A 360° View of Architectural Suspensions, with Kenneth von Roenn

Alltech, Inc., suspended in the central atrium of Alltech's European headquarters. By Kenneth von Roenn.
Alltech, Inc., suspended in the central atrium of Alltech’s European headquarters. By Kenneth von Roenn.

Kenneth von Roenn is a master of glass, in the old-world style of the world. He has cracked every angle of glasswork in his forty-five years as an artist and architect specializing in the medium.

Artist and architect von Roenn.
Artist and architect von Roenn.

But there was a time when he hadn’t. In the 1990’s, von Roenn was a well-known, respected architectural glass artist who was looking to branch out, to do more three-dimensional projects.  As a trained architect, von Roenn was interested in added layers of design those projects would bring.

“It’s actually a more comfortable area for me, because I’m an architect that thinks three-dimensionally,” he says. “It’s a more natural form for me than something that’s two-dimensional. 2D requires a completely different methodology in design. 3D design is much more closely to how I design architecture. It’s a very easy transition.”

The quick transition to the new approach is a study in contrast to the careful and calculated approach von Roenn take with his site-specific design. Hanging mobiles as art are accompanied by a host of parameters within which an artist has to work.

“A suspended work by its nature is different because of the way it’s viewed,” says von Roenn. “The people who view it are generally walking, so there’s an element of viewing something while you’re walking. What this also means is that the viewers only see it for a few seconds. What that means in terms of design, the design has to be done so the work can be experienced in a short period of time. The work has to be understood not in terms of a theoretical meaning, but what the composition is about and what the materials do.”

When designing specifically suspended projects, von Roenn focuses on his audience–their perspective, their interest, and how they interact with his work.

Saks 5th Avenue, composed of more than 40,000 crystals suspended on stainless steel cables. By Kenneth von Roenn.
Saks 5th Avenue, composed of more than 40,000 crystals suspended on stainless steel cables. By Kenneth von Roenn.

“People moving around a piece see different elements and different qualities. It changes as the viewer changes their physical relationship to it. The viewer enters into the creative process and that affects how the piece is seen,” says von Roenn. “In that regard, they have some contribution to what the work is about. It becomes a method of engagement and allows the work to expand.”

He avoids creating ornate work for the transitioning viewers of suspended projects, because “it’s not natural for them to study a work” as they pass through a space, he says. But that doesn’t mean his suspended work isn’t complex. He considers precisely the relationship his work has with an audience when it’s suspended.

“Because the works are generally viewed as people are moving, every element of my work has some element of movement. There is nothing static about the composition,” he says. “If viewers see it as they’re moving, it’s more comfortable for them to see a piece of work that’s moving as well.” But while he puts his audience first, von Roenn is thoughtful about the abstract aspects of his work that define his aesthetic.

Saks 5th Avenue, detail.
Saks 5th Avenue, detail.

“I pay particular attention to is the perception in a sense of weight. In my work, I want all of my work to feel as though they are almost floating,” he says. “There isn’t a sense of immense weight hanging over someone’s head. To me, the pieces feel much more comfortable because of that, as opposed to something that’s very heavy and it’s apparent there’s a lot of effort of getting it to stay in place. I like the floating.”

As much as the architectural side of von Roenn drives his ambition to capture a feeling through structure, the artistic side powers a more holistic viewpoint of his design. 

“There is such a huge difference in how I approach a project as an artist. I look at it from a much wider perspective, from the point of view of a whole environment, and what it does for that building,” says von Roenn. “The most important to me, beyond the success of my project, is the success of the space and if my work makes it more meaningful, and richer for the people who use it. If the work is interesting but has no context, then it’s a failure. It’s about the totality of the architecture as opposed to the individuality of my art.”