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Michael Jantzen: Fantasy Innovations for Sustainable Solutions

Posted by
on May 09, 2019 at 03:33 PM

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Based in Los Angeles, Jantzen’s innovative creations have been well publicised since the early 1970s, yet the visual posers or questions regarding the built environment he continues to put up through his creations remain relevant even today. Did you come across pictures of impossibly twisted and jumbled buildings and bridges, which looked real enough yet not quite so, while surfing the internet? Well, those are Jantzen’s art works – digital distortions of existing structures. Though one may be attracted to and blown away by just the visual oddities that first impress upon one while encountering his works, they hold something much beyond this first visual impression. Digging deeper reveals a world of inquiry into possible directions for solving urgent contemporary problems like the energy crisis, ecological imbalance, sustainable development, and even questions about existing norms in architecture and art.

Folding Light is an interactive sculptural cubical light source made of wood planes with corners variously spliced and hinged so as to allow users to control the intensity of light radiating from its core.  Among such innovative furniture designs is a coffee table made by mounting a circular glass top on a conical stack of pin-board pieces. But, the most interesting are his range of ‘Transform Furniture’ where an arm chair transforms into a table or a set of stairs become a seat or counter as per the user’s need.

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Jantzen’s sculptures or installations for public spaces which double up as alternative energy generators are some of his simplest concepts. Solar electric sculptures were conceptualised as massive photovoltaic panels mounted on tall zig zag steel legs to be installed at public places like parks and housing societies to generate solar energy for common use among patrons. Evolving from this were several prototypes imagined an example of which is a forest of wind turbines with photovoltaic panels called Solar Winds Gathering Space,

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

This very concept was evolved further by him into several types of pavilions which, in addition to generating energy from alternate sources and being aesthetic or sculptural would also provide shelter for various socio-cultural activities. Examples of this are the Global Climate Change Pavilion and the Sky Cloud Pavilion. One of his attractive concepts which still looks out for a client is the solar and wind power generating, ninety five room North Ski Slope Hotel shaped like a snowy mountain, with a ski slope running down its sloped walls from its roof top.

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Evolving from these are his residential and workplace enclosures that perform various adaptations to the climate or different functional requirements or generate their own energy. The solar circular pool house is an energy efficient home for swimming enthusiasts where a circular pool and deck encircle a circular house topped with a circular photovoltaic roof. The cosmic gathering space is a public structure in and around which people can gather for socials and be positively influenced by the wisdom gathered from the cosmos by the antenna topping the structure.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

M Velopes and M Houses are particularly interesting concepts in architecture which use a modular building framework that is mechanically adaptable to various climes and functions. The steel framework modules can be attached in whichever direction or number one requires, mounted on platforms that do away with the need for a foundation. These modules are covered with painted steel plates which are attached with hinges that enable them to be opened and closed in various unconventional ways in accordance with the need of the space or the required response to the weather/ environment. These prefabricated modules can be used anywhere and in any number to increase the space/s in a structure, which would mostly not require even a building permission. The panels would be mounted with photovoltaic cells to generate energy for the activities of the occupants. The result is shape shifting buildings or transforming envelopes which Jantzen calls M vironments.

© Courtesy of internet resources
© Courtesy of internet resources

Among Michael Jantzen’s built designs are his prefabricated modular construction systems like the Segmented Building System, Four foot wide segments of variable heights consisting of a floor, walls and a roof, all made of insulated structural foam form the basic modules. These can be assembled to form half or full floor profiles either off-site or on-site and configured in a myriad built forms with exterior claddings of choice. Each segmented profile comes mounted on a prefabricated concrete perimeter foundation to help embed the shape into the site. The most fascinating aspect of this Lego style building system to me, though, is the range of stunning interior profiles it manages to offer as a result of different arrangements of its segments!

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Michael Jantzen has made contributions to innovative thought in the exterior built environment as well by way of designs for bridges and other infrastructural elements. The River Bridge hotel, for example, is visualised as a eco-hotel that bridges across a relatively narrow gorge over a river, containing all the hotel’s facilities within the arching bridge itself and thus refraining from causing an ecological impact on the river’s ecosystem and that of its surroundings. The Solar Zigzag Footbridge which can span over a highway, river or railway line at a height of 100 ft is made of zigzagging steel trusses welded to a wavy walkway and mounted with solar panels. An even more fascinating design is the wind tunnel footbridge. Made of steel and aluminium in the shape of a tunnel, it is fitted with five turbines which rotate as the wind moves through the tunnel.

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Jantzen has often used innovative design as a means to express or achieve a certain social, religious or philosophical end. A Chapel for New Mexico is one such design where a simple square space has been surrounded by an innovative façade of identical sets of ascending gable shaped frames on all four sides of its transparent glazed exterior to indicate an open invitation to step in. This invitation extends to people of all faiths and philosophies to congregate inside and the ascending peaks also symbolically represent the mountainous landscape of surrounding New Mexico. There is an entire set of his works that are categorised as metaphoric implications such as The Church Picnic Pavilion which can be placed as a sculpture in a park and operates with activity sensors to open up like a gift box as soon as it is approached and offer sealing space inside for the visitor!

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One may encounter Michael Jantzen on the internet on any social media pages through his mind bending photographic distortions and curious contraption-like creations, but the motive of his work extends much beyond this apparent visual gimmickry. The man is an institution unto himself in terms of his explorative and innovative forays into wide ranging applications of design. The extent of his inquiries and the number of his works is too enormous to be able to capture in a few paragraphs. From walking houses to mathematical graphs enshrined - the lab is replete with mad ideas..

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