Marquise,” a new work by Marc Fornes/TheVeryMany, billows like a circus tent frozen in time. Its colorful undulations — diamonds on top; bands underneath — welcome visitors to El Paso’s Westside Natatorium. Its rippled surface is a disruption between the sharp West Texas sun and the facility’s conditioned interior. The structure’s wild shape and vectorized field of shadows is a shock of sorts: It jolts you out of your mind and into your body for a moment, much like the upcoming rush of your first dive into the pool within.
In French, marquise means “a canopy in front of an entrance, often made of iron and glass,” but the commission didn’t start with that scope. Fornes recalls that they originally were selected to make an artwork for the lobby. During their first site visit, however, discussions with the architects at In*Situ Architecture led to an opportunity to engage the entrance of the building in an exterior encounter. Combining the public art budget with the budget for the architectural canopy also created a larger fund to make something special.TheVeryMany are experts in realizing lightweight, self-supported structures (“Spineway,” an earlier pavilion in San Antonio, was featured in the March/April 2016 issue of TA). Their assemblies are unified systems whose strength is derived from their geometry, not from their materiality. In this case, the doubly-curved surface of “structural shingles” is realized in overlapped aluminum tiles, as thin as 1/8-in, that are digitally generated, then cut, bent, painted, and bolted together. “The skin we produce is everything,” Fornes said. “Envelope, space, structure, experience.”
The Cheshire coloration of yellow and blue gradients subtly reinforces the form’s curvature, but this observation lands only after close study or repeat visits. What else can you find within the space of this contemporary marquise? Fornes remarked: “Most public art collections acquire a piece and then display it. We’re trying to take what’s there — in this case, an entrance, a canopy — and ask, ‘Can we make it an art experience?’”
Jack Murphy, Assoc. AIA, is a regular contributor to TA and a master of architecture candidate at Rice University.