CALVINO architecture studio
Mike Calvino, architect

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Furniture Projects

Reception Desk

1997  Maple Plywood, Padauk, Steel, Blue Pearl Granite

A Study in Twisted Planes

Curvilinear / rectilinear . . . what is the relationship of the two geometries?  How does each system define space? . . . object? . . . structure?  Is the relationship of these two systems parallel / similar to the realtionship of digital and analog technologies?  When rectilinear forms and structures are juxtaposed or manifest within the same composition, is there consistently a more pleasing aesthetic?   .  . . if so, is it because  the curvilinear or the juxtaposition of the two cause a sort visceral sense to resurface?  How easily (relative to each other) are both curvilinear and rectilinear geometries realized from the vision / idea step to the constructed condition?  How does digital technology either help or hinder this process for rectilinear and curvilinear systems? and is it sometimes uneconomical to go through a digital step within the process of realization or more simple to use an analogous media to study the problem and investigate possible directions for solutions?  What tools we use during a process are defined by the conditions generating the specific process / project.  With these questions and thoughts, I present two projects:  the L&M Reception Desk and the Crowell Collection , that begin to investigate some of these issues.

Momentary Alignment of Cones

On further investigation of the form created by the two curvilinear edges, it is realized that the singular form constructed by the edges is no more than a series of conical surfaces.  The cones are defined by the lower and upper curves occuring between inflection points.  Each top curve has a corresponding bottom curve and when the two define a surface, that surface is a cone.

Form Studies

The investigative process at this point turns to an expression of curvilinear forms of the plane, since the frontal surface of the reception desk is evidently becoming a sort of twisted plane.  A series of  "twisted planes" are made using clear acrylic sheet.  The molecules in the acrylic, when heated to 250 deg. F.  become excited and the sheet is able to be bent / twisted into any shape. When cooled below 250 deg., the form remains.

this pine . . . not mine, but all
for this green all birch, no maple
at the aluminum green stop red linger
and for the blue steel glossy matte
but shimmering reds and refracting green the softness of steel
the coldness of glass . . . and forget the one . . . forget the zero
the product is only zero
the tactile, the metaphor . . . the likeness, orange violet, life
billowy, cold, warm and enclosed
freedom open and water serene
blue is cool and making fine
to feel is living
to live feel
reach . . . read . . . react . . . reassert
relive . . . tactility . . . tangible . . . believe the intangible . . . and
through the tangible . . . likeness . . . colors texture feel react . . . see that which
cannot be seen . . .
hand . . . eye . . . grainy and smooth register white and not the blank or black and white
like rain and the moon
for us the time
the land and the tide
green and red but yellow white
for the purpose is become
and not the end
    -M. Calvino

time is not wasted when every effort is honest
    --Lance of California

In pushing the theory / concept further into reality, the upper and lower curvilinear edges of the multiconical surface are defined.  This process begins with the sort of digitization of the plan drawing and finding all of the radii of the curves and the inflection points of each line.  These numbers are then translated into 9 different radii and lengths of curves.

The Plan:  a developmental tool

" . . . Interest in curvatures as a basis for architectural construction more explicit in his declaration 'Art in Technology.'

There is normally a tension between simple rectilinear forms and forms determined by the simplest curves.  In architecture the use of curves and forms determined by complicated curvatures created by a complicated movement, a straight line or a curve is still of a fairly primitive character; the whole thing is limited to a common section of the simplest forms . . .
The artist shall in his work, as a counterpart ot technology, present a succession of new relationships between the forms of the material.  A series of forms determined by complicated curvatures will demand other plastic, material and constructive relationships--the artist can and must master these elements."   - Vladimir Tatlin

Although the political ramifications of what Vladimir Tatlin was recognizing in his words above has been proven time and time again to be in grave error, in speaking about his "Monument to the Third Comminist International" in 1932, he discusses the relationship of the rectilinear to the curvilinear . . . the concept is one that is ever-perplexing yet remains the simplest of explanations only through analogy.  As Tatlin states, " . . . the whole thing is limited to a common section of the simplest form . . ."  And although breaking down something to its simplest, "common" section, it is precisely this simplest, individual element that is the key to infinite diversity and individualism. I have discovered a similar concept as illustrated by the definition and process of two specific projects.  One is a reception desk for an architecture office and the second is a dining room set and cocktail table for a client who owns a digital marketing data company.  Creating two distinct projects with a single elemental concept that are completely unique and each have very distinct purposes and expressions.

The reception desk begins as a fluid, curvilinear element within a rigid, rectilinear organization of functional, almost utilitarian, studio and office space.  The definition of the curves comes from those areas or zones that it is intended for one to approach or not approach the receptionist / desk.  At moments along its length where it is not desired for one to approach, the front, vertical surface of the desk is receeding from the user making it uncomfortable to converse because one has to lean over in order to be in the appropriate relation to the horizontal surface.  At zones where one
should approach the desk, the horizontal transaction surface protrudes, extends outward toward the person approaching and the front, vertical surface is inclined toward the user.  By defining these two differing curvilinear paths, one at the floor level and one at the transaction / desk surface level, a twisting, curvilinear plane is defined.


Locating bend lines and defining the conical surfaces is done using scale models to create a mock up at 3" = 1'-0".  This series of drawings defines base plane, top plane and apex which generates lines along the face of each conical surface from the base to the apex.  These lines become kerf lines which are transferred to sheets of maple plywood, and sawn into the back side of the plywood to a depth of all but one ply and the veneer.  These kerf cuts allow the plywood to be bent into a conical surface that exactly fits the radii defined by the steel skeletal rails which are derived from the plan drawing.


This series of  "Twisted Planes" done with an experimental/investigative/sculptural motive, along with continued sketching of the "form" led to the realization of the conical surfaces explained previously.  A curving, twisting plane may be defines as a series of conical surfaces that intersect at inflection lines.

On working with a steel fabricator to make the curved sections, an appropriate size and section of steel is selected.  The size of the material to be rolled is critical because of the way the rollers on the machine are configured.  Each of the nine radii are rolled from the 1" x 1/8" steel angle.

Skin / Skeleton

The structure of the desk is defined by the arcs set out by the plan.  The upper and lower edges of the outer desk surface define the upper and  lower limits of the conical surfaces.  These surfaces are defined in such a way as to govern where along the structure it is more and less comfortable to approach the desk.  The skin slopes outward where it is intended to draw one to the desk and inward where it is intended to be less inviting.

The radii of the arcs are then used to roll steel angles which create a steel skeleton where the plywood skin may fasten.

This process defines two diffenent systems for structure and skin and allows them to work together to define a usable system.

With cones, the joining place of two conical bodies, when joined at tangential surfaces, becomes a line.  This line defines the instance where the two cones intersect. The centers change places and the curves, however infinite, change from concave to convex.

In the instance of this reception desk, the inflection lines are indicated by the deep red inlays.  The wood species is Padauk, from West Africa.  With regard to constructability, the 5 individual conical surfaces are each made of one piece of structural, white maple plywood and are joined at the inflection lines with the Padauk.  This process simplifies the construction by allowing each conical surface to be fabricated separately and formed independently of the other surfaces, allowing kerf grooves to be sawn into one shape at a time.

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