated the main perspective lines, accentuating them while creating a relation between inside and out. The positioning of these perforations had to be researched thoroughly, making sure that a penetrating light through the low angle of the sun on the west facade would not disturb the audience. As the same image is printed on both sides of the curtain, the inside being mirrored to the outside's-- here you see it-- the inside drawing mirrored to the outside's image, the perforations will only match with perspective lines on the inside, creating on the outside a random-- an apparent random pattern of perforation.
Now for the boardroom, we designed the curtain to be an addition to the darkening curtain, relating to it, and when used simultaneously, creating a different and exciting appearance. We wanted it to add a color-- a touch of color to the monochrome auditorium, and looked for the right combination with the field of the auditorium chairs.
Experimenting with different percentages of transparencies, we eventually decided to cover the complete image with a semi-transparent fabric, printed with an undulating gradient of white and yellow. In the surface, we placed six windows framing a very specific part of the image behind. Thus, the windows become paintings, and the yellow curtain a gallery wall exhibiting graphic art.
Let's go back one. Now, a project of this scale and this prestige may need a higher budget then reserved. It is sometimes inevitable that cuts have to be made. One of the consequences of this was that the boardroom curtain could unfortunately not be realized. A decision we regretted, but we understood.
Now that the darkening curtain was the only curtain in the auditorium, the situation was reconsidered. With one track deleted, we decided to combine both trajectories of both tracks, thus creating a new form. The darkening curtain was now going to be stored around the stairs. But then with the added color gone, we experimented with color on the inward facing surface of the curtain. But soon, we rejected this direction.
By applying color to it, the image became decorative losing its essence. I'd like to quote Kent Kleiman in his reaction to this color issue, since he's put it in words so beautifully then. So, I quote, "the linear construction of the image is both the means for making the image and the subject matter of the image. Vredeman's images were, after all, didactic demonstration pieces, engraved lines do all the work. Lines of graphic projection and lines that delineate objects share the same value, in this perspective exercises, producing a careful equivalence between the means of representation and the things thus represented. It is a double image. Once the blue sky is added, Vredeman's image flips into becoming just a picture," end of quote.
And actually, we were very much in agreement, and proposed them [INAUDIBLE] to add that same gray and blue color to the field of the auditorium chairs, upon you are seated today.
Now the AP forum curtain was initially intended to create a smaller space within the space, separating a student's working space, a meeting room from the general working space. But during the process, it was decided that it would be better for solar control to cover both facades completely in one big gesture. The east and south exposure is tremendous as there are no buildings and only few trees mitigating the direct solar gain.
So for this curtain, we use the same concept of architectural perspective drawings digitally printed on fabric. Here, we selected a PVC mesh often used in advertisement billboards as a blank canvas for our design. In this design, a layout of various drawings with different perspectives suggest new boxlike spaces within the space and seemingly endless grids of perspective lines.
We decided to print on the exterior side of the curtain, leaving the interior of the fabric untouched. Thus, we created a curtain with a suggestive and mysterious exterior, while this image merely permeates through onto the interior side. The images were printed in sepia brown color to relate to the adjacent [INAUDIBLE] wall, while complementing the grays in [INAUDIBLE] facade.
Now, although they are based upon the same concept of perspective drawing, both curtains have completely different personalities. The auditorium curtain is like a classical landscape with its black and white graphic image of a forest of columns on the classical courtyard, combined with a more industrial structure that suggests a kind of bridge to another world. It runs elegantly along the track, winking at us with its perforations that let glimpses of light see through, to end at the storage area where it becomes the pleated textile sculpture.
The AP forum curtain has a darker and mysterious character on the exterior, while inside it softens the space by filtering the view and a penetrating light with a white semi-transparent fleece that reveals images of the suggested spaces. It envelops the space with a tender caressing embrace, uplifts it with a magical reflections on the floor, and creates a quiet and calm working atmosphere.
We are extremely thankful to Cornell University and [INAUDIBLE] for giving us this commission, which has proved to be a great experience and also a big challenge to all parties involved. This was one of all the questions that we had in many submittals. More question marks and answers, but we are happy to have contributed to the architecture and to be a small part in this prestigious project.
Inside Outside hopes that the students and employees of Cornell University will enjoy this building and the curtains for a long time to come.
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From lectures by Rem Koolhaas, John Reps (M.R.P. '47), and William Forsythe to an exhibition of work by Simon Ungers (B.Arch. '80) to a party unlike any the college has thrown before, Celebrate Milstein Hall energized the AAP community as 500 alumni and guests reconnected with 300 faculty, students, and staff for an exhilarating weekend.