Over View, as its name implies, is a view overhead – and one that is transformative. The permanent ceiling installation – a massive 3D drawing – was created for the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh’s new Museum Lab, which spills into the former Carnegie Free Library of Allegheny. “It’s this really spectacular building, but it had been renovated pretty brutally at a few points over the last century,” says Brennan Buck, a partner at FreelandBuck, the firm that masterminded the design. “We were interested in evoking the history of the building, its gravitas and beauty.” To that end, the tex- tile structure belies the room’s actual height to reveal an evocation of its former grandeur.
From the centre point beneath the canopy, the viewer sees it expand upward, mimicking the original ornate ceiling. “My hope is that people will walk around and try to find the point from which the drawing is projected,” says Buck. “From that one point, you get a good view of the concave historic leaded-glass ceiling and, as you move around, you can clearly see that it is a convex object hanging down toward you.” In effect, the installation allows the viewer to drift between concave and convex perspectives.
FreelandBuck, which has offices in Los Angeles and New York City, worked with a global manufacturer, Fabric Images of Elgin, Illinois, to develop the final product: three layers of non-woven plastic insusceptible to unravelling. The layers were printed and then cut and rolled for transport; a modular nine-by-12-metre aluminum frame supports the entire structure. In lieu of up-lighting, which wasn’t feasible in a space topped with a partial glass floor and filled with daylight, fixtures are fitted between the fabric layers to highlight the depth of the illusion.
But Over View isn’t your typical trompe l’oeil. It’s both provocative and contemporary. “We’ve been fascinated by the history of trompe l’oeil in Italy,” says Buck. “At one time, those illusions were so powerful, but they’re really not anymore. We encounter more powerful illusions all the time now, whether it’s images or videos or virtual reality. What’s interesting is that they are sort of fragile; they change and distort as you move around the space.”
The project is a study in medium and material: a large-scale drawing brought to life through fabric, blurring the lines between works on paper and bricks and mortar. In this case, says Buck, they are quite literally building through drawing. “Hopefully it works as a drawing that describes another space or object, but also as a material, physical thing. I think there is a real uncertainty to it that prompts people to take a second look.”
Both provocative and contemporary, Freelandbuck’s take on trompe-l’œil mesmerizes.