It may seem a contradiction, but the landmark architectural sculpture at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle should strike observers as both monumental and delicate. That's according to its creator, architectural sculptor Ed Carpenter, whose installation team completed this 18-metres-tall glass-and-metal piece called Vessel.
Carpenter characterized Vessel as a centerpiece for the Hutchinson Center. The intention was to create a sculpture that could not be anywhere else - that would feel right for this site and this institution both physically and metaphorically.
Rising more than four stories in a transparent and searching gesture, the sculpture employs light to represent the optimistic spirit of the institution. Lit from the inside and outside at night, it is a luminous container for the aspirations and hopes of all involved. By juxtaposing native plantings with crystalline structure, it suggests a variety of dualistic metaphors: natural and technological, intuitive and rational, transparent and opaque, formal and informal. This "basket of light" expresses the dynamism of the Center in the way light and shadows play off, through and around the combinations of materials. Its interwoven structure represents the interconnected and collaborative nature of the Hutchinson Center.
Vessel works on an urban scale, marking views along various axes, as well as on a human scale, allowing passage into and through the leafy core or the sculpture itself. As the vegetation surrounding Vessel matures and honeysuckle vines grow up its lattice structure, the interior space is extraordinary for its delicate light and combination of intimacy and monumentality. Hourly, daily, and seasonal changes in the light and vegetation makes the sculpture an abstract sundial as well as symbol of transformation.
Vessel faced a challenging structural issue in that the site requires a tall sculpture to address axial views and to be in scale with surrounding buildings, but there are serious weight restrictions due to the load limits of the tunnel structure beneath. This dilemma was addressed with a design that is lightweight in spite of its monumentality. Employing aluminum, stainless steel, and slender strips of dichroic and bevelled glass, the sculpture achieves both goals simultaneously.
Team Design: Ed Carpenter Studio
Client: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.
Socio: Structural Engineering:
Grant Davis and KPFF Consulting Engineers.