If you are one of the many people concerned that apartments in American cities are all starting to look too much alike, there might be hope for you yet.

Los Angeles–based artist and educator Elena Manferdini of Atelier Manferdini is currently working on a collection of glitchy apartment facades that aim to break up the monotony of some of those developments. With her designs, Manferdini is hoping to “re-open a discussion on the role of fantasy in art and architecture” by bringing beguiling geometric patterns and bright colors to at least seven multi-family complexes envisioned by FMB Development and a collection of other local architects, including Archeon Group, Dean Larkin Design, and Open Architects.

Los Angeles–based FMB bills itself as a “community-oriented developer of luxury residential real estate,” including the types of market-rate apartments that some Los Angeles homeowners might view as obtrusive in their neighborhoods. That’s where Manferdini steps in by designing structures with interlocking blocks of patterned surfaces and expanses of varying opacity that work to simultaneously highlight and break down each of the proposed buildings.

North elevation of 1408 Poinsettia Place

North elevation of 1408 Poinsettia Place (Courtesy Atelier Manferdini)

Manferdini explained that the designs are driven by the idea that, “facades are important for the city at large because they are inevitably the background of our public imagination.” Manferdini added, “Facades negotiate how the privacy of human interactions come to terms with a surrounding cultural context.” In L.A.’s densely-packed, low-slung urban neighborhoods, where privacy comes at a premium, sites are strictly limited in terms of height and allowable bulk, decorative elements help play a role in bridging the visual gap between existing housing stock and the types of multi-unit complexes needed to address the region’s housing crisis.

Manferdini’s work for FMB builds on a series of exhibitions she crafted as part of her artistic practice, including the Graham Foundation–supported Building the Picture, a collection of drawing-photograph hybrid images that were exhibited at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. For the exhibition, Manferdini created a series of fictional patterned facades partially inspired by some of the Chicago-based work of Mies van der Rohe. The layered, abstracted images proposed methods for obfuscating the underlying scale and window patterning of the hypothetical apartment structures by combining oblique and projected patterns on a collection of planar and faceted building forms.

Manferdini explained further, saying, “The work insinuates that surfaces now have an unprecedented ability to be embedded simultaneously with optical affect and cultural associations,” a concept that is ideally suited for testing in the real world through its application on the apartment buildings in question, according to the artist.

View of 1017 Sierra Bonita (Courtesy Atelier Manferdini)

At 1017 Sierra Bonita, for example, Manferdini uses blue, white, and black Trespa panels, custom fritted glass, and gray stucco to lend a three-story apartment block atmospheric qualities. Hanging plants and balconies filled with hedges and landscape design by Green Republic Landscapes further dematerialize the five-unit building.

The Trespa panels make another appearance in red, blue, and black at 1408 Poinsettia, where Manferdini has arranged ascending striped patterns with vertical building elements that camouflage each of the three-bedroom small-lot subdivision homes. At 1139 N. Detroit, Manferdini pursues a more subdued approach by using custom-designed mosaic tiles and painted stucco. In each of the projects, Manferdini works to play off of the architectural elements using unconventional patterning and color choices, perhaps a welcome approach for Hardie-panel weary observers.

The designs are due to come online soon: Many of the projects are currently undergoing planning review, and 1408 Poinsettia is currently under construction.

Related Stories