Monday, December 2, 2013

Shape-memory alloys, postmodernism, and the Leonardo Museum

We quite enjoyed learning about all the strange new materials invented in the last half-century, and the structures that these materials have enabled us to create. We watched some videos about strange, postmodern buildings that have fun breaking all the "rules" of architectural eras before them. We also saw some beautiful examples of Organic architecture (I love that house!).

One of the most interesting materials we learned about was something called Shape-Memory Alloy. Basically, it's a metal whose molecules arrange themselves into a crystalline structure at a certain temperature---and then, after being disarranged, they re-assemble themselves into the same structure when they return to that temperature. I'm not sure I explained that very well, but it becomes clear when demonstrated in this video. Amazing, right?

Here's something kind of cool you can do with SMA wire in paper.
Or bigger sculptures like this.

But for architecture, these materials have really interesting potential. They can be useful in modeling and CAD of unconventionally-shaped buildings, as shown here.

Or they could be used in the structure of the building itself, for example to open and close window shades when room temperature reaches a certain threshold, as demonstrated here. I know that materials touted as "materials of the future" don't always end up being as useful as predicted, but these are such interesting uses, I hope they do actually become integrated into architecture someday!

This brings us to our field trip, which was to the relatively new Leonardo Museum in SLC, to see a sculpture called the "Hylozoic Veil." It uses these SMAs to respond to the environment around it, providing a commentary on our shared and fragile humanity---or some such thing---fill in the art-jargon catchphrase yourself---but I thought it would be interesting to see, and it was. [I enjoy having a good laugh at the pretentiousness of the Art World, but I enjoy much Modern Art, with its sometimes-inane commentary, just the same. And it often does make me think. :)]

Because museum admission was free with our passes, we went into the museum as well, rather than just looking at the sculpture (which was in the lobby). It was pretty fun, though not worth the normal steep admission price, in my opinion (this seems to be a pattern for new museums around here, and I guess I understand it---open up a museum with not a ton of exhibits, try to get some word-of-mouth going, and expand as you go. I'm happy to have lots of museums to go to, so I don't mind patronizing them when they're new, but I can't help rolling my eyes a bit when I read their effusive ad copy, e.g. "The Leonardo seeks to reflect and respond to this new world by creating an innovative, dynamic space that builds fluency and knowledge, ignites the creative imagination of visitors of all ages, and inspires them to see and act in new and powerful ways." Hmm. Really?). I'll share pictures of the other exhibits in a different post. They have some of the Dead Sea Scrolls there too, which would have been cool to see, but that exhibit wasn't included with our admission so we didn't see it.
Nice rainbow lights in the entryway
More of the hylozoic veil---the beakers contain carbon dioxide so the thing actually exhales, or something like that.
It is really quite lacy and delicate looking. Beautiful.
We made mosaics in the "Art Lab" after going through the museum, and Malachi made his own depiction of the Hylozoic Veil. It's quite a good likeness, I think. :)

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