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Called to Create


By Mary Daily

Published Jul 1, 2018 8:00 AM

Elena Manferdini's architecture practice is more than just walls and windows.

Photos courtesy of Atelier Manferdini.

“Growing up, I was influenced by the European Bauhaus philosophy that an architect can design anything ‘from the spoon to the city.’” Italian-born Elena Manferdini M.Arch. ’00 is describing her multifaceted architecture practice — based at Atelier Manferdini in Venice, Calif. — where her designs range from buildings to facades to fashion. “I have always had in my practice a stream of work that is design-oriented, either object design or textile design. We constantly do work at the scale of the body or the interior of the house. The shift in scale keeps the work interesting.”

Manferdini says many architects, especially in Europe, design at “multiple scales.” She says, “Creativity has a way of entering multiple fields. Most of the creative people I know work this way. Maybe it’s not their business model to begin with, but most practitioners are called to design at various scales.”

This approach lends versatility to the application of her designs: “As an architect and creative individual, one researches all the possible complexities of an original idea, and such an idea becomes richer in the process. Every medium brings its own strength.”

A good example is one of Manferdini’s most recent ventures: the creation of a collection of wool rugs and silk scarves based on 11 designs from the drawings and facades in an earlier body of work titled Building Portraits. The designs are built on a grid — a favorite mastering system among architects — in vibrant colors.

The rugs and scarves were conceived when the owner of a company called Urban Fabric Rugs heard Manferdini speak in Shanghai and saw some of her work. “He creates rug designs that look like a city map, and he thought my designs for building facades would be a great second version of what he was doing already. He asked me to design a line for him, and the project has grown organically in the past year and a half.” The Los Angeles County Museum of Art commissioned one of the rugs for its permanent collection.

What had brought Manferdini to Shanghai was the opening of a new initiative for SCI-Arc (Southern California Institute of Architecture), where she has taught design studios and visual studies seminars for 15 years and has served as chair of graduate programs since 2015. She also has held visiting professorships at Cornell, UC Berkeley, University of Pennsylvania and Seika University.

The award-winning architect grew up in Bologna, where she graduated from the University of Civil Engineering before receiving a scholarship to the master’s program in architecture at UCLA. “I have always been creative, even as an engineer,” Manferdini says, adding that both architecture and engineering are based on geometrical principles and an overall sense of order.

She cites UCLA Architecture Professor Greg Lynn as an important influence: “Our work is aesthetically different, but because of his influence in my education, I became fascinated with new tools and techniques and their ability to shape new ways of design.”