Lace's Cutting Edge
An installation by SCI-Arc's Elena Manferdini puts an architectonic spin on a traditional craft
Meghan Edwards -- Interior Design, 6/1/2008 12:00:00 AM
Lace occasionally has architectural aspirations. Think back to Queen Elizabeth I's pleated ruffs. Then mentally translate antique Venetian merletti lace into black plastic and magnify it—and you'll land squarely in the present day at Los Angeles's SCI-Arc Gallery, where professor Elena Manferdini installed Merletti.
The canopy of mega-lace was part of Manferdini's research into what she describes as the "effects of traditional clothing techniques on buildings." When invited to design a pavilion for the Architectural Biennale Beijing in 2006, her multidisciplinary Atelier Manferdini responded by constructing a facade that resembled three-dimensional lacework in plastic and plywood. "My design followed many of the fabrication principles used for laser-cut clothing," she says. Also at the biennale, she adds, the firm's Cherry Blossom collection showcased laser-cut polyester as an "intricate graphic screen to conceal and reveal the body."
Manferdini's SCI-Arc canopy was likewise inspired by the relationship between fashion and architecture. "Usually lace-making connotes ideas of demure 'women's work,' but innocent white lace was not part of my vocabulary here," she says. Rather, she juxtaposed the small scale of needlework with the 1,250-square-foot space of the gallery. "I produced an animated interface between the body and the environment," she explains. Creating that interface required 300 plastic panels, 1,500 feet of steel wire, and 42 undergraduate and graduate students.
Off-site, Manferdini had black plastic die-cut into 200 identical solid squares. Meanwhile, her students spent a month analyzing cost, structural behavior, fabrication, and installation. Then they laser-cut open grids into an additional 100 squares. It took a week for the team to fold both the solid and the cutout squares by hand, string them on steel wires, and affix the wires in rows to runners secured to the walls, so the entire canopy would swoop above the gallery's polished-concrete floor. Manferdini says the installation "challenged the concept of craftsmanship and the assumption that the machine-made is without the deep resonance of the handmade." Demure? Hardly.