To commemorate its 150th anniversary, Muncie, Indiana, pulled out all the stops, commissioning an installation that would be a real downtown destination for its citizens. But instead of an esoteric statue or run-of-the-mill mural, the city challenged local design/build firm PROJECTiONE to create a site that fosters interaction and play.
To accomplish the effect, PROJECTiONE sculpted a mini landscape called SoftMatter using about 20,000 custom-cut extruded polyethylene foam rods–the same material that pool noodles are made from. Modeling the topography off of “tides, waterfalls, and generally the way liquid moves,” the firm sought to invoke playfulness and exploration.
“The idea was also to create multiple ways that people could experience the project, and the ripples in the form that continue throughout the piece allow for that,” says Adam Buente, PROJECTiONE’s co-founder. “The piece does not have a single specific function, but rather it allows users to discover ways of interaction.”
The foam rods are heat-welded together and are set on top of a plywood platform. Buente and his team were working with tolerances of 1/2-an-inch, so precision was paramount to accomplishing the wavy silhouette. SoftMatter features three zones: a path that cuts through the center of it, a climbable tiered area that rises nine feet tall, and a forest of noodles that’s become a favorite place for kids to wander through. The installation faces an outdoor stage and can be used for seating.
“The hope was that people would leave with a different understanding or way of thinking after seeing the mundane ‘pool noodle’ turned into something so dramatic and surreal,” Buente says. “Also we just wanted people to have fun and leave happy.”
And as much as we drool over souped-up installations, sometimes the low-tech interventions are the most memorable.