The final element in the design for a residential garden in Williamsburg, VA is a digitally fabricated corten steel site partition. Acting as a screen to a gardener’s work and storage area, the switchback pleats of the steel panels provide a visual terminus to the garden.
The charge from the client, an architectural historian, whose property is very near the colonial campus of William and Mary, was seeking a project to inspire future contemporary works within the surrounding community. The garden screen, while located at a private residence, is visually accessible to the public due to the topography. From a distance, the perforations in the surface of the screen flattens the form into a singular surface while the patina of the corten introduces a soft complementary palette to the variety of seasonal plantings surrounding it.
Corten Steel was selected for the screen with the aim of achieving a variety of surface conditions as it acclimates to the subtropical climate of VA. The folds of the panels direct rainwater across the surfaces in varied directions. The pleated geometry shields some areas while washing others. So while the whole piece weathers, it does so in a non-uniform way. As one gets closer to the surface multitude of degrees of that rust and water patterning across the screen becomes more apparent, yet from a distance (from the house or street) these variations are less visible-- the focus shifts to the intricate palette of the garden as the various species of grasses and low shrubs play against the natural rust of the wall, but when walking next to and around the wall, the many hues of reds, browns, and oranges reveal a more intricate rawness.
The fifty-four custom cut and bent panels form a folded screen that provides lateral stiffness without additional structure. Each panel has a custom bend angle. To ensure precision, the architectural and fabrication teams built models and mockups to analyze the working methods. The size of the screen proved difficult in a number of ways. Fabrication tolerances had to be adjusted from the digital model due to “walking” of the laser during cutting. As compensation for this, a guide was strung based on the drawing elevation to represent the changing height of the screen. This guideline ensured the overall form was adhering to the design intent. Each section of the screen was then welded to its corresponding corten cap for shipping and installation.