“Oh Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me”

News—————28 January 2016

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A millwork screen inspired by the work of two deaf astronomers is currently being installed in the new STM addition and renovation in the Hall Memorial Building at Gallaudet University.

In their work at the Harvard College Observatory at the turn of the 20th century, Annie Jump Cannon and Henrietta Swan Leavitt each made a significant advancement in the understanding of celestial objects.

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Annie Jump Cannon developed the modern classification system for stars based on their temperature. To remember the system’s spectral classes, O, B, A, F, G, K, and M, Cannon used the mnemonic “Oh Be a Fine Girl, Kiss Me.” She ultimately classified a total of around 500,000 stars, more in a lifetime than anyone else to date. She was deaf almost her entire career.

Henrietta Swan Leavitt invented a method for measuring the difference in luminosity between celestial objects as a means of determining distance. Her work became the foundation upon which Edwin Hubble determined the universe to be expanding. Soon after her college graduation, she too became deaf for the balance of her career.

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Inspired by these two scientists, Studio Twenty Seven Architecture abstracted the solar spectograph as inspiration for a wall element in a newly formed atrium that connects the STM spaces on the third and fourth floors of the Hall Memorial Building. The atrium is filled with light that cascades from an existing cupola down to a new student union carved from the building’s core.

The millwork screen is experienced as a sculpted surface, modeled by assigning elevation variance to color saturations in keeping with Leavitt’s theorem for the relationship between the visible spectrum and distance. Striated based on the meter of the spectograph, the surface creates a veil to the faculty lounge that overlooks the student commons and it then rolls at the upper level to create an overlook study bar.

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The surface was developed using Rhinoceros 3D with its algorithmic modeling plug-in, Grasshopper. S27 used Grasshopper to extract CNC cutting files for the millwork subcontractor for coordination and shop document development. A few samples were constructed to test form cuts, material finish, assembly, and installation strategies. The screen is scheduled to be complete in January.

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