2013 Market Winner: TX Contemporary Art Fair VIP Lounge by MaRS

As the winners of the 2013 Design is … Award Market Award, Shaw Contract Group winning firms interviewed as part of a section of Shaw Contract Group blog which will last a year. Throughout the year, readers can learn more about the 48 winning projects and the individuals who perform them. These are their stories.

Principals and co-owners,. Kelie Mayfield and Erick Ragni, elaborated on the inspiration for the space, using unconventional materials and creating interactive art.

Tell me something that was unusual about the project.
We could not have built the VIP Lounge without the support of all the contributors of the project. We pulled from our network of creative craftsmen and industry sources who willingly donated their efforts and materials to make this a unique and successful installation. Basic Builders, a general contractor who we work with frequently on commercial projects, collaborated with us on this design build installation and helped us to devise a structural system to hang a grid of umbrellas in an open 35’ foot high ceiling. A millworker, Impressions, whom we have collaborated on some very unique one off pieces met with us over a few bottle of wines to design the ottoman seating groups – attaching various sized balls at different touch points took some creative research! We found suction cups used for car windshields that we used to attach to the ball and was secured with a glue that is used for large water floats. Each ball was then attached with a plastic zip tie to create the five ball ottoman seating groups. We are in discussion with someone now on these ottomans for production. This project was all about the little details that made it all come together.

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Tell me about your client.
Max Fishko and Jeffrey Wainhause, artMRKT Productions, are the producers of the Texas Contemporary Art Fair. They wanted to showcase the quality of art and the overall experience of the fair. Houston’s art collector base is broad and very sophisticated and we wanted the VIP Lounge to represent this about Houston and it’s collectors. Max and Jeffrey gave us free reign to design the VIP and Collector’s Lounge but wanted to make sure that the lounges would elevate the experience of the fair. Their focus was on the quality of experience of the fair, instead of the size.

Was sustainability a large part of the design?
Since this was a temporary installation we wanted to use materials that would not be wasted. The environment surround was constructed of stacked shipping pallets and shipping containers while the tables were borrowed wire cable spools, all materials that supported our design narrative about the space.

The cable spool tables were borrowed from a company that Kelie’s father does business with in Houston. He donated them temporarily and allowed us to clean them up. We painted a red trim around the edges and stenciled our logo on the top and were also able to drill into them to stack two high to create standing cocktail tables. Now these cable spools are being used out in the industrial world marked with a little bit of art and design! We intend to repurpose the donated Shaw carpet, umbrellas and possibly the exercise balls into the 2013 TX Contemporary Art Fair.

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How is designing for a temporary installation different than a permanent space?
We have always collaborated with artists on our projects whether for site-specific installations or for curating an art collection for a client. For the TX Contemporary VIP Lounge we were able create an environment that was an interactive art piece – so we were able to play the role of the artist. It was refreshing to design a space that was not intended to sustain a duration of time as most of our residential, commercial and hospitality projects require.

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Were there any challenges you faced while working on the project?
One design hurdle was to provide an intimate space inside a cavernous convention hall with very tall ceilings and harsh lighting. The VIP Lounge needed to be intimate but also be able to accommodate opening night and special events hosted by the fair.

We contained the lounge with shipping palettes. We enclosed the back and sides with 8 high stacked palettes to conceal the convention hall architecture and then lowered the front side to allow viewing from the VIP lounge into the adjacent galleries. We wanted to focus the particpant to focus on the art and not on the convention center surroundings so we internalized the space and focused views to the galleries.

We were inspired by a project in Houston by artist Jo Ann Fleischhauer called The Parasol House, where umbrellas were used to create a skin of a house and were backlit. We really liked the idea of creating a ceiling that could define the space and create a sense of intimacy to the cavernous volume. The red umbrellas float over the marquee which was centered on an axis, grounding it to the art fair corridor.

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