Students collaborate with visiting artist on colorful new installation

The Azimuth coffee shop at the Texas A&M College of Architecture has gained a bold, new look from a permanent architectural installation designed by Elena Manferdini, principal of a Los Angeles firm specializing in the cutting edge of computer-aided design of exotic forms.

Friday evening, April 29, through Sunday, May 1, the Texas A&M student team who worked with Manferdini gathered to assemble and install the project on the wall and floor of the highly trafficked college eatery. Eugene Kosgoron, a representative from Manferdini’s firm, was on hand to lead the installation effort with help from Jim Titus, supervisor of the college’s woodshop.

As a spring 2011 artist in residence at the College of Architecture, Manferdini led an elite student team in the design and fabrication of the colorful, floral-themed architectural installation. Students did the bulk of the fabrication work, which involved cutting and bending the sculpture’s stylized aluminum flower petals using the CNC router, metal break and other tools available at the college’s Digital Fabrication Facility, or Architecture Ranch, at the Texas A&M Riverside Campus.

“I definitely wanted to use the equipment at the school available for this installation,” said Manferdini, who conducted a March 20-25 workshop focused on finalizing, fabricating and installing the structure.

“I’ve been following her work for a long time,” said Gabriel Esquivel, an assistant professor of architecture who was instrumental in bringing Manferdini to the college. “We were very impressed by the information she sent us and her work speaks for itself.”

Esquivel likened the student’s role on the project to that of a satellite office for Manferdini’s firm. They kept in touch with the designer throughout the entire process, which culminated in the Sunday, May 1 coffee shop installation.

“She produced a lot of the installation and we found a way to implement her ideas. We were really interested in learning the way she works and absorbing those techniques to collaborate with her,” he said.

After cutting and bending the flower shapes at the ranch, the aluminum pieces were sent to Del’s Plating in Houston for powder coating in a variety of bright colors including orange, red, purple and pink.

“This installation offers a really great example of the fabricating possibilities available at the college, and shows what can happen with collaborative efforts,” said Chris Gassaway, a graduating senior involved in the project. “It’s a legacy for some of us who are graduating. It’s good to have something permanent we worked on left behind.”

He hopes, he said, the project will inspire exciting new student designs.

Manferdini is principal of Atelier Manferdini, a Los Angeles-based architectural office that applies construction and manufacturing technologies from the aeronautic and car industry to the field of architecture, object design and fashion. Her work has been exhibited internationally in both architecture and art museums.

Manferdini talks about the Azimuth project and her collaboration with students in a video interview with Peter Lang, associate professor of architecture.

posted May 2, 2011