In 1996 the New Mexico Art in Public Places program commissioned Joan Weissman to design three large rugs for the University’s Center for the Arts (home of two theaters and the art museum). The bold, abstract rugs became hallmarks of the bustling complex. When a new food court and a growing student population caused a dramatic increase in traffic, the University asked Weissman to replace the rugs with terrazzo. The goal was to maintain the visual impact of the carpets in a permanent low maintenance material. The installation received an award from the National Terrazzo and Tile Association.
All three designed areas of the large lobby needed to complement existing architecture, reflect the University's identity as a crossroads of the Americas, and signify entrances to the Art Museum and two theaters. Without resorting to cliched imagery, the designs contain abstractions of Pre-Columbian patterns, musical notation, and southwestern colors and landscape. Since installation, the flooring has been adopted by faculty and staff in unexpected ways. A dance professor assigned her students to choreograph a piece moving across the sections of the Whirlpool pattern. The Museum director begins children's visits by stepping over the "magic carpet" into a world of art.
The designs were chosen in a New Mexico Public Arts competition. The architects were consulted, and agreed to the original designs. When Weissman re-designed the patterns in terrazzo to replace her original carpets, she revised them to take advantage of the new material. The obvious difference between carpet and terrazzo is the finish…one has a soft, three dimensional texture that absorbs light and exudes warmth, the other a flat, and glossy reflective surface. Installation is complicated, and the project required close collaboration between artist and artisans: black and white scale drawings were blown up to full size, placed on the floor and perforated. The designs were transferred with spray paint through the perforations. Zinc strips were glued to the epoxy base, outlining and separating each color area. The colors were mixed on site, applied with a trowel, and left to dry before adding the next color. When all the colors were dry, the surface was ground smooth, then grouted and sealed.
With roots in Egyptian and Roman mosaic, terrazzo was perfected in 15th century Venice, and has been used throughout the world since that time. It was widely used in the US in the 1920’s through the 1950's, and is now experiencing a revival as a major design element in architecture.
Terrazzo is composed of aggregates (marble, glass, shell and stone chips) blended into a liquid matrix, poured between metal separating strips, cured, and ground to a smooth finish. The modern epoxy-based matrix can be colored to any shade.
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CODA: Collaboration of Design + Art
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