considering the quake



Considering the Quake is an exhibition and interactive installation I managed at SOFTlab. We designed and produced the exhibition and a 2-story interactive sculpture in collaboration with Arup. It was exhibited at the Center for Architecture in New York. See the original project here at SOFTlab.

Team: Alex Karlsson Napp, Logan Steele, Michael Szivos, Nitzan Bartov, Liz Kelsey, Violet Whitney


fabrication, prototyping, exhibition design, cnc-milling, kinetic sculpture, processing, interactive design


Kinetic Sculpture

This installation was a center piece of the exhibition and acted as a way for the audience to not only physically engage with the content, but also as an educational element that visitors were able to learn from. It visualized the effects of an earthquake and some of the considerations that are taken into account while designing buildings in seismic regions. A soft foam material similar to soil was cut at various thicknesses to visualize the impact that the depth of soil has on how buildings move during earthquakes. The foam layer not only has its own period put also effects the overall length of each pipe. Each pipe has a weight that is calibrated at various heights in a graph throughout the grid. These weights alter the natural period of the pipes so that each pipe wiggles in varying waves dependent on the height of the weight, the depth of the foam, and the wavelength at which the installation shook.

Visitors were invited to create and adjust their own seismic wave, tuning the installation to see various zones of resonance within the grid of pipes.

As visitors adjusted the wave these zones would move or dissipate as you find periods coincident with the various pipes. As with a building, each pipe resonated at more than one frequency.

violet whitney shake table.jpg

Moving Exhibition

Playing off of the foam material in the installation, podiums mimicked the jagged and graded soil depth. Put together, the podiums make up one landscape. Pulled apart they reveal a section cut sliced through a soil subsurface, inviting visitors to move between the cuts. A wall around the periphery of the main gallery was painted to match this same topography and “catch” falling images from the exhibit. 

The moving images projected on the wall were programmed with processing to fall at the rate of gravity, bounce off  on another, and the painted layer beneath them. The falling images visualized how aggregate settles during an earthquake.

violet whitney interactive wall projector.jpg


Hotwire Cutting

To reduce the cost of milling, we developed a method for hot-wire cutting that would mirror the look of the milled foam and could be used on the smaller foam portions in the podiums. Foam sheets arrived as hollowed out rectangles cut to size for each podium. We then used a hand-held hot-wire cutter with precise measurements to slice the foam to size. Getting the wire hot enough was a major issue that led to cutting with aless precise exacto in some instances.

Springy Base

The base of the sculpture was cut out of OSB and anchored to the ground using large springs. A number of springs had to be tested in order to find the right balance beween a firmness and springyness. The springs had to be firm enough to hold a 1,500 lb load, and springy enough to allow the 1,500 lb sculpture to wiggle during the earthquake simulations.


Cutting the Pipes

PVC Pipes were each cut, and labeled with a unique identifier for their position within the grid of the sculpture. A slot was milled at varying lengths in the pipe and threaded with a bolt to prop up metal weights that sat inside the pipes. These weights intensified the varying in the periods of the pipes when they wiggled at a range of frequencies.


Assembling the Foam

Milled foam pieces were pieced together and stacked layer by layer. We used short pipes to ensure the foam layers were aligned and would allow final cut pipes to fit through each layer. A number of tests were done in advance to ensure the snugness of the foam to the pipe as to not create an airgap that would disturb the natural period of the wave.


Inserting the Pipes

While we initially thought we planned for an appropriate tolerance between the foam and the pipes. When stacking many layers of foam across the 12’ surface, the tolerance was too tight. It took extra force and gloves to get many of the pipes through all the layers of foam. A special thanks to Alex and Liz for the hours of work and blisters endured to force pipes into place.

Testing the Wiggle

When all of the pipes were finally in place. Arup came to test the final sculpture. A bit of fineggling with the waves was necessary to find the best resonance in the pipes.

 a smaller prototype was tested with an actuator to set up the initial waves

 a smaller prototype was tested with an actuator to set up the initial waves