In ‘Helper,’ An Liu invites us to think about our relationship with nature — and each other

A sense of community Liu found at VCU was crucial to his Branch Museum of Architecture installation, which is meant to perplex, repel, embrace and unite.

By Dina Weinstein, VCU News

“Helper,” an architectural installation of cedar in the Branch Museum of Architecture’s front courtyard at 2501 Monument Ave., stands 24 feet high and spans 24 feet in diameter. The spikey sculptural composition resembles an angry porcupine or an upside-down megaphone. At the base, hyacinth bean vines sprout sprays of purple flowers and shimmering pods, extending their runners up from the planters, and the foreboding spikes part in two locations that are large enough to walk through, allowing people to go into the structure and be surrounded by the cedar scent. Inside, one can closely observe the details of the octagonal creation, the patterns formed by the wood connections and the circular opening at the top.

It is the creation of An Liu, a Virginia Commonwealth University adjunct instructor and concept-driven designer at SMBW Architects. Liu, a graduate of the VCU School of the Arts master’s program in interior design, created “Helper” for the Branch Museum of Architecture’s yearly Design Build Challenge, which he won. “Helper” will be at the museum through the end of the year.

Liu spoke with VCU News about his design, which aims to address the topic of wasted building materials by highlighting people’s impact on the natural world. Liu was born and raised in China and came to VCU in 2015 to pursue studies in interior design. The structure’s concept grew out of his exploration of architectural design, community and current social issues.

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Lead Image: An Liu standing by ‘Helper,’ which will be on display in the Branch Museum courtyard through the end of the year (Allen Jones, University Marketing).