To celebrate the centennial of the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, the SMWIA commissioned Frank Gehry to create a building within a building. The exhibition was entitled, Sheet Metal Craftsmanship: Progress in Building.
Designed, conceived, and constructed in 1988, the project was one of the first projects produced by Gehry and Zahner together. Installed in the former Gen. Montgomery Meig’s Pension Building of 1883, the neoclassical structure now serves as the National Building Museum.
Frank Gehry’s design barely fits under the five-story atrium ceiling, and directly contrasts the classical columns which hold it up. The sheet metal structure rises 65-feet high in the air, which is actually cut down from Gehry’s original height by 12 feet. Gehry wanted it to “press the space, to be almost too big for the room.”
Four different sheet-metal materials — copper, polished brass, galvanized steel, and a lead and tin steel called terne plate. He uses the four tones like a painter, varying the size and direction of his brush-strokes. According to Gehry, “It’s like if you threw a bunch of objects into a can. You would still recognize them all. That’s what a city is, a collage of disparate pieces.”
Zahner engineered, fabricated and installed of this custom sculptural form inside the National Building Museum. The installation was constructed for the Summer of 1988, after which it was dismantled, repurposed and recycled.