Jazz in June organizers expected Terence Blanchard and the E-Collective to melt faces with their blend of groove-oriented jazz at the outdoor concert series last year.
They just didn't expect the New Orleans-based trumpeter and his backup players needing to outwork the early Nebraska summer's unbeatable tag team — heat and humidity — to do so.
"The instruments, sound systems and performers all suffered because of the heat," said Erin Poor, education and community engagement director for the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
Organizers for the concert series were able to Band-Aid the situation by erecting a series of temporary tents that kept the performers and their precisely tuned instruments out of the focus of the evening sun.
"But it didn't look good," Poor added.
Once the 2017 concert series cooled down, Poor and Spencer Munson, coordinator of Jazz in June, approached Jeffrey L. Day, a professor of architecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, about solving the festival's shade problem.
Day gave the canopy project to his Fabrication and Construction Team, or FACT, a graduate-level architectural class requiring students to work for real clients, following projects through to the detailed design stage, if not the construction phase.
Offering only minimal parameters for the project — it must work as part of the Sheldon Sculpture Garden, can't obscure any sight lines, must be easy to install and tear down, and has to be cost-effective — Poor said they gave the FACT class free rein to explore potential solutions.
The architects considered other canopies in New York City and London for inspiration, eventually settling on a design that would be both functional and pleasing to the eye, establishing a visual identity for Jazz in June beyond the musicians and crowds, Day said.
Davielle Phillips, who is pursuing graduate degrees in both architecture and business, said the team envisioned something that was both playful and sculptural, a piece of art with a sense of whimsy in the garden frequented by architectural students like himself.
"We wanted to have that playful aspect to it, so from that we settled on a box kite," Phillips said. "And from that we developed a cloud of box kites."
For the 2019 Jazz in June, which features musical performances every Tuesday in June, patrons may be able to relax under some 2,000 box kites coalesced into a single "kite cloud" 55 feet long and 25 feet wide, suspended 15 feet above the ground on stainless steel cables fastened to aluminum poles.
When the wind blows through the cloud, the canopy will sway in a controlled manner, Phillips said, giving the interactive feel the architects sought.
Both Poor and Munson said the kite cloud design was both unexpected and exactly what they were hoping UNL's architecture students would bring forward.
"Thinking it would be something a little more traditional, it was exciting to see they had come up with something more creative," Munson said. "It's a breath of fresh air to see something so unique and creative come out of it."
Day said students are continuing to work out how the canopy and its thousands of pieces will be fabricated and constructed.
Other than having the canopy block out the sun, students need to study how Nebraska's erratic spring and summer weather patterns may affect the kites. There's also the logistics of setting up and taking down the canopy, and storing it when it's not in use.
Working through those details provides a new dimension to the architectural education experience, Day said.
"Most students do conceptual design but don't get to work out the fine details of construction," he said. "We tend to jump through the conceptual process pretty quickly in this class because it's more about the reality of making structures and buildings that students don't get to experience all the time."
Phillips said while he's done with studio classes at UNL, he's volunteered to help shepherd the project to fruition. He's already been involved in creating a mock-up of an individual box kite, as well as diagrams to show how they all fit together.
"We have a connection to the project," he said. "It's so cool to see something you created in class come to life."
It's not clear how much the project might cost. Informal fundraising efforts have begun while a more strategic campaign is planned.
Poor and Munson said if the canopy provides a dreamy bout of shade next year, they hope it inspires future architects to design and build their own concepts every few years through an open contest.
Adding a visual component to the longstanding concert series — not to mention the relief of a little shade — has been energizing for Jazz in June, Poor said.
"People have been interested that the architecture students were the idea generators behind this," she said. "It adds an exciting new element to the festival."