Lewis Wadsworth – Google SketchUp and Experimental Architecture
For some time now we have been in contact with Lewis Wadsworth, designer and artist from Boston, and discussed a possible article/interview here at SketchUpArtists. In the meantime we actually met at the Google SketchUp Conference 2010 where he told me he had been invited to do an interview for the popular British magazine 3d Artist. Being great fans of his “Experimental Architecture”, his unique presentation style and narrative we decided to present his three chosen works in their original form. We think that the images and the accompanying text are truly inspirational. Check out Lewis Wadsworth’s latest tutorial where he explains how to achieve some of these great images featured in this Spotlight article.
The Pavilion for Oblivion
“Besides its intriguing design, we were struck by the poetry of the narrative for this entry. We have decided to let the narrative stand on its own, rather than interview its author and rewrite his tale in our words.“
An upright stone in a puddle of rainwater…or two, or five stones…a few fragments of a curving wall, a capstone precariously balanced across the uprights, defying time and gravity, a banked platform, perhaps even a path (to where?) marked out by yet another set of stones.
Is this a work of architecture? Was it a work of architecture, two, three, or nearly five thousand years ago? It’s a pile of rocks, but it had a meaning to the nameless figures who dragged the rude megaliths up from the valley, excavated the ditch with spades of deer antlers, who marked the path, who left their stone axes and the bones of their leaders or their scapegoats tucked in odd corners. We can survey the remaining stones; we can look for alignments with the stars or mountain peaks that might or might not have been sacred; we can carbon test the splinters of wood left in a post hole long filled. We can never really know what was intended here, what they meant in doing this. Yet the significance is there, in the leaning stones, the path, the post holes…we can feel it. It’s still there, but we can no more define it than we can speak the language of the builders or understand their vanished world.
I do not like the term “spirit of place,” which seems overused now…but if there is such a thing, a ghost of intent with an objective presence independent of its forgotten, long-demised creators and their whole swept-away milieu, it lingers in such fragments and such places.
It is difficult at this point to imagine that I will ever in my foreshortened career undertake a project with more than a transitory financial significance to its owner, let along an ineffable meaning that will outlast me and my whole civilization. But I can imagine how I might approach such a thing…how I could evoke this ghost of intention, with the means and materials I believe I understand as a man of my own time.
So let me start with the same elemental fragments and gestures: a path, marked irregularly, almost unmarked, by found megaliths, across the flat top of the hill…for the initiate, or for those to be initiated?…a gateway and threshold, also elemental…the gate is into the Other Space, a foyer to a sacral world, perhaps (but it doesn’t really matter which sacral world, does it?). The space of transition beyond the gate is a circle…and because I am modern, I have the stones kept from falling into the space with heavy oxidizing steel plates and wide-flange steel columns embedded into the concrete platform. There is yet another “elemental” guardian, a single low, tooth-like stone on axis with the first threshold, in a small reflecting pool like that which would form around it on a sodden moor (even though here it is a pool in a concrete platform)…and beyond, on a different platform, on a different axis (or none at all, to mark the change in the Path), another pool, under the oculus of a precarious-seeming (but actually rather overbuilt) structure of plywood sheathing, monoplanar trusses, and steel sections…a pool reflecting just the misty sky…Beyond the pool are stairs down to the edge of the world, or perhaps just a view into it.
Eventually of course the trusses will weaken, the sheathing blow down the hill in a storm, the steel melt away in red and orange stains, the concrete complete its karmic return as sand and gravel. What will be left? A few upright stones, a few fragments of a curving wall, a path…and the ghost of intent.
Pavilion for Oblivion
Lewis Wadsworth, 2008
“This is the house where I wait for the world to come to an end.” Far from supine, this embattled sequence of heroic enclosures (“re-purposed acrylic arena-spectator shielding; insulated hull house grates…”) has the force and focus of a single, personal shout of defiance. Mr. Wadsworth’s board achieves the impact of a strong graphic novel with its mixture of true outrage and hyperbolic comedy. There is wonderful consistency between the tone and imagery of the narrative and the drawings.“
…the site (this is where to build, this is what can be put here)…the client (this is what they want, in exactly this shade of this tint of this)…the crass economics (this is what can be put here…this is where the not-a-cent-more money can be spent)…even the the vagaries of formal operations (this is the shape…this is what the style/procedure/computer-program says happens here, as if it matters)…
Must it always go that way, petty commonplaces driving each project from assigned purpose to imperfect-if-not-botched realization? As if any of those considerations matter ultimately, at the final trumpet-blast, in the end!
