Art and architecture:

The Jerez project

The project

In November 2007, a new Shopping Mall opened its gates in the city Jerez de la Frontera, Spain: the first in the region to include art in its conception.

The artistic work – emerging from a development process that included the architect, the constructor and the investor – is an accomplice of the entanglement of space, functionality, purpose and the people who circulate and work in the Shopping Mall.

My creative contribution consisted of two complimentary pieces:

  • Mandala: An image of 570 square meters on the ceiling over the food, leisure and entertainment zone (plaza Norte). The Mandala is a mirror-image of the visitors and employees gathering in this part of the building, and represents the community.
  • Mobile:A mobile composed of 26 pieces in the dome of the plaza Central of the mall. It marks the middle point of the visitors’ in-house walk on the longitude of the building. The piece shows the Individuals who in the plaza Norte form a community.

Why art in a Shopping Mall?

My client understood art as a contributing factor to the construction and design of an integral space. Jointly we developed a shared view of the role of the artistic engagement in this project:

Volume and duration of visits
High diversity of visitors
Quality of the visit
Preferred meeting point
Space design as “trade-mark”
Public curiosity        
Functional synergies 

an image for the people
Accessibility of image
People see themselves represented
Stimulate and motivate observation
Kindle spontaneous contacts
Easy to remember
Strong own identity
in harmony with local culture
Structural integration

For the client, the architect and me, these parameters served as general guidelines for our collaboration and the respective contribution of each. In order to get acquainted with the context, history, culture, customs and way of life of the area, I visited Jerez and let myself be inspired by the local everyday life and its energies. This led to an “artistic script” outlining the creative approach, and the functional and technical synergies.

Why a Mandala?

The Mandala is a timeless, universal symbol known to all religions and cultures of the world. It represents a “cosmic architecture” of life. Typically of strictly symmetric form – circle or square – it is structured around a center to which all other elements relate. A Mandala invites us to contemplate the dynamic interdependencies between the parts and the total.

This new Shopping Mall next to the historic town of Jerez made me think of the manifold parts coming together in this venture – e.g. traditional roots and modernity; a strong sense of social and cultural belonging and the impersonality of modern consume; the diversity of social groups and the Mall as a stage for their encounter; the Arab, Spanish and global cultures meeting in this space, and the meeting of persons and products. I sensed that here, quite diverse and even diverging energies might flow together.

It seemed to me that it was precisely this confluence of energies, which characterized this particular Mall. Hence I came to consider the Mandala a the basic structure for my work, because it allowed me capturing this fusion of dynamics and views, playing it back to the people in this space. This idea was additionally favored by the architectural design. The ceiling of the plaza Norte is slightly inclined, hangs between 25 and 28 meters above the ground floor, and has in its middle a glass dome for natural light. Structure and art were matching up.

Why faces and persons?

The Mandala is composed of 500 faces and persons, all with their individual expression. The Mobile consists of 52 faces selected from the Mandala artistically developed in order to highlight their individuality and personal motion.

My question was: how can the image dialogue with people? A Shopping Mall is abundant of visual impressions: how can art offer people something without demanding anything from them? My thoughts focused on the persons who would visit and work in the Mall, and I tried to imagine their motives, desires, expectations, joys and worries. In response to these questions I developed a series of creative concepts, some abstract, some figurative and others symbolic – but not one of them succeeded convincing me. They might have been well conceived but lacked the voice of the heart. Only slowly did I become aware of the true obstacle: what I was missing was not a better answer but a smarter question. Instead of thinking of the dialogue between image and people – would it not be more conclusive to focus on the dialogue between the people themselves? This shift of view and question led me to the idea of composing a Mandala that mirrors its own observers: an image of the community itself that, in the space below the Mandala, gathered in everyday life.

The Mandala exhibits five of the fundamental energies of a human community: (1) work and communal creation, (2) beliefs and shared values, (3) parties and celebrations, (4) interpersonal relations, and (5) the emphasis of the unique individuality of every member of the community.

How to design an image with a surface of 570 square meters?

The measurement and position of the ceiling constituted both an artistic and technical challenge that conditioned each other mutually. My work was expected to occupy the entire surface and integrate in its design also the glass dome. Additional defining factors were the materials, the functional integration, the sequence of work on this very large construction site, and the deadlines on this large construction site, and the deadlines according which all actors – architect, engineers, technicians, workers, operators and future shop tenants – had to synchronize their respective contributions.

I decided to create the original work by hand – colored pencils on paper – in a format of 80 by 80 centimeters, and enlarge it later. The precise management of scale was thus crucial: a face of the size of a small finger nail would measure 2 by 4 meters on the ceiling. The technical basis for the original art work was the architectural plan of the ceiling.

How to move from the drawing board up to the ceiling?

After its completion, the original art work was digitalized in a graphic studio in Buenos Aires. The digital image was revised artistically (by me) and technically (by the graphic expert) in order to reach the desired saturation, resolution and depth. During this phase I also made some adaptations regarding tones and shades, harmonizing the image with the color concept for the plaza Norte in general and the colors of the ground floor – mirror of the Mandala – in particular. On the basis of a topographical plan of the constructed ceiling, we then adjusted the image to the differences between plan and constructed reality.

According to a CAD puzzle plan provided by the architect, the image was divided into 144 pieces – each of individual size and dimension – that would later be assembled on the ceiling. For each piece we calculated an error margin of 1 mm and opened a separate electronic archive. The 144 archives were printed by a Madrid-based company and laser-cut to final size - again maintaining a margin of 1 mm - and transported to Jerez. There, the puzzle was mounted several months before inauguration while the heavy machines and cranes could still circulate inside the raw building. The Mobile was mounted several weeks later.

And the people?

I have visited the Shopping Mall twice after its inauguration, observed the visitors between 10:00 in the morning and 02:00 at night, spoken with the employees of the shops and restaurants of plaza Norte, and asked them for their and their customers’ reaction to the Mandala. The investor, the architect and I are quite content and, I believe, so are the people in the Mall.

Technical data of the Shopping Mall

Urban zone: 250.000 inhabitants
Zone of influence: 500,000 inhabitants
Annual visitor potential: 5.000.000 million people

Covered surface: 104,000 m2
Rental surface: 46,000 m2
Communal surface: 17,000 m2
Shops: 17,600 m2
Food, leisure and entertainment: 9,800 m2

Constructor: grupo Chamartín SA, Madrid
Architect: José Bercetche, L35, Madrid

Investor: UIR, Deutschland