How It’s Made: McNabb’s City Sphere from Scrap Wood

02.11.14 | By
How It’s Made: McNabb’s City Sphere from Scrap Wood

We’ve covered the dynamic wooden sculptures that designer James McNabb, of McNabb & Co., handcrafts in his Philadelphia studio and we’re lucky enough to go in depth with him to see how the City Sphere came to be in this month’s Deconstruction. McNabb’s eye for detail and his woodworking skills shine through so much in each cityscape sculpture that they’ll make you feel like you’re looking down at a city from an airplane window. Sit back and watch as this sculpture comes to fruition.


The first step was to lathe turn the core of City Sphere, which is made from three laminated pieces of poplar. Before laminating the block I cut a groove in the center that allowed me to run a wire through the sphere to hang it.


After the block was successfully lathe-turned into a sphere, I used a stationary disc sander to create a faceted surface around the whole sphere. Each facet represents the footprint of one building.


A few calculations were required to understand how many buildings would be needed to cover the sphere. A hole was drilled perpendicular to the surface of each facet.


I gathered scrap wood from bins in the wood shop and began cutting them into abstracted architectural forms to be attached to the sphere. Over the next 7-10 days, I had generated enough buildings to cover the sphere.


The buildings are a variety of shapes and heights. They are also made from 15-20 different species of wood, producing a wide variety of colors and textures.


I hung the sphere in my studio space and began attaching the buildings to the piece. Each building is connected to the sphere with a dowel and glue to create a secure connection.


This phase went rather slowly. I would glue a few buildings in, and need to leave it alone while the glue cured. I worked on several pieces in the City Series simultaneously for this reason. It was very exciting to see the sphere slowly become covered by the architectural forms.


Once the sphere was more than 50% covered, I was able to fully envision the rest of the sphere. I began strategizing what size and shape of buildings would make the sphere activated in space.


Each building is fit individually to the facets that were created in the preliminary stage. I use a very sharp chisel to shape each piece to match the footprint of each facet.


Fully covered, it’s easy to lose a sense of where the core is, and to begin seeing very dynamic ‘street views’ of the city.


In the exhibition, the sphere was hung using heavy gauge clear monofilament wire that was threaded through one building that acted as a plug on the bottom. The piece was placed inside the entryway of the gallery, and seemed to float in space. As viewers walked by, it would cause the sphere to gently spin.


The epitomy of the urban sprawl, this piece depicts a planet consumed by the city.


Up close, City Sphere captures distorted perspectives of cityscapes as seen in ‘fish eye lens’ photography.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.