Support Local Journalism. Join Riverfront Times Press Club.

Michael Jantzen's malleable architecture defies convention 

Michael Jantzen M-velope, 2014. Wood and mixed media.

Courtesy of Bruno David Gallery and the artist

Michael Jantzen M-velope, 2014. Wood and mixed media.

Working at the intersection of art and architecture, Michael Jantzen has made a career out of inventing fantastical structures that reimagine the built environment, challenging viewers to rethink age-old structures and building practices in terms that are attuned to the mutability of particular contexts and are environmentally sustainable. Many of his designs, such as a solar-powered vineyard or a wind-turbine pavilion, remain conceptual works of the imagination — thrilling glimpses of alternative public spaces.

Among Jantzen's designs that have been realized, however, are his so-called M-Vironments, flexible structures built of sustainable modular parts that can be modified to suit a range of needs. Several of these designs are now on view at Bruno David Gallery, where Jantzen (who earned his MFA at Washington University) is exhibiting a series of maquettes and one life-size example of his kinetic architectural forms in M-velope — a peculiarly academic show, interesting if sparsely populated, that leaves you wanting more.

Positioned in the main gallery stands the show's eponymous M-velope, a twelve-foot-high structure of outward angled walls that is somewhat reminiscent of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. Like Fuller, Jantzen is trying to reimagine habitable spaces. His structures are malleable, capable of transforming to meet different environmental and personal needs.

Built around a simple frame, M-velope is constructed of moveable slatted panels that are connected to the frame and hinged to one another. In its "closed" position, the art structure would look like a miniature A-frame house. But Jantzen's structure invites transformation. Each panel is moveable — eight on the roof, two on each outside wall — and depending on its configuration, M-velope can be a private, traditional, intimate space, or a multi-angled, habitable and open sculpture that lends a host of views to the surrounding environment. Similarly, because the structure is made of prefabricated materials, M-velope can be expanded by joining it with a second structure, both of which can be deconstructed, transported and reassembled at another site — kinetic architecture in the true sense of the term.

As interesting as M-velope is, the structure is somewhat ill-suited to the Grand Center gallery. The architectural form feels cramped as it dominates the gallery's main room. What's more, this piece, which is meant to be transformed to suit shifting conditions, is here locked in place. Viewers are invited to sit inside, but M-velope's form remains fixed. It's unresponsive to both users and its environment, leaving viewers to theorize about its potential, but unable to experience it.

More successful in this setting are several intricately rendered maquettes from the same series exhibited in the gallery's front room. Some of these miniatures are simpler than the full-size M-velope, boasting only a few moving parts. Others, however, are significantly more complex sculptural forms, reminiscent of everything from spaceships to beach chairs, which merely nod in the direction of architecture.

Nevertheless, each of these intricate little maquettes shares M-velope's basic DNA — transmutable architectural structures that both adapt to and reflect a changing world.

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Riverfront Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Riverfront Times Club for as little as $5 a month.

Related Locations

Read the Digital Print Issue

October 20, 2021

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In St. Louis

© 2021 Riverfront Times

Website powered by Foundation