That phrase in the end itself can–in fact, does conjure–in fact has conjured up a potential mythology, something with which I might defy the quotidian: this is the house where I wait for the world to come to an end.
Having latched on to this Mythology as the basis for a work of architecture, in defiance of the usual conventions and rituals I must next determine a site. Where does one go to await such an occasion? Not for me the conventional-conventions for “going out with a bang”, now that I have a Mythology: no typically-grand (or even typically-snug) house in a great city; no typically-soaring cathedral for my typical-prayers; no typically-beautiful spot in a beautiful country; not even a typically-favorite little resort with a typically-special friend for company. I strive to think of some place hard to reach–for I’m not coming back–with little to call me there other than it will be one of the last places to succumb to whatever thing or things (as if it matters) will consume the world. I think of desperate literary journeys and undertakings. I remember Poe’s Pym and his unfinished narrative of an unfinished voyage to the antipodes: South. All the way. Until things start to stop.
The correct site leaps off a map of the Antarctic at me: Deception Island. I like the name. The whole of existence is generally recognized as a deception; so let me witness it being swept away from the vantage of an island named in honor of the great untruth. And the map I have is from 1829, so my site is a deception now too (a volcanic island in a disputed sea is unlikely to remain geographically quiescent for decades, let alone a century and a half). My Deception Island is metaphysical: no oil spills, no noisy tourists looking for penguins and icebergs, no “research” stations waiting for the next eruption or a pointless change of sovereignty. My Deception Island waits alone, stark and unvisited in a southern sea, for the end of all deceptions.
So: a dark coast, green-less and forbidding, a bleak shore of rock and sand, backed by “ice cliffs” (from the 1829 map), north of a forbidding headland like a giant boulder. This is where (metaphysically, mythologically) I will make the last voyeuristic stand against oblivion in the appropriate architectural vessel and prepare to watch something that might be a storm (but could be any fashionable version of apocalypse, personal or universal) sweep in from the sea (my proxy for the courts of chaos).
Ship it down, pound it down, lift it up, sheath it up, insulate it in case I have to wait, put on a black cloak–and stand there waiting for the end to come up like the most picturesque of gales:
I imagine the place on pilings to last a bit longer as whatever floods in (ignoring, because this is Mythology, the animosity of wind-driven mini-bergs towards relatively-weaker fiberglass-composite poles…there is probably a way around the issue, and anyway perhaps the bergs will have all melted). The curve of the water-front elevation is a bulwark: metaphysically, spiritually hydrodynamic/aerodynamic. Back of the house is a same-elevated deck for the be-tarp-ed supplies (or nothing, depending on how long I must linger).
Since the end will come (in my Mythology) from out the sea or over it, I face the openings that face the sea with a shielding grate in front of heavy (insulated and impact-resistant, to be certain) glass set in stout steel doors. Of course, this is primarily a place to watch something or watch for something, so those shielded window-doors must open onto shielded lookout-balconies which take their brunt-shapes from the curving steel arch of the roof (minimum radius of curvature 10′, according to the manufacturer). Re-purposed acrylic arena-spectator shielding will permit view of that ominous horizon. When the waves get too high, I will back into the hull-house proper, shut the grates (I’ll have to heroically struggle against the wind, no doubt, to get it done), push the doors closed until the gaskets engage, and watch the last act through the glass. I probably wasn’t as careful as I should have been with the flashing details, given the amount of whatever (waves, rain, tears?) dashing against the front, and the salt will eventually eat into the galvalume. But then this doesn’t have to last forever:
Lewis Wadsworth, 2009
In an unpopulated valley in a northern country, there is a natural spring that has always been marked with some kind of monument. Originally this was a “holy well” perhaps the seat of some local deity and later the special charge of a martyred hermit. More recently, the well has been commemorated for quenching the thirst of a well-loved monarch, who inexplicably paused there en route to some more important place. The royal refreshment was recalled by a Gothic structure suggesting a medieval crown. But a century of winters and the inadvertent woolly caresses of thirsty sheep sent the granite voussoirs tumbling down, leaving the site a patch of hoof-churned grass and mud pocked with rubble. I am tasked with restoring the natural order of things.
