Maximilian's Schell - Ball-Nogues Studio

Maximilian Schell was an actor, who played the role of Dr. Hans Reinhardt in the sci-fi adventure movie "The Black Hole" (1979). The character of Dr. Reinhardt is on a quest to conquer the unknown forces of black holes, and actually wants to steer a spacecraft through a black hole. The movie is (and probably rightfully so) almost forgotten, but the name of Maximilian Schell lives on, as namegiver of an outdoor installation in Los Angeles, by the architects of Ball-Nogues studio, called "Maximilian's Schell".

The installation looked like a rendition of a vortex. It creates an outdoor space to inhabit, by means of a swirling canopy made out of tinted Mylar panels. As the designers themselves write on their website "During the day as the sun passed overhead, the canopy cast colored fractal light patterns onto the ground. When standing in the center or "singularity" of the piece and gazing upward, the visitor could see only infinite sky. In the evening when viewed from the exterior, the vortex glowed warmly while both obscuring and allowing glimpses of the building behind it."

And while this background story of black holes, vortexes and whatnot is somewhat entertaining, and while the spatial effect was indeed stunning (as far as one can judge by looking at the images), the most fascinating part about this structure is the amalgamation of "skin" and "structure". The installation is a contemporary version of the work of Frei Otto in the fifties and sixties, in the sense that it is a behaved as a so-called "minimal surface": a prestressed form which is always in tension but still is definable mathematically.
Membrane engineer Dieter Strobel did an awesome job transforming hand-sketches and computer models by the architects into a digital model that actually worked the way it should, fysically. The interaction between architect and engineer created the form as such. This gave the canopy the smooth look, whilst giving space for creating it out of the Mylar panels, which give the space the lovely spatial and lighting patterns it has on the interior.

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