Elise Birnbaum

[This interview is from Volume III]

Interview by Luisa Lacsamana, Austin Ledzian, and Christine Yen
Photographs by Luisa Lacsamana and Elise Birnbaum.

Elise graduated in 2010 with a degree in Studio Art from the School of Visual Arts (SOVA) at Virginia Tech. She spent a year screen printing for a non-profit organization before landing her current job as a Window Display Coordinator at Anthropologie. We talked with her about her student life and her working life.


How do you come up with your concepts?
Anthropologie gives us kind of basic concepts that we work with and get inspired by, so it’s the perfect amount of constraint to give you enough freedom. Season by season we have different concepts. Anthropologie pays a lot of attention to what is going on in the art and design world. You could walk in and if you were paying enough attention you might have a view into some recent trends. For example, I feel like weaving was having a moment recently and we were all really excited about it.

Do you usually iterate your concepts or do you stick with the first idea?
As a designer a lot of times the first thing you come up with can be the right thing. If you have to think too hard it’s like you’re forcing it. That being said when you’re creating multiple installations within one space there are so many things you have to think about. There’s definitely a lot of going back and brainstorming and trying to figure out what makes sense with each piece interacting.

How long does a display usually take to make?
Usually we will sketch for a window for a few days, find inspiration, go over our sketches with our district bosses and our regional bosses and then we have a week to prep and a week to install. If it’s not a big installation and you don’t need to prep that much you can switch it up a little but usually a window will take two weeks and throughout that process it’s really collaborative at various different levels. It’s awesome because when you’re in school it’s different, there’s a weird disconnect. Now I might be stuck on something and someone in Ohio will say “hey why don’t you do this?” We definitely go back to it and refine it and keep trying to push it.


How long are the windows up?
There are five or six windows each year and then three times a year we change the entire store. I encourage you to go into an Anthropologie in the spring. There are five or six installations in there at once so change is constant. We just finished a window and for the past few weeks, we’ve been planning for Spring.

What’s the hardest part of your job?
It’s challenging, in a good way, always trying to push yourself to one-up what you did before or come up with new ideas. Just trying to constantly get better and better, which is probably the hardest part of every job.

You mentioned someone in Ohio. Is there a community of window display artists?
Every store has an artist, which is really cool. A lot of bigger stores even have more than one, like Rockefeller Center has a team! We’re able to reach out to each other and talk about things and have conference calls. We also send big teams to open a store, for example in September a new store opened in Columbus. It was like a two-week summer camp of artists making things. It’s the best thing in the world but it’s also twelve-hour days. 

Do you have a studio?
I have an art room in Anthropologie. Each store has an art room. My room is one of the bigger ones, but whenever I show people they’re like ‘you make it all in here?’


Is it nice working alone?
I like it, it’s a good balance. You’re working in an environment where people in retail are very social, but you can also close your door and blast the music, or listen to podcasts, and just really work. It’s awesome.

Do you know many other creatives in Pittsburgh?
There’s a great community here. There are so many colleges which means there are so many young people. Carnegie Mellon has an insane architecture and art and design program. We do internships and we get most of our interns from Carnegie Mellon and they’re amazing. So there are a lot of young creative people because they can rent cheap studios and buy houses.

Do you find that the community informs your work?
It definitely does. A good example is a window a few years back. It was an Earth Day window and the idea was making fake produce grow out of something recycled. What we came up with was all these bicycle wheels hanging on the wall which was informed by the growing bike scene here. There’s a bike store called Construction Junction and they have a program that teaches you how to build and fix your bikes for free, and you do labor to pay for it. So they gave us all their extra wheels. We also got to go to local farms to learn about eating locally and farming because we were using tomato plants that were growing through these bicycle wheels. And we actually put real tomato plants in the window and a tomato grew on them. I was really excited. The farm is called Grow Pittsburgh, and they provide tons of veggies for local restaurants. So we did this by speaking with these people who were teaching us about farming and then put it in our window. It was cool.


Do you have a favorite window display?
One of my favorite window displays was during the summer when I had a lot of interns. We made thousands of those little Chinese fortune-tellers and dyed them. There was a whole panel of them, they looked like flowers but ombred. And it was all natural dyes—we used beet juice, blackberries, blueberries. We were all really excited about boiling down blueberries to make the dye. And the range of colors you could get was awesome.

Do you do any side projects? What do you do on your weekends?
Yeah, I do some side projects. I still do some screen printing. I took a woodworking class recently and I’m trying to get better at that. Also, I just took a metalworking class too and I’m trying to make spoons but I’m still learning. Anthropologie has been so amazing with how much they have exposed to me...it feels like I’m in three years of grad school. There is this community of sharing of techniques and ideas and I am trying to learn as much as I can.


You were in SOVA at Tech. In what ways did your art education prepare you for this job?
Really wonderfully. I actually took a class called Professional Studio Practices. It’s like putting your portfolio together and applying for jobs for art students. They made you fake-apply for a job, and I fake-applied for the job that I have. I was here working a different job and I thought ‘I’ll just work at Anthropologie part-time and see if that’s really an option.’ The way my job is set up is very relevant to how school taught me to manage my time.

Speaking of professors, did you have anyone during school that inspired you?
Definitely Deb Sim. She still runs the gallery in the Armory. And Chris Pritchett—I have one of his pots over there. And Emily Callon. She’s not there anymore but she’s a really amazing fiber artist. I almost wish I could go back and do school again because I’ve learned so much that now I could be so good in school, I could be amazing!

Are there any life lessons you learned while in college?
Well I was on the track team which made me have to be really efficient with time management, and that’s a big part of my job. I’ve joked with other display coordinators that we’re the responsible art kids. This is where the responsible art kids end up!

Do you have any advice for graduating students entering the “real world”?
Put your foot in as many doors as you’re interested in. Do it for real. Get an internship. You have to put yourself out there! If you don’t ask for something, you’re never going to know that the answer isn’t yes.  I feel that has gotten me to a good place.

If you could give a lecture on something you know a lot about, what would it be?
Flea-marketing? [laughs] I could do that. I’d tell you where the good flea-markets are, and then I would tell you about all my sly techniques on how to get lower prices. I’ve been to a lot of flea-markets in foreign countries and figured out how to not speak the language but still get good deals.  

Curation 2

by Jee Yun Kim

here's another one.


Olga Fedorova’s generic jungle

Olga Fedorova is a Russian artist who has been active in photography and painting and is now holding her first solo exhibition in London. The exhibition is made up by 3D rendered images inspired by modern technology and political state. 

Link to Olga Fedorova's website

Neil massey's the vietnam collection

Something cool I saw about a scene I had no idea about. During his 6 year stay in Vietnam Neil Massey captured the metal and punk scene within Saigon. He found this small minority of Vietnamese youth that has embraced this underground scene to escape family and societal pressure. 

Link to Neil Massey's books

derek ridgers' run to me

Uhhhhh more pictures of underground kids but this time in the UK because you know me. Run to me partially collects photographs by Derek Ridgers taken throughout the 80s and 90s portraying British youth culture. 

