Los Angeles, California
At the corner of Sunset and Halloway in Los Angeles, a multi-tiered façade of heat-formed plastic panels twists down and points toward a glass entranceway, drawing visitors into an art gallery. The facade designed by Patterns both reflects the street traffic and glows from within, creating a translucence or opaqueness depending on the time of the day.
Though they met in Argentina, Marcello Spina and Georgina Huljich set up their practice in LA in 1999, finding the city sympathetic to their interests in combining research and material explorations with teaching. Huljich teaches architecture and urban design at UCLA; Spina is on the design and technology faculty at SCI-Arc. On the firm’s website, a good deal of space is given over to detailing processes by way of videos and photos showing molding, testing, prototypes, and installations that inform their work. There is a certain lab-like quality to the production; theory becoming reality, an exercise in opposites.
In fact, Spina’s father was in the construction business, but his son opted for architecture. “I wanted to have control over the buildings but not make them myself,” he said by phone from the family’s home in Argentina. He partly credits his background for inspiring him with a deep respect for the engineers and builders who make sculptural forms possible. Spina said that Huljich, his wife, anchors the firm. “I’m more the dreamer and she’s more pragmatic—not that I’m an idealist by any means,” he said.
That solid grounding in construction is challenged in intriguing ways by such recent work as the soaring competition design for an observation tower in Dubai. Here, the morphing plastic developed for the real-world Prism Gallery in LA takes to the sky, anchored by four stoic concrete columns. The plastic twists between the columns, looking like a hyperbolic spider web gone digitally wild. Instead of trying to fuse concrete and plastic together, here the design strives for maximum contrast.
For a 30,000 square foot multi-use space in Chengdu, China, Huljich and Spina played the sculptural off the rectilinear. Concrete gets coffered and aluminum gets twisted. But Spina said that material is not always the primary concern. “We are interested in certain kinds of forms and then we try to find the material,” he said. With a spa, a workplace, an indoor/outdoor pool, living quarters and a dining hall, the project accomplishes for lifestyle what the firm does with form: combining, contrasting and confronting the norm. “We don’t believe in the categories of the commercial,” he said. “Everything we do is to break these categories down.”