Skip to main content

An Liu’s “Helper” Named to Dezeen’s 2022 Longlist

With a modest grant from the Branch Museum of Architecture and Design and the tireless efforts and support of his passionate team of community members, An Liu led the charge in creating the wonderfully captivating piece of experiential art, “Helper,” which is documented below.

An’s proposal was to create a piece, designed on the basis of ‘found’ or discarded materials. An came across 2,600 ‘spikes’ – slivers of wood trimmed from wood slats for a parking garage screen wall under construction in Richmond – otherwise destined for the dumpster. His design for the piece—prickly, aggressive, and frenetic from the outside like the quills of a porcupine, and composed, calming, and sort of settling from the inside—both employs and was inspired by the discarded materials that he came across.

It is an agile, nimble, and resourceful way to design. And an award-winning one at that! We were recently made aware that “Helper” was named to Dezeen’s 2022 longlist for Installation Design.

Many thanks to An and his passion for bringing the experience of design to all in the community. To take a deeper dive into the inspiration and intent of this immersive piece, please enjoy the project overview from An and his team included below.

For more information on this esteemed award, check out the “Helper” project page on Dezeen and join us in congratulating An Liu!

"HELPER"

Helper is an architectural installation addressing consumption and sustainability. It stands in front of a national historic building. It faces a 5.4-mile Monument Avenue which was the home of 5 monumental statues of confederate generals. The statue of the president of the Confederate States was right outside the brick fence on site. What messages that the Helper is expressing are one of the biggest drivers of the design.

The project is aiming to highlight human’s impact on the natural world acknowledging wasted materials, bringing awareness to our environment, and addressing the symbiotic relationship between humans and Earth. The material selection was one of the biggest challenges given the modest budget to work with. Besides paying attention to where the materials come from, more importantly, where they end up after the installation is also one of the main drives of the design.

“One weekend I was running past a construction site in downtown Richmond. I saw this beautiful building facade made out of red cedar boards. I knew there must be a construction dumpster somewhere for the cutoffs. I searched everywhere but I couldn’t find it. The second I was ready to give up, I saw the corner of a dumpster poke out of a concrete wall 20 yards away. That’s where I found all the pointy red cedar scraps. I ended up collecting about 2,600 spikes.”

“Once I had all the cedar collected, I took a step back from the “Helper” design I had and asked the cedar “what do you want, spike?” The spike metaphorically responded “I want to dance, I want to yell, and I want to help”. The design for the “Helper” started reviving in a way that celebrates the pointy cedar scraps instead of forcing them to adapt. Cedar spikes started dancing.”

The structure presents a dichotomy between inside and outside through sensory experiences. Externally, sharp ends of abandoned materials represent the material life cycle and human consumption. Moving into Helper, visitors physically and metaphorically change their relationship with the structure. External threats from the abandoned materials transform into armor, offering a protective shield.

The peaceful interior atmosphere awakens the senses, allowing visitors to fully experience the cedar's natural light, color, smell, and texture, and bringing awareness to the surrounding environment. The user experience from exterior to interior is paradoxical, transitioning from threatening to protective.

Community engagement is a big part of this project. Considering the involvement of volunteers, wood was selected. The lumbers used for the framework were donated by DPR construction and will be returned after the deconstruction. The scale of the structure was determined by the size of the lumber in order to minimize the amount of cutting in the construction. Helper is also a collaboration amount other professionals. Local graphic designers were invited to design Helper posters to exhibit on-site monthly. From an interior vantage point of Helper, visitors see the sticks of Helper reaching out in every direction, like hundreds of arms calling for helpers.We are all helpers.

Hello, new!
Recognizing Excellence
Project Lightyear Receives ISPE Facility of the Year Award (FOYA) Honorable Mention
What Do You See?
Ohio University Celebrates Groundbreaking of New South Green Residence Hall
Happy Earth Day
A New Home in Raleigh's Warehouse District
Hanbury Discussions with Shawna Mabie
Karsh Institute Selected as Design for Freedom Pilot Project
Pat O'Keefe Named Habury COO
Holistic Approach Grounded in Research
Design Retreat
Design Medalist
Lower Campus Residence Halls
Crafting the Blueprint
Seacobeck Hall
Legacy Programs
Freshly Squeezed: Hanbury Serves Up Its New Creative Collective
The Spontaneous Grid
Universidad de Monterrey
Materiality
Summer Scholar
sPARK Leasing Center
sPARK LS campus
UVA Hotel + Conference Center
Atlantic Park
Reimagining Sustainability: A Journey to Net Zero in Large-Scale Manufacturing
Virginia African American Cultural Center
VGXI
AIAHR Pop Up Park: “BLOCK PARTY”
Robert V. Reis, FAIA, Becomes Hanbury's Eighth Fellow
Portal to the Past
r[EVOLUTION] in Design: Exploring the Convergence of AI, Computational Design, and the 'Third Place'
Attracting and Retaining Tenants in Laboratory and cGMP Facilities
Revitalizing City Center: Richmond's Bold Step Towards an Urban Innovation District
The Power of Play: Hanbury and DPR Collaborate for a Charitable Cause
Atlantic Park Gets Go-Ahead with Financing in Place
Highland Park: A Journey to Health and Wellness
Hanbury Awarded Grand Prize in 2022 AIA Film Challenge
Community Wish Comes True
Atlantic Park AR Mural Blends Physical and Virtual Environments
Resilience in Practice Series Volume 2: Resilient Campus Planning
Resilience in Practice Series Volume 1: Resilient Campus Planning
Business Development and the Democratization of Architecture Studios
Building the Carbon Positive City with Alan Organschi
Resilience in Practice
No Small Plans