From Gouache to Chisel: A Drawing Becomes a Door
Jul 06, 2021

Bringing the healing power of art to hospitals is a tradition at the Albers Foundation and Le Korsa. In 2012, Le Korsa funded the repainting of murals depicting animals from fables in the pediatric neurosurgery ward at Fann Hospital in Dakar. In 2018, the Albers Foundation collaborated with St. Mary’s Hospital in London to install reproductions of works by Josef and Anni Albers in the redesigned pediatric intensive care unit. And two years later, students at Publicolor, an arts nonprofit in New York City, which the Foundation has supported, painted Anni Albers-inspired works which they then hung in Mt. Sinai hospital.

The legacy continues in the redesign of Tambacounda Hospital’s pediatric and maternity units. Manuel Herz’s architecture is itself a large-scale work of art with its great sensitivity to rhythm, form, light and color, but it also includes subtle details that enrich the space with the spirit of the Alberses. In a 2020 planning meeting, Le Korsa and Albers staff members suggested to Manuel the idea of somehow incorporating an Albers work into the redesign. He absorbed the idea and lit upon transposing the pattern in an Anni Albers drawing, made in 1928 as a preparatory sketch for a children’s rug, into hand-hewn doors for the hospital. 

Fabricating these doors, like so much of our work, was a creative collaboration—in this case between Manuel, contractor Dr. Magueye Ba, and the carpenters who cut and created the pattern. “There were really two solutions for the design of these doors,” Dr. Ba said. “To sculpt the pattern in relief, which would have resulted in a very heavy door, or to create it out of individual pieces and affix them to the door panel,” said Dr. Ba. “We opted for the latter,” he added.

As Manuel explained, “We ‘translated’ the tone of each square into a height. For darker squares, the wooden cube is higher, and for lighter squares, the wooden cube is lower. I think the carpenters eventually started to bring in their own arrangement, so that not every door is precisely following the layout of Anni’s sketch. But they all follow the logic of the arrangement of darker and lighter color fields,” he said.

This solution—turning two-dimensional color into three-dimensional design while accommodating for the interpretation of an individual carpenter’s hand—resulted in a set of beautiful doors that now grace the rooms in the new maternity and pediatric units. 

While a new father opening one of these doors to greet his wife and newborn for the first time may not know of Anni Albers’s original drawing, the care put into these portals is undeniable. They will be entryways to some of the most important moments in life, and subtle reminders of what Anni Albers once told her students: “You can go anywhere from anywhere.”