Despite its name and its Los Angeles location, the Max Factor Building has nothing to do with makeup. Part of the Cedars-Sinai hospital complex, it’s a forbidding trio of stone-and-black-glass towers rising above an elevated outdoor terrace. The terrace had little more appeal than the towers until the hospital hired AHBE Landscape Architects to refurbish it with garden concepts and greenery, and Ball-Nogues Studio to create a structure on it for rest and reflection. Healing Pavilion was completed in 2017.

Collaborators Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues created this highly sculptural, sinuous openwork pavilion—made up of 352 two-inch-diameter steel tubes that together come to 2,293 linear feet—with the aid of a CNC (computer numerical control) machine tool called a tube bender that offered maximal precision. “This isn’t something we could have produced prior to the advent of this machine,” says Ball-Nogues principal Benjamin Ball.

The technique and the technology were used in service of a humane goal: consoling people with illness on their minds by firing their imaginations. The shadow patterns created by the openwork are not only intriguing in themselves, but they “interfere” with each other to make shimmering moiré patterns like those created when you look through two wire screens at the same time. “We wanted to make a place that provokes a bit of wonder, that takes your mind away for a moment, that gives you pause,” says Ball.

“We wanted to frame the sky, so we made an oculus. This had to be a place to sit. It had to provide shade, but it also had to be a passageway.”

— Benjamin Ball

TRANSFORMING SPACE

Benjamin Ball: “This huge, fancy hospital had a rather dull, uninspiring podium-level terrace, and they wanted to transform it into a place for healing, a place for repose. So they turned to the landscape architects AHBE and us to make an environment that would be transporting for one’s imagination, if only for a few minutes; a place that could really help take people’s minds, for a minute, away from illness and what was happening in the hospital.”

ART OR ARCHITECTURE?

Benjamin Ball: “I learned from this project that I could find a hybrid practice between architecture and public art, one that I could really believe in.… It’s more architectural than it is art. It grew out of a set of architectural considerations. But its functions are relatively limited compared to, say, a hospital building, or even a house.

“It’s at a nice scale, with a very limited program, so that we could have a lot of creative freedom and a lot of opportunity to explore ideas about the non-utilitarian aspects of architecture: the expressive potential of architecture, the potential of architecture to speak to something beyond utility.

“It was a great opportunity to do that in a permanent context.

“So some of our thinking had to do with how we could create both a space for sitting that had a degree of intimacy to it, and also make a passageway that one could freely walk through and feel as though they were not disturbing the people in the sitting area.”

THOUGHTFUL PLANNING: From Design To Installation

Creation and Iteration: “There’s no playbook for how to design and execute a structure like this,” says Ball. So in developing it, the design team worked closely with the fabricators, construction firm Hensel Phelps. It was a process of collaborative experimentation and iteration.

Designing the Production Process: Built into the “DNA” of the pavilion design process, says Ball, were specifications intended to make the by-hand fabrication easier and more uniform than is the case in many buildings—and artworks. “The idea was to yield something repeatable that looks very deliberate, very intentional,” he says. “…There were only five different welds that they had to do, so they could do them repeatedly and get very good at them; they didn’t have to look at dozens and dozens of drawings and specifications.”

The Human Hand: Despite the advantages that computer numerical control afforded, the fineness of the pavilion’s details and finish was the result of handwork. “The manual assembly process and the craftsmanship that goes into it—being handled by the right people—were critical to this working,” says Ball. “The assembly process was not easy and required ironworkers with a great deal of experience.”

Fabricated with Patients in Mind: In order not to disrupt patients and hospital operations, Healing Pavilion couldn’t be assembled on-site. “It had to be installed as a single unit,” says Ball. “We needed to keep on-site welding to a minimum. So it had to be craned in as a single unit and welded to the deck as quickly as possible.

Jon Spayde is the senior editor of Public Art Review.

Featured in Public Art Review #58.
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