Coral Column

Capital Detail

Coral Capital Detail, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

Coral Column was developed for the exhibition “Close-Up” at the SCI-Arc Gallery. The central question posed by the curators was how digital technology altered the approach to architectural detail. The way we addressed this question touches on the points raised by the editors of Offramp for the issue Guise. In particular, we were interested in dealing with the dichotomies of real/fake and mundane/special through physical means of representation. The column with all its disciplinary connotations seemed to us a particularly well-suited object to explore.

Column Studies

Column Studies, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

The history of architecture can be reasonably traced through the development of the column and its many stylistic variations. Over centuries columns projected to varying degrees eternal qualities such as truth, justice, and beauty. These fictions were communicated through physical features such as size, proportionality, the detailing of its components and so forth. The fiction to end all fiction was introduced by Mies’ Barcelona column with its use of machined parts and precious coating. The “liberated” image of the column was now fully in service of the modern narrative of a universally legible architecture rather than one contingent on time, culture, class, etc. The demystification of architecture and its components seemed complete. 

Column Construction Detail

Column Construction Detail, Photograph by Karin Hedlund

Plan View

Plan View, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

The advent of the digital introduced a different kind of image-making capacity, in which the ethic of purity, as expressed in reproducible machine parts, seemed no longer necessary to uphold the modern tradition. Enlightened notions of “progress” could now be maintained with more complex geometries as long as the reference to technology as the primary enabler was kept intact. At least that was one of the prevailing digital narratives. However, to us the digital had quite a different appeal. We were always interested in the ability to conjure up new cultural images by merging material and analog qualities with the processes of the digital. As a consequence, the question of what constitutes the real (and thereby the fake) became endlessly more contradictory and interesting. Coral Column arose in response to this question. 

We designed the column with a set of distinct and seemingly oppositional qualities in regards to its materiality, fabrication technology, and aesthetic/political associations. At first glance, the column appears like a unique and precious artifact but it can easily be reproduced and quickly assembled. The column shaft is made by multiple stock aluminum extrusions, which have been combined together into a single object. Oblique cuts into the extrusions reveal the inner structure and display highly ornamented features. Through these cuts we distinguished column base, shaft, and capital with a nod to the classical ordering systems and transformed the everyday quality of the extrusions from an ordinary to an extraordinary one. As a result, the image -or guise- of the aluminum as a mundane and pragmatic building component is forced into tension with the arabesque aesthetic displayed in its otherwise hidden core.

Top View

Top View, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

Cc Detail 1

Coral Capital Detail, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

Cc Detail 2

Coral Capital Detail, Photograph by Karin Hedlund

Cc Detail 3

Coral Capital Detail, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

Column Base

Column Base, Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

Capital Parts

Capital Parts, Photograph by Karin Hedlund

While the column’s shaft was made entirely with analog means, its capital was produced by digital fabrication. It echoes the “found” ornamental qualities within the sliced extrusions in a digitally enhanced form. The capital is made of a pixelated powder composite but appears solid, uniform, and heavy. Its marbleized color pattern evokes the ancient craft of stone carving. By extending the sectional patterning of the oblique cuts into the powder print, the extrusion structure transforms into pure ornamentation. Deep-seated categorical beliefs that structure relations between image, form, and content are reversed. The mundane, as represented in the metal extrusion, is made special and finally elevated (through the capital) into a pure and autonomous design expression. At the same time, the powder capital is the most fictitious and “fake” part of the column. It represents neither structural expression in its ornament, nor does it refer to a deeper truth.

Column Full 2

Image courtesy of SU11 Architecture+Design

In a sense the capital of Coral Column becomes the ultimate guise, not so much in its concealment of a particular hidden real, but rather by exposing the shifting alliances and multiple fictitious realities upon which the architectural image has always rested. 


SU11 Architecture+Design

Design Team: Ferda Kolatan, Erich Schoenenberger, Hart Marlow

SCI-Arc Fabrication Team: Elias Jackson Darham, RafaelRama, Vee Hu, Charmaine Lam, Karin Hedlund, Agustin Bernal

Photography: SU11 & Karin Hedlund