Manifold Destiny 6: The Bends
UCLA | AUD | Instr. Jason Payne

The conventional skate deck is the site of continuously renewed ornamental techniques. From the deck’s early history of taking on decorative outlines while refining the functionality of its surficial shape, to its more recent stasis in shape and wild applied graphics, the deck’s interiority as a laminated construction has never been mined for ornamental potential. To this end, the project involved studying the techniques implemented by Charles and Ray Eames in plywood construction, and exploring where failures or unexpected behaviors in these techniques could be applied to the skate deck.

Initially, we focused our attention on sectional outcomes, treating the deck as a volumetric, rather than planar, topology. These experiments led us to the discovery of the visual effects these sectional manipulations created on the finished surface, undermining the conventional understanding that a bent plywood construction would lead to a simple thickened surface, and replacing it with the idea that all elevations of the deck could have different formal characteristics. The top takes on the shape of the underlying formwork, maintaining its functional relationship to the foot. The bottom conforms to the composite topography of the formwork and the interior laminates, and the sides reveal the sectional variation of the interior plies. Additionally, the failures in the finishing material to adhere to the curvature of the laminates beneath it lead to tactile variation within the surface. These deformations, such as hammocks, ridges and saddles, are soft and springy to the touch, rather than hard and solid like the rest of the deck.

In considering these results as they relate to ornamentation, the visual variety in the resulting surfaces was fixed upon as the primary ornamental technique. Relating this approach to discussions of William Morris’ ornamental techniques, we became interested in the way Morris derived an expression of interiority through graphic effect. Morris and other nineteenth-century Romantics regarded the natural world as the richest source of inspiration for art and design. Morris, himself, advocated the abstraction of natural forms in the design of decoration. We considered it notable that while landscapes and mountainous terrain provided the subject matter for Romantic painters, the Romantic decorative arts confined its interest in nature to plants and animals. Given the layered nature of our construction technique, and the topographical forms we were working with, we decided to explore the potential for abstractions of terrain and landscape as a means of surface ornamentation. In pursuit of this, we removed an element of one of William Morris’ designs for wallpaper, and used it to create a topography for our deck. The naturalistic shape of the design—a leaf—contained regions of concavity and convexity, spurs and draws, large empty areas and steep ridges. These details sponsored a number of deformations that further enhanced the resulting surface, both in plan and in section.