Challenged to develop a sculpture that would make a strong statement about the commissioning company’s expertise in engineering and motion-control technology, Michael Batchelor and Andrey Bererzowsky of Montreal’s SWON Design delivered a work of subtle beauty to an otherwise stark architectural context. Here’s a close look at the resulting medley of textured glass, sheeting water, gleaming steel and arcing jets, all set within curving ponds.
With residential projects, the importance of understanding the character and focus of the client is widely recognized and appreciated. Although the scales are different and the “clients” may be committees, we’ve discovered that the same is basically true with commercial projects as well.
A case in point is this project, which we completed for Parker Hannifin, the Mayfield, Ohio-based manufacturer of engineering components and a multi-billion-dollar company whose products are found on everything from Space Shuttles to precision industrial machinery. Appropriately, the sculpture we were asked to design was to reflect a highly refined, disciplined sense of beauty.
We at SWON Design were first contacted by an independent marketing consultant, Karen Skunta, who was participating in the company’s effort to re-brand itself – a program that, in part, included upgrading the landscape surrounding its corporate headquarters. She had read the article we published in WaterShapes in October 2005 (“Glass Works,” page 56), liked what she’d seen and thought we might be a good fit.
What the company was after, she said, was a sculptural feature to be mounted in a 52-foot-long architectural pond that was to form the core of the revised plaza at the building’s entrance. She let us know that Parker Hannifin was interested in something that would symbolize the company’s high-tech aspiration – but would at the same time appeal aesthetically to visitors who come to visit from all over the world.
The company, we learned, does business in 48 countries and conducts a significant amount of business on its Ohio campus. What was needed was a work of art that would have immediate, uncomplicated visual appeal.
When we met with the design team, which included local landscape architect Kathy Jankowski and several others, we were asked how we thought our work would fit within the context of this high-tech company. We straightforwardly explained that our sculptures have almost invariably been about precision in the way we work with glass, metal and water. By nature, we said, it was a good match.
Given the go-ahead to make a formal presentation, we returned to our studio in Montreal and generated a variety of design sketches. In doing so, we communicated steadily with Jankowski, who had been responsible for the design of the watershapes and the rest of the plaza. We also were in contact with Hobbs Fountains (Atlanta), who had been selected by the design team to provide the fountain effects. In doing so, we simultaneously dealt with the issues of scope and scale – the size of the sculpture, how it would be mounted and the way it would interact with the water elements.
|By design, the sculpture we developed for the plaza in front of this corporation’s headquarters is all about sophistication and a refined, disciplined sense of beauty – a direct reflection of the company’s production of precision-engineered products. From all angles and distances, it also speaks to the company’s current desire to upgrade its brand, image and public presence.|
Their curvilinear forms, which played off a round, turret-like entry to the building, gave us the advantage of being able to develop a work of art with flowing contours that would contrast the (primarily) rectilinear design of the plaza and the building itself.
We became involved in November 2006, by which point no definition or consideration had been given to the sculptural component of the project: It was a completely blank slate beyond the predetermined shape of the ponds. After familiarizing ourselves with the company and its corporate mission of supplying the world’s need for advanced motion-control systems, we began thinking about imagery that would suggest movement within a carefully controlled, engineered design.
It wasn’t too long before we were energized by the idea of a set of large glass sails – a concept that seemed to accommodate all of the emotional, psychological, symbolic and practical criteria we’d been weighing.
Before we reached that point, however, we’d been through several design iterations. As the process unfolded, we had the sense that the people at Parker Hannifin were wondering if we really understood what they wanted. The sails changed all that: They immediately liked what they saw, and within weeks we finalized the design based on a model, perspective drawings and CAD renderings.
A key through this process: We provided them with samples of the glass we planned to use so they could touch it, look through it and get a feeling for its weight and thickness. We accepted the commission in January 2007, and everyone’s hope was that we’d be finished by the end of the year.
Working with glass, we knew that we would be able to create a visually open feeling with the sculpture, playing off the ability of the material to distort views and transmit light. We also would be playing with the material’s fluidity – a perfect complement to water. As designed, the sails appear to cut through the water, and some people have told us that, at first glance, they look like the dorsal fins of sharks or dolphins.