Link to Derek Ridgers' website



This album makes me feel sweaty. Probably one of the best psychedelic albums I've heard come out of the time period with a cool mix of styles that's pretty representative of the region. Swampy, funky, jazzy, kind of weird.

Favorite Tracks: All favorites because since this is only 30 minutes long

Real good 90s/00s pop inspired album without the cheesiness. It's produced by Clarence Clarity, and you can definitely hear his sound bleed into this project just with less glitch.

Favorite Tracks: they're all pretty good :)



videodrome (1983)


Videodrome is a Cronenberg movie that centers around the idea of the permissiveness of technology and media in our daily lives. Reality is questioned and the characters are pushed to see very literally how connected flesh and technology are. It has bits of great body horror that would be expected from Cronenberg, but it's definitely very story-driven. The original title for the film was Network of Blood which was a much more literal title, and was changed later after script revisions to reduce the violence. Still, it's been said that Universal head, Sid Scheinberg mentioned wanting to stop film production after reading the script. Some of the inspirations for the film include Cronenberg's childhood memory of picking up late night television signals and worrying about seeing something messed up, as well as professor Marshall McLuhan who focused on media theory.


Hexus Press on Horror’s Impact on Visual Culture

joey yu.jpg


Number (n)ine aw09 "a closed feeling

View full collection

sasquatchfabrix aw17 "ethos"

Lucy and Olivio Ferrari

A Film about Architecture and Life by Shelley Martin

Interview by Ethan Bingeman and Austin Ledzian
Article by Austin Ledzian
Photographs courtesy of Shelley Martin and Lucy Ferrari


Lucy and Olivio Ferrari contributed greatly to the betterment of the School of Architecture
+ Design through their unique and inquisitive methods of teaching. Shelley Martin, an architecture professor taught by Ferrari, became interested in film when she was a student shooting landscapes on a little Swiss Bolex camera. Layer by layer, she has assembled a visual document of the stories of those who have known Lucy and Olivio. It seems that even through brief interaction, people have a story to share. Over the course of its development, the project has come to tell the story of our school just as much as the story of the Ferraris.

The film takes two approaches: one of their professional world and one of their personal world. In the personal realm, Lucy and Olivio had a deep love of American ideals: democracy, the idea of the individual, the character of Appalachia. Lucy collected quilts and locally crafted objects. Olivio could learn just as much from a simply crafted desk as from a modern Max Bill print. Both felt there was merit in learning from objects that could then be applied to their own work. Objects made by craftspeople, not just architects or designers, could be equally relevant.

As an architect, Olivio felt responsible for his environment at every level. He greeted everyone
good morning and treated everyone equally: the faculty, students, staff, the custodians and the shop technicians. In one instance, he was mistaken as custodial staff because he was sweeping the floors. He always looked for ways to improve your thinking, saying things like, “it would be very easy to correct a Le Corbusier house.” He would challenge canonical architecture as something you could learn from, not as an absolute truth. “The students were charged with maintaining a critical atmosphere,” said Shelley, “the challenge to construct and maintain questions and operational outcomes was infectious.”

Lucy Ferrari, a former Director of the Center for European Studies and Architecture, is an accomplished weaver and photographer, speaking seven languages and stressing to students the importance of travel to their education. “She equated how travel should be understood as a cultural pursuit, so you could understand the language of how to build, so that you wouldn’t be a tourist,” said Shelley. As an example, she taught German to students so they would understand their architecture a bit better. She was, and still is masterful in her way of doing that.

Dress woven as a single tube By Lucy Ferrari  

Dress woven as a single tube
By Lucy Ferrari

Ferrari Paintings in Ciona.jpg
Ferrari watercolor.jpg
Ferrari at Robie.jpg

Olivio brought ceramics, photography, filmmaking and graphics studios into the school, aware of how they could enhance the education of an architect.Though seemingly unrelated, how a wall meets the floor can translate into the section of a bowl. The student can feel the section physically and feel when a bowl is too thick. The lessons film and photography teach to the architecture student are many: the most significant being how to first see and understand the world before you; and then to transform that understanding into precise images that convey an idea through visual means. In the graphics studio, students learn about interaction of color, layers and the deliberate action of printing ink on paper. These practices are exacting and bring about a higher level of awareness and precision, broadening the definition of architecture.

When interviewing the Ferrari’s past students, a common theme rose to the surface: questions,
complex questions. For him, the questions were more important than the answers. Olivio had the ability to identify what a student was after rather than simply expressing his opinions. He had a talent of teaching the individual, critiquing students against their own standards instead of his own so as to catalyze rather than conform. The process was more important than the outcome. To find an individual way of thinking and to find oneself is a journey that begins in the foundation year.

Shelley shared with us a story from when she was a student in the architecture program here.

In studio I was working on this precious little house and the roof was a little bit complicated, it was kind of ignored. Ferrari gave me the keys to his truck and said to me, ‘ Take the keys, here’s the truck, just go out to Glade Road, you’ll find it.’ His house was being roofed with standing seam copper at the time and I got up on the scaffolding to watch Mr. Noonkester use his beautiful old tools and crimp it again and again. Ferrari knew that I had to understand how it was really done, rather than just drawing pictures of it.

The film has evolved beyond a documentary, transformed into something more visually and conceptually complex. Such complexity speaks to the way the Ferraris taught and lived. They have become teachers of students, and teachers of teachers.

Shelley Martin makes films about landscapes. She is a faculty of architecture at VT SA+D, teaching foundation, filmmaking and drawing classes. She practiced architecture in New York, and was once— and remains—a student of the Ferraris.

Ferrari with Pearl S. Buck.jpg

[The text and images from this post have been edited and formatted for blog from the Lucy and Olivio Ferrari story of Volume 3]

Visual Memoirs - A Celebration of Photography by Hokies

Last week we visited a photography exhibition collecting works by current and former Virginia Tech students headed by our own team member, Cat Piper.

