Nuclear Thresholds’ commemorates the 75th anniversary of Enrico Fermi’s ‘Chicago Pile -1’ – the first man-made, self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction.  The project brief invited us to reflect on the nature of the experiment, as well as the tension between control and the loss of control engendered by the birth of the Nuclear Age.  Essentially, the project is a protean pile of material that begins as a simple arc and then dissolves into exponential complexity.

Project Name: Nuclear Thresholds
Architect Name: OPA – Ogrydziak Prillinger

Nuclear Thresholds By OPA - Ogrydziak Prillinger - Sheet4In developing the project, we thought about chain reactions, and the random walks of liberated neutrons.  We thought about critical mass, when a chain reaction is barely self-sustaining, and supercriticality, the turning point when the rate of fission increases, sometimes to the point of being out of control.

Nuclear Thresholds By OPA - Ogrydziak Prillinger - Sheet7We were interested in the complex materiality embodied in the original experiment:  the tightly-packed pile of graphite used for the experiment, as well as thinking about matter as something not solid but composed largely of space and energetic particles.  The incongruous siting of this existentially pivotal experiment in a squash court captured our imaginations.  Finally, we also wanted to pay homage to the Henry Moore sculpture by intensifying the site and partially enframing it on its vast plinth.

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The installation consists of 241 two-inch diameter, seventy-five-foot-long cords of EPDM rubber.  The cords are close-packed in a hexagonal array, forming a simple arc that serves as a bench.  The bench invites contemplation and directs focus to the Henry Moore ‘Nuclear Energy’ sculpture in the center of the plinth.  After forming a quarter of circle, the form splits into two branches that explode the regular, controlled form of the arc.  Those two branches then each twist and split into two more branches, and so on, exponentially increasing the complexity of the overall form until all the cords are writhing freely.

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There are many different ways to begin thinking about the installation, and hopefully visitors will pick up some reference that interests them and pulls them into deeper contemplation.  It is something of a puzzle, and is intended to provoke questioning some of the assumptions we have about the physical world and our role within it.

OPA – Ogrydziak Prillinger

Ogrydziak Prillinger Architects (OPA) is an idea-driven office committed to finding design solutions that both expand the possibilities inherent in architecture and resonate within their particular context.  While every project originates as a response to specific requirements of site, program and client, each evolves as an exploration of its own internal potential rather than reflecting a predetermined style. In all the work, there is an emphasis on communicating architectural meaning by creating powerful emotional and perceptual resonances.  Shaping and choreographing spatial experiences through the consideration of movement and formal logic results in work that is distinctive for its conceptual clarity and physical presence.

Luke Ogrydziak and Zoë Prillinger received BA and M. Arch degrees from Princeton University and have taught at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley. OPA has been featured in publications including MARK magazine, The New York Times, Metropolis, Wallpaper*, Architecture, Architectural Record, and GA Houses, and in multiple exhibitions at the GA Gallery in Tokyo. They are currently exhibiting an installation at the University of Chicago coinciding with the 2017 Chicago Biennial.  OPA has received numerous American Institute of Architects San Francisco and California awards and the Architectural League of New York’s ‘Emerging Voices’ award.


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