“I’m interested in the interaction between users and architectural context: mirrors, transparences, reflections, high-gloss paint—viewers can see themselves in a fantastic landscape,” said designer and educator Elena Manferdini when describing the public artwork she created for the Zev Yaroslavsky San Fernando Valley Family Support Center in Van Nuys. While her interest might seem more at home in an academic setting, such as SCI-Arc where she’s the coordinator of the graduate thesis program, her work entitled Inverted Landscapes engages a population in need of an escape into beauty and fantasy.
A project of the Los Angeles County Arts Commission Civic Art Program, Inverted Landscapes is located at the entry and in the lobby of a support center designed by HKS Architects, a building that brings together the Departments of Health Services, Mental Health, Public Social Services, Probation, Child Support, and Children and Family Services. It’s a building that receives some 200,000 visitors a year. Atelier Manferdini met with heads of the various departments and worked with the architects to determine the best location for the artwork. The result is a series of vibrant murals integrated into the glass facade and paving elements, as well as a 12-foot wide by 44-foot long powder-coated aluminum and mirrored canopy hung from the lobby ceiling.
“It was humbling as an experience,” noted Manferdini. “It was first time that there was a program that was so important.” Her patterned glass screens the building’s sensitive activities from the public, blocking sightlines into the interview rooms where families are reunited with the help of a mediator or when visitors pass through security. “The design interacts with moments in their lives,” she explained.
Manferdini has long been interested in the relationship between painting and space, and how technology might impact or resolve that classical problem. To create the imagery for Inverted Landscapes, she 3-D scanned natural elements: flower petals, butterflies, cherries, and then layered them into abstract, “superflat” images. The pattern was then printed on two sides of a film that sandwiched within panes of Solarban E-resistant glass. As sunlight hits the glass, the colors reveal different opacities; some cast shadows on the floor while others turn luminous. Because the building is on track for a LEED Gold rating, the artwork needed to be performative. “It had to prove itself as an architectural skin and comply with the architecture—it’s not simply art.”