Everyone has heard of the term “it’s all smoke and mirrors” referring to a magician’s ability to draw a crowd’s attention away from one location and directing it to the desired location. After attending the American Institute of Architects (AIA) convention in Chicago this past weekend, it is apparent that today’s architects are borrowing techniques used by that of a magician, but the architects’ “smoke and mirrors” are really LED lights, architectural glass, and falling waterwalls.
It is not often as a project manager of a company that specializes in curving metal that I come in contact with any part of a construction project other than the structural steel package. At the show I met companies that incorporated curved steel tubes and cambered beams as stringers in pedestrian and vehicular bridges. I saw bike racks that incorporated curved pipe and canopies that used curved tubes. What I was not used to seeing were architectural and ornamental elements that adorn the insides of buildings.
This past weekend at Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center, the American Institute of Architects held their annual convention, showing off new materials and different uses of material in an architect’s bag of tricks. On exhibit were contemporary, architectural, LED lighting and attractive architectural glass and glazing elements. The buzz in and around the show was that of “green” initiatives and energy-saving tactics. And with new LED lighting technologies bringing down energy costs, the show was filled with color-changing, architectural lighting that gave a modern look and feel to a building’s interior. LED lighting and its many color changing options give architects the ability to light a building’s interior and to cast a mood over an area in a way that has an aesthetic appeal to its occupants.
Another part of the AIA Chicago show that was near impossible to miss was the architectural glass on display. Some laser etched glass gives the glass texture that looks like relief sculptures creating an very “cool” look. Other glass on display, called “Smart Glass,” can re-arrange its molecular structure to make it transform from transparent to opaque with the flick of a switch. This glass allows the architect to design without the unsightly use of blinds or drapes, giving his/her design a very “clean” look, while still being able to give the occupants the privacy they need.
And by far one of the most interesting and appealing aspects to the show that combined both LED lighting and architectural glass were the falling waterwalls! These specialized partitions take the place of regular non-load bearing walls. Water cascades from the top, down a glass, brick or stone wall to the bottom. The wall’s texture causes the water to trickle down in different wave-like patterns. And when combined with LED lighting cast from below or above, an optical illusion takes place and the water dances as it flows from top to bottom.
I left the show with greater respect for the creativity of those whose products and services create beautiful and functional spaces within buildings.