FriMonday Photo: What’s That Squiggle?

No, it’s not Zaha Hadid‘s latest concept chair, but there is rapid prototyping and automotive paint involved. The fiery squiggle pictured at right is one of the ten recently announced finalists for the CityRacks Design Competition cooked up by the New York City Department of Transportation and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum to develop a functional, innovative bike rack design that will raise the profile of cycling in the city. Having admired all ten finalist designs on display in the Cooper-Hewitt courtyard (see them installed and ready for use at New York’s Astor Place), we were particularly intrigued by this one, designed by Francis Anthony Bitonti of FADarch in Brooklyn. “Alien is probably the best word to describe it,” Bitonti told us of his creation, built from a modular system of parts using custom-developed software. “Because it lacks familiarity, the object appears foreign.” And fascinating.

Bitonti’s design process is entirely digital. “I use animation software to develop the forms and create an aesthetic sensibility for the project,” he said. “I then write a series of simple computer programs that combine these objects in different ways. These algorithms help me produce complex patterns that would be very time-consuming and difficult to produce any other way.” Then it’s off to the 3-D printer, where the alien comparisons continue. “Data is extracted directly from the 3-D CAD file and is used as instructions for a robotic arm that fuses together layers of material.”

The material in this case is superglossy ABS plastic in a deep red-orange that stands out among the mainly metallic crop of finalists. “I struggled quite a bit over the color. I don’t like the idea of creating something that is a single static color,” Bitonti told us. “The automotive paint became an excellent way for me to create a kind of living surface that is always changing with the light and relationship of the observer to the object.” Later this month, a jury that includes First Deputy Mayor Patricia E. Harris, Cooper-Hewitt curator Ellen Lupton, and artist/cyclist/musician David Byrne will decide if Bitonti’s alien life forms will colonize New York City. In the meantime, his firm is developing “a new line of furniture that will take advantage of some of the latest computer-aided manufacturing techniques” as it looks to take on larger architectural projects. Watch out, Zaha.