Solar-Powered Art Installation Coming to Queens

(Credit: Jenny Sabin)

In the past, the Museum of Modern Art’s Young Architects Program has addressed environmental issues as thorny as geopolitical water conflict and the American suburb in crisis through glowing tubes and exquisitely detailed models. This year’s winner is no less ambitious, exploring the crossover between material science and architecture with a soft forest of glowing, solar-active yarn that is temporarily on displace in the courtyard of PS1, the Museum of Modern Art’s Long Island City art outpost.

Lumen, as the installation is called, is the brainchild of Jenny Sabin, head of the Jenny Sabin Studio in Ithaca, New York (she also teaches at Cornell University). It’s “a structure of ‘knitted light’ that will not only transform from day to night but will also respond to visitors who interact with it,” Metropolis reports. The yarn will absorb light during the day and emit it at night, and the installation will include “misting stations” to create cooler micro-climates throughout the day. You can take a virtual tour (complete with some appropriately relaxing music) at Sabin’s website.

But the project has a purpose beyond looking seriously cool. Sabin’s work tends to operate “at the intersection of emerging digital technologies, adaptive materials, architecture and science,” she tells Metropolis. At the Cornell lab she directs, she works on projects funded by the National Science Foundation, among others, using adaptive materials and new digital fabrication techniques.

What does that mean?

“At the end of the day, I would describe myself as a “maker,” who operates across disciplines with new digital tools and design experiments and who engages adaptive materials and nonstandard forms,” she says. “But, in all cases, human engagement and interaction is at the core. One of the fundamental questions that I ask is: ‘How might buildings behave more like organisms responding to and adapting to their built environments?’”

Some of the research Sabin’s firm is doing could have implications for green building design and environmental engineering, though that would take thinking — and funding — big.

“[W]hat’s amazing is thinking about the promise of these materials and how they’re programmed, which can then create large scale transformations at, say, the scale of a building façade,” she tells Metropolis.

Click here to read the full Metropolis Q&A.

Rachel Dovey is an award-winning freelance writer and former USC Annenberg fellow living at the northern tip of California’s Bay Area. She writes about infrastructure, water and climate change and has been published by Bust, Wired, Paste, SF Weekly, the East Bay Express and the North Bay Bohemian.

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