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With drones abuzz, 'THE BEACON' takes shape in Philadelphia

Sabin drone design in day
Jenny Sabin/Provided
"THE BEACON," an installation designed by collaborators Jenny Sabin and Peter Lloyd Jones, features drone technology, responsive textiles and advanced digital fabrication.

Jenny Sabin and longtime collaborator Peter Lloyd Jones opened their experimental design installation “THE BEACON” at the DesignPhiladelphia 2016 festival Oct. 6.

They created the project to function as both a public meeting place for the design expo, being held on the campus of Thomas Jefferson University (TJU) in downtown Philadelphia, and as an experiment to demonstrate drone technology, responsive textiles and advanced digital fabrication’s contribution to architecture, design and the medical field.

“THE BEACON” is a progressive work. Every evening for 10 days, two drones will wind around a 20-foot-tall structure, and during that time a second woven skin of photo-luminescent micro-cord will emerge.

According to a press release, “‘THE BEACON’” is “an experiment in generative architecture, and functions to stimulate new ideas between medicine and design.”

Sabin is the Arthur L. and Isabel B. Wiesenberger Assistant Professor of Architecture and director of graduate studies in architecture at Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning. Jones is associate dean of emergent design and creative technologies at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at TJU, and executive director of MEDstudio@JEFF.

“This is one of the first examples of large-scale material construction by drones in architecture – the exterior skin of ‘THE BEACON’ will emerge as the drones wind and weave in response to human engagement with ‘THE BEACON’ app,” Sabin said. “Through the integration of health, wellness, technology and design, ‘THE BEACON’ generates spatial transformations of light that in turn, empower and inspire collective levity, engagement and play in and around Philadelphia.”

The installation features knitted and woven materials that are lightweight, high-performing, formfitting and adaptive, structured and held in tension with modules of stitched laser-cut steel.

Jenny Sabin Studio (the design lead for the project) has been overseeing the data-driven drone component in collaboration with MEDstudio. The drones’ flight pattern will respond to health-related questions posed to the public through “THE BEACON” app, in addition to data gathered from plants in the Rail Park, a neighboring urban park that shares a common mission of improving the health and wellness of all Philadelphians through design.

“Design dictates how well we live and die, which is surely one definition of health care,” Jones said. “And if that is broken, which it clearly is, then we must fix it – through the design of processes, products and behavior. At MEDstudio, we believe that by listening to everyone involved in health care, but most of all the patient, design can extend the time and quality of life in health and wellness, thereby decreasing chronic illnesses, even changing the way in which we die. ‘THE BEACON’ is MEDstudio’s messenger.”

After the public debut of the project, Sabin and Jones joined Pulitzer prize-winning architectural critic Inga Saffron for an in-depth discussion of their collaborative work Oct. 7 at TJU. Public events at “THE BEACON” during its 10-day creation will include meetings with architects who are actively working to redesign hospitals, pick-up volleyball games and a mindfulness movement class.

The Cornell design team on the project includes Andrew Moorman, B.Arch. ’16; Jingyang Liu, M.Arch. ’15, M.S. ’20; Bennett Norman ’18; Danny Salamoun, M.Arch. ’14; Jordan Berta, M.Arch. ’16; Maddy Eggers, B.Arch. ’19; Dillon Pranger, M.Arch. ’15; and David Rosenwasser, B.Arch. ’18. MEDstudio’s design team includes architectural designer Trudy Watt and clinical design engineer Mike Koerner, with support from Provost Mark Tykocinski and Elsevier. Design engineering was provided by Arup, and the drones were donated by Autel Robotics.

Edith Fikes is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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Rebecca Valli