Art Inspires Architecture In the Boston Office of Elkus Manfredi Architects
After moving into their new 50,000-square-foot space in the Innovation and Design Building, a former military depot on the edge of Boston’s Seaport District, Elkus Manfredi Architects faced a lot of blank walls. “We instinctively knew that we did not want to be self-aggrandizing and fill our office with photos and models of our designs,” says Elizabeth Lowrey, a principal and director of interior architecture at the firm. “Instead, we wanted our office to feel like a design studio, a hub for all kinds of ideas.”
For founding principal Howard Elkus, filling the office with art was a given. The firm already has a strong history of not simply using art as a decorative afterthought, and it often works with corporate clients who have large art collections. For instance, it helped curate a museum-inspired work environment for Raptor Capital Management with Raptor’s world-class art collection. “The visual arts are becoming even more important in our current culture of innovation, and the influence of art and design in our work as architects is without question,” says Elkus.
When it came to their own office, the architects knew that they wanted original artwork that was grounded in a design sensibility—an understanding of composition, line, and spatial relationships. Luckily, they didn’t need to look far to find Lida Lowrey, an artist whose work possesses the viewpoint they were looking for. First trained as a graphic designer, an environmental and industrial designer, and a museum exhibition designer, Lowrey later transitioned her design experience into being a visual artist. Now in her early eighties, Lowrey has amassed a body of work that spans decades and styles—from representational to abstract, from muted to saturated in color. She also happens to be Elizabeth’s mother.
The team selected pieces from Lida Lowrey’s portfolio that would prompt the staff to relax and think beyond architectural boundaries. “We design environments in which people live, work, learn, and play, so we want to work in an environment that stimulates, challenges, and is provocative,” says founding principal David Manfredi.
In the otherwise neutral main corridor, Lowrey’s vibrant abstract pieces extend a bright welcome to visitors. And her playful swaths of greens, yellows, blues, and reds reverberate perfectly off of the polished concrete floor. On a smaller-scale, vintage cartoon characters, including Little Orphan Annie and Mr. Magoo, greet workers in the kitchen and cafeteria and help encourage a relaxed lunchtime vibe.
Paintings in grey scale hang in the client meeting room, where the firm’s work needs to be the primary creative focus. “Artwork for this room intentionally references how we see our profession: bold yet quiet,” says Elizabeth Lowrey. The six canvases in the “team room,” a space for contemplative work, also strike a subdued note, and allude to the building’s maritime neighborhood. In a nod to Boston Harbor’s misty light, they “chose oil paintings that from a distance are seemingly monochromatic, but upon closer inspection are actually modulated and luminous,” says Elizabeth Lowrey.
With Lida Lowrey’s art, Elkus Manfredi has created an office that reflects the company’s understanding of art’s ability to bring a layer of personal experience into a workspace. “When I see a staff member or a client looking at the work, I interpret their momentary glance or lingering engagement as a few seconds or minutes when they may subconsciously be piecing together a creative approach for a design project,” says Elizabeth Lowrey. “Subtly, I hope the artwork inspires people to be brave and not design in a silo.”