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Heather Flood's Punk Architecture

From the outside, Heather Flood's "Punk'd" resembles a head of spiky hair reminiscent of the punk kids you'll still see hanging out on Southern California streets. Or maybe Vyvyan, Adrian Edmondson's character in the U.K. series, "The Young Ones."

Flood has spent two years working on her "graphic tectonic," a 2D/3D hybrid piece that was constructed using both architectural and graphic design techniques. "In order to tackle that, I looked outside the discipline of architecture for intelligence on how that could happen," she says.

An architectural designer who teaches at Southern California Institute of Architecture, Flood found answers in textile design. Specifically, she looked at tartan, the woven patterns that can be used to identify a person's lineage or affiliations in Scotland. Flood set out to create a similar pattern with aluminum. To do so, she added perforated pieces of aluminum that rotate throughout the structure. When the aluminum overlaps, a moiré effect is created where new colors, like gray, appear in a manner that's similar to woven fabric, creating an optical illusion.

Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc

At various vantage points, those sheets would appear to have a checked or plaid pattern. The aluminum pieces are uniform in size, but you wouldn't think that at first glance, though. Everything you see in "Punk'd" depends on where you're standing. Flood points out that the tartan-like checks are more apparent when you observe from inside the structure.

Flood's experiments resulted in her installation now on display at SCI-Arc's downtown Los Angeles gallery. Flood's students, who earned course credit for assisting in the project, helped her build the steel frame -- a partial cube shape turned to point towards the ceiling -- in the school parking lot. For the work, she used strips of aluminum that are roughly 9'6" long with a depth of 2'6". The aluminum was laser cut off site, but Flood and her students attached the pieces together at the gallery. This opportunity for instructors to work with students is one of the things that Flood, who has been with the school for nine years, appreciates about SCI-Arc. "Instead of us criticizing them, all my students can walk through here and have their opinions of my work," she says. "I think that turning the tables is a great thing as well."

Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc

While working on the piece, Flood tried to design a structure that was shaped like a mohawk hairstyle. That's didn't work with the materials she was using, so she went for spikes instead. The visual references of the the punk spikes and the tartan patterns are there for a reason. "The potential for this fabric to denote pedigree is also the thing that makes it very useful for people who are trying to subvert conventions of hierarchy, specifically in the punk movement," she says. "Tartan was a fabric that was often misused, torn, stapled together, safety-pinned together, etc. as a way of taking this kind of pedigree material and converting it into something that was distasteful."

To capture the class struggle that's inherent to punk's development, Flood referenced the Balmoral tartan. This is the design created by Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria, in the mid-1800s. It remains the royal family's official tartan. One can only don the Balmoral tartan with the expressed permission of the Queen herself. This prominent symbol of pedigree was a perfect source of inspiration for "Punk'd." The installation, infused with punk elements, essentially becomes a visual representation of The Sex Pistol's classic, "God Save the Queen."

"There was this political overlay that informed a lot of the design choices," says Flood. "Punk'd" isn't a practical piece; it falls into the "experimental" architecture camp. These kind of works appeal to Flood, who has done plenty of everyday projects with her design studio F-Lab. With a gallery piece, she can let loose on the design elements without having to worry about things like plumbing. It's a chance to figure out what can be done with certain materials. In the case of "Punk'd," her experiments concerned what kind of "visual effects" she could create with something as common as aluminum. The choice of material is important because of its potential use outside of the gallery setting. "The great thing about aluminum is that it's cheap and durable," says Flood. "It's a great material for exterior or interior uses. It's incredibly pragmatic, actually."

After making "Punk'd," Flood already has ideas about applying these techniques in the outside world. "I want to wrap a parking garage with it," says Flood of the aluminum design she developed. "Wouldn't you rather park in something that looks like this if it cost the same amount of money?" she asks. "It would be a little more fun, maybe."

Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc
Punk'd by Heather Flood | Image courtesy of SCI-Arc

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