Staff Profile: Patricia de Isidoro

24th January 2018

Exploring the merging of art and architecture, architect Patricia De Isidoro talks to Sheppard Robson about the inspiration, education and processes that underpin her first major art commissions that she is undertaking alongside her work at the practice.

-Was it architecture that evoked your interest in art or was it art that evoked your interest in architecture?

I didn’t see any boundaries between architecture and art. Doing both at the same time has always come quite naturally to me, although it has been just recently that I have been able to materialise and merge both of them on the same space.

I was trained as an architect in Madrid, where the first years at university used to be more like a fine art school. We had to learn the basics on representing the space, with painting, sculpture, model- making, sketching, and I even did a contemporary dance video to express the space of Villa Savoye by Le Corbusier. It was more multidisciplinary and a traditional view of the architect who can design almost anything.

-Tell us about your first big commission. Where is it? Who is the client? How did this opportunity come along?

3000 Threads 3000 Hands is about the collective energy that goes into creating a big piece of architecture. It is an artwork installation within the reception of an office building that Sheppard Robson has designed for Legal & General at 245 Hammersmith Road, London. It consists of a three-dimensional intervention within the wall of the reception, created with threads. It is a metaphor where the threads represent the hands behind the work involved in creating the building. It is a homage to the individual effort by each single person represented by a thread, and the complete image of all of them together.

-You have taken a 12 month break from practicing architecture and to have more time for your artwork. What has this experience changed for you?

I wanted to test if there was a real possibility to take my art practice to a more professional level. This was the second time I have attempted it. Back in 2009, while working at David Walker Architects, I took a year out of London and moved to Milan again, this time to study Fine Arts at Accademia di Brera and also took part of a course at the Foundry ‘Fonderia Artistica Battaglia’.

Back to London, I continued to attend various courses, learning, practising and exploring. Until I was ready for the second go.

-How did you start working artworks for architectural projects?

Before leaving London, I was working at Sheppard Robson Architects, being part of a large office development at 245 Hammersmith Road. At my leaving drinks I was asked by the client, Simon Wilkes, from Legal & General, about my plans for the year out. When I explained it, he offered me the opportunity to do a design proposal for an artwork for the main entrance of the building we were doing together. He suggested I developed some ideas while I was away. If on my return they liked them they would commission it to me. I couldn’t imagine a better way to start my year out, as this offer created a more framed and focused target.

Sheppard Robson has supported me on taking the year out and to come back to work as an architect part-time so that I can have time to carry on developing my artwork practice.

-And how did this develop…

While I was on my year out developing what should have been my first commission I was contacted by Legal & General, this time Anton Williams, who asked me to develop an artwork for the main entrance of a large refurbished office building at 101 St Martins Lane, in central London. It required a quick response and action as the building would be completed in less than a year.

The proposal I presented was quite daring and courageous, with big challenges on the manufacturing at my studio and the installation on site, as it was to be integrated within the building main fabric.

The artwork is called ‘Aldilà’, an Italian word that means beyond, the other side. It consists of a series of clear resin panels with inserts of colour pigments and golden textures. The panels set up a rhythmic sequence that takes the visitor/tenant along the long reception towards the atrium, the heart of the building, where the main circulation of the building takes place. There, at the gravity centre, a golden cube is suspended from the ceiling. It is also made of resin panels with a solid golden coating to the inside face. The cube represents the light, the origin, but also the materialisation of the core of the building, the warmest point. The rest of the panels are side-hung from the wall along the reception, and the planes represent the echo of the cube. The size increases as it gets further away from the origin, the cube. The colour of all panels creates a gradient from golden-orange on the cube to blue towards the panels closest to the main entrance and the street.

This second commission ended up being the first large artwork I have built.

-What is your dream building to work in?

There are no ideal buildings. Each of them has their own stimulus and challenges.

I see it as if each building and artwork is a unique combination that has something to express. I am interested in making the artwork/sculpture an integral part of the building.

245 Hammersmith Road is a big statement in terms of design, from the façade to the interior design of the reception – everything has a strong presence. So I wanted to to create a delicate, subtle artwork that was a counterpoint to this.

-What or who inspires you?

Materials – their inherent capacity to be transformed, as well as their interaction with light – are the physical, tangible aspect of my research. In terms of themes or subjects, I shift between the unreachable aspects of science (cosmology, quantum physics, micro-biology images, etc) and mysticism, spiritual aspects of life, and the unknown. The combination of both, almost like an alchemic reaction, is the place where most of my questions arise.

-How do you come up with ideas for your artwork? How do you develop them?

I have my personal obsessions and recurrent questions that come and go. I collect texts, images and materials that could represent them or stimulate the exploration towards them.

I am naturally a very curious person. I read a lot, mainly essays. I also watch documentaries of Science and Nature. They are a great source of visual and graphic inspiration. I draw a lot, as a tool to explore, test and record. I am also constantly making small models with my hands.

-How do you normally set up the making process that takes you to the desired result?

It can go in two directions. In some cases, it is the concept or idea that leads, a theme I want to explore. Other times, the image that I want to achieve is very clear and I need to the find the material that would best represent it. This is the case of the artwork at St Martins Lane. The image that I wanted to achieve was very clear in my mind. I had to find a translucent material that would be the support for the light, colour and textures.

-Where do you go when you want to feel like a tourist in your own city?

My young-adult life is split between three cities: Madrid, Milan and London. I am not sure which one is my own city anymore, so I have taken the positive approach of feeling that the three of them are.

When I am in Madrid I often go to Museo del Prado. I always go back to Velazquez, where I first saw the light within the darkness. I walk a lot, randomly, that’s how you enjoy Madrid as a tourist, as life is on the streets, not in the buildings.

Milan is quite the opposite. I get lost walking around looking at buildings and going to exhibitions. The history of art and architecture unfolds right in front of you, at every corner.

In London, I always go to Southbank, my favourite public space.

Patricia de Isidoro

Associate Partner