This was all about making a community for photographers; I wanted to have a yearly exhibition where we as a community came together and celebrated photography. Photography has become this medium where it can be done without thought; a quick snap of the iPhone and it’s proclaimed as “photography.” I wanted to bring it back to the roots, without digital screens but to see a photo printed on paper, to take time to appreciate the photograph.

by Weiqi Yuan (@suchiham)

by Weiqi Yuan (@suchiham)

by Amber Baden-Lopes (@amber_kbl)

by Amber Baden-Lopes (@amber_kbl)

by Billy Clarke (@bclarke007

by Billy Clarke (@bclarke007

by Geo Min (@geomin76)

by Geo Min (@geomin76)

by James Fune (@funeforthought)

by James Fune (@funeforthought)

by Sue Jung (@sueejung)

by Sue Jung (@sueejung)

by Kaila Nathaniel (@kaila.nathaniel)

by Kaila Nathaniel (@kaila.nathaniel)

by Tayo Oladele (@tayo_oladele)

by Tayo Oladele (@tayo_oladele)

by Zack Wajgras (@zjwaze)

by Zack Wajgras (@zjwaze)

Tyler Park (@pylertark)

Tyler Park (@pylertark)

by Cat Piper (@catpipes)

by Cat Piper (@catpipes)

by Richard Randolph (@capitolcaptures)

by Richard Randolph (@capitolcaptures)

I’ve always talked about how cool it would be to have my work along with others in a gallery, but it was all just talk until this year. This summer I decided I would plan a gallery that showcased all the diverse talent in Blacksburg. The idea went through many iterations, and at first it was primarily myself making all the decisions. However, soon after both Jun Yu and Jake Sells volunteered to help me plan. From then on we started working as a unit, which helped tremendously. I’m hoping to make this a yearly event where we feature more and more photographers and begin to carve our place out in Blacksburg.

by Austin Scherbarth (@ascherby)

by Austin Scherbarth (@ascherby)

by Jake Sells (@thejakesells)

by Jake Sells (@thejakesells)

by Gogo Zhu (@gogochoo)

by Gogo Zhu (@gogochoo)

by James Shackleford (@jamesthe_fifth)

by James Shackleford (@jamesthe_fifth)

by Jason Hall (@visualconscious)

by Jason Hall (@visualconscious)

by Loren Skinker (@loloskinks)

by Loren Skinker (@loloskinks)

by Calvin Tran (@calvintranman)

by Calvin Tran (@calvintranman)

by Armahn Rassuli (@armahn)

by Armahn Rassuli (@armahn)

by Chris Tucker (@the_n0torious_c.r.t)

by Chris Tucker (@the_n0torious_c.r.t)

by Tobin Foster Weiseman (@tweiseman)

by Tobin Foster Weiseman (@tweiseman)

by Helen Westerman (@heleneasterman)

by Helen Westerman (@heleneasterman)

by Jun Yu (@junyu.us)

by Jun Yu (@junyu.us)

Written by Cat Piper

Photography taken from Visual Memoirs

Curation 1

by Jee Yun Kim

I've decided to start a series of posts where i put together things i think are cool.


menashe (2017)


Menashe gives a very personal view of the life of Menashe, a widower, and his son living in a haredi community within New York. It's supposed to be this sweet movie about a dad trying to cope with his wife's death while also raise his son, but it's definitely a lot more than that. Throughout the movie Menashe continuously rejects pressures to remarry, but still makes a sincere effort to stay a devout member of his community. It's about maintaining an identity within such a small and specific community while also being part of an even larger picture, which in this case would be NYC. It's pretty common for people to make generalizations of those in smaller communities, but I think this movie reminds you that people are individuals even if they blend into some kind of crowd. It's definitely worth a watch even though it's very dialogue heavy. I'm pretty sure it's not showing anymore so watch it somehow I guess.


ariel pink - dedicated to bobby jameson

Ariel Pink's followup to his 2014 album Pom Pom. He continues his lo-fi take on 80's new wave on this album as well. Pretty uhhhh pretty good man.

Favorite Tracks: Feels like Heaven, Time To Live, Bublegum Dreams, Kitchen Witch


The buggles - The age of plastic

I kind of just picked this album because of the reference Ariel Pink makes on "Time To Live" to "Video Killed The Radio Star." But this is still a pretty solid album even though it gets pretty overlooked since they're usually regarded as a one-hit-wonder.

Favorite Tracks: Video Killed The Radio Star, I Love You (Miss Robot), Clean, Clean, Astroboy



Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee's XING

'XING' was put together by Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee as a collaborative project intended to explore identity and sexuality of Asian women through satirizing and subverting stereotypes.


rick owens ss18 "DIRT"




Wes Wilson: “Buffalo Springfield, Steve Miller Blues Band, Freedom Highway at the Fillmore Auditorium.” 


Hellboy: Seed of Destruction


Ellen Braaten

Ellen Braaten joined the faculty of the School of Architecture + Design (formerly the Department of Architecture) in 1971. Charles Burchard and Olivio Ferrari hired her as an editorial assistant and pottery teacher. She served the college as Assistant to the Dean for three deans and as Director of Student Affairs. She is an emeritus professor and currently teaches an independent study class in pottery and advises fifth year architecture students. She studied pottery with famed potters Alexander Giampietro and Vally Possony.


You have two houses in Blacksburg, one in the country and one in town. Can you tell us a little about them?

When I first came to Blacksburg, my daughter and I made close friends with some architecture students. We decided to live in the same house together and I bought a beautiful Victorian home at 409 East Roanoke Street. It had only one previous owner and was in pristine condition. It was a shotgun house with rooms on either side of a central hall, leading to a kitchen at the back. The second floor had four large rooms with high ceilings. The basement was dirt and the attic was unfinished. We started with three roomers and my daughter on the second floor and I lived on the first floor.

The house became a fixture in the school during the 70s and 80s. I cooked and served dinner and we worked together to make an environment that supported everyone’s interest in design and architecture.

Shortly after moving in we undertook kitchen renovation. Architecture students and myself worked tirelessly completing the project. During this time, Mr. Ferrari was instituting a visiting architect program and these individuals stayed at my house. The environment was lively and beneficial to all who lived in the house. Eventually we took on other projects: rewiring the house, digging out the basement and making a pottery studio, designing furniture for the second floor bedrooms which had no closets, and finally, in the late 80s we redid the attic. Finding roomers for the house was no problem. They came willingly and we had the added dimension of successful architects living among us. 

My “boarding house” became a place where faculty would constantly visit. Mr. Ferrari was a frequent visitor and we initiated a “Friday Night Seminar” which was open to the entire school. We had speakers and discussions that continued into the night.


Can you tell us about what it was like to work with Ferrari?

Ferrari was a charismatic leader. He was demanding. His death was devastating to the Architecture program, and it has taken a long time to begin to recover. He demanded excellence from the faculty, and was always engaging us in conversations about art, music and philosophy. He attended to the entire faculty, bringing out the best in them. His vision of a European studies program was finalized with the purchase of the Villa Maderni. For him, travel for students and faculty was essential, and he made sure that many of us had that opportunity.

The very first international programs were organized by the architecture department and for that matter, the first offerings in pottery were through the architecture program. Even when he and Lucy spent a great deal of time abroad, he was in constant touch with the school. I was his editor. My job was to listen, take his ideas and writings and put them in proper editorial style. I was very lucky to call him and Lucy my close friends and he was my mentor. What I know about teaching I learned from him. Teachers mentor teachers. Over the years I am so grateful for the skills he gave me. As you add on years of teaching, the better you are at perceiving what students need and how to help them excel. Ferrari was a master at that.

Could you tell us about the house you currently live in?

