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Manca Ahlin's knitted mammoth decorates the airport in Waco, Texas

Manca Ahlin, an architect and designer who covers the United States with lace, was selected from more than 100 entries in a competition to decorate an airport. She created a five-metre-long lace mammoth with a cub.

Manca Ahlin's work, almost five metres high, is made of rope in the style of lace and refers to the nearby Waco National Mammoth Monument and Museum. In 1978, two teenagers discovered a bone near the Bosque River, which was then analysed by the Baylor University Museum and found to be that of a Colombian mammoth that had been in the area more than 10,000 years ago. Archaeologists later discovered a massive mammoth site there, which led to its designation as a national monument by then-President Barack Obama in 2015.

However, several of its products can be seen in the United States. Her work has furnished a wide variety of spaces - from a Starbucks coffee shop in New York to the headquarters of ETSY, the St Cyril's Slovenian Church in the East Village and several New York restaurants.

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Three-storey casino in Pittsburgh

Prior to Waco, she completed a much larger project in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where she worked on the renovation of the Carnegie Library, built in 1890, which was taken over by the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh in 2018. The result was the MuseumLab, which, because of the building's history, decided to preserve the 130-year-old, three-storey-high cast-iron structure, transforming it through artistic intervention into a kind of playground for children to climb and explore, to chase and swing, while discovering new worlds of both their imagination and the space around them.

The project took Manca Ahlin three years to complete, including the design, and was created during the covida-19 pandemic in 2020. The following year, she added two more similar installations, Knot Ramp and Hi Bridge, located in the former garage area of the building and aimed primarily at younger children - in the original Children's Museum building.

"The idea for the giant rope lace came to me in New York during a major existential crisis a few years ago, when I started knitting for therapy. I was getting ideas of what else could be created with this medium, and slowly the shapes became more and more three-dimensional and the materials thicker and more industrial. Somewhere around the size of less than two metres, architects with the right client noticed my work. The rest is history, as the Americans say," she said.

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Interweaving traditional craftsmanship with modern computer-aided design methods

Her work can also be seen in Slovenia, where she created an installation for the 60th anniversary of the local cultural community in Žire, which adorns the entrance to the town's theatre, and an installation in the form of a design for Nikola Tesla's electric motor for the ELES Beričevo Technology Centre. Two years ago, in the monastery church of the Božidar Jakac Gallery in Kostanjevica na Krki, she worked with painter Aleksi Kobal to create the project Crossroads of Dilemmas, in which she wove a five-metre-long Möbius strip that hung in the local church.

Designer and architect Manca Ahlin graduated from the Faculty of Architecture in Ljubljana and continued her studies at the Architecture and Urban Culture Programme in Barcelona. Currently based in New York under the name Mantzalin, her work is characterised by a blend of traditional craftsmanship with contemporary computer-aided design methods.

After a short internship at the architecture firm Asymptote, she was asked by the small studio Archipelagos to assist with a competition for the Academy of Performing Arts in Sarajevo, due to her experience in successfully executing competitions and her knowledge of Balkan architecture. Their project won, and what followed was several years of long-distance collaboration and "a headache-filled but ultimately successful process to obtain a work visa", recalls the interviewee, who, in addition to her architectural projects, also makes jewellery under her Mantzalin brand, works in graphic design and designs various products...

Author: Vesna Žarkovič

Date: 21. December 2023

Time to read: 3 min