How to Bend Light

Architect and thinker Nancy Cheng reveals how sheet materials can be cut, creased, or crimped to generate lighting effects that change with the sun's movement.

By Rene Bermudez January 6, 2015

The "100 + 20" architecture lecture series, an effort of the University of Oregon's School of Architecture and Allied Arts, brings architectural thinker Nancy Cheng to downtown Portland this week. Cheng's highly tactile and tool-oriented approach to architecture taps into an emerging sensibility that holds that people don't create objects, we collaborate with objects. Their properties, like our human desires, direct and shape the built world. If a world in which objects have desires of their own sounds both familiar and strange to you, you're on already on board with Cheng's work, which manages to call up the most disorienting aspects of familiar architectural objects.

Light, geometry, and digital technology can be as comforting to design-lovers as an iPhone and a warm cup of coffee in the morning, but Cheng's approach is more demanding. It doesn't grate, but it does provide the opportunity for a bracing mental stretch.

According to the organizers, Cheng's Shaping Light project “explores how physical prototyping and digital methods can be combined to foreground material properties in design.” Through this Cheng “seeks the creative possibilities that stem from a material's stiffness, shininess, translucence or color.”

But worry not, Cheng's interests are not all abstract. She has taught sustainable architectural design at the University of Oregon for 18 years, which reflects her strong interest in the design aspects of sustainable communities, both physical and digital. Big names in tech and engineering like MIT and Carnegie Mellon University have supported Cheng's work and her students have worked with five intentional communities in Oregon.

Using digital tools to achieve engineering--or what the rest of us might call lifehacking--goals comes increasingly naturally. But using them to think differently about the arts and humanities is less familiar to most. Allow Cheng to show you some of your own emergent properties.

Free and open to the public.

Thursday January 8, 12:00 pm. Event Room, White Stag Block, 70 NW Couch St.

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