Well, as you may know, I am a survivor of the poliovirus. When I first started teaching, I was walking on crutches, in fact, I walked on crutches for fifty years. I remember well, on a trip to Paris with the Ferraris, they insisted I use a wheelchair. Long distances in Europe overwhelmed me. Once in Venice, Ferrari pushed me all over the city, carrying my chair over the bridges while I walked over them—that was amazing. At any rate, I was having trouble walking and the house on Roanoke Street was becoming burdensome. It was also about this time that Charles Worley died. He was a professor in our school and he designed and lived in a beautiful mid-century house situated in an area called Dunstan Heights. At his death, his widow called and suggested I buy the house. It would be perfect for me and so I did.

The house was built in 1962; it is part Prairie style and looks from the exterior like a barn. It is sited so that it follows the tract of the moon. When I moved in there were no trees, no plants, just a green yard that backed onto other green yards. Worley and Herschel Elarth had houses in the same neighborhood and devised plans whereby everyone’s back yard was a interconnected greenway.












The house is a beautiful place to live; the central core is a double cube with the second floor being a mezzanine opening to that cube. Surrounding rooms are at the height of 7’6”— the height of the rooms in La Tourette. All exterior walls are double brick with the brick on the interior. The small details are numerous. It is interesting to note that Worley came from Chicago, studied at IIT and had Mies Van der Rohe as his master’s thesis advisor.

In 2003 when I retired from my full-time position, I built a pottery studio in the backyard of the house. A close friend, an architect from Skidmore, Owings, Merrill, Brigitte Peterhans, helped me with the design. It is from this studio that I teach my Independent Study class. It’s an evening class so that it does not interfere with studio time. Students can use the studio at other times so it’s not unusual to find them here on other days and weekends.

The changes I have made to the house have been minimal. It’s such a strong, intact object, beautifully detailed in every way. There are trees now and gardens, but little has changed. Students who do use the studio have an opportunity to be away from their desks and enjoy the seasons.

You have another house in the Catawba Valley. Can you talk about why you chose that location?

It’s interesting to see the full circle of circumstances that have led to the Catawba house. Our friends call this The Sisters House. My sister and I have lived together for almost ten years now and when she moved from California we decided to build this house. Robert Turner, my closest friend, was very instrumental in the purchase of my first house, the one on Roanoke Street. He was behind the kitchen renovation in that house and we shared that house with my daughter and two others until he accepted a job with Ezra Stoller. We stayed very close friends, spending our holidays and other times in New York, Chicago, London and Paris and finally in our houses in the Catawba Valley on Paris Mountain. He went on to be a partner at SOM and then retired and practiced privately in Paris. He died recently and has generously donated to our school. At any rate, on one of our trips from the airport, we started discussing the possibility of buying land together in our favorite valley: Catawba Valley. I found a beautiful parcel and along with another architecture alumni, Robert Reuter, we purchased the land in the 80s. We built three houses on our property and dedicated the rest of the land to the Virginia Outdoors Foundation. We all have homes there on top of the hill.

The main objectives of the house in the Catawba Valley are to be accessible without looking so and to commune with nature. We sited the house so that it opens to the face of a deciduous mountain—one that is a green wall in summer, red-orange in fall, and can be snow covered in winter. The house has oversized corridors, large doorways and features a NanaWall system that opens it to the mountain from the living area and from my bedroom. Being able to feel the outside, being a part of nature is so important. You can’t be a potter without loving nature. My sister and I wanted a house that opened to the embrace of the mountain and I think we achieved that. Our terrace follows the curve of the mountain and when our NanaWall is open our house has no size, it is one with the outside. At night with the wall open (and the screen closed!), we can hear all the forest sounds, the tree frogs and the coyotes. You realize then that you are a visitor. The exterior of the house is board and batten, a nod to that construction evident in our valley and throughout the area.


Can you tell us a bit about the interior of the house?

Again, we come full circle with the Roanoke Street house. John Burcher lived in the house on Roanoke Street for four years in the 70s. He went on to be an Associate partner at SOM and now heads Interior Design at SmithGill Architects. We have remained very close friends and oversaw the interior design, specifically my bathroom which is open to my bedroom. He picked the tile for our bathrooms, the paint colors for the house and selected the cabinetry that makes the house usable for me as well as my sister. We took into account the limited motion I have now and this became a real issue in the design, but I think we were successful in making the house accessible without feeling accessible. As Ferrari once said: if it is designed well and it works for the differently-abled then it works for all of us. I am paraphrasing, but you understand what he means.

The Catawba house, like the others, is a joy to live in. I have been so lucky to live in such beautiful and enriching environments. Wherever I am, I go to sleep in a beautiful environment and wake to a beautiful space, inside and out. I don’t take my love of good design lightly; I am enriched by it. My wheelchair, my Gropius china, the Lauffer Stainless I eat with, all of these objects contribute to my well being.

[The text and images from this post have been edited and formatted for blog from the Ellen Braaten story of Volume 3]

Inside the Badlands

It’s impossible to describe properly and with justice, the unbelievable beauty of Badlands National Park.

An alien in the land it is set in – towering columns of rocks placed in the flat prairies of the Midwest. Even photographs cannot fully capture the vastness and the grandeur of the land.


"I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless rock formations that surrounded me"


I felt overwhelmed by the seemingly endless rock formations that surrounded me. Each peak and valley of the park was carved by water. Like a maze of rocks, you twist and turn through the Badlands, and are constantly greeted with new views.

As you venture deeper and explore closer, you begin to appreciate the subtleties of the badlands—the pinks and oranges in the layers of rocks, the long soft grass brushing against your legs, the sound of the sand crunching beneath your boot.


Photographs and Writing by Tyler Park

Hillsville Flea Market

Studio Collective recently visited a famed flea market, in a southwest Virginian town named Hillsville.

3 days long and hundreds of vendors, this flea market dominates the whole area for a weekend. An estimated 500,000 visitors wander the expansive, store-lined streets. It's a fantastic place to be if one wants to discover antique items or perhaps more mainstream, fad-like accessories - not to mention the delicious, rich, smell-from-three-blocks-down food tents. Behind every item, however, was a vendor, and we took the opportunity to capture their collections and to speak with them.


"I’ve been up the creek and over the hill"


A Vietnam war veteran. He handcrafts violins, mandolins, guitars, and knives.


The vehicle Antis uses to tour around to sell his merchandise. Inside is a home made for travel.


We met Dana Blankenship, proprietor of Blue Magnolia. She tells us about her store and its vintage, new, and reinvented vibe:

Did you mention that you worked in interior design for 14 years?
Yes, I had a business called Chateau Interiors and I worked out of Beckley, West Virginia. When the coal mining situation went bad we decided to sell the business but we couldn’t, so we flipped the business into something different. That’s when we created Blue Magnolia.


Can you explain the meaning behind Blue Magnolia?
We based it off the Joanna Gaines phenomenon and went the farmhouse route and one of the deal breakers in opening it was to carry the Annie Sloane chalk paint which is my biggest seller. We do classes, we do home decor, t-shirts, jewelry, all kinds of things. With an interior design background people love to come in and pick my brain: how to use this farmhouse decor in their house.

