Known for daring and unconventional designs such as the Cadet Chapel at the United States Air Force Academy, architect and former SOM design partner Walter Netsch (1920 – 2008) employed the same ingenuity for the design of his own home as he did in his major projects. His Chicago residence demonstrates the design philosophy he called “field theory,” based on complex geometries that establish intricate relationships between form and function. Originally completed in 1974, the home appears as a deceptively simple box from the outside, but contains a rich variety of spaces within, with multiple interior levels connected by open-riser stairs. After Netsch’s wife passed away in 2013, SOM worked with the new owners to maintain the spirit of the house by sensitively adapting and renewing select elements of the structure.
The Netsch residence is situated inconspicuously in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood, where its brick facade gives little indication of the complexity behind it. Inside, multistory ceiling heights create the illusion of a much larger house. Skylights that at first seem strangely placed are soon revealed as highly calculated decisions, framing views and illuminating specific spaces at certain times of the day and year. Netsch’s application of field theory creates expansive sight lines between rooms; indeed, the only spaces in the entire house with doors are the bathrooms.
The renovation added new appliances and cabinetry to a well-worn kitchen. A continuous 40-foot walnut counter and shelf were installed to recall the original linear service bar. The half bath was renewed with new counters, lighting, and a cleverly concealed water closet. New tile work and counters refresh the existing master bathroom configuration. To reconcile the open concept with the need for privacy, concealed sliding doors were designed and installed at the bath and master bedroom area.
The interiors were once covered wall-to-wall with works from Netsch’s art collection, which included prominent American modernists such as Robert Motherwell, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Indiana. Now, the wall above the sofa provides a backdrop for a newly commissioned site-specific piece: a digital projection by Chicago-based artist duo Luftwerk.
Geometry of Light | Farnsworth House
Geometry of Light was a three-night light and sound art installation at the iconic Mies van der Rohe designed Farnsworth House, in Plano, Illinois, October 11-13, 2019, coinciding with the third edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Completed in 1951 and opened to the public in 2004, the Farnsworth House was the weekend home of Chicago research physician Dr. Edith Farnsworth. This outdoor intervention uncovered the forgotten history of the site and remnants of earlier landscape by revealing the underlying geometries that relate the world-renowned house to its river floodplain, site topography, and key trees that no longer exist.
In concert with the projected light, a custom-designed sound piece by Oriol Tarragó is integral to this experience. Developed in direct response to the site, this auditory component uses the pitch of the space to create a tonal reading. Together these elements provide a new interpretation of the Farnsworth House and its extraordinary location.
Geometry of Light premiered in February 2019 at the German Pavilion in Barcelona designed by Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich. The installation was presented as part of the Fundació Mies van der Rohe’s ongoing program of artistic interventions also corresponding with the LLUM BCN Festival and the Santa Eulàlia Festival.
National Trust for Historic Preservation
Geometry of Light | German Pavilion
Geometry of Light was an art intervention by Luftwerk in collaboration with Iker Gil at the German Pavilion in Barcelona, February 10-17, 2019. Organized by The Fundació Mies van der Rohe and MAS Context, presented as part of the Fundació Mies van der Rohe’s ongoing program of artistic interventions, and corresponding with the LLUM BCN Festival and the Santa Eulàlia Festival.
Geometry of Light, was an immersive intervention that envisioned a contemporary lens for this important masterpiece, highlighting and expanding upon the architectural and material features of the structure. Using the 1929 German Pavilion, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Lilly Reich, as the foundation of the work, Geometry of Light created a new interpretive layer extending from the primary elements of the architecture, including the gridded plan, vertical planes, and materiality. In concert with the projected light, a custom-designed sound piece by Oriol Tarragó is integral to this experience.
By emphasizing the open floor plan and material selections, Geometry of Light heightened the illusion of physical and material boundaries. Focused on the gridded plan of the pavilion, a grid of light animated the architecture to accentuate the flowing space as it permeates through the interior and exterior. The animated lines of light were choreographed to trace, highlight, and alter the composition of the pavilion.
The first of two interventions celebrating Mies van der Rohe, Geometry of Light was also presented at the iconic Farnsworth House, in Plano, Illinois, October 11-13, 2019, coinciding with the third edition of the Chicago Architecture Biennial.
