Students Design Head-Turning Installations for Big Omaha Conference

Students Design Head-Turning Installations for Big Omaha Conference

By Kerry McCulloug...

May 20, 2016

Art Installation

Many professions address design challenges including architects, interior designers, engineers, computer programmers, city planners etc. One of our teaching objectives is to give our students real-world design scenarios and see how they solve them. We believe it is a key part of their growth as a design student.

Recently, the Big Omaha Conference invited Associate Professor Brian Kelly and his Architectural Representation: Theory + Application students to design several artwork installations for their 2016 conference. This was a great opportunity for Kelly's class to explore the design evolution process, taking a drawing or modeling concept and turning it into a full-scale production piece.

"This relation is foundational for architectural practice and was a topic of exploration for the seminar," commented Kelly.

The installations were designed to be catalysts for attendee conversation and interaction. Since the Big Omaha Conference is about inspiring entrepreneurial thinking, what better project for our students to work on?

In all, architecture students created three art installations for the Big Omaha Conference in Omaha's KANEKO gallery, with about five to six students per team. To create these large, full-scale installations, the teams used a combination of materials including cardboard, leather, acrylic, wood, paper, fabric and large format printing. Design and build time for the installs took two weeks and installation was roughly a half day.

The first installation was entitled, "ANATOMI-COW." The design incorporated the cross-section convention which has significant use in several disciplines, including those of medical (anatomical drawings and CAT scans) and architectural works (building sections and details). "ANATOMI-COW" uses the fabrication technique of sectional contouring of a form, in this case the Big Omaha cow, to collectively manifest its internal and external properties. The abstraction of the external (skin) was generated from inspiration of the black and white pattern of a Holstein cow breed. The internal condition is translated through specific views which render the body transparent.

The second installation "WHAT THE FLOCK" was inspired by mass customization using a series of small-scale, interactive, flat-pack design elements which were given to participants at the conference allowing them to create various usable and ornamental objects. Over the duration of the conference, their interactions created an emergent 'flock' of design pieces on display communicating demographic traits. "WHAT THE FLOCK" builds on the idea of open-source design with user-generated content and contained embedded knowledge where folds accommodated various predetermined configurations.

"Our design was intended to be highly interactive, encouraging participants to be very hands-on by folding the hanging envelope piece and then deciding where their design would fit along the spectrum before placing it among the other hanging pieces," explained architecture student Caitlin Tangeman, who worked on the "WHAT THE FLOCK" installation. "It also encouraged communication between attendees, since they often collaborated to figure out, how the piece worked. The final result of installation was heavily reliant on the participation of the Big Omaha attendees."

The third design, "CAN YOU SEE ME COW?" incorporated a creative use of camouflage. By definition, camouflage is the act of hiding or disguising the presence of a person, animal or object by means of painting or coloring in order to blend in with its surroundings. "CAN YOU SEE ME COW?" is an exploration of techniques of razzle dazzle, a camouflage technique commonly employed by the military and automobile industries. The installation creates surface distortion through optical illusions and hidden imagery while engaging and encouraging the audience to become a part of the artificially created surroundings.

These installations were the talk of the conference spurring conversation and enticing attendee interaction and participation.

Tangeman recalls the reactions her "WHAT THE FLOCK" installation received, "It was really interesting to see how people think and react differently to the same object and set of instructions. Some people read directions and tried to follow them as closely as possible, thinking it through carefully first, while others simply started folding and playing with the envelope to understand it, making it fit their own interpretation of the installation. It really emphasized the difference between "thinkers" and "makers" in a way we hadn't anticipated."

"Attendees were highly engaged with the students at the conference and were very impressed with the installations," remarked Kelly. "The Big Omaha staff was extremely happy with the final pieces installed by students remarking on the level of craft and concept."