Have these pieces been painted with chalk paint? What is the appeal?
The appeal of chalk paint is that you don’t have to sand, strip or prime the wood ahead of time, you just have to clean it really well before you paint it. Then the brushes that are developed with the paint give it texture, which grab the wax, and is your top coat. We use a clear wax followed by darker waxes to antique it.


Photographs by Quinn Wates and Tyler Park

Interview by Cat Piper and Airiel Barrientos

A Moment In Korea

Korea was such an interesting experience.

The last time I had been there with my family was 15 years ago. Oddly enough, the thing I remembered the most was the smell of the city and really, that had remained unchanged. The sights were all so different. I didn’t know if it had been because I had been studying design for two years now, but I could see geometries and all sorts of different colors and shapes that I might have thought arbitrary had I not been studying design.

Korea remains the same culturally, but it seems they are trying to bring the history into the modern world.

Korea remains the same culturally, but it seems they are trying to bring the history into the modern world.


They treasure this one island off the South coast called Jeju-do. It’s believed to be one of the country’s most beautiful treasures and they do everything possible to keep it traditional yet presentable to the modern world.


"It’s believed to be one of the country’s most beautiful treasures..."


Koreans are very proud of their history and it really dictates many aspects within the country. One example of this can be seen in the picture with lighted patterns on the ceiling. Those patterns were derived from traditional Korean architecture and artists developed these into a quilt-like pattern to showcase the history of Korea in a very modern way.

Photographs and Essay by Peter Kang

Empty Bowls

THE LINE EXTENDED FURTHER than the interior of the space allowed, turning the corner and curving against itself. These people were in queue for bowls and soup. Empty Bowls, however, is not your average canned-soup-and Styrofoam-bowl event. Both the bowls and soup were created by the hands of designers, and that alone would be sufficient to draw a decent crowd. The ticket sale proceeds went to Micah’s Backpack – a Blacksburg organization that assists low-income families by providing their children food for the weekend. Where service is involved, the people gather. Another attraction available was the live band, The Wildmans. The Wildmans maintained a folksy atmosphere with their music, adding to the overall lively buzz of the event.

These photos reflect the energy present at Empty Bowls. The handcrafted dinnerware and homemade meal was a combination to remember.


Article by Chloe Molinos

Photographs by Cat Piper


We met with SCOPE (Student's Coalition Organizing Progressive Movement) leaders Anuja Das and Tamanna Tiku to discuss their new organization.



Anuja: As fourth year students we all go in different directions and I think when we come back into thesis year we design after cultivating more refined points of view. For example, given current events, many of us were interested in social justice issues and how to incorporate that into thesis. The impetus for SCOPE came out of the 2016 election and the conversations that came from perceived differences in views. The tendency to exist in echo chambers made us question what our place, of design’s place was in this changing and evolving world. This extends to design’s relationship with topics of identity or gender, capitalism, urban history.

Tamanna: The real question is: ‘why do these questions not appear earlier in our education? 'Why can’t first year or second year students be talking about politics and identity within the scope of architecture?


Anuja: I would say so. SCOPE gives students a voice and encourages students to ask questions and to engage in conversations they don’t normally have in studio.

Tamanna: If you provide a platform, there are people willing to participate. I measure our success by the freedom of being able to share your opinion, and develop a free, safe space for them to share things with us. 


Tamanna: We are a new organization so it is difficult to recruit members, but we developed a solid core that regularly participates in SCOPE. We are currently trying to broaden the scope of our endeavors as a student led organization to broadening the conversation of design.


Tamanna: We have had six events until now and have two more to go. We just had a Skype conversation with the WAAC, which is the Alexandria branch of the School of Architecture. Through that conversation, we talked about American urban history and the first amendment and how this is a spatial issue. In two weeks, we have a conversation on crisis in architecture. So in that, we are trying to talk about the refugee crisis, housing for refugees, or housing after disasters. On the 26th of April is a conversation about cross-disciplinary conversations, cross-disciplinary design.

Anuja: We found topics by questioning what interested us. We sat in front of the blackboard and yelled out topics that were of interest... We have something like Architecture and Capitalism, but then we also have something like Women in Craft, which is a lighter topic but I think is still very relevant, and again, it’s not discussed. SCOPE simply aims to widen a designer’s education by providing more information to make informed decisions.

scope archandcapitalism poster

Anuja: We want to keep the conversation series at the heart of SCOPE because it is a very intimate platform. We want to be able to go outside of the environment of our school and have people from outside come and talk about different topics regarding design. So we want to expand within the school and also outside of the school and bring in very interesting topics that have not been previously discussed. 

Tamanna: We learned that lesson very late. A massive election debacle had to take place for us to say, ‘okay we're thesis students, we have some social capital within the school let's start something’. Hopefully, even if it's not in the form of SCOPE itself, students in the school will start taking charge of their education. 

Anuja: That in itself is engagement on a level that isn't happening right now, and I would say most professors would be very happy to hear a student ask for that. We have had faculty support, which can serve SCOPE well in the future. I just think we're trying to encourage students to not be afraid to have a say in how they're learning and how their education is panning out. 


Tamanna:  My last remark is that SCOPE stands for: Students Coalition Organizing Progressive Engagement. I think the three keywords in that are: student, progressive, and engagement. We really want to let students define their own ideas of progressiveness, what they want to perceive as progressive.

Anuja: We don't want to push just one side of the story. We're trying to have, many different views to help people empathize. Being able to empathize with other people is something that we hope SCOPE can push for

Interview by Chloe Molinos and Jee Yun Kim
Photographs by Chloe Molinos

The Desks of Interior Designers

This time we went around the interior design studios to ask about their workspace. Read below to check out what we found.

Andrea Bonilla, Masters


I do a lot of research first, and I try to do as many diagrams as possible to figure out what I want to do next. It’s a little bit of a back and forth with doing research and working by hand.


I’ve got a painting my grandma gave me, kinda just hanging out there. I don’t know if that’s weird, but I like having it there. I also have a picture with my graduating class.

Jessie Bean, 3rd Year

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

My water bottle. I love my water bottle. I always need my water bottle.

What is the weirdest thing you have on your desk?

Definitely this felt bunny. Last year, we had a teacher who really loves felt and Joe decided to make me a felt bunny when we were bored and stressed.

Marie Perriello, 4th Year


I just dump stuff everywhere.


Pens, architecture’s scale, and coffee mug.




Savannah Henley, 1st Year

Describe your workflow.

Organized chaos.

What is the weirdest thing you have?

The weirdest thing I have on my desk would be my clay model, which is a lump of clay we threw around the drillfield with paint on our hands.


Interviews by Chloe Molinos, Alexandra Pena and Jee Yun Kim

Photographs by Chloe Molinos and Alexandra Pena

Maxwell Runko

We had coffee with sculptor and photographer Maxwell Runko, a student at VCU, as he reflected on black holes, the beauty of dryer lint, and the evolution of relationships.

