On January 26th, during Ben Nicholson's first visit to Houston, we had the opportunity of meet and interview Mrs. Owen about Kiesler's Grotto and related subjects. She spoke at length about the circumstances surrounding the commissioning of the project, its demise and our renewed interest in this important work by a visionary architect. She described the influence of Paul Tillich on the genesis of the project: The Cave of the New Being. We will all travel in a month to visit the utopian town of New Harmony. We'll tour the original proposed site for the Grotto, the adjacent Roofless Church by Philip Johnson and walk the town with Ben.
Our first challenge was to reproduce the original bronze model built by Frederick Kiesler in 1963 using the latest 3D scanning, CNC fabrication and rapid prototyping technologies. This model was presented to the students at the initiation of the project as a point of departure rather than the end goal of the studio's exploration
Metalab principal Joe Meppelink previously co-owned and operated Metalab as an architectural metal fabricating shop. This shop fabricated dozens projects in the Houston area, ranging from furniture to multi-story stair structures, and began steadily employing digital fabrication technologies in 1998. After selling the shop, Joe returned to teaching and practice in Houston. He taught design and fabrication courses at Rice University for 2 years, and then began Framework Design Studio (now Janusz Design) – a residential practice still active in Houston – in 2004 with partner Marisa Janusz. Currently, Joe is an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the University of Houston, co-teaching courses in digital fabrication with Metalab partner Andrew Vrana. Joe also serves as Director of Applied Research at the College of Architecture, where professional and academic efforts coincide in his leadership of the University of Houston Green Building Components initiative (UHGBC). Joe’s desire is to design via constructive interplay between the often disparate camps of architecture-design-technology and construction-fabrication-manufacturing or more simply put, the head and the hands.
Andrew Vrana is an Architect who has structured his practice around design informed by advanced computation and digital fabrication as well as a working knowledge of materials and building culture. This expertise was cultivated locally and internationally while at Texas A&M, Columbia University and though employment at the Renzo Piano Building Workshop in Genova, Italy.
A Houston native, he returned to Texas in 2002 to pursue practice in a city dealing with the challenges and opportunities of expansive growth and cultural change. Since 2007 he has worked with Joe Meppelink and a capable staff at Metalab, a practice that endeavors to integrate the delivery of good design and unique building components with architecture, public art project management, and product design projects. This is enabled by connecting with a network of fabricators in Houston who are able to build anything. He maintains a connection to academia as a Visiting Assistant Professor at the College of Architecture at the University of Houston, where he has taught digital fabrication seminars and studios since 2005. Andrew seeks to merge the formal and material possibilities of contemporary design with a localized sensibility toward craft and quality of execution.
In 2009 he co-founded the non-profit organization TEX-FAB *Digital Fabrication Alliance to expand his interests in pursuing design research through the application of digital technology within the Texas region and beyond by organizing workshops, lectures and design competitions.