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Architecture Students Set the Scene at Night Light

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Three architecture student models hang in the entrance to the SOMArts building during the Night Light exhibit. Photo by Aleyna Carvalho.

On the night of Saturday, July 18, SOMArts Cultural Center hosted the fifth annual Night Light: Multimedia Garden Party as part of their ongoing exhibition, “Making A Scene: 50 Years of Alternative Bay Spaces.” In the foyer of their main building—a 26,190-square foot warehouse in SOMA that contains exhibit and performance spaces as well as facilities for ceramics, photography and printmaking—a series of structures hung suspended from the rafters and LED lights glowed above the heads of entering guests. Animal, alien, spiky and elegant, at first glance these works could be labeled as mobiles or sculptural installations, but a closer look at the placard below revealed their true origins: architectural explorations and propositions.

Students from Academy of Art University’s School of Architecture had the opportunity to exhibit their work from spring 2015’s studio course in site operations and tectonic systems, self-generating logics. Geared towards second-year students, the course has a strong emphasis on collaboration, as students work together in groups to innovate, design and construct models.

Instructor Alexandra Neyman was thrilled to find an outside venue to showcase her students’ work. “The studio explores design concepts that investigate the notion of performative behavior, particularly in how we evaluate and represent information,” she said. In other words, the performance arts-oriented Night Light event was the ideal milieu for displaying these models.

Night Light, held annually since 2010, has attracted the likes of the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia and Cultural Services of the French Embassy in the U.S. It has been a boon for SOMArts, a local nonprofit cultural center “where cutting-edge events and counterculture commingle with traditional art forms in a way that is open, engaging and inspiring,” according to their mission statement. Each year, they work to facilitate gallery exhibitions, performances and events featuring Bay Area community-oriented artists, and in the five years that they have held the one night only Night Light soiree, attendee count has swelled from 300 to over 1,000. This is the first time the architecture class has been able to participate, and for many of the 16 students who worked on the pieces, it was their gallery debut.

Neyman, who is also the co-founder of interdisciplinary research initiative Agglab, has been teaching at the Academy since 2011. Much like the structures her students build, she says, this studio course is constantly evolving. 

“Projects assigned in this particular studio explored concepts derived from biological conditions of growth,” Neyman said. In other words, the models students designed and built had their origins not only in traditional principles and theories of design, but also in evolutionary biology and systems. 

The exhibit has since been deinstalled, but the fun is far from over. This fall, Neyman has plans for the course to branch out into a new field—molecular gastronomy.