Screen Shot 2017-03-30 at 10.31.12 AM.png

What medium did you get into first?

I started in 10th grade with photography and that was my jumping off point. I got into Flickr super hard. I was into photography and that segued into being interested in art in general and that was when I took my first art class. It was a basic art class where you draw a self portrait and all that. Then I went to the pre-college program at VCU and it solidified what I was interested in – art. But it really started in 10th grade with photography. 

Would you say your work is nostalgic or informed by new experiences?

I wouldn’t say my work is nostalgic. I’m not talking about my childhood, I’m talking about my present-day relationship with my parents and the dynamics of it, coming out to them over the summer and that experience. That whole dynamic of the relationship is what I’m really interested in. So I would say it’s based on new experiences. For example, I used to paint my nails a lot as a child. So with my mom, we did this video performance where we put on nail polish and mascara, and I overlaid them to indicate that relationship. So that was based on nostalgic events but I don’t think it was readily apparent. Family is such an interesting idea for me because everyone has a family, whether blood related or not. If you use certain things like a mother and a father, those ideas are something that people can see themselves through.

Family is such an interesting idea for me because everyone has a family, whether blood related or not.

Do you usually iterate or go with your first instinct?
Do you still take photos?
It depends. I had a teacher, Michael Jones McKean, who told me ‘the first idea is always the worst.’ So I always hold that in the back of my head. But on a certain level I feel that I need to trust myself and be firm about what I see in my head and in what I’m making. Right now I’m doing a lot of intuition-based work. The leg piece was my first project and I found my sketchbook from first semester of sophomore year and I wrote down ‘initial ideas: legs floating, of glass, in the critique room.’ And it’s funny that I was working in that way because I don’t work like that anymore.
Sometimes I do. I took a photo class last semester and I took these photos of my mom, which I have yet to show anyone. My family is what I’m really into right now, just the dynamics and the relationship I have with them. I’ve been doing these portraits where I’ve been taking a picture of my mom or my brother then they take a picture of me and then I print it out and weave them together (shown below). They become these huge objects that put this relationship front and center, really just being 50/50. That’s how I see my photography right now. It’s more of a means to an end.

My family is what I'm really into right now, just the dynamics and the relationship I have with them.

Does your photography inform your sculpture work?

It’s all related for me. Even though it’s a different medium it still translates my ideas. I’m more interested in bringing my photography into my sculpture work than bringing sculpture into my photography, though. But I don’t think they’re two separate worlds that can’t meet in the middle. I’ve been doing a lot of picture stuff, like those woven portraits, which I feel are more of a sculpture than just a photo since they have an evident trace of my hand.

Out of all the projects you’ve worked on, do you have one that speaks the most to you?

My teacher assigned a ‘collection’ project last semester. She said, ‘collection. That’s all I’m going to say.’ I started thinking of this idea of collecting objects and that relationship people have with collections of objects, which lead into me making objects with my identical twin brother. I made five objects and had him make them ‘identically’ (shown below). That’s where the whole family idea comes from. It was a game changer for me because I could talk about my family, this super personal relationship, but it could be dislocated and able to reach a viewer and allow them to have their own understanding and perception of it. That was a really pivotal moment in my career as an artist. If I am an artist.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
You use a lot of unique materials in your work, like dryer lint. How do you decide which materials to use?
What’s your opinion on ‘Do Not Touch’ signs?
I was just doing laundry one day, and I took the lint trap out and I was like ‘wow none of my roommates have taken this out after they dry their clothes!’ It was so thick, it showed how much time was invested in this material. There was this thread stuck in the dryer lint, wrapped around on itself and going into the infinite, it was so beautiful. I just can’t help myself sometimes. This is just a really beautiful thing that’s happening right now. I also think materials and surface have a lot of cultural significance. Like if you use an iPhone in your work, it’s going to have weight. So I think a lot about that in my work and how the materials inform viewers of what you’re discussing and how you can control what they’re seeing. I use a lot of Durham’s rock hard water putty. I just like tactility, I want to touch things with my hands. Schooling has taught me a lot about materials, but it’s also about beauty and attraction. Sometimes I’m like, ‘this is so beautiful I need to use this. I need to cover this in resin and paint it orange.’
Bullshit. I make my work to be touched, but nobody touches it. And I’m not about to put a sign that says ‘touch me!’ When we go into a critique people sometimes get really close to my work and they’re like ‘I want to touch it so bad.’ And I’m like, just touch it this isn’t a museum! I just love touching things, understanding textures and surfaces and their dynamics. Bringing in objects that are matte with objects that are glossy and how that affects people. Shininess elicits this weird attractiveness that makes people want to touch. So I play a lot with finishing and how it affects the level of viewer interaction. So if someone asks me if they can touch something I’m like of course! I’ve touched it a million times before, it’s not like one more finger will do anything. My high school art teacher told me this story about how one time she went up to this painting in a gallery and licked it. She just had to because it was beautiful. And that’s something that I think about. Touching is important.
You gained a lot of followers through Tumblr and Flickr. Has that culture affected you at all?
How do you handle criticism?
Tumblr is a really bizarre thing because it gives this warped perspective of what makes work good. If I have more notes does it make it better? If it has less is it not good art? That’s why I stopped using Tumblr because I get freaked out by it. The internet strikes a chord with me though because there’s so much opportunity. If you work hard enough there is so much potential, I honestly believe in that and I think you can just make so many contacts and meet so many people virtually and physically. But the internet also scares me because it’s like this black hole. It gets me anxious that I’m adding to this detrimental orb. On the internet, if one thing happens it’s a trickle effect and then you see all that style and aesthetic happening. So that’s the weird relationship I have with it. I find myself looking at it less and less and reading more art theory and philosophy.
Critiques [pin ups] are so fun and important for me because when you’re in a critique you’re not there to be somebody’s friend. It’s not even like it’s a gallery and you’re a viewer, you’re there to tell them what is working and what is not. We’re there to help each other realize what will be good in an actual gallery. I think criticism is so vital right now. I’m 20 and I’m just doing these actions and moves, making these decisions. So having opinions from people outside and inside my class is super pivotal for any young artist. Without it I’d just be floating in this oblivion. It’s one thing too, where you look at your work and then you have someone else look at your work. You may see this whole anecdotal dialogue that they don’t see. I’m so thankful I have the opportunity to have critiques. It’s a really necessary aspect of school.













So having opinions from people outside and inside my class is super pivotal for any young artist.

Do you think Richmond is a developing center of counter-culture?

Richmond is a ground for cultivating young artists and they have a lot of good things to say and a lot of good work to make. But I don’t think it will ever be like New York, LA., or Europe it’s just too intimate and there’s not enough revenue to make these impactful spaces. However, my friend Evana Roman just opened this space on Grace Street called Atlantis Gallery. It’s people like her that are really getting the ball rolling by trying to help out the undergrads and show that we actually have things to say. Through the art school and VMFA there’s a lot of great artists and art here, and there’s a lot of artists coming in from outside of Virginia which I love because it’s a whole new walk of life. In a couple years Richmond could be something, but I know for me at least when I graduate I’m not going to stay.

How do your surroundings inspire you?

For me Richmond really began the conversation of materiality because wherever you look there’s so much material. Even right here there’s a bench and concrete with cigarette butts on them with ashes and huge windows. All that stuff is so inspiring to me. When I walk around by myself I’m observing everything. I just take everything in. I remember one time last year I passed this beer bottle that was tied in a plastic bag, and I thought, ‘that’s really beautiful.’ I try to notice these minute details, which really translated into my work. Richmond makes me realize small moments and how large they actually are.

Interview by Austin Ledzian and Luisa Lacsamana

Photographs by Maxwell Runko

A Week In Hong Kong

Helen Westerman recently returned from a study abroad program with professor Henri de Hahn and a group of architecture students of all years. They were privileged with the opportunity to adventure to, through, up, down, and around the island of Hong Kong for five days of immersive study and shenanigans.

We went everywhere from the Big Buddha and Po Lin Monastery, to the Asia Society Hong Kong Center designed by Billie Tsien and Tod Williams, to The Peak where my mother actually gave birth to my older sister, and so on. Jet lag led to early mornings in the park across from our luxury hotel (the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed in) silently watching all the people who had come to practice tai chi with awe.

The entire trip was absolutely overwhelming. It’s still sinking in, but what I experienced most throughout was the impact of people as a whole. Their cultural norms and traditions shaped the city of Hong Kong. Most obvious was their sense of community and willingness to share space. In contrast to places like NYC, almost all storefronts on street level were open and whole districts of people selling the same goods sprawled into the streets to form well-established markets for birds, flowers, clothing and the like.

These photos are a respectful testament and the beginnings of documenting some of the places I was able to experience through the people I saw.


Photos and Words by Helen Westerman

The Desks of the Industrial Designers

This week, we went around to the desks of industrial designers around studio. The things we found were equally as unique as what we found on the architect's desks. Find out what we found on the workspaces of five designers below.


Defne Kansu, 2nd year

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

My marker holder. I actually made that from plexiglas; I laser-cut it. It’s custom. I love that. You can carry it, it has a lock. So you can flip this down to lock it. It says my name on it. When you lock it, you can’t take the pens out.

Why do you organize your workspace the way it’s organized now?

It’s not organized… I can't organize because everyday, we work with multiple materials so we don’t have a set. We don’t just work with paper, we don’t just work with drafting stuff and chipboard and foamcore the way architects do. We have to have a bunch of materials. To be able to fit all that in, I put an organizer on my desk… I tried to put a rack. But at some point you’re like, oh. Screw this. I can’t do it. I have a coffee maker and instant coffee on my table because literally, instead of blood, I have coffee running through my veins. Other than that, I have a bunch of foam because that’s life. And I have my markers, my markers that all sell for $5 each and cost me half my tuition.

Stephen Lynn, 4th year

Describe your workflow and process.

I like to do a lot of sketching, and I like to do that on my desk. I like to space out my sketches so I can look at all of them and take pieces from each sketch and keep working and iterating on that while also looking at my laptop. And I use this back wall (which is not really my desk), but I hang stuff up. A lot of computer work and analog work. I guess my desk is split in half that way -- I always have a dedicated space for a laptop and a somewhat dedicated space for more analog things.

What are three must-haves for your desk?

Laptop, cutting mat, and… I think my plant. I need that symbol of life to give me life. He fell over the other day he’s still good.

Veronica Orecchia, 3rd Year

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

I have to say my books. Just having something that inspires like the words of an industrial designer or any sort of person you aspire to be like just at your desk reminding you why you’re here. I think that’s very important.

What are three must-haves for your desk?

So I always have post-it notes just everywhere. That’s just how I think, whether it be for laying out different possibilities or for making a checklist of things to do. It’s always so satisfying taking a post-it note and throwing it out. I always really enjoy having the random weird things on my desk because it makes it feel a little bit more homey because I spend so much time here. Looking over and seeing my green elephant and that sleeping emoji pillow, it makes it feel less like I’m doing work. Third thing: markers. Markers are always a must, especially with sketching and everything.

David Shaltanis, 1st year

What is the weirdest thing you have on your desk?

Probably my random collection of everyone else’s objects. I like to steal a bit of people’s items. These are Kylie’s scissors, these are Elisa’s pens. This is Harrison’s saw. But I like to go around, talk to people, sometimes I ask them before I steal them. It’s like a social thing.

Why do you organize your workspace the way it’s organized now?

I kind of like having everything out on the desk. So, it’s really not organized. It’s kind of funny that you say organized that way. It draws inspiration, I like to look back at older projects.

Stephen Claffy, 4th year

Why do you organize your workspace the way it’s organized now?

Right now it’s a little bit messy. I always have to feel like, I have ideas under my nose. So, surrounding myself with a little bit of chaos makes me feel like there’s something going on.

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

Definitely my laptop, it’s got everything on it.


Interviews by Chloe Molinos, Alexandra Pena and Jee Yun Kim

Photographs by Chloe Molinos and Alexandra Pena

Studio Lookbook: Shoes Edition

It's a fact that feet are everyone's favorite appendages. Quentin Tarantino, famous Korean restaurant owner and part-time film maker, loves his feet, which means it's pretty important to have on appropriate footwear at any time.

So, we decided to go around studio and take pictures of people's shoes and their style. 

Quang Pham - Adidas SL Loop Runner  

Quang Pham - Adidas SL Loop Runner


Elizabeth Park - Nike Air Force 1

Elizabeth Park - Nike Air Force 1

Colin Quinn - German Army Trainer Replica

Colin Quinn - German Army Trainer Replica

Sofia -  Black Leather Chelsea Boots

Sofia -  Black Leather Chelsea Boots

Fin Martin - Combat Boots

Fin Martin - Combat Boots

Stephen Lynn - Adidas Stan Smith

Stephen Lynn - Adidas Stan Smith

Joseph Menkis - Sperry Chukka Boot

Joseph Menkis - Sperry Chukka Boot

Samantha Greenya - Chinese Laundry Strappy Heels

Samantha Greenya - Chinese Laundry Strappy Heels

Alexandra Pena - Troopa Combat Boots

Alexandra Pena - Troopa Combat Boots

Miles  - Classic Chukka Boot

Miles  - Classic Chukka Boot

Written by Jee Yun Kim, Alexandra Pena and Chloe Molinos

Photographs by Chloe Molinos

10 Essential Things for Studio Survival

School sucks but this post probably doesn't. The team put together a list of 10 things you might need if you want to survive studio in every literal sense.


1.         T-Square



A t-shaped ruler with a thick piece at one end that can slide on an edge used for making straight, parallel lines.

“Yeah definitely. T-square is life.”


2.         Food



A substance of nutritional value; a source of energy for students working prolonged hours, and also something you might need if don’t want to die.

