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Leong Leong’s TOPO Installation for Ford at Sight Unseen OFFSITE

PHOTOS BY PIPPA DRUMMOND

Amidst the whirlwind of exhibitions, installations, trade shows, lectures, and parties that make up the ever-expanding NYCxDesign festival, a dedicated place to relax and regroup is the one thing that’s usually absent. But design-lovers seeking a moment of calm this week will find just that in TOPO, the immersive sound bath installation designed by Leong Leong for Ford that’s featured at our third annual Sight Unseen OFFSITE show, open today through Monday. Inspired by the experience of driving through landscapes in the Ford Edge, TOPO is a space to chill out, lounge around, and tune in to a meditative experimental soundtrack created by the designers with the engineers at ARUP.

The interior of TOPO itself is a soft landscape of six-inch-thick, CNC-cut foam massage rollers fastened to an underlying wooden support structure. Each foam module has a unique contour, based directly off of an elaborate cut sheet digitally drawn up by the architects. When combined, the clusters of rollers stand at differing heights to create an undulating topography defined by three major pinnacles that, when viewed through the installation’s mirrored walls, evoke a sense of boundlessness. “We tried to create a form that was ambiguous enough that you could interpret it however you want to use it — lay in it, sit in it,” says firm partner Dominic Leong. “So it’s this open-ended shape that allows for different modes of interaction.” It was also important to the designers that TOPO was big enough to facilitate communal and individual experiences simultaneously, a key concept in the design process behind Ford’s vehicles. “The idea of having these three peaks created three enclaves so you can have multiple people in there or you can have a more personal space,” says Leong.

What lies below the foam floor enhances this visual experience. An array of subwoofers and sound transducers embedded in the walls and mirrors, and beneath the foamscape, relay an aural medley of the ambient sounds emanating from the surroundings. “Imagine a cloud of sound moving around the space,” says Leong Leong. “The sound creates these different acoustic spaces that are moving around the space. Sound comes out of the walls and out of the ground. In a way the whole installation works like a big instrument; you have to tune the different sound sources.” In approaching architecture as a dynamic and open condition where the experience is dictated by the relationship of the space to the people in the space and its wider context, Leong Leong have managed to design at many scales — from physical to phonic.

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