Ingenious genetic codes unravel into metal form
April 2013 - Amid the bustling streets of Midtown Manhattan, at 1330 Avenue of the Americas at West 54th Street, is an 8-foot tall stainless steel sculpture known as SEED54. To the layperson’s eye, the sculpture’s fluid form is slightly reminiscent of Chicago’s famous Cloud Gate, but SEED54, created by Haresh Lalvani, owner of Lalvani Studio and architecture professor at Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, N.Y., subtly melds the logic of mathematics and science with the beauty of design.
“Design stretches the bounds of space between what can be materialized in physical form and what can be imagined in our minds,” says Lalvani. “The most sophisticated example of the former is biology, where matter is realized in living form in its incredible variations.”
Lalvani has spent decades observing the structures and morphology of seeds, pods, flowers and fruits, which ultimately inspired the creation and naming of SEED54. “Not only are they attractive, but they are ingenious designs, as well. More importantly, all their exuberance and inventiveness is to find a unique way to nurture and pass on genetic information to the next. Nature does this very successfully.” Much like nature, Haresh successfully designed a sculpture with laser-cut teardrop-shaped holes that swirl and curve like the strands of a double helix. “The many holes in the piece, all similar but different, show infinite shape variation as in human beings, roses, leaves and the proverbial snowflakes,” says Lalvani.
The project’s evolution
Lalvani’s first experience with metal began in 1997 when he started working with metal fabricator Milgo Bufkin, Brooklyn, N.Y. From there, he said, the love of metal sculptures followed. SEED54 was part of Lalvani’s HyperSurface series, which stirred media attention at a solo exhibition presented by Moss Gallery, New York, at Design Miami 2011. Much like the rest of the HyperSurface series, Lalvani’s play on creating shape codes that mimic our own genetic makeup resonates within SEED54.
“SEED54 has a new geometry. We don’t know yet if it exists in nature. Maybe someday it will, with or without our help,” he says. Although this structural design may one day exist in nature without our help, one thing is certain, the sculpture itself needed a little human help.
On a larger scale
RXR Realty and architects Moed de Armas and Shannon awarded Lalvani with the commission to produce a structure that would be housed in front of a New York high-rise. The fabrication process for SEED54 began in August 2012, and it took the team at Milgo-Bufkin four months to test, fabricate and assemble the laser-cut pieces. With the four vigorous months of hard work came challenges for the fabricating crew. “The first [challenge] was scaling up to a larger size than what we had done before,” says Lalvani. “This is where the considerable expertise of Bruce Gitlin, CEO of Milgo-Bufkin, and his staff came in.” At that time, the largest sculpture in this series that Lalvani had worked on was 4 feet across. “When you double the size, its weight increases eight times. So it brought to the fore an age-old issue of relation between size and its limit,” he says.
He compares his sculpture’s size limitation to that of the dinosaurs, that had they been any larger they would have been crushed under their own weight. However, he is curious to test these limitations. “I am keen to see how large we can build, in this case for instance, from a 1/4-inch thick steel plate. SEED54 is our first real test in this direction.” The second challenge was trying to support the structure on a point.
With SEED54 happily planted, Lalvani ponders his next creations. “Besides increasing the physical size of pieces, I would like to build a piece in each metal from the periodic table of elements,” he says. “I am really curious to see the range and what they can do. Most of the work is in steel, both regular and stainless, and for the AlgoRhythm Columns commissioned by the Museum of Modern Art, we used titanium.” And just recently the MTA Arts selected Lalvani to create metal art pieces.
However, Lalvani’s passion and talent for sculpture has another level of complexity. “Sculpture is not only an end by itself, it is the means to understand the fundamental nature of how mass and space are shaped by process, intrinsic or extrinsic,” he says. “If our results turn out to be beautiful, we know we are doing something right. And, if we can do so with least resources and no negative impact on our fragile planet, we know we are on the right path. MM