It’s a simple enough site, around that small hole in the middle of a curving valley between steep-sided but round-topped elevations. Water steadily puddles out into the greenery for no real distance and then disappears. There might be a kind of path along the valley to the well, suggesting that one would tend to approach from slightly south of east. But it is critical to note that there is no passage within miles for conventional vehicles, and even on foot this location is accessible only during the fleeting warm part of the year, as the granite-toppling climate makes for treachery the rest. I am thus restricted in materials to what can be delivered at rare intervals on the back of some breathing creature or derived from the local environment – which includes some firs, fairly straight if not particularly substantial – and of course stone, much of it available in large, flattish boulders that will conveniently slide down from the surrounding mountains given the correct incentive.
I decide that, putting the puddling to use, a pond is a given, created with bentonite-clay geosynthetic liner, geotextile fabric and grid in various layers with sieved fills between and below. It’s simple to detail, and the necessary imported materials are available in portable rolls. But this decided, various enclosures grow and fade into paper ruin around the pool, which itself changes shape (ultimately 2456 sq. feet, average depth 2’). In its last contortions, the pool elevates itself within a stone-topped berm (max. 5’ above original grade), so that the whole covers 5450 sq. feet.
Throughout the protracted design phase, some scheme elements linger peculiarly, long after I have forgotten their original rationale and lost the sketches that I made as reminders. Often these fragments find themselves in new situations within this project, like wreckage-robbed building components re-purposed with no regard for their original employment. It occurs to me this sort of accelerated virtual plundering is appropriate: the project is a memorial, after all, example of an architectural type designated to recall events gone or persons departed. So the well and surrounds become a memorial to memory itself lost and fragmented, memories shorn of their meaning and misappropriated, and the form is a consequence of that process. One can find a path to the center of the pool, and stare into the shaded depths of the well to discern – not recollections of the expired or miraculous revelations – but only an emerald-tinted murk.
Fir-tree trunks find themselves, Venice-piling-like, supporting flagstones that surround the well-center. And enclosure evolves into three wooden configurations that only shelter themselves, basic minimal ferrocement for their roofs with the chicken-wire reinforcement sagging between branches used for purlins. Trunk-poles composing their bodies are chain-saw-carved, bound in place with wire and made fast with a minimum number of gutterspikes, including those infamous nine-inch nails. I study what I have proposed for these structures, after so much drawing and erasing, and “telamon” passes through my mind. I don’t believe I have ever heard the term, or even seen it used in print. A quick bit of research reveals this to be an alternative for the more common “atlas,” which is the masculine version of the caryatid. If these are atlantes – or rather, telamones – what burden are they sheltering-supporting as they damply attend the well? The sky? Or something forgotten? But who am I to thwart such mysterious inspiration! Telamones they are.
I am also reminded of the more ornate versions of Japanese torii, which demarcate the border of sacred space. (These telamones signify a space sacred to lost memories, I surmise.) There’s another related analogy here: I have read that certain temples of perishable materials are rebuilt at regular intervals. This will also be necessary for many elements of my project, including these wood structures, even if supported on steel poles above the shallow pool. The supports and the pipe-railings for the treacherous watery paths shall have to be carried to the site, in pieces. Of course, it still will all come down soon enough, in no more than a dozen or so years. Will I be there to restore the site again? If not, will someone else remember to do so?
In time my putative clients ask for a concise explanation for all the drawings and models, and on hearing my best attempt ask me what I call this monument. I admit that I am unable to settle on a particular title – sometimes the designs are tagged “Fountain”, but at other times “Monument” or “Well.” My clients laugh: “Then it’s a holy well, all right: the Well of Saint Lonely!” Not a bad name: what’s lonelier than lost memories – or a monument to them? I have accordingly begun labeling the documents “WoL.” Well of Lonely, indeed. I suppose the abbreviation could hold other meanings, too.
Lewis Wadsworth, 2010
About the Author:
Lewis Wadsworth, is a designer and artist in Boston, Massachusetts who works principally in the field of architecture. Lewis’ architectural projects have appeared in AIArchitect, the journal of the American Institute of Architects, and have been honored by the Boston Society of Architects.
He has also illustrated projects for architecture firms in the United States, Australia, and Japan.
Lewis has an undergraduate degree in visual studies from Dartmouth College and a Master of Architecture professional degree from Yale School of Architecture. He currently teaches 3D design and illustration at Boston Architectural College.
You can reach Lewis and see more of his work on his web site:
Lewis Wadsworth’s latest contribution to SketchUpArtists: