Sean Ahlquist, an associate professor of architecture at Taubman College, is exhibiting his “OrchidsPlayscape” installation in New York at the Lincoln Center’s Big Umbrella Festival — a large-scale performing arts festival exhibiting works for young audiences with autism.
Ahlquist is one of the few architects in the world who creates structures out of large-scale CNC knitted textiles. He has done extensive research in creating playscapes for children, especially for those with autism spectrum disorder such as his daughter, Ara. He was first invited to present his work and research as part of a symposium on Arts & Autism during the 2018 Big Umbrella Festival.
“OrchidsPlayscape” is initially inspired by Ara’s unique engagement with the world, and simultaneously explores the sensorial experience of textiles through play. The vast palette of tight, curved, and stretchy spaces are designed especially for guests with autism. The installation addresses the inevitability for individual creativity and expression to come in many, unexpected forms.
Ahlquist’s work also is currently on exhibit at the 17th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy. Based upon this installation and Ahlquist’s previous work with Big Umbrella, the Lincoln Center wanted to exhibit one of his prototypes for the 2021 Big Umbrella Outdoors festival. As a result, “OrchidsPlayscape” is on display in the main plaza space at Lincoln Center.
“It gave me a great opportunity to create version two of the playscape installed in Venice — fixing some issues that came up, but also exploring some new ideas that were revealed from seeing people interact with and comment on the version in Venice,” said Ahlquist. He will design another version of the “OrchidsPlayscape” installation for the Common Senses Festival in Omaha, Nebraska, in 2022.
Ahlquist’s work also will be featured in the 2021–2022 Lincoln Center Activate program, a year-long online series of events that will investigate Radical Welcoming, the intentional and extraordinary effort to make people feel welcome. A mini-documentary on Ahlquist and his work on accessibility will debut during an online watch part on October 26 (learn more). On October 30, he will have an online conversation with Mimi Lien, a MacArthur Fellow and Broadway set designer, about establishing welcoming interactive spaces (learn more).