The importance of integrating art with architecture

Art isn’t likely something that comes to mind when you do your weekly food shop. But for shoppers at Mount Pleasant Woolworths in Western Australia, their supermarket looks a little more like an art gallery. With a sleek, modern façade and glazed, transparent walls, the exterior features an extraordinary piece of artwork on the top floor by Australian artist Paula Hart. Featuring a unique material called Lace Fence by Dutch design house Redfort Fabrics that introduces designs of bobbin lace wire within industrial chain-link fencing.

This stunning addition to the contemporary supermarket design transforms this Woolworths into a grocery store like no other, with the sophisticated Lace Fence a focal point of the busy intersection. And it made us wonder – what is it about art that elevates architecture in such a way?

We decided to sit down with Paula Hart, the talented artist behind the design, to find out more about her remarkable Lace Fence project and the importance of integrating art with architecture.

The lace artwork at Mount Pleasant Woolworths in Western Australia by Paula Hart

Paula, tell us a bit more about yourself and your experience as an artist.

I am a Western Australian artist working across a broad range of disciplines that cover laser-cut metal works, painted murals, costuming, festival arts, stage sets, performance, sculptural assemblages, photography and digital photomontage.

My core focus is about building connection, relevance and the recognition for the community, which stems from my experience working with young people, particularly in the Arts in Education sector. This focus on participatory processes has created a driving commitment to creating artworks that build a sense of place and inspire and delight the community.

More recently, I moved into a creative partnership with Redfort Fabrics, which is when I started working with Lace Fence. This has allowed me to work with exciting new materials and work on a larger scale with peers, which I love.

How did the Lace Fence project for Woolworths come about, and what was your inspiration?

I was shortlisted for the project from an artists’ callout and my submission was unanimously agreed upon by the Fabcot and Hames Sharley design team.

For those not familiar with Perth, the Mount Pleasant area is renowned for its beautiful Jacaranda trees; when they blossom in early November a purple haze fills the air, and it has a transformative effect on the entire neighbourhood. Referencing the Jacarandas was, therefore, a key element of the artists’ brief, along with building a connection, relevance and recognition to this vibrant local community.

Jacarandas are most impactful in their masses, creating sweeping streets of purple when they’re in full bloom. But I wondered, do people know what individual jacaranda flowers look like? It was through sketching and photographing the blossoms that the individual character of the flowers started to reveal itself – the way the knobbly sticks and branches curl upwards, the bell-shaped flowers lacking any sort of symmetry. All these little characteristics influenced the design for the Lace Fence. My goal was to highlight the blossoms up close, to give people the impression they were right up in the canopy amongst the flowers rather than on the ground looking up at a tree.

From a distance, the Lace Fence doesn’t appear to be made of metal at all. Can you talk us through the process of how this is created?

Joep Verhoeven is the designer who developed the Lace Fence concept. It was part of a university project to redesign a well-designed product and make it more beautiful. He was riding his bike past some mesh fence with a hole that had been fixed with crisscrossed wire and thought, what product could be more well designed than the ubiquitous mesh fence? This became the inspiration for this Lace intervention within industrial mesh fencing that now has a place in collections such as the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and is today commissioned by an impressive list of clients and collaborators for architectural and public art projects globally.

I had worked with Redfort on previous projects remotely, but for this project, I chose to travel to Amsterdam and had the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with Joep and his team. It’s such an incredible process because each square metre is unique; there is absolutely no repetition. We created custom patterns and applied different stitch types to each flower to ensure the most unique patterns and elegant design solutions.

After the design was complete, the work moved to the production unit in Bangalore, India where 60 craftsmen worked for approximately ten weeks on production. The panels were then imported to Australia, powder-coated locally and installed on a modularised framing system.

What really makes this a standout piece is the craftsmanship. It’s not that the Lace Fence looks like lace - it actually is lace; the stitches are traditional lace stitches. I love the fact that we can mesh a beautiful, hand-crafted lace pattern within the walls of a commercial building. For me, this juxtaposition between craft and the industrial is almost theatrical.

The lace artwork at Mount Pleasant Woolworths in Western Australia by Paula Hart

Without being biased, we loved the design for the Woolworths building! But the inclusion of your Lace Fence just takes it to another level. What do you think it is about that integration of art and architecture that makes the end result so special?

I think it’s because the way a building is designed has an effect on our happiness and well-being. The attention to the details of our environment leads to love of place, and with the inclusion of an intricately detailed, handcrafted artwork, such as the Lace Fence, it adds an emotional connection to where we live and work. Recognising that something has been made by hand elicits feelings of warmth, kindness, and connection. We are rediscovering the value of handmade effects and elements in design and architecture. The storytelling aspect of those little Honeyeater birds zipping through the flowers reaffirms what they know and love about their home.

Do you think the general public appreciate artwork in public buildings, such as this?

Absolutely! There is a huge appetite for public artwork by the public. In fact, in my previous work on the Mandurah train line, we created a series of running figures that mimicked the big electricity powerlines in the area. We received many accolades from the architects and art community, but it was the countless compliments by the tradesmen on site that impacted me. These were the people most akin to the daily commuters who would be viewing the artworks and for them to be so engaged and interested in our work was a great indication that we had hit the mark for public appeal. They totally “got” the humour in these beautifully constructed metal drawings, and rather than the more highbrow conversations about relevance and connection, they appreciated it as an irreverent in-joke about their crappy industrial local landscape and loved that.

We have access to so much imagery across so many platforms that the public can be very visually sophisticated and hideously popularist. The public can like some pretty dross stuff, but also don’t want to be talked down to, or have things dumbed down. If presented with artworks with Wow factor, or Beauty or Cleverness, they can be totally into it while vehemently insisting ‘I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like’.

Finally, I’d love to hear more about your CODAawards and the interesting reception you’ve had from that.

Yes, the Lace Fence project was recently nominated for the internationally acclaimed CODAawards, which I was so excited about - to be selected by a distinguished jury of luminaries from the design, architecture and art worlds for the final Top 100, was an incredible honour. These awards celebrate the projects that most successfully integrate commissioned art into interior, architectural, or public spaces, and honour those involved in the collaborative process of creating artful spaces across the world. As further credit to my focus about building connection and joy through an artwork, the project reached 5th place in the CODAawards People’s Choice Award.

There are many architectural awards, but an award focusing on public art is unique. I was quite obsessed watching as the public vote tally extended beyond my social and professional network. The really fascinating bit came as the textiles and lace makers’ communities came on board and word of this lace artwork in an international art
award went viral. From Uruguay to Belgium, Johannesburg to New York, there were lace makers in awe of the scale of this architectural fabric, the birds among the blossoms and the traditional stitches – I just loved reading all the comments as these lace makers commented on the craftsmanship and recognised the stitching.

However, I think my favourite was a personal message I received via social media from someone who plays Pokemon Go in his spare time. He enjoyed the artwork so much that he had successfully submitted it as a landmark location. This was definitely a first for me!

A big congratulations to Paula Hart for taking out the 2020 Commercial CODAaward for JACARANDA Mount Pleasant Woolworths Lacefence!

The lace artwork at Mount Pleasant Woolworths in Western Australia by Paula Hart

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