24 March 2017 // JRA Culture

27 Inches to Life Size – Transforming a Design Into a Built Reality

We’ve have a special treat for our blog readers today as designer Rachel Daheim shares the experience of her first project installation.

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As a young designer at JRA I have the opportunity to work on a variety of exciting projects throughout their design phases. From visioning documents, storyboards, renderings, schematic drawings, shop drawings, architectural plans and more, I get to see almost the entire life span of a project unfold on my 27” computer screen. Recently, I was given the opportunity to step away from my desk and to participate in the final phase of a project’s life, the install. Being able to work on a project throughout the design process and then to see it come full circle, not to mention full scale, has been an incredible journey.

This journey began almost a year ago when myself and several other members of the JRA design team traveled to Daytona, Florida to meet with representatives of the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America or MSHFA. We toured their newly acquired facility, located just a few yards from the famous Daytona Speedway. The design brief was to take this new facility and create a series of exhibits and galleries that encompassed the full spectrum of motorsports: cars, motorcycles, off-road, powerboats and airplanes. Our goal was to embody the spirit of racing and create a place that would pay tribute the drivers and operators of the fastest machines in America.

This was a very exciting project to work on. The design team faced many unique challenges throughout the project, including suspending historic cars 30 feet into the air, mounting speedboats on top of walls, and placing several racing vehicles on a stretch of track banked at 45 degrees in the center of the museum.

After weeks of supporting the project from behind my computer screen in Ohio, I was asked to travel to Florida and participate in installing the final gallery, which was a total thrill. The design for the final gallery grew out of a collaborative effort between the MSHFA and the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles. It would showcase the life’s work of Hot Rod magazine owner and creator, Robert E. Petersen, and the impact he had on the world of racing.

On the first day of the instillation, we arrived on site to find that our staging area was to be shared with catering services, a demolition pile of old exhibits, and various props and displays from the Daytona Speedway. JRA Art Director and project lead, David Ferguson, was unfazed and wasted no time in organizing and setting a plan in motion. Before I knew it, teams of fabricators, lighting designers, technicians, and AV designers filled the gallery.

I had always imagined an install to progress in a sequential series of defined phases. For example…

Phase 1: Lay the carpet
Phase 2: Install artifacts in the case
Phase 3: Hang lights and focus on case
Phase 4: Incorporate AV and sound

It was quite a shock to find that most of these task progress simultaneously. Carpet being laid, fabricators were arranging artifact cases, and the lighting team was on ladders hanging lights – all at the same time in the same space! The work was done at a fast pace but executed very precisely. So I began the task of learning the complex dance of working amidst the various teams moving in and out, working around, over, and under each other while carrying out their assorted tasks. I could see that there was a method to the organized chaos, but it was not until day three I felt that I could keep up with the pros.

One of my first tasks on sit was to work with David to unpack the large crate of artifacts we received from the Petersen Automotive Museum. It was a unique learning experience to witness the extremely carful and thoughtful consideration that goes into the arrangement of each artifact. It was exciting to carefully handling each delicate article as we strategized their arrangement.

On the final day of the install, our staged artifacts had to be carefully moved to the gallery and placed inside the display case. This was easer said then done. The case itself was suspended 10’ in the air and some distance away from the elevated walk way. It was quite the scene seeing our amazing fabrication team from Nassal send a member into the suspended case and then, through carful instruction, set each artifact in place. Final, all that was left was to lift an extremely heavy panel of glass up over the railing and set it into the case. This extremely difficult feat had to be done with out nudging or knocking the artifacts out of place. We all held our breath as Nassal’s entire team lifted the heavy glass and inched it slowly into position. The panel was locked into place and the artifact case was sealed. It was a great end to a busy install.

The finalized gallery was incredible to walk through and see first hand. But even more rewarding was seeing all the different moving parts, the various team members, and the process of the physical creation during the install. It was an unbelievable experience to be apart of the final chapter of the design process and see what had only been a 27-inch drawing on a computer screen, come to life.