Architectural Glass sculpture "In Nature"
IN NATURE is the largest glass contemporary artwork in the Baltic states. It is located on the ground floor of the award-winning Academic Center for Natural Sciences of the University of Latvia (2015). It is entirely hand-crafted. Technically demanding, aesthetically pleasing, 22 tons heavy, and yet visually so light… More than 32 tons of glass was used to make it. The physical realisation of the sculpture took more than nine months and involved the work of fourteen people.
Architect of the Academic Center for Natural Sciences explains that, for her, it is important that monumental art becomes a part of public buildings (2016)
We discern IN NATURE as an architectural sculpture. It is architectural, because it is not a temporary piece of art, but a central element of the main foyer of the university. It was developed in response to and in collaboration with the main architect, planned to suite the features of the building and become one of it's permanent structures. Thus, a careful calculation was carried out to ensure the safety and durability of the construction. It is a three- dimensional, site-specific art work, made to catch the eye of the typical passer-by: a tired, hard-working student of natural sciences, and, for a brief moment, take him/her into a magical pine tree forest, which relaxes, revives and inspires.
Thus, we had a task of designing a central piece of art for a place where the next generations of natural scientists would be educated. We had to essentially devote it to them: as a source for their pleasure during breaks, their pride upon their arrival and haven from the loaded daily schedule. And, because nature is the only single phenomenon that contains all of those qualities combined- it had to be an element of nature. Nature fascinates, nature is the beginning and end of everything, nature is what these scientists will dissect and study, nature is the best source of peace.
The artist submitted several sketches and 3D models of possible designs. Finally, the one that he himself felt most at harmony with was also chosen by the architect Vita Polkovņikova. Slightly curved glass modules portraying trunks of pine trees seemed to have the right disposition in relation to the setting- both physical and philosophical.
Physically, the composition did not overpower the atmosphere of the foyer, and yet it was not to be missed by a passer-by. It finely highlighted the architectural spirit of the building, by drawing upon the forms of the concrete structures on the façade of the building.
Philosophically, The University of Latvia is the most important institution of higher education in the country and any Latvian would be proud to be studying there. This Latvian pride and patriotism is also reflected in pines. Yes, in pines... a tall and slender form held up by very strong roots. Like humans… No matter where one is from, one can only know who he/she is by knowing their roots, acknowledging his/her strengths and weaknesses and acting upon them. Only by knowing what one is made of one can properly take care of him/herself and thrive. Latvia is a country of forests and lakes, and pine happens to be the most common type of tree, accountable for nearly 40% of the total forest area. For a Latvian, a pine is enough to remind him/her of who they are as one of the most well known Latvian songs starts with these words:
"Here, where the pine tree forests rustle, I am tied with the dearest bonds- this is my fatherland…"
The artist, of course, also has his own, peronal, intimate story of how he came to the idea of pines. His story starts in his childhood by the sea, in the dunes and the pine hurst separating the seaside from the highway. However, nearly every Latvian would have dear memories of running around, gathering mushrooms or climbing up the trees in a pine forest.
The Process of bulding architectural sculpture
There are 16 glass modules, or trunks, 5.2 meters high, extending from the ground to the ceiling of the foyer. Amongst the fourteen people involved in the development of the sculpture there were three physicists/engineers, who mathematically calculated the tension and load of the structure. After applying several changes, gave their approval for the safety of the sculpture. This was done using advanced simulation of our 3D compositional model (on the right and below).
Each module consists of unique, hand-cut 8mm thick glass layers, which were first developed in a 1:1 prototype using foam rubber. Being an exact replica of the original, it consisted of over 10 000 individual, numbered layers. No two elements in this composition are alike.
Prototype for the whole sculpture was prepared and installed to see how well it fitted the actual setting. The middle of the modules is cut empty for steel mounts holding the structure.
Working by hand with each of the 10 000 layers is imperative in achieving the undulated rhythm of the glass and making sure that the sculpture, as huge as this, does not yield an industrially produced effect. It also allows checking the safety of it, by making sure that all the edges are smooth.
The hand treated cut-off line for the whole sculpture reaches over 20 kilometers or 12.5 miles.
The middle of the modules is cut empty for steel mounts holding the structure. This process is even more complex than cutting the rim of the layer.
Building The Structure
Besides cutting the glass layers, the process of gluing them upon each other is also done by hand.
This is due to several factors, firstly, the irregular forms of the edges have to converge to render smooth transition between them. Secondly, the glue has to be applied evenly across each piece to elude tilting of the structure. And finally, the glue has to be applied very close to the edges to prevent dust from settling in the barely visible slits.
The glue used is the best quality, highly durable, liquid UV glue, which, as opposed to industrially laminated glass, does not leave visible light grey traces between the layers. A tedious process of cleaning the glue, that has managed to find its way out and stick by the edges, follows.
In the above manner, glass layers are built into blocks that can be lifted by a single human and transported to the building site, where it is installed in the same manner- glued on top of each other with utmost care.
Artist At Work
The artist is involved in every phase of the development. Every single rim carries his original signature, as he has bestowed a unique delineation to each. With the help of his team and builders, he has designed, cut, treated, glued, lifted, built and illuminated of the sculpture.
There is a thin led wire extending along the back of each trunk, bringing out the fractured character of the glass layers and accentuating the slightly convexed form of the trunks. It offers the opportunity to change hues and, thus, the atmosphere of the foyer. Technically, the led wire was the best solution that rendered an even distribution of light across the whole sculpture.