Linear Sky | 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City
Responding to the form and function of the entrance hallway at 21c Kansas City, Luftwerk’s Linear Sky features light fixtures that vary in length, producing an anamorphic optical illusion of an expanding, outward pattern of line and color upon both entering and exiting the ramp. The hues from one direction differ from those in the opposite, acting like a multi-colored mirror of each other and differentiating the experience of moving into or out of the hallway. The LEDs are programmed with a lighting sequence inspired by the changing hues of the outdoor skies above the urban landscape of Kansas City: the palette of bright morning saturates the walls that greet visitors, while the glow of waning daylight colors envelop those en route to the outdoors. Evoking the span from dawn to dusk and back again, Linear Sky juxtaposes day and night, nature and technology, past and present, welcoming visitors into a space of the future. The vertical light fixtures installed on monochromatic walls reference the aesthetics of Minimalism, and create a strong, contemporary contrast to the historic patterning on the floor and the ornate pilasters on the walls. The geometric interplay of the vertical and the horizontal within this narrow, ramp leading to and from the lobby both highlights and transforms the architecture, offering visitors views of a new horizon from either direction.
Mauerschau | Bayerische Staatsoper
Mauerschau is Hauke Berheide’s operatic interpretation of Penthesilea—Heinrich von Kleist’s 1808 tragedy about the mythological Amazon queen. The opera imagines a tumultuous, raging war in an emotional drama highlighting the complicated, abstract reality embedded in these conflicts.
Luftwerk’s design for the stage and video content for this opera reflected the confusion inherent in war. They set the tone of the opera with Roger Fenton’s iconic 1855 image of war—one in which a staged propaganda photo frames a distorted reality. Stemming from this, patterns derived from Morse code and Dazzle camouflage further highlight the abstract realm of war. Using forced perspective the set gives the illusion of a greater depth, altering the viewer’s perception and abstracting reality.
Using a mix of historic and contemporary visual materials, the set connected the historic story of war into the present in an atmospheric design. Together, the design elements set the mood of the opera while looking at how abstraction can exist in the reality of photography and the similarities of wars throughout time. Abstract details of message, approach, and history reside within and are reflected through this design for Mauerschau.
Die Deutsche Bühne
MAS Context X Luftwerk X Marina City
Luftwerk created this animated display in celebration of architect Bertrand Goldberg’s iconic Marina City. This site-specific installation incorporated the basic elements of the building as it was projected around the central core on the rooftop of Marina City. Goldberg was largely known for his disinterest in creating straight, formal buildings like his predecessor Mies van der Rohe; Luftwerk used this difference as an inspiration in this piece. Half circles and petal shaped imagery interplayed with geometric and curved lines to explore the innate characteristics of Goldberg’s architecture. Located in the center of downtown Chicago, the installation incorporated views the surrounding architecture of the city.
Lyrical Geometry | Ford House
Bruce Goff, a self-taught, unconventional architect was also a little-known composer. His organic architecture is spotted across the United States yet a group of his compositions for a player piano last had a public performance in 1936. This event, billed as an evening of “Music, Light, and Architecture” celebrated his compositions and architecture. Luftwerk presented an immersive installation alongside a performance by Third Coast Percussion of their arrangements the player piano compositions within the Goff-designed Ford House in Aurora Illinois.
Luftwerk’s design incorporated the music, nature, and architecture in a projection on the circular ceiling of the round house. The projected canopy above the guests animated their visual interpretation including dots from the original player piano rolls, imagery of nature, and a linear abstraction of the slats on the ceiling. Their interpretation accentuated and enlivened the physical and conceptual ideas of Goff as it interacted with the distinct home.
Skywall | Private Event
High elevations clouds consist of ice crystals that melt into rains as they descend into lower atmospheres. Taking inspiration from these clouds, Skywall, was created with a suspended half-circle of sixty blocks of ice hovering over a crescent shaped pond that collected water as the ice melted. Each block of ice encapsulated translucent fabric, capturing a video projection of rolling clouds. As the ice melted, it rained upon thin metal discs which activated a sound signal receiver that released melodic tones. Despite the heavy nature of this installation—weighing nine tons—the serene work appeared light due to the material qualities from which it was constructed.
Projecting Modern | Robie House
Deemed as the first modern home, the Robie House by Frank Lloyd Wright is an important architectural masterpiece. The modern home was a masterpiece of the Prairie style and charted new paths for modern architecture. This piece marks, Luftwerk’s first collaboration with architecture. For Projecting Modern, they developed a site-specific installation by reflecting and the linear and spatial qualities of the home to extract ideals of modernism embedded within the design of the Robie House. This interior installation included four projected videos in which the duo added their own interpretive layer onto this iconic structure.
Download: Exhibition Brochure
Fallingwater: Art in Nature
In celebration of the 75th anniversary of Fallingwater, Luftwerk created this large-scale video and sound installation. This highly regarded house is one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s greatest works. The structural dynamism and relationship with the natural surroundings defines this masterpiece. Illuminating the structure of the architecture with a vibrant visual composition, Luftwerk developed a design inspired by Wright’s principles of organic architecture. Images of the waterfall and surrounding flora along with motion graphics and manipulated imagery created a dialogue between the natural and manmade. Illuminating the house highlighted the home, literally and metaphorically; the glowing forms honored the architectural composition in a celebration for today.