The construction of the Bio Engineering Facility provided a unique opportunity to bring together research teams from engineering and biomedical research to promote the development of bioengineering and engineering health sciences at Michigan State University. The public art component of the project consists of nearly 200 tempered and laminated glass panels, each 21in x 30in x 1/2in, with colored interlayers, suspended on tension cables that extend over four stories high. Inspired by the color patterns in DNA mapping, the installation spans both sides of the building's central grand staircase, complementing the sleek, double helix-inspired design.
The goal of this project was to create a site-specific work of art that encourages students and researchers to use the grand staircase. Given the bioengineering work that happens in the building, I found myself particularly inspired by the way DNA data is often expressed using grids of color. One of the biggest challenges was that the work had to be created in a very narrow space between the stringers of the stairs. The challenges of the space became strengths that informed the work conceptually; the piece is truly interactive, inviting the viewer to physically move around the space to experience its entirety. In the process, the layers of the piece seem to shift, offering surprising reveals of color from different angles. This active interplay brings a vibrant sense of identity to the building and the community.
The project could not have been realized without the close collaboration of MSU, Integrated Design Solutions (architect), Clark Construction, SDI Structures (engineering), Couturier Iron Craft (cable installation and tensioning mechanism), and Flatlanders Sculpture Services (glass installation), among others. My first task was to become familiar with the site and nature of the research facility. The design process involved many iterations of color, placement, and scale of the individual glass elements. Addressing the technical challenges of fabrication and installation was truly a team effort. These included such considerations as deflection of the roof structure to which the cables were attached and coordinating installation of the cables with the construction of the staircase itself. In determining how the panels connect, I found inspiration in Eileen Gray’s “Brick Screen,” an iconic example of early modernist design from 1922, in which several horizontal rows of lacquered wooden panels hinge around thin vertical metal rods. Realizing this concept in glass affords the work a sense of timeless elegance, a seamless blending of the classic with the contemporary, as well as metaphorically echoing the structure of DNA.
The Bio Engineering Facility opened in 2016.
“Michigan State University collaborated with artist Paul Housberg to create a vibrant and colorful central feature for its new Bio Engineering Research facility. Spanning four stories and intricately placed within a double-helix grand stairway, the artwork has become an iconic element around which building life revolves.”
Planning, Design and Construction,
Michigan State University
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
The global online community that celebrates design projects featuring commissioned artworks.
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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