You were probably only a few years old when you first came in contact with the ideas of Chuck Hoberman, the inventor of the eponymous sphere structure (often confused with the Bucky Ball) that easily expands to five times its original size, thanks to a brilliant system of double-armed joints.
Hoberman spheres are wildly popular as kids’ toys, but they can also be found in dozens of unlikely places. Hoberman Associates, his SoHo-based design office in New York City, applies his engineering skills to projects ranging from architecture to art. Right now, one of the 56-year-old inventor’s spheres is on view at the Museum of Modern Art, in New York, as part of the Century of the Child exhibit; meanwhile, his team is building rapidly deployable shelters and collaborating with KPF on permanent buildings based on his ideas about transformable design.
This week, Hoberman unveiled Nouaison, one of his largest spheres to date. The kinetic sculpture was commissioned by a Bordeaux winery, Château Smith Haut Lafitte, that dates back to the 14th century. The Chateau’s husband-wife owners have a penchant for installation art, and Nouaison is the seventh original piece they’ve installed on their estate.
“The sculpture takes its name from a French term describing the stage of growth when grapevines first develop their fruit,” explains Hoberman’s studio in a press release, “a critical moment in wine production.” Situated in front on the patio in front of the main house, Nouaison expands and contracts in a slow, smooth motion, as if some invisible hand was plucking it.
The structure is made from high-grade aircraft aluminum, forming 54 hubs that move to reposition 224 arms. The reflective, CNC-etched armatures reflect the environment around the sculpture, echoing the cycle of the seasons. “The hands-on, artisan machining process, honest materiality, and intricate detailing reflects the craftsmanship of the vineyard’s cooperage (barrel making),” the designers add. “The parallel machined rows abstractly reference both the orderly grape rows and a bird’s-eye view onto the patchwork of the Chateau’s vine plots.”
It’s hard to think of another designer who’s bridged engineering and art so seamlessly. “We believe that a world undergoing accelerating change needs an adaptive, interactive approach to design,” the design team explains, by way of a mission statement. The office’s architecture, art, toys, and medical technology all spring from a single 1990 patent for an expandable truss system. If you’re interested, check out the original, very beautiful drawings here.