There are nine overlapping sails in all, with their curved forms interacting. The slumped glass was supplied by a company in Montreal that had cut and textured it to our exacting specifications. The dimensions were critical, as the panels were to be contained in frames that would lend the work a clean, architectural look.
|Whether seen from inside the building or from the parking lot, whether encountered in broad daylight or at night, the glass sails capture emotional, psychological and symbolic values the company wants to convey both to its staff and to anyone who happens to visit: The composition is open, fluid and engaging and serves its purpose both as a gathering place and as a work of art.|
The frames are all rigged with rubber pads so there is no glass-on-metal contact, and every component was designed for sturdiness. Given the inherent strength of the half-inch-thick glass we were using, we had no concerns about the wind, which we knew gusted through the plaza with occasional intensity.
It was crucial, of course, for the stainless steel components and the glass panels to be exactly matched. Given the tightness of the schedule, however, we weren’t able to follow our usual practice of checking and preassembling everything in our shop: Instead, the first time steel and glass came together was on site during the installation phase. It was risky, but everything fit perfectly – a credit to the capabilities of the firms we chose to do the fabricating.
Hot and Cold
When we were in the design phase for the project described in the accompanying text, our clients expressed concern about how well the glass panels would hold up in extreme, Ohio-winter-type cold.
We explained that glass in general is to withstand extreme temperature differentials. Consider the glass all around your building, we said: It’s exposed to extreme winter cold on one surface and warmed by the building’s heating systems on the other, and it never cracks as a result.
That simple explanation satisfied their concerns, and the glass sails have stood up as expected.
M.B & A.B.
Hobbs Fountains provided these sheeting-water effects and was also responsible for mounting three jets in a smaller, crescent-shaped pond positioned a few feet away from the main pond. The jets send arcs of water over a 12-foot-wide walkway between the ponds, reaching a height of approximately 15 feet. This playful feature was added at Parker Hannifin’s request: They wanted moving water to be part of the overall composition – again symbolizing the company’s expertise in motion control and adding to the plaza’s overall visual and sonic appeal.
The effects work with circulated, filtered and ozone-treated water, so the clarity and quality are outstanding. All of the equipment is housed in a sub-grade vault located about 50 yards from the sails.
While the completed project is a model of serenity and grace, the process of getting it done within the desired timeline was anything but: The installation process was, in a word, miserable. To make it happen, we ended up doing almost all our work on site in the dead of winter, with other trades scurrying all around us in a race with the daedline. We were relieved when it was all over – and even more relieved that none of our components suffered any damage during the process.
Now that everything is complete, it’s easy to forget those travails and get wrapped up in enjoying the sublime interrelationships of water and glass: The reflections, the distortion of light, the juxtaposition of the solid transparency of glass and the ephemeral transparency of water – it’s all quite complex and wonderful. But what everyone seems to appreciate is that you don’t need that sort of high-minded evaluation to enjoy the space. It all comes together with a simple beauty and grace and just looks great.
|After sunset, the real magic of the sails emerges as they change colors, dance on the water and take on a more animated look than they have during the day. Indeed, their soft glow gives them unusual visual appeal at the close of a workday, even when the ponds are drained and snow blankets the plaza.|
The display is sublime during daylight hours, but it takes on a different aspect at night, when the LED lighting we incorporated in the base of the pond comes on and gives the sails a fresh look by accentuating their forms in a soft glow. Even during the winter, when the ponds are dry and the water system is drained and shut down, the lights continue to operate – and yet another level of visual interest is introduced when the snow accumulates on and around the sails.
We completed our work on deadline in January 2008, and ever since we’ve received a steady flow of comments about how much our sails have added to the plaza and the working environment of Parker Hannifin’s many employees. It’s gratifying to know that this work will be there for them indefinitely and will continue to send positive messages about the company and its mission for years to come.
Andrey Berezowsky is co-founder of SWON Design in Montreal. An artist and designer whose experience spans some 30 years, his passions have included furniture and industrial design, stained glass and glass blowing. He worked in Germany for five years with some of Europe’s finest glass and neon artists and has developed a knowledge of materials and processes that has allowed him to work in a multitude of mediums with refined skills and a knack for creating beauty. Michael Batchelor is the other co-founder of SWON Design. He worked as an assignment photographer for 17 years in an operation with offices in Montreal and Toronto and has worked for some of the top advertising and design firms in North America. In addition to his award-winning work as a still photographer, he has been involved in the film industry and also worked as a design and communications director for Sonnet Media, where he honed his skills in design, marketing and product development.