Floating World - CODAworx

Floating World


Client: Iowa State University

Location: Ames, IA, United States

Completion date: 2014

Artwork budget: $384,000

Project Team


Ralph Helmick

Helmick Sculpture


ZGF Architects


OPN Architects


Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University

Industry Resource


Industry Resource



“Floating World” is a permanent artwork for the new Biorenewables Complex at Iowa State University.
Located in one of the world’s foremost centers for agricultural research, the suspended sculpture comprises a series of increasingly modern agrarian horizons, interspersed with layers of optically porous mists. The entire composition is backed by a “map” depicting the state of Iowa and its rivers.
The sculpture was designed as an epic atrium artwork that reflects the spirit and content of the research institute’s endeavors.
The sculpture measures 46’h x 31’w x 30’d, and was commissioned by University Museums for the Art on Campus Collection.


As a site-specific commission, the sculpture was designed to complement and amplify the design and function of the space. The goal of the artwork was to provide a strong visual presence with minimal mass, with consideration to the atrium’s form, circulation, and natural light.
The atrium is five stories high, with entrances to the east and west, and a trapezoidal footprint – it is widest at the east window wall, and tapers toward the west entrance. The primary views of the sculpture are positioned along the East-West axis, linking the atrium’s main entries in a natural corridor. From the west entry, the sculpture takes advantage of the room’s optical foreshortening to present an orderly illustration of the history of agriculture.
From the east window wall, natural light floods the atrium. The light percolates and reflects off the surfaces of the sculpture, changing with the times of day and the seasons. It generates endless variations of shadows that converge and conflate the layers of content, projecting the past on the present and the future on the past, embodying the essentially elusive nature of history.


The artwork and architecture studios had a good working relationship, with a focus on the practical – ensuring the artwork location and details worked with the architect’s layout and material selection.
The design process involved a close collaboration with the client, and the artist hosted a series of design charettes with the community, soliciting their participation to ensure that the artwork accurately reflects the spirit and content of their work.

Additional Information

“Floating World” draws inspiration from theater scrims, the paintings of Grant Wood (an Iowan native), and Japanese woodblock prints, or ukiyo-e (literally “floating world”).