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Architectural installation features at California’s Coachella festival

Words:
Stephen Cousins

The colourful lightweight wood structures, by design practice Hannah, used 3D printing and robotic fabrication and are destined for adaptive reuse as a residential house

The lightweight wood structures taper outward in pairs and resemble wings or crowns in varying geometric forms.
The lightweight wood structures taper outward in pairs and resemble wings or crowns in varying geometric forms. Credit: James Florio

A towering architectural installation at the Coachella Music and Arts Festival, in Indio, California, provided revellers with a prime selfie spot and a vital place of refuge from the burning desert sun.

Monarchs: A House in Six Parts, by experimental design and research practice Hannah, stands at the centre of the Empire Polo Club grounds in Indio. The sculpture comprises six towers arranged in a circle – think Stonehenge by way of California. Its 3D-printed concrete bases support fan-shaped robotically fabricated plywood crowns ranging from 10m to 22m in height.

The installation functioned as a wayfinder in the vast landscape of the festival, with its bases doubling up as seating, and the crowns casting elongated shadows to shield against the sun. The gradiated blue and pink colour scheme picks out light qualities in the Coachella Valley, including the desert sky at sundown.

  • The sculpture is arranged in a radiating circle and the blue and pink colour scheme picks out light qualities of the Coachella Valley.
    The sculpture is arranged in a radiating circle and the blue and pink colour scheme picks out light qualities of the Coachella Valley. Credit: James Florio
  • The 3D-printed concrete bases were designed to be carried away on the back of a truck for reuse.
    The 3D-printed concrete bases were designed to be carried away on the back of a truck for reuse. Credit: James Florio
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In a bid to reduce materials usage and embodied carbon, Hannah designed the sculpture for adaptive reuse as a residential house, the 2.4m-wide sections of concrete are each designed to fit in the bed of a truck for easy transportation from the festival.

Leslie Lok, a co-principal at Hannah and assistant professor of architecture at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning (APP), tells RIBAJ: ‘The concrete bases were designed and engineered to be reusable as both structural and spatial components for a residential home, details of which are still in the works.’

The lightweight plywood crowns were bent into self-bracing structures and will be repurposed ‘in smaller sections’, along with concrete seating elements, to be installed in a public park in the Coachella Valley.

The timber crowns were produced using two fabrication robots and a computer numerical control machine at Hannah’s fabrication shop. The concrete structures were printed on site by Peri 3D Construction in November.

Design iteration saw several full-scale prototypes developed to test joinery connections, material tolerances and assembly methods. ‘Prototyping full-scale modules was crucial to push the crown’s cantilevering form and test the material limits to determine how far we could bend, twist, and stretch the wood boards without causing fractures,’ says Lok.

The lightweight wood structures taper outward in pairs and resemble wings or crowns in varying geometric forms. Credit: James Florio
The 3D-printed concrete bases were designed to be carried away on the back of a truck for reuse. Credit: James Florio

Monarchs builds on previous work by Hannah and lab research at Cornell AAP, including a cabin built from salvaged ash wood and a 3D-printed home, made from timber and concrete.

According to Lok, construction innovations included using parametric modelling to push the technical boundaries of the timber and enable automated robotic and CNC fabrication. Ease of assembly was a key driver with wood boards first combined into ‘bending active panels, then joined to form stackable modules to create a structurally sound and visually striking assembly’.

An important design detail was the connection between the vertical cantilevered wood towers and the concrete bases, concentrated at two 2.4m-long beams, required to resist wind loads. ‘We designed the detail using custom plasma-cut steel with inverted steel beams to help anchor the connection with a clean profile,’ says Lok.

One hopes these technical feats were not entirely lost on the festival crowd as they partied long into the early hours.

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