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DESIGNING L.A.

Coolest skylight in L.A.? 'String Beam' is 800 rays of inspiration

November 14, 2013|By Craig Nakano

It is, at its most basic level, simply plastic cord strung under a skylight. But the brilliance of Brian Thoreen and Brant Ritter's latest design is that it is so much more: light sculpture, optical illusion, creative inspiration.

Titled “String Beam,” the installation by Thoreen & Ritter uses about 800 strands of monofilament — about 2 miles of fishing line — running from a skylight to the floor and adjacent wall of the L.A. Web design and video development studio Haus. The translucent strings capture and carry light from the ceiling, forming a clean shaft of illumination that shifts with the sun. The result is ethereal, pure lightness despite the monumental weight required to hold the strings in place.

When Thoreen and Ritter initially tested the concept on a 2-foot-tall scale model, they realized that so many strings pulling so tightly created thousands of pounds of pressure — enough to bend the steel frame of their model. “It would have been like hanging a car from the ceiling,” Ritter said.

So they adjusted the string tension for the full-sized installation, keeping the lines taut enough to stay straight and parallel yet not so tight that they pulled up the sheet-metal base plates. Three interns spent a week lacing the strings through water-jet-cut holes and locking them into place using traditional fishing line crimps. The front two facades use string with a slight blue tint that looks radiant white when illuminated; the rear two sides have a slight green tint to give the work more dimension, sharpening the corners of the shaft of light.

PHOTO GALLERY: Thoreen & Ritter skylight and lantern installations

“We wanted to treat it like an installation in a gallery, not just office space,” said Thoreen, who served as production manager for the architecture firm Marmol Radziner & Associates and met Ritter when the two were fabricators and assistants for artists including James Turrell. “We wanted a big, broad gesture.”

Thoreen and Ritter conceived another big, broad gesture at Haus: about 600 white Chinese paper lanterns strung into a billowing indoor cloud. It's a lesson in how simple materials used en masse can create an entirely new effect — “maximum gesture with minimal expense,” Thoreen said.

With just a few of the white orbs glowing with compact fluorescent bulbs, the entire piece is at once looming yet effervescent, heavy yet light.

Both concepts that Thoreen & Ritter developed for their client echoed the work of the firm. "We take things that are very simple and we try to apply them in complex ways," said Rasmus Blaesbjerg, co-founding partner of Haus. "Brant and Brian really hit that."

Beyond aesthetics, the artists said, the lantern cloud lowers the ceiling and creates a more intimate space for programmers writing code. Blaesbjerg added that the lanterns absorb sound, delivering the quiet that staff wanted. Fittingly, the lanterns also metaphorically stand as pixels -- single units that collectively form a more meaningful picture.

craig.nakano@latimes.com

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