Farah Ahmad

Farah Ahmad

New York, NY, US


Nomad- A flexible art & architecture design-build project

The Nomad is a moveable organic installation which has evolved tremendously from its conception in September to its erection in November. It is a combination of art and architecture which utilizes aesthetic and functional expression in its approach. Exhibition design, construction, and installation were all key components which were accomplished through group effort.

            The Nomad is named in such a manner because it is a moveable piece. It is mobile because it is intended to frame the view where it is sited, thereby giving life to any scene it rests in.

            We began our thought processes by the desire to enliven our former studio space, Shephard Hall. We wanted our piece to also have a function, stimulating engagement. We wanted to break apart from traditional 2D installations and create a piece that could be used by passersby. A working, moving 3D piece that would encourage students to walk by, stop, and further engage, was the main goal. Early on, the agreed upon function was ‘sitting.’ The project was initially a series of stacked boxes that students could climb up on and sit down on. However, we switched our site to Spitzer School of Architecture because we wanted to give something to the Architecture students. By activating the corridor space with a piece that could allow them to enjoy the corridors in ways other than design reviews, we hoped to create social engagement. We finally settled upon the second floor on the East side, because this site maximizes optimal view—it can be seen from the central space of the school, studios on the upper floors and mezzanine levels, and the walkways.

            Our concept consists of two components: (1) a framed view in order to allow the piece to integrate with its site and (2) engagement, in order for the piece to interact with students. We began sketching out forms. Our idea of the orthogonal boxes evolved into a curved form because we decided we wanted to introduce a new element to our seemingly ‘boring’ corridors. Initially, it was an ‘S’ form. Ideally, this would have been the case. However due to construction time and cost (our project cost nearly $400), it was more efficient and economical to cut this ‘S’ into half. In order to maintain the conceptual integrity of our project, we completed the form by making a nearly enclosed circle. Additionally, the arch was designed so that a person could sit or lay upon the base comfortably.

            Construction was a challenging component of the project. Sketching out construction methods on paper forced us to think of joints in terms of material strength and efficiency. While building the installation, we were able to figure out better ways of placing materials together. The first step was to create a CAD template for each of the arches, and calculate how many of these wooden pieces would be made. We created two of these arches which would then be separated by brackets. Each wooden piece had to be traced, cut out, and sanded at all faces in order to be complete. Each wooden piece was then glued and nailed to form the 2 complete arches. The wooden pieces were offset to create stronger arches. Brackets had to be mounted onto one arch, which laid flat on the floor, with the use of angles and screws. Once these brackets were attached, the next wooden arch was laid on top. This step required careful positioning, as we had to ensure that the curves were accurately lined up. Once these two arches were attached, we then stood the piece up and placed it into site. Next, plywood sheathing was placed in between the bracing, forming our system infill panels. One black plastic bag was placed on top of each wood board, forming a vapor barrier. Four hooks were then inserted into the sides of the panel and a white wire was tied at each of these ends. Rolls of sod were cut into 24” wide pieces and placed in between the vapor barrier and these strings. Finally, we coated layers of finishing upon the wood.

Essentially, the entire construction process was an assembly line, where we depended upon each other to complete one stage of the project, so that the next phase could be initialized. 65% of our construction time (all woodwork) was spent in the woodshop. The rest of the process (greenery and finishing) was conducted on our site. Each step of construction required careful coordination and precision so as to ensure that each piece was nearly identical, to create our seamless optic.

            The result is a curved form with a leg rest on one end, and a flat base for convenient access. Watching students interact with the piece in the hallway has been a sight to see. Students step upon the grass. One student stated, “It feels like I’m outside on the grass.” Hearing this made me feel like the project was an instant success. Hearing and seeing a stressed out architecture student feeling relaxed and comfortable within our school was a relief in itself!  The social engagement aspect piece was more clearly defined: it became a momentary escape to the outside world.

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Status: Built
Location: Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture
My Role: Team Project- Designer/Builder


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