UCL News


Bartlett architects provide "SURFACE TENSION" for Nevada Museum of Art

26 August 2011

A major art installation commenting on the role of the built environment during times of environmental change has been created by two senior lecturers from UCL's Bartlett School of Architecture.

Surface Tension It takes pride of place at the centre of the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, USA.

Mark Smout and Laura Allen, architectural designers, researchers and university lecturers, were commissioned by the Nevada Museum of Art to produce the centrepiece installation for "Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices, and Architectural Inventions", an exhibition by guest curator Geoff Manaugh, author of the award-winning BLDGBLOG.

The result of the commission is 'SURFACE TENSION', an eight metre high network of more than 2,000 individual parts, which occupies the central volume of the gallery from floor to ceiling.

Cranked mechanisms, computational devices, gold space blankets, and counterbalanced kinetic switches pulse through undulations and waves that mimic the droughts, rains, surges, and floods of the planet's hydrological cycle. Subject to its own internal tides, SURFACE TENSION might best be understood as a technological landscape: both animated and annotated with complex recording devices.

Laura Allen says: "The installation and our associated drawings, models and devices which are also exhibited, attempt to negotiate the role of the built environment within the uncertain territory of environmental change. Our work explores real sites and scenarios, is informed by policy papers and the world of hypothetical architectural schemes as well as vernacular and developing technologies."

As Geoff Manaugh, guest curator of the exhibition, describes the show, "the overall idea is to look at how the landscapes around us - natural and artificial, urban and geologic, aquatic, terrestrial, and atmospheric - are interpreted, filtered, or otherwise augmented by instruments, devices, and machines. In the process, the exhibition asks how these systems can transform the ways human beings understand and inhabit the planet.

"The exhibition puts all this into the context of landscape architecture and architecture more broadly - all the way up to the scale of infrastructure. We're looking at what artists and architects can design that would further transform how we understand and interact with the landscapes around us."


Media contact: Dave Weston

Image: Smout Allen's 'Surface Tension' in situ at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, USA (image courtesy of Smout Allen).


Smout Allen

"Landscape Futures: Instruments, Devices, and Architectural Inventions" at the Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, USA

Media coverage:


Metropolis Magazine

Co. Design

Architizer Blog