“It makes late nights easier when you have food.”


3.         Sketchbook



A pad or book of drawing paper for sketching on usually filled with bad ideas and unfulfilled dreams.

“I need my sketchbook to draw out first what I’m planning in my head… kinda like a rough draft.”


4.         Pens



A tool used to make marks using ink, typically used for drawing and writing, and can also be used as a convenient shank if the occasion arises.

"One pen is never enough."


5.         Caffeine



Another source of energy for students; typically used as a substance to increase productivity, especially when a student is low in energy or is sleepy.

“If I’m lucky, I get 5 hours of sleep -- so I definitely need [caffeine.]”


6.         Sweater



A garment, typically knit, worn atop a shirt usually for its warmth, as studio students do not get a lot of interaction with the sun.

"For some reason, it's always cold in here."


7.         Cutting Mat



A cutting mat is used both to protect the surface you are cutting on, and to provide measurement guidelines and references to ensure a clean and straight cut.

“I need a cutting mat because the school would be mad at me if I ruined their desks.”



8.         Drafting Board



A smooth board on which paper is placed for making drawings.

“[My drafting board] is my pillow away from home.”


9.         Books



A set of pages bound together using a variety of methods, such as spiral-binding or sewing. This stack of papers usually has some intellectual value, useful for inspiration or just plain knowledge.

“Sometimes it’s good to learn how based on an architect and writers and other people talking about creative things. [A book] sparks ideas.”


10.    Plants



A living organism that resides on the desk of most students. This organism feeds on water in combination with the carbon dioxide exhaled through the tired sigh of a thesis student.

“Plants bring life to your space and help you think clear.”

  Written by Alexandra Pena, Chloe Molinos and Jee Yun Kim Photographs by Chloe Molinos and Alexandra Pena


Written by Alexandra Pena, Chloe Molinos and Jee Yun Kim

Photographs by Chloe Molinos and Alexandra Pena

The Band Concord

Local folk-pop band Band Concord sat down with us to chat about their creative process.


Everyone in the band is from Virginia. How do you think the area has influenced or inspired you in ways you might not have been living elsewhere?

Andrew: It’s really helped being in the New River Valley because a lot of people are into folk music and bluegrass. They see a banjo, they see a violin, and they see a bass and they are immediately drawn towards it, which helps us gain attention. We have that more poppy sound, but we can also strip down and be the folk band that people also enjoy. The pop aspect of our music is geared more towards people our age – more towards a college crowd.

Alex: We’re nestled in the mountains, and as we started to play shows and play on the air, we could see what people responded to better, and we started to steer towards that.

Jason: To have a base like a university to work off of, it’s really easy to start something like this. I can just imagine trying to start something like this at Virginia Beach, or Richmond, or northern Virginia... there’s so much there, it’s so dense, whereas here you have a fresh plate.

A photograph of a young girl graces the front cover of your new album, “Youth.” Is there a story behind that design?

Spencer: That’s my sister. We were trying to think of what we wanted as a theme for the album. The narrator in those songs was younger. “Youth” made sense. I thought that it was funny, my sister standing there, practicing to be a flower girl – a big day for two people getting married, and such a huge thing in a relationship – yet she probably had no idea why she was dressed like that or holding petals. I thought it was ironic, this little girl who has no idea what she’s doing, with so much going on around her. And so, that was the idea behind the photograph for Youth.

The songs in “Youth” have a nostalgic undertone. How does a band craft their memories into a song that only lasts a few a minutes?

Spencer: That’s the difficulty in song writing. You could write a journal or a book about your life – there’s just so much to say. In a song you’re kind of limited – you have to be specific, and I always want to share the memory in a way that people can relate to.

Jason: When you write songs, it’s not necessarily just about you and what you want to put down on the page for the song. It’s about what you want to have people relate to in your experience.

Spencer: That’s really been my main goal since I was younger and started writing: to give people a different viewpoint on situations, to help them in any way I could.

What is the creative process in crafting new songs?

Alex: At first, you just have a very minimal skeleton of what’s going on, and then you have to trust that everyone is going to fill in their part.

Andrew: It’s up to everybody in the band to step forward and put their own quality towards it. It’s great too because we’ve had songs that we’ve been playing for a year and somehow they still just change. From week to week, we all find something else to kind of shape it.

Jason: You build upon everything you’ve heard and everything that’s come before you. It’s just in this little microcosm. You like something, and you listen to it, and it becomes a part of your musical vocabulary.

Alex: It’s also really interesting because we come from completely different musical backgrounds, ranging from very classically trained to free folk. We’re getting to a point now where we all agree on ideas. It just kind of happens naturally. There’s not much disagreement.

Do you design merchandise because you enjoy it, or because it’s important?

Spencer: Oh, it’s very important.

Andrew: I do enjoy doing it, but it’s super important. I think one of the biggest things about being a musician is being able to stay relevant with the people and the times as well. If you look at music trends, you see that folk and folk pop have a really strong power in like 2012, and then it started going on decline. It kept the same feel, but it would twist in order to stay relevant, and so we have to do the same thing, but we have to do it with design too. You can’t just have a website that’s outdated.

Spencer: Font changes style, types of pictures change style, and how you edit pictures changes style.

Andrew: It’s constantly changing.

What has been your experience with design?

Jason: It’s a whole other element of how you can reach people.

Andrew: Spencer and I are more on the design side. The band posters and photography from our friends helps us in designing products, whether it’s t-shirts, logos, or the website. I would love to look back on our first couple of websites. I was so proud of them, and they were so bad. I think our colors were like purple and yellow for the website? And there’s a cover photo of someone walking into the sunlight at the duck pond. It’s just a really bad picture, just a really bad cover idea. Now, I’m constantly looking for new things to tweak, if not just revamp the whole thing.

Alex: He changes the website like every two months.

What is the future?

Alex: The first year, we definitely found our roots. We found our comfort on stage. We have a good foundation, and now it’s about growing and stepping outside of our comfort zone. It’s about going to cities we haven’t been to before, to fans we’ve never met before, plan some weekends and shows, recording in Tennessee...

Jason: The next step is moving out of this area. We’re immediately in Blacksburg. Now, it’s all about growing beyond where we are. 


Interview by Kevin Garcia, Austin Ledzian, and Brooke Warrington 

Photographs by Luisa Lacsamana and Austin Ledzian

The Desks of the Architects


We went around studio asking architect students about their desk, what makes it special and how they make it their own. Get behind the mind of a design student and see where it all begins.


Rachel, 2nd year architecture


Why do you organize your workspace the way it’s organized now?

I tend to be very clear headed and I think that’s reflected in my space. I need to have it decluttered in order to process things better and work faster. So it’s kind of about efficiency.

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

That I love and cannot part with? Okay my organ. I’m obsessed with this thing. For one of the buildings I designed, I decided to incorporate wind and sound with it and so I made a wood organ. I’m obsessed with it. Yeah pretty happy with that.

Jamie, 5th year architecture


What’s the weirdