Meditations in Glass
SMWM Architecture approached me to do an art-glass feature wall for the new meditation chapel at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco. It was great to have the opportunity to collaborate with SMWM on this project and see our idea come to fruition. The 5′ × 10′ wall was installed in January 2006.
I think SMWM and I had a similar vision. They were familiar with my work and already had a pretty good concept for what they wanted. When I was drafting ideas, I wanted to do a piece that respected the users of the space and also extended the architectural intent. The chapel is a small and intimate setting that relies on simple volumes and materials and carefully considered lighting for its effect.
As you might imagine, many emotions come into play when creating a piece for a hospital. I feel that the architect, client, and I all wanted to create a space that evoked serenity, peacefulness, and contemplation.
My approach to glass is to use it in a manner that express its materiality and tactile qualities, while also giving great thought to color, pattern, and light to shape and define a space. The architects already had a basic color palette in mind, so I worked to fine-tune their concept, as well as to enrich it with additional accent colors. In this piece, as in much of my work, I strive to express a basic color note while also incorporating a full diet of color.
The feature also incorporates a waterfall by Harmonic Environments. The water element was part of the architect's original concept around which I designed. It made sense to echo the water theme within the piece itself through the use of color and the rippled, or sawtooth, relief of the art glass.
The main challenge for this project, as for many of the projects I am brought in on, was designing for a space that only existed in the form of architectural drawings. If I'm lucky, I have renderings or models to work with. The challenge is to visualize the space and come up with the appropriate response despite the possibility that the actual built space will be dramatically different from what I imagine.
Close collaboration with the designer or architect is essential to avoiding unpleasant surprises. I ask lots of questions. I ask for drawings, color samples, and material swatches. I try for a thorough understanding of any aesthetic, thematic, or philosophical underpinnings that drive the design of the site, how the space will function, and who will use the space.
Much of my work consists of kiln-formed or fuse/cast glass. Sheets of colored glass are layered in a kiln and brought to temperature (about 1,480°F), at which point they fuse together, making a flat tile. In a second firing, at a somewhat lower temperature, these tiles are slumped in steel molds, which impart the sawtooth relief.
Each tile is individually designed as an element of the larger whole and is numbered with its position in the wall. The technique resembles that used for both collage and mosaic. The completed tiles are shipped to the site, where someone from my studio and/or I mount them onto a tempered glass substrate previously installed by the client's contractor.
Almost all my projects, with the exception of sculptural or free-standing pieces, are architecturally integrated and site-specific. This location was chosen because of its public nature and for the capacity of color and light to offer a contemplative or transcendent experience.
I think it was the right material and the right location for a piece like this. If the work provides a moment of repose or reflection, I will consider it successful. I hope those that visit feel the same. HD