University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Fine + Applied Arts

608 E. Lorado Taft Drive
Champaign, IL 61820

Alan Mette and Melissa Pokorny, Art + Design, with Kevin Erickson, Architecture

Team Members


CONNECT 2016 - University of Illinois CONNECT 2016 - University of Illinois
(24777 KB),  23-Oct-2016 08:44 PM

Design Concept
In the visual and audible cacophony of most art expos and fairs – Oasis aims to create a physical and emotional environment that offers visitors a chance to escape and relax from the overwhelming number of objects, artifacts, and people that will consume Navy Pier during the 4 day event. Constructed from a monochromatic palate of artificial turf, faux fur, felt, headliner fabric, PVC tubing, celluloid, nylon, crinoline, and expanded polystyrene the installation mimics natural elements, while being produced from highly manufactured materials. 

As a landscape inserted into the sea of booths and stalls, Oasis’s juxtaposition of shape and material invites attendee’s to gather, sit, and reflect. The installation is comprised of three main components: a platform floor, multiple seating typologies, and vertical tree-like lamps. The floor is a gently sloping platform, clad in white artificial turf. It clearly defines space and the construction is meant to create a subtle, soft surface as opposed to the hard concrete surrounding floor. Once inside visitors are offered a variety of seating types and textures. Larger seats promote conversation and gathering, while smaller ones allow more contemplative personal space. Textures on seats vary, from faux fur to fabric to felt, allowing visitors to choose different tactile experiences. Lastly, vertical tree-like lamps emerge from the floor to create a canopy overhead. Their shape and size vary to create space underneath, around, and within the overall installation. The actual illumination is set with a soothing hue further creating a still and serene environment. 

This whole process started just about a year ago, and has evolved from the initial series of deliberations that began with three faculty and two small groups of students from disciplines across the College of Fine and Applied Arts. Under the guidance of Alan Mette and Melissa Pokorny, from Art + Design, And Kevin Erickson, from Architecture, these two teams developed mood boards, pitched concepts and looked for visual prompts that we all discussed as the idea germinated. We looked for common themes and concept overlap. One overarching desire was to provide a quiet, meditative place for SOFA goers to retreat to--a sort of oasis of cool colors, soft textures and natural forms that would provide a retreat from the noise, intense visual stimulation, and hectic pace of the fair.

The final concept took inspiration from Zen dry-garden components, combined with the cool aura of a moonlit forest landscape. Once this thematic thread was discovered, the two groups worked together to refine the concept, create models and define materials. This entire process began last fall with an open call that attracted roughly 15 students. Through a series of meetings stretching over two semesters, our strategy was defined. The proposal was submitted after classes ended in May. 

After being notified this summer that our entry, titled “Oasis”, was selected as one of the final designs, the entire team was ecstatic to get back to campus and begin our building process. To get more people involved, we recruited students at all levels from all across the college to enroll in a class charged with fabricating all the various elements of this huge project. Our first meeting this semester had a robust turnout with over 30 students from Architecture, Industrial Design, Graphic Design, Painting, Sculpture and Engineering. We consulted with some amazing academic professionals and faculty in theater lighting and design, art, industrial design, and architecture. We’re working with shop technicians, theater and museum staff to prototype and fabricate various elements of our design. We’ve benefitted from a wealth of student-led, hands-on fabrication experiences and experiments. Our students will be challenging themselves to utilize resources from across the entirety of the college to complete the project.

Currently, three teams are tasked with developing the concepts and sourcing materials for flooring, lighting and seating. Many ideas have been pitched, many design improvements were made, and to be honest—it’s been pretty chaotic! But, out of chaos, order emerges. To everyone’s surprise, the project has taken on a decidedly synthetic theme. Many of the natural materials have been dropped, replaced by sheet foams, polyesters, vinyl, faux fur and fake turf. We are excited with these new developments, and even though the scale of the project is still a little daunting, everyone involved is committed and enthusiastic about the outcome.

This is the first time that UIUC has entered the SOFA Connect competition. We were one of six universities chosen to realize our design on-site. This will be beautiful, and we can’t wait for you to see it.


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