For an institution that teaches the art of building design, the Southern California Institute of Architecture was slightly lacking when it came to its own graduation space.
Until recently, the school would each year erect a temporary pavilion in an empty parking lot on campus, only to discard the structure after the ceremony. In 2012, however, the school decided to stage a competition in which a variety of firms submitted ideas for a lasting composition, and the L.A.-based design research architectural practice P-A-T-T-E-R-N-S ended up snagging the top prize. Their winning piece is composed of steel sections that form three rectilinear volumes with carved concave surfaces, each of which were covered with a non-tensile fabric that aids in projection and lighting. The thing looks otherworldly, but in a decidedly purposeful way.
We chatted with one of the firm’s two Principals, Marcelo Spina, to get an idea of what inspired the abstract edifice titled “League of Shadows.”
Where did you draw the inspiration for your winning design?
We’re a design office, and we’re involved in various projects. Sometimes they’re built, sometimes they’re not, and so there’s a set of recurring ideas we’re always testing. This project followed a pavilion we had designed for MoCA, so there was some relation: the use of simple, cubic shapes that were then distorted with other surfaces. We were also thinking about what this thing needed to be. In the context of other pavilions that the school had commissioned, it had to be used for events and graduations. But those other pavilions are used once a year, and then they remain empty. So we thought, how about trying to build this vertically instead of horizontally so that it takes up less parking space and it becomes a signature of the school?
What other purpose was served by building the structure vertically?
We thought a lot about the idea of shadows. If you’re going to go vertical, can you cast shadow as opposed to going horizontal to create shadow? That explains the posture of the structure. The sun comes up right behind the pavilion, so if you go high enough, you’ll cast the right amount of shadow between the hours of three p.m. and five p.m., the hours of the ceremony. But then the question becomes, How do you produce something that will be both massive and have a silhouette so it doesn’t look ugly?
And how did you tackle that obstacle?
It either had to have one part or it had to have multiples, and three is the lowest multiple. We started to think of the three legs. The thing hovers 55-feet off of the ground. When the shadows are cast, it creates an audience composed of three parts, where 1,000 people can be seated in the shadows. It is very unique at that level.
What effect do you anticipate this structure will have on the surrounding community?
This competition was sponsored by a very generous grant from a non-profit called ArtPlace America, whose mission was to further the integration and communication of community in L.A.’s Arts District. In this particular case, our design could also be used as a venue for other members of the community. That’s why we placed it where we did, on the corner of 4th St. and Merrick St.—it’s a part of SCI-Arc but can be utilized by the public as well. The school is doing an art walk on November 9th, and the pavilion is where people will go to sign in and get their maps. SCI-Arc is trying to contact people to make sure that they’re aware that they could use it for small concerts or rehearsals. Essentially, we have claimed that corner as a beacon for both the school and the surrounding area.