I went to an event at my Brooklyn synagogue Sunday and found something architectural, musical and wonderful.

     Architects Henry Grosman and Babak Bryan of BanG Studio created an art installation that interprets the Biblical story of Jacob’s Ladder. BanG writes: “The piece takes the form of a giant musical instrument that the public is encouraged to ‘play.’ It is constructed from 320 cardboard tubes bolted and lashed together into a twisting and torqueing ladder-like form.” Metal tubes pitched and arranged into one side on a diatonic scale make the installation playable.

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Architects Babak Bryan(left) and Henry Grosman of BanG Studio designed and built the installation. 

 Congregation Beth Elohim commissioned BanG Studio to design, fabricate and erect the installation as part of its bid to win one of grants being offered by American Express and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. CBE is one of 40 New York City organizations competing this year for funds to restore their historic buildings in a program called Partners in Preservation. The public votes to rank the projects. Since 2006, $6.5 million has been awarded through the program to preservation projects in San Francisco, Chicago, New Orleans, Boston, Seattle, and Saint Paul/Minneapolis.

    “The purpose of the Jacob’s Ladder installation is to remind everyone of the power and possibility of chance encounters,” says Joshua Breitzer, the cantor and music director of CBE.  In the biblical story, Jacob chances to stop and sleep by a river and dreams of a ladder traveled by angels and a message from God. “It’s a vision that has inspired people from all denominations,” Breitzer says, “and it’s the rallying cry for the congregation as we endeavor to win $250,000 to repair the stained glass windows in our sanctuary. The one that is in need of the most repair is a depiction of Jacob’s Ladder.”

     BanG designed the new depiction of the ladder with help from “a digital, parametric model in Rhino and Grasshopper,” says Grosman. “In some ways it was the opposite of a traditional construction process because the way the pieces go together is highly irregular. Each piece, its length and the location of the holes are all different.” To understand the construction logic, BanG built a series of full-scale prototypes, while at the same time developing the parametric model that allowed them to adjust the size and shape. “We had to be sure it would snake through the space, miss the columns, come through the door and clear the underside of the balcony,” Grosman says.

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Installation comes out the front door of the 1909 Neo-Classical Revival building (with detachable modules).

Once the relationships were embedded in the model, the architects could export the length of each piece directly into construction documents. They built the installation over a week with two former students “who could get their heads around the logic and kind of rocked out building up triangles and connecting them into the main structure,” Grosman says.

     BanG also created a kit of parts—five different-sized mallet heads, wooden dowel shafts, fabric and ribbons—so parents and children could fabricate mallets to strike the metal tubes and make music.

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Parents and kids make music at an open house on May 6.