The Faces of Elysian Valley

egg sculpture

The diversity of one of the nation’s largest cities is proudly depicted in an elaborate outdoor display that greets thousands of people each day. Five larger than life sculptures make up the center of Los Angeles’ first roundabout. Each are egg-like shapes standing up to a foot tall. The shapes are inspired by the faces of volunteers who live near the site, which is called the “Faces of Elysian Valley.” More than 200 people took part in this project. The final design offers a resilient and unique art form that represents the city and the people surrounding it.

egg sculpturePlans for the Faces of Elysian Valley project, also called the Riverside Roundabout, began nearly a decade ago. The California-based group, Greenmeme Studio, developed the idea while hosting a design workshop in Los Angeles. They taught the basics of 3D printing to hundreds of students during a two-year period. The students scanned each other’s faces as part of the training. As city leaders began developing plans for the roundabout with Greenmeme, the design team decided to use those scans in the display. They randomly selected five for the egg statues and four for the outer ring that separates them from the road. Then they embarked on roughly eight years of design and construction to bring the idea to life.

There are three different sizes of eggs in the Riverside Roundabout, ranging from 12 to eight feet tall. Each egg is carved from California granite using the 3D scans developed during Greenmeme’s design workshop. This was the first time the group took on an idea of this kind, and it took an incredible amount of collaboration. The architect and stone fabricator, Coldspring, worked closely to cut roughly 60 slabs (81 tons) of Academy Black® granite.

“We received files from the customer in a format that we were able to open in Rhino (CAD modeling software) and were able to manipulate the file to add dowel holes and prepare them for our water-cut saw,” says Craig Gerber, Coldspring’s Regional Sales Manager.

egg sculptureWith the files, the printing devices were able to build piece-numbered, assembled layers for the sculptures. Those layers were put together by hand to create the three dimensionality of the structure. The designers used a technique called “Russian doll nesting” to carve three main pieces from just one slab. Then the remains of the slab were laid to form the border of the landscape, which protects the eggs from traffic. No piece of granite went unused. “This is a one-of-a-kind job,” adds Craig. “It really showcases what is possible by working with a fabricator who is collaborative and has the fabrication capabilities to make the artist’s vision come to life.” In a sense, the faces protect those who live nearby. The entire structure is designed to improve air and water quality in Elysian Valley. Greenmeme designed the entire site to be a stormwater retention system. It can capture and treat up to 500,000 gallons of water spilling in from roads and bridges nearby.

The topography pulls stormwater to water-wise plants that live along the site’s outer ring. Many plants are found in the Los Angeles River corridor. Not only is the site built for stormwater management, it helps reduce smog and exhaust too. The Hyphae Design Laboratory in Oakland, CA, helped create this plan. The whole site also sits on a 25,000 gallon cistern, which supplies an above ground water feature. There are also solar-powered irrigation and lighting systems.

Following years of heavy collaboration between builders, designers and suppliers, construction on the Riverside Roundabout was completed in January 2017. Since this time, many local and international groups have celebrated the space with awards and recognition. It even won a 2017 Pinnacle Award of Excellence. The Faces of Elysian Valley is a true testament to how diversity among people, ideas and techniques can bring incredible success to a landscape design.

Architect: Greenmeme Studio (Los Angeles, CA)
General Contractor: Flatiron West Inc. (Chino Hills, CA)
Landscape Architect: Hyphae Design Laboratory (Oakland, CA)
Stone Supplier/Fabricator: Coldspring (Cold Spring, MN)
Stone Installer: Cleveland Marble of Los Angeles (Orange, CA)
Engineer: Ourston Roundabout Engineering (Santa Barbara, CA)

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