Reading Across Boundaries

Submitted by Nicholas Sackos

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Client: City of Santa Clara

Location: Santa Clara, USA

Completion date: 2004

Project Team

Artist

Irene Pijoan

Architect

Dawn Merkes

Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning

Architect

David Schnee

Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.

Architect

David Sturges

Group 4 Architecture, Research + Planning, Inc.

Overview

This installation is in the 82,000 square foot main library in Santa Clara, California. The work comprises six individual pieces, fabricated from cut aluminum and hand-painted, installed along the entire length of the library’s central circulation boulevard, spanning both entrances and visible from multiple perspectives. The artworks form a suite tied together by both text and images representing the shared interests and curiosities that make the library the central focus of the community.

Goals

The vision for the works was to lead library visitors through the building and on a journey celebrating aspects of the community’s heritage and current culture. The largest work is approximately 16’ x 9’ constructed in a shape inspired by old manuscripts, with quotes spanning from 1300 BC through the 20th century. Suspended in the street entrance lobby, this piece can be seen from below when visitors first enter the building; from changing perspectives as they climb the south grand stair; and at eye-level from the second floor.
Suspended over the grand stair at the north end of the building’s circulation axis is a 7’ x 13’ panel in the shape of an unfurling scroll, with a composition of fruits and flowers that evoke the historic orchards of the Santa Clara Valley and text by Wallace Stevens celebrating the combination of books and summer.
Between these two grand works are four panels that address different aspects of the community’s heritage and culture. These panels celebrate the region’s Hispanic heritage, the arrival of Portuguese immigrants in the 20th century, ancient Chinese and Japanese quotes, and text and designs by modern high-tech entrepreneurs and innovators in the Silicon Valley.

Process

The artist, Irene Pijoan, was selected by the City of Santa Clara relatively early in the architectural design process. The architect worked closely with the artist to ensure that the space was appropriately designed for each piece, including appropriate lighting and structure as well as providing multiple perspectives from which to view each piece. The architect also built a physical model of the building for the artist’s use in refining the scale of each work as well as in developing the mounting solution. The architect worked with the artist and her installation team to minimize the visual impacts of the mounting solution, which required seismic bracing.

Additional Information

Originally a native of Lausanne, Switzerland, Irene Pijoan received her master's degree in fine arts from UC Davis in 1980 and began teaching at the Art Institute in 1983. She was an accomplished artist and associate professor of painting and drawing at the San Francisco Art Institute for more than 20 years. “Reading Across Boundaries” was the most important public installation of Irene’s career. Shortly after the installation of this work at the Santa Clara Central Park Library, she passed away from breast cancer at the age of 50.