Cradle by Ball-Nogues Studio


Ball-Nogues Studio designed the Cradle sculpture in Santa Monica, California.

Commissioned by the City of Santa Monica, Cradle is situated on the exterior wall of a parking structure at a shopping mall – originally designed by Frank Gehry.  The site is near the beach, and is heavily trafficked by tourists on foot and in automobiles. An aggregation of mirror polished stainless steel spheres, the sculpture functions structurally like an enormous Newton’s Cradle – the ubiquitous toy found on the desktops of corporate executives in Hollywood films. Each ball is suspended by a cable from a point on the wall and locked in position by a combination of gravity and neighboring balls. The whole array reflects distorted images of passersby.

Aside from the Newton’s Cradle reference, we wanted the overall shape to elicit things that we thought might be slightly provocative when inserted into the glitzy Santa Monica urban landscape.  On one hand the installation resembles a big banana hammock and on the other it suggests the female reproductive system. Sometimes we think of it as a giant fly eye with hundreds of little lenses and at others its like sea foam or coral. Sometimes it resembles an urban scaled wall sconce and at others, a kind of imaginary awning for an invisible storefront. Regardless of what it looks like, it was an opportunity to develop a new kind of building system.

Cradle is as much a sculpture as it is an approach to making experimental structure in the post-digital era. We were interested in exploring ways of producing large scaled self-organizing structures. Cradle is comprised of an “informal” arrangement of parts; the relationship between each cannot be accurately modeled with digital software. The work is, however, an outgrowth of digital technology.

A key technical concept for Cradle is “sphere packing” – the phenomenon where multiple balls squeezed together and self organize under the effect of gravity, a process we could only approximate, at best, using computer modeling. Software was useful for visualizing Cradle and for designing the overall shape of the formwork used to make it but not for predicting where the spheres positioned themselves in the physical world.

The fabrication process was a bit like the process of slip casting ceramics except instead of pouring ceramic slip into a mold we “poured” hundreds of spheres.  To our knowledge, this was the first time this technique has been used.

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