Live from New York City- Katie Donahue Talks About Her Recent Award-Winning Installation, “The Pulp Canopy,” and Where You Can Find 800 Rolls of Toilet Paper


Pulp Canopy @ the Boston Society of Architect’s, Courtesy of Katie Donahue 2015

Wait, so is this art or architecture?” Someone asked me as I was dangling from a ladder trying to figure out how several thousand bright blue modules would be suspended in mid air. My colleagues and I had just won a competition to design and fabricate an installation for the Bigger than a Breadbox, Smaller than a Building exhibition at the Boston Society of Architects’ Space Gallery, and we were scurrying to figure out how to actually produce it in just a few months. The show, which is currently on display, curates installations that have been critical to BSA architectural history (from that of Coop Himmelblau to MoMA PS1) and also showcases current solicited pieces like the Tensile Vault by NADAAA which was built like a dome, but upside down, and Microtherme, a space onlookers can climb up into that produces variations of heating and cooling effects, created by Matter Design.

The question about art or architecture was a fair one, and to borrow from Hans Hollein’s seminal 1968 Bau Journal text “Everything is Architecture” I would posit just that – ‘If architecture is spatial practice, then anything with a consequence for our physical environment could be architecture.’  There’s a long list of things that affect the way we experience space and the profound impact a place can have on us, and it’s not limited to walls and doors and floors. The scale of installation is an ideal way to explore all those other things inbetween. Khora, the exhibition curators, stated that “As a medium, installation serves a unique function in the architect’s toolbox… it allows designers to bridge the gap that exists between the conceptual and physical practices of architecture. It introduces new ideas and methodologies to the design process, questioning long-held notions regarding the nature and purpose of architecture.”


The Pulp Canopy was the second project in a body of research that investigates potential applications for reconstituted cellulose fiber, or paper pulp, in architecture and design (the first was the Pulp Wall ). It explores texture, color, light and movement in more than 4,400 modules and considers how something as everyday as discarded paper can be transformed to provoke new experiences and alternate forms of interaction. The unique process of creation, the trial and error, the collaboration and improvisation, was one of the most fruitful aspects of the work.

The team at work in Denver

The team at work in Denver

Over 800 rolls of toilet paper were collected from the Denver International Airport that discards hundreds of pounds of partial rolls each week (as is common practice in many businesses with large facilities that find it more economical to replace and refill all rolls at once rather than employ labors to check more frequently –who knew?!). This remnant paper was broken down into its fibers, pulped, and reconstituted with a combination of digital and hand-craft techniques that required pouring and molding – best done on concrete under the Denver sunshine where they can dry quickly. When unprecedented storms flooded the city day after day while we attempted production, we were saved by a team of incredible volunteers, some in architecture, some just curious, who helped us completed adopt a new methodology indoors.

In the end, what we’re learning is that the scale of the architecture installation is soft and pliable. It allows us to ponder implications of fineness and detail as well as systems and infrastructure, straddling the two scales so as to be nimble, investigative and provocative. It permits us to shift our weight ever so slightly and ever so quickly at the sight of new ideas worth testing. It rewards curiosity.

Thank You to Volunteers/Supporters: Greg Behlen, Tim Holk, Boyao Jiang, Whitney Liang, Jonathan Miller, Liz Pettit, Caitlin Pfarr, Stephanie Sammons, Ian Redmond, Alfred To, Lia Giannosa, Levi Jette, Emelia Jost, Ashley Rawling, Adam Torres, Zach Zemljak. And also EVstudio, Jonathan Ochshorn, Professor at Cornell University, Clark Thenhaus, Director of Endemic and Lecturer at University of Michigan, Taubman College, Denver International Airport, and University of Colorado-Denver, College of Architecture and Planning.


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