"I" is for eye-catching
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 7/1/2005 12:00:00 AM
The term "public art" often conjures mediocre sculpture plunked in a building's plaza. For Ticino, a six-story mixed-use Los Angeles building by DE Architects, principal Don Empakeris was determined to avoid such, as he calls it, "plop art."
"The building is sculptural," says the architect. "I was looking for work that wouldn't compete." He along with client JSM Construction (which tends to name its projects after Italian-speaking cities) and art consultant Kathy Lucoff found the conduit to his vision in Jim Isermann. The sculptor is known to Southern California's fashionable crowd for his vacuum-formed styrene wall inside L.A. Eyeworks. But at Ticino, the medium is tiles from Heath Ceramics—a first-time venture between the artist and the company—with the building's 10 front-facing balconies being the ideal canvas.
"I considered the building," says Isermann, who'd been itching to do a tile project, of the tiles' bold colors. Their glossy red and black and matte yellow and cream indeed complement the facade's palette. Empakeris's steel channels are painted charcoal gray, the stucco is ecru, and the elevator shaft, which breaks down the mass of the 165-foot-wide structure, is brick red.
"I loved Heath's saturated Dublin Red glaze," Isermann recalls of developing the color scheme. So Heath revived the glaze from its archives, then created a custom glossy black.
As for the tiles' interlocking I pattern, the influence of late interior designer David Hicks can be seen. Explains Isermann, "Each one represents the profile of an I-beam and the "I" in Isermann," just like Hicks's signature H pattern.
Heath's contributions extended to production, too, as the company devised a special tool to cut the tiles, which are 12 inches tall and 5/16 inch thick. "The I shape is difficult because warpage is a factor," says Heath principal Robin Petravic.
Once Isermann and Heath had squared away their responsibilities, DE Architects oversaw the finishing touches. The facade colors were tweaked, and project manager Russell Rocker modified the 62-inch-high balconies' three widths—95, 128, and 145 inches—to eliminate any margin of error. The interlocking tiles, all 1,400 of them, fit perfectly.
The installation continues inside the 103-unit building, which is mostly residential. Two walls in the lobby are clad in the tiles "so people can see how the pattern works close-up and not just from the streetscape," says Empakeris.
This large-scale melding of art and architecture is in tune with the zeitgeist of the NoHo Arts District neighborhood, where a handful of experimental theaters have sprouted. Since opening less than a year ago, Ticino has rented most of its units. Looks like it's a runaway hit.