Commissioned by Metro Art, Christine Ulke’s artwork for the exterior of the Division 13 Bus Operations and Maintenance Facility in downtown Los Angeles commemorates an iconic
sycamore tree that stood for approximately 400 years a few blocks south of the building site. The artwork, entitled, “El Aliso de Los Angeles,” is composed of highly detailed graphite pencil renderings of the former sycamore drawn by the artist and translated into a grid work of translucent resin panels affixed to a metal framework. The approximately 1,000 square feet of artwork panels were fabricated by 3form and are composed of 38% recycled content.
The project team sought to commission an integrated artwork that complemented the building’s architecture while distinguishing itself as an artwork. Site-specificity was also a key project goal not only in terms of the artwork scale and visual impact, given the surrounding architecture, but also in terms of the historical, cultural and ecological context of place. Located near the western bank of the Los Angeles River, the former sycamore tree was at the center of Yaanga, one of the largest settlements of the native Tongva people in the LA basin. In the late 18th century during the Spanish founding of the nearby El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles, the sycamore was mistaken for an alder and acquired the Castilian moniker “El Aliso,” for which it is known today. When it was cut down in 1895 due to encroaching industrialization, it was approximately 60 feet tall with branches extending over 200 feet outwards. “El Aliso de Los Angeles” is illuminated from within by LED lighting and the overall effect emulates an urban-scale lantern. Visible in soft grays during the day, the luminous artwork is a beacon at night and a stunning reminder of Los Angeles’s vestigial roots.
Metro recognizes that the inclusion of art and artists in the design of public spaces enhances the transit environment, enlivens the public realm, and creates site-specific cultural landmarks. With this foundational belief, the Metro Art, Metro Construction and scoping architect, RNL, worked closely to identify the ideal artwork opportunity including the material, scale, lighting effects and highly visible location, across the street from Metro’s headquarters and transit hub— Union Station. Once the General Contractor and artwork fabricator, 3form, were brought on board, they collaborated closely with the Metro Art, Metro Construction and RNL to ensure the aesthetic and technical quality standards for the artwork were met. For instance, Metro, RNL and the artist reviewed mock-ups of the laminated panels with proposed lighting fixtures to determine the best approach to achieve the artwork’s glowing ethereal presence by night. Additionally, because Metro Art introduced the 3form products to the team, the Facility now includes numerous 3form panel features which complement the material and translucent quality of the artwork.
Christine Ulke is an artist and scientist. She holds master’s degrees from the California Institute of the Arts and the Hochschule der Künste, Berlin, and a doctoral degree from the University of Leipzig. Ulke is a seasoned public artist who lived and worked in Los Angeles for many years before returning to Germany where she currently works as a research scientist.
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
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Art matters. Attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, which brings us to take responsibility for the spaces where we live and work. And by extension, the people with whom we live and work. And by extension, to our local communities, our cities, our nations, and our world.
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In the process, design professionals promote imagination and creativity, and through their commissions, make original art integral to and accessible in people's lives.
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