Liencres, Cantabria (Spain)

Architecture, Design & Creative Fabrication through Critical Making

Virga Installation / VCU Arts Qatar / Liencres - Doha / 2023 /Steam bent ash timber – cotton textile – 3D printed joinery / 1:1

Virga explores the intersection of steam bending and digital fabrication to produce a lighting installation inspired by clouds

Faculty and students from VCUarts Qatar, working in collaboration with Atelier La Juntana, designed and fabricated a collection of glowing sculptural forms made from steam-bent wood, 3D-printed connectors, LED lights and tailored fabric. Designed for disassembly and portability, the collection will be exhibited next in the VCUarts Qatar Gallery in Doha, suspended from motorized pulleys and equipped with laser range finders to create an interactive, kinetic installation, subtly shifting and rearranging—rising and falling, dimming and growing brighter in response to the passage of time and the presence and movement of gallery visitors. Inspired by virga cloud formations—clouds found in hot climates, characterized by trailing streaks of rain that evaporate before reaching the ground—the project invites free association, fosters reverie, and inspires imaginative speculation.

Each cloud form was designed by a separate student or faculty member from the VCUarts Qatar MFA in Design program, in preparation for the 8-day wood-bending workshop at Atelier La Juntana, a teaching and fabrication facility on the north coast of Spain.

During the workshop, thin, paired strips of wood, cut from locally sourced ash trees, were trimmed to size, sanded, soaked overnight in water, heated for several hours in a steam chamber, and then bent into digitally-fabricated molds. When assembled, the bent-wood curves create a family of related but distinct forms, each lit by a custom-fabricated LED light source, made-to-order by UK lighting and signage firm Applelec. Each individually tailored fabric diffuser obscures the light source and scatters the light, resulting in the collection of softly glowing cloud forms.

“Exploring the steam bending process to push the boundaries of the material in pursuit of expressive geometry has been challenging but very rewarding,” according to the designers.

The project is part of the MFA-on-the-GO Field Study initiative, a distinctive feature of the VCUarts Qatar MFA in Design program. Each year students and faculty travel together to conduct embedded workshops with expert artists, designers, fabricators and industry partners, producing tangible artifacts that are collectively exhibited afterward. In recent years the MFA program has worked with glassblowers in England, with felt makers in the Netherlands, with metalworkers in Morocco and with ceramicists and computational designers in Italy. Field Study projects have been showcased most recently in Venice, during the 2021 Venice Biennale, and in the Rossana Orlandi Gallery, Milan, during Milan Design Week.