Assistant Professor Ang Li is one of the designers included in the 2021 Exhibit Columbus hosted by the city of Columbus, Indiana. This event is a curated exposition of symposia, design presentations and an exhibition. This years’ theme is “New Middles: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What Is The Future Of The Middle City?” Curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, New Middles builds on Columbus’ legacy as a laboratory for design as civic investment to explore the future of the center of the United States and the regions connected by the Mississippi Watershed.
Assistant Professor Li’s installation, Window Dressings, is among the work of participants from the University Design Research Fellows category. Using a temporary cladding system of ornamental shingles, Li invites the viewer to reflect on the architectural legacy of Late Moderism. The installation refers to the demolished Commons and Courthouse Center, that served as an important community space in the city. Designed by Cesar Pelli and Norma Merrick Sklarek for Gruen and Associates, the Commons were constructed as an antidote to the deterioration of the life of city centers and the shift of civic and social activity to the suburbs and shopping malls. The architects strived to make the Commons a space open to the public and to serve as a multi-dimensional hub and a place for the community to gather.
The Commons was controversial as a piece of architecture due to its reflective brown glass. Chosen for its positive environmental qualities, the windows only offered a one-way view from the inside looking out, thus obscuring the life and activity happening inside during the day. The mall within the Commons struggled financially and in 2008, it was finally decided that the building should be demolished. It was replaced in 2011 with a newer version, designed by Koetter Kim & Associates as part of a redevelopment project focused on streetscaping and redefining land use.
Window Dressings draws inspiration from the types of activities that the Commons were once known for, such as proms, election events and exhibits. The project takes the form of an installation along the Washington Street façade and reflects on the building’s changing role in the Columbus community.
“A lot of my previous work occupies the space between architecture, public art, and experimental preservation to think about some of the maintenance practices and material afterlife behind architectural production.”
Li looked at the construction/destruction cycles of this area and was intrigued that the original building had a short-life span in a city with a progressive attitude towards city planning and architecture. She was also drawn to the history and development of mirrored glass and its integration from the aerospace industry into the architectural realm.
“Applied to The Commons facade, this reimagined second skin takes the form of a series of reflective mylar shingles that are layered together in varying densities to form a kind of architectural tapestry that would respond to air movement, pedestrian traffic, and other rhythms that would unfold along the sidewalk.”
Li was supported by a team that included students from the School of Architecture as well as a few alumni. Isabella Greco, Alessandro Ricciardi and Michael Deitz worked with Li on the prototyping and production process.
The site-specific exhibitions will be on view through November.