One Man's Trash...
. . .is another man's project, as HLW proved at Trash for Teaching in Los Angeles
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 8/1/2010 3:45:00 PM
Is there anything good to say about the economic downturn and its effects on design? In a word, yes. At HLW in Los Angeles, the slump provided a self-starting stimulus package for pro bono work. "We had the chance to reach out to the community by donating 1 percent of our time to nonprofits," managing principal Chari Jalali says. So she put out an RFP, in effect, to her colleagues. And Shiva Mandell wasted not a moment in proposing Trash for Teaching as a beneficiary. (Then an associate at HLW, he's now a project coordinator for Interior Design Hall of Fame member Clive Wilkinson.)
Per the mission statement of the six-year-old organization, it "collects clean and safe cast-off materials from manufacturing processes and repurposes them as educational resources." Specifically for art classes. Here are the various ways that T4T works. At headquarters, 4,000 square feet in a 1920's factory, elementary-school art teachers can buy the donated material to take back with them, lead a class on a field trip to paint or sculpt right there, or attend a workshop to hone their own skills. "It's about supercharging the curriculum," Mandell says. But T4T doesn't limit its efforts to work in situ. Founders Steve and Kathy Stanton-he's a trained architect who manufactures candy boxes in the remainder of the building-also developed an outreach program. First, the couple purchased a decommissioned postal truck, retrofitted it as a mobile classroom, and modified the engine to run on vegetable oil. An adapted passenger van soon followed. The Treasure Trucks, as they're called, roll up to public schools to offer a substitute for art programs obliterated by budget cuts.
Speaking of budgets, HLW's pro bono mission mandated the same commitment from contractors, vendors, and engineers. Timing again proved advantageous. HLW had recently moved to a new studio, and Mandell took advantage of the celebratory open house to talk up his charitable endeavor. Participants eagerly signed on. "Since we were at the bottom of the trough in the architecture and construction industries, we had the A team of everyone's staff," he says. Now he could start planning.
At the top of Mandell's list was the task of creating an identity within the larger factory. His solution for articulating the space ultimately involved a series of what he calls "permeable boundaries" based on "sliding and hiding." The first of these artful and resourceful interventions, appearing in the corridor just past the entrance, is a 50-foot-long run of sliding panels that closes off the loading dock where the two Treasure Trucks park. Nearby, in the workshop, an equally long patchwork curtain hangs from a triple-track system to conceal high-density storage: pallets stacked and unstacked by a forklift already operating on the premises. Making the curtain from various colors of denim samples was, incidentally, a literal labor of love. Mandell enlisted his bride, Nicole, a preschool teacher, to help him hand-stitch it. Their three months of sewing corresponded to ¼ mile of finished product. Only after the Mandells had finished did a drapery workshop step in to complete the edges.
Downtown L.A. gets blisteringly hot, so the MEP engineer donated an air-conditioning unit, and HLW enclosed it, along with the existing condenser, behind drywall for acoustical purposes. Window panes, formerly painted over, were scraped clean and re-covered in Mylar film, which lets in light without heat. The basics in place, artistic installations were then a no-brainer.
After discovering Daniel Lehrer and Travis Frankel at L.A.'s A+D Architecture and Design Museum, Mandell got them to donate two site-specific works. The bright yellow Tube Tree, constructed from carpet rolls, rises from the workshop's concrete floor to stretch 40 feet across the exposed ceiling. At the opposite end of the workshop, past the royal-blue plastic dye vats now storing art supplies-anything from thread spools and cardboard tubes to fabric and plastic remnants-Frankel and Lehrer's Cup Cloud comprises hundreds of white plastic containers the size of coffee cups, suspended from the ceiling. Mandell painted the wall behind in tangerine orange, enhancing the composition.
He even contributed his own art made from industrial detritus. On two of the sliding panels that hide the loading dock, he configured drawstrings from sweatpants and plastic lids from medicine bottles to form a stylized map of L.A., freeways included. Other panels display orderly rows of red, yellow, green, or blue plastic tiles representing the pounds of materials that T4T has diverted from landfill and distributed, year by year. His third work, standing in another part of the factory, in an area dubbed the sculpture garden, is a temporary interactive installation built from architects' drawing tubes. It's no wonder that T4T has invited him to join the board of directors.
bita salamat (project manager); chelsea rafferty: hlw. sasco: lighting consultant. newson brown acoustics: acoustical consultant. structural focus: structural engineer. donald f. dickerson associates: mep. seeley brothers: woodwork. phillip's draperies: drapery workshop. taslimi construction company: general contractor.