As a brand, the Ace Hotel has carved out it’s own place in the hospitality world. Dedicated to hosting art and culture-rooted events, the hotel leaders also invest in, and deeply believe in, both temporary art exhibitions and permanent works at all locations. In Chicago, the hotel has recently welcomed its newest permanent piece—a blue sculpture on its rooftop garden Prairie by industrialist artist and designer Jonathan Nesci entitled The Nesci Dome.
WHITEWALLER: The Nesci Dome nods to the iconic children’s jungle gyms (invented in Chicago in the 1920s) and the Tiffany dome at the Chicago Cultural Center. Why were you impacted by these two objects?
JONATHAN NESCI: The idea grew from a seed planted by the team at Volume Gallery—Claire Warner and Sam Vinz— who shared that the first jungle gym was created in Chicago. I was intrigued and continued to research, discovering that not only was the jungle gym a product of Chicago, but also that one of the first prototypes was placed at the Crow Island School, which opened in 1940 in Winnetka. This was the first U.S.-built building by famed Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen—in collaboration with Perkins, Wheeler, and Will—after moving to Chicago with the funds he won for his second place design from the Chicago Tribune Tower competition in 1921–22. This history drove the first iterations for The Nesci Dome, centering around ideas of architecture, play, culture, and community.
I’m constantly gathering information and I really enjoy being open to influences and forms. As a result, when prompted by an opportunity like this, I try to find connections that aren’t necessarily obvious. The Tiffany dome, the jungle gym, the nine-square plan of the Sears Tower (still find it hard to call it the Willis Tower), these very Chicago-centric icons influenced the design of the Nesci dome. These icons, along with hard geometries and my fascination with numbers and systems, helped guide the design.
WW: Why was this something you wanted to appear in this space, permanently?
JN: Jumping scales has been an interest throughout my career, nearly from the beginning. It started years ago designing booth layouts for the many design fairs I’ve been exhibited in, mostly in conjunction with galleries. These were always temporary. I didn’t promote this design work but I learned a lot working within this public forum. Last year I created a framework for an architectural photography exhibit for the Columbus Architectural archives. I did this in partnership with designer Rick Valicenti inside the I.M. Pei-designed library in Columbus, Indiana. This cage-like exhibit was designed at the same time I was finishing the Nesci dome. These structures were both commissioned as permanent installations and it’s fun to see how the public engages with these works. This public work is new for me and I’m hoping there are more projects like this in the future.
WW: Tell us a bit about HALE—your industrial design company.
JN: HALE, my middle name, was established in 2006, though I dropped the name of my industrial design company about four years ago and settled on Jonathan Nesci alone. I found what I do is more in line with an artist than an industrial designer, but clearly there is a lot of overlap.
WW: For those visiting Chicago for EXPO, where would you recommend eating and seeing art at?
JN: I’d check out Jonathan Muecke’s show at Volume Gallery, David Hockney at Richard Gray, and the new design collection at the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC). I love the second-floor lobby of the Chicago Athletic Association for an informal meal and Big Star in Wicker Park is great for tacos.
WW: Is there an exhibition or piece of art you’ve seen recently that you’re still thinking about?
JN: Max Lamb had an exhibition at the AIC with an installation of unique chairs arranged in a large circle. It was a perfect presentation that also included process videos and material studies. The key piece of that show was this diminutive chair in split, solid, forged steel.
WW: What are you working on now?
JN: Over the past year I’ve been working on a new furniture system for the legendary fashion retailer Totokaelo and their updated SoHo location. I love working on new systems and am excited to launch this part furniture, part display system, in spring 2019. Additionally, I am working on two public designs for the city of Columbus, Indiana, where I live. The first is a design installation to honor Columbus native Chuck Taylor, known for his eponymous shoes, that will include a mashup of a basketball court and a half pipe. For the second project I’m serving on the committee to bring a new concrete skatepark designed by Finnish architect Janne Saario to Columbus. I feel like these skateable elements will prompt new focus on youth culture in this small city. Finally, I just launched a new venture called “w/”—pronounced “with”—which will be a platform for me to collaborate and exhibit with artists and designers. The inaugural partnership is with local Columbus ceramic artist named Robert Pulley who realized over a dozen of my designs in a black copper glazed ceramic.