Lauren Halsey mixes ancient Egyptian architecture and LA street art for Met rooftop installation

American artist Lauren Halsey has completed a monumental installation on the rooftop garden of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City that adapts “elements of ancient Egyptian architecture and sculpture for a contemporary context”.

Called Eastside of South Central Los Angeles Hieroglyph Prototype Architecture (I), the piece comprises four pillars and four sphinx statues that surround a cubic structure on a rooftop garden at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met).

Roof with twigs and the white pillars in foreground with skyline in background
Lauren Halsey created an installation for the Met’s rooftop

While the architectural forms are decidedly Egyptian, the walls of the structure are adorned with engravings that recall the street art found in South Central Los Angeles, where Halsey grew up.

“My installation for The Met’s roof garden reflects my interest in conflating narratives from contemporary South Central Los Angeles with those evoked in ancient pharaonic architecture,” said the artist. “My hope is that viewers in New York feel the connections intuitively.”

Egyptian architecture with graffiti on Met rooftop
The work combines elements of Egyptian architecture with Los Angeles street art

The work is 22 feet tall (6.7 metres) and includes 750 glass-fibre-reinforced concrete tiles.

Covering almost the entirety of the cubic structure and pillars are words and images observed by the artist in Los Angeles.

By presenting street art as hieroglyphics, the artist intended to present the work as an “architectural container of community archives and histories”.

Entry into the central structure with skylight
The structures are covered with words and images seen in South Central Los Angeles

For the faces on the sphinx and at the heads of the pillars, Halsey took the visages of family and important members of the community, who, “act as guardians of the space”.

Viewers are able to engage directly with the work, walking through and around the objects.

Closeup on the graffiti with pillar in the background at sunset
It is made of fibre-reinforced concrete panels

Inside the cubic structure, part of the roof has been left open, creating a skylight, while entrances were cut from the corner of the structure, giving it a top-heavy feel.

While the street art hieroglyphics cover the walls, the pedestals for the sphinx and the pillars are adorned with a geometric pattern, as are the small benches between the pillars.

Met director Max Hollein commented that the work “channels” the ancient Egypt collections found at the museum through the “lens of Afrofuturism”.

“Engaging with the past, while also exploring a space of speculative imagination, Halsey offers us a powerful statement about civic space, social activism, and a reconsideration of the possibilities for architecture and community engagement,” he said.

Sphinx with pillar and Billionaires Row in the background at sunset
The work will be disassembled and transported to Los Angeles

After the work is removed the artist plans on relocating it to a community arts centre in Los Angeles. The work is the 10th installation to be installed on The Roof Garden Commission as part of an ongoing art series at the museum.

Other works of Afrofuturism in design and architecture include a collection of chairs by designer Jomo Tariku used for the sets of the movie Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.

The photography is by Hyla Skopitz, courtesy of the Metrpolitan Museum of Art. 

Eastside of South Central Los Angeles Hieroglyph Prototype Architecture (I) is on view at the Met from 18 April to 22 October 2023. For more exhibitions, installations and talks on architecture and design visit Dezeen’s Events Guide

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