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Utilitarian and affordable, polycarbonate is often recruited into service as a thrifty substitute for glass. Rarely does it rise above its humble duties in greenhouses, eyeglass lenses, and the occasional face shield, which is not to say the material cannot handle the transformation from glass stand–in to aesthetic stand–out. In the hands of architect Ammar Eloueini, founder and principal of Digit–all Studio, a Chicago and Paris–based practice, this ubiquitous, often over–looked plastic, does just that.


Nubik, 2005, is Eloueini's latest room–size architectural/sculptural project that not only dramatically transforms polycarbonate's image, but the look and feel of the space that hosts it. An architectural intervention into Grand Arts, a cutting–edge contemporary art project space in Kansas City, Missouri, Nubik acts as a visual focal point for Mash–Up!, an eight–week–long series of experimental events and performances Stacy Switzer, director of Grand Arts, and I co–curated. Because the line–up we chose was going to be diverse and multi–faceted—encompassing video art, installations, experimental performances, formal dinners, architectural lectures, and the odd cocktail party—and Grand Arts doesn't have an auditorium or lecture hall, we wanted an architectural intervention that would intelligently and graciously act as a stage–set for the series; a continuous visual thread to tie all the activities neatly together. The other design specifications were that the architectural intervention be quickly assembled, be easy to install, leave a light footprint, and, preferably, be recyclable.

Eloueini's elegant solution to our rather lengthy design brief is Nubik, a site–specific canopy made from hundreds of translucent polycarbonate pieces and common zip–ties and suspended by wire cables from the main gallery's 12–foot–high ceiling. He modeled Nubik using 3D computer software and then unfolded these volumes to generate flat patterns. The puzzle–like patterns were then programmed into a Computer Numerically Controlled machine (CNC) that cut the polycarbonate sheets into hundreds of pieces with unique dimensions.


The resulting structure is both lightweight and flexible, and the origami–esques folds of Nubik's eight lengths spread across the ceiling of Grand Arts' main gallery in luminous jewel–like waves. Meeting and pooling at one, dense point, the lengths separate into thinner strands toward the corners. During the day, hanging just below the gallery's skylights, the polycarbonate partitions refract the sunlight, making the structure glow in greys, silvers, yellows, and whites. At night, lit from above with deep blue floods, Nubik is a cool, fractured, Computer Age cloud ("nubi" comes from the Italian for "cloud" that arrests outside passersby with its striking presence and bathes gallery visitors in a watery, velvet light.

Annette Ferrara

Ammar Eloueini, Digit-all Studio

Marcin Szef

Grand Arts, Kansas City
Stacy Switzer and Annette Ferrara

lighting design:
Ammar Eloueini & Marcin Szef
Ammar Eloueini (born in Lebanon) is a registered architect who established Digit-all Studio in 1997, based in Chicago and Paris, as an architectural laboratory. Digit-all Studio's projects challenge traditional design processes and answer new architectural and urban complexities. In 2001, Eloueini was awarded the prestigious Nouveaux Albums des Jeunes Architectes, the French Institute of Architects' highest recognition for architects under thirty-five. His designs have been featured in solo and group exhibits and published worldwide. In Chicago, Ammar Eloueini chairs the Digital Media Program and teaches design studio at the University of Illinois in Chicago. He is a contributing editor for the magazine TENbyTEN since 2004. He received, with honors, the degree of Diplômé par le Gouvernement from Paris-Villemin in 1994, and graduated with a Master of Science in Advanced Architectural Design from Columbia University in 1996. Eloueini has participated in several symposia, including "Mixing It Up With Mies" at the Canadian Center for Architecture and the International Symposium in Electronic Art. Recent completed designs of Eloueini include the exhibition Skin Tight at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, a stage set for choreographer John Jasperse and a retail space for fashion designer Issey Miyake in Berlin.




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