Glaring sun, hot sizzling summer heat, those conditions just seem to be an inevitable part of attending the Lied Center for Performing Arts’ Jazz in June summer concert series at the University of Nebraska, right? Well maybe not for much longer, looking to the horizon, there might be a silver lining to that scenario for summer 2019 concert goers. This past semester Jazz in June festival organizers, the Lied Center for Performing Arts and UNL architecture students have been working collaboratively on an installation and shade structure for the annual June concert series.
Their idea for the installation? Create a “Kite Cloud” or canopy. Once installed the structure will span 55’ x 25’ with the bottom of the cloud floating about 15’ above the ground providing shade for the stage and the VIP audience area. The structure once assembled will consist of an estimated 2,000 box kites articulated together to form the “cloud” shade cover. The idea for the shade structure has been a longtime coming according to Education and Community Engagement Director for the Lied Center for Performing Arts Erin Poor and Jazz in June Coordinator Spencer Munson. As Poor explains it, this project evolved more out of necessity than anything else.
“After working several Jazz in June events you realize, wow, it’s freakishly hot on Tuesday nights in Nebraska, and we really need to do something for these performers,” said Poor. “Spencer and I had been talking about the concept of a shade structure for some time, and we kept saying ‘wouldn’t it be nice if…’” Well, last year, Terence Blanchard, a renowned jazz magician was scheduled to perform and they knew it was going to be extremely hot, so they rented and put up a bunch of event tents. Functionally it worked but the tents weren’t very festive nor aesthetically pleasing. After that moment Poor said they decided to get serious about the issue and do something.
“It’s not just that the audience and the performers are uncomfortable, there’s more to it than that. If the heat becomes too hot, instruments can become out of tune. Plus, when you have hot, unbearable weather, musicians don’t want to play as long and the crowds don’t feel like sticking around. It affects the overall event experience,” Poor said. “With Spencer elevating the artistry and level of performers who come to the festival, we wanted to bring a new element that would complimented this new style and help the festival grow and develop,” Poor said. “We want an event that not only has innovative music but also innovative art and architecture.”
So Poor contacted Architecture Professor Jeffrey L. Day, who she had worked with before on an exhibit for the Sheldon Art Museum, and approached him about a student design challenge involving a shade structure for Jazz in June 2019. Day thought it would be a great design-build project for his design-research studio, Fabrication And Construction Team (FACT). That following spring semester, Day invited Poor to present her design challenge to the studio the first day of class. She was careful to point out this project needed to be more than just a shade structure. “It needed to compliment the Sheldon Art Museum’s sculpture garden and not be obstructive or out of place but rather an added poetic element.”
The “Kite Cloud” design wasn’t their first concept. The master of architecture students worked on several designs including a collage of triangles before the collaboration decided on the “cloud”. After the “Kite Cloud” concept was chosen, the studio spent the rest of the semester working on schematic designs, drawings, renderings and models. However, the studio didn’t just need the Jazz in June organizers’ blessing, the team would have to go through a litany of approvals before all was said and done.
Day explains, the FACT studio also presented the project to the Sheldon Art Museum and the UNL Aesthetic Review Committee for which they received unanimous approval. Now that they have those approvals out of the way, the team has been working with UNL Facilities on the technical details such as logistics and installation challenges.
Figuring how to secure the suspended “Kite Cloud” above a crowd has its own inherent challenges which the team is working through. To stabilize and support the articulated kite structure, they will be utilizing a system of stainless steel airplane cables, aluminum poles and recessed concrete anchors.
To hoist the structure into place, designers are considering a system of poles and pulleys for ease of installation. The shade structure will be installed and taken down for each concert. However before installation can begin, they will need to develop a large model mock-up and conduct performance testing.
“Once everything is resolved there will be a few days of off-site fabrication, installation of the anchors and poles, and then installation of the actual kites should only take a few hours,” said Day.
In addition to resolution of technical details for the installation, securing funding for the structure is still underway. Anyone interested in donating funds to this project should contact Spencer Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org or by contacting the University of Nebraska Foundation for additional gifts. They will also be collecting donations at each concert at their information table.
The “Kite Cloud” is intended to last for two concert seasons. Eventually, the Jazz in June collaborators would like to see this art/shade installation become a biennial contest open to the public.
This project was one of two design-build projects taken on by the FACT studio this past spring. The other project was a collaboration with the Sandhills Institute that would transform an old, main street grocery store in Rushville, Nebraska, into an art gallery / culture center. Personally, Day prefers to select non-profit, creative partners like the Lied Center for Performing Arts and the Sandhills Institute for design-build projects because as Day puts it “they understand the creative process.”
“I’ve been approached by organizations who just wanted the free labor,” said Day. However, any partner the college selects has to be willing to contribute and be patient. “They need to understand that the creative process and that working with students sometimes takes time, money and mentoring. It’s a big commitment on both sides.”
Day explains a common misconception is that academic design-build is just a service project. “Community service is often just a one-way relationship. The design-build projects I’m involved with are true long-term engagement opportunities that benefit all parties.”
“For my studios, design-build is not about teaching students how to construct everything hands-on, but it’s about teaching them how to have a conversation with contractors, fabricators, or vendors so they can accomplish creative projects, especially when they are working on non-conventional projects or projects that require material use that doesn’t fit standard practice,” said Day.
Students who have taken design-build studios say the experience gives them a more holistic view of the architectural process. “Projects like these allow for a wider breadth of knowledge,” said Diane Nguyen master of architecture student. “The design of the canopy came with many different design problems that I had never really had to face before. From design to assembly, we had to be detailed within our thinking, and I believe that prepares us for our future careers as well.”
Design-build projects also help students expand their design and problem-solving skills farther than the confines of the studio.
“Sometimes, with theoretical projects, things are overlooked and projects in a sense are unrealistic,” said Davielle Phillips master of architecture student. “With design-build, you learn to be practical while pushing the boundary of what is expected. Jeff has definitely pushed us in this regard.”
Day along with Associate Professor Jason Griffiths and Architecture Program administrators are currently working to expand the design-build studio offerings so that they are available for students to take every year.