Why Architect Rachel Shillander Toted a Mirrored Orb Around Topanga Canyon

Some just-for-fun photo shoots ended up shifting her perspective on the power of light.
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I guess I accidentally stole this chrome ball. I’ve had it for about thirteen years and got it at my first job after architecture school, working with a design group called Ball-Nogues Studio. They were doing an installation near Joshua Tree with artist Andrea Zittel’s nonprofit, High Desert Test Sites, involving a swimming pool with floating chrome spheres. On my way out to meet them, I picked up some spheres from their warehouse in Burbank. This one was too big for the pool—it’s thirty inches in diameter—so it ended up staying in my car and has been with me ever since.

Why Architect Rachel Shillander Toted a Mirrored Orb Around Topanga Canyon - Photo 1 of 1 -

For a while, I had it at my place in Echo Park. Then, when I moved to a little house in Topanga Canyon, it didn’t fit through the front door, which was smaller than a normal one, so it sat in the front yard. At some point, my ex-partner and I made a weird backpack for it out of a blanket and would take it on hikes in Topanga and photograph it to make it disappear into the setting.

Since then, mirrors have fascinated me as one of the best tricks in the design book. If you want to make a wall disappear, you cover it in mirrors. They continue a space beyond a plane and reflect everything around them. They’re also the first thing to get light in a space. Light likes to find reflective objects and bounce back out.

When I think about light and reflectivity in the context of my architecture and furniture designs with my studio, Lland, I think about how the light comes from the sun. Every day, the sun’s trajectory in the sky is different, just slightly, and that helps us place ourselves as people in the larger scheme of things. With the ball, every time I photographed it in Topanga, it reflected every single thing around it in a new way. Whatever light show we got from the sphere, it could only happen in that one place at that one time, never again.

Lauren Gallow
Dwell Contributor
Lauren Gallow is a Seattle-based design writer and editor. Formerly an in-house writer for Olson Kundig, she holds an MA in Art & Architectural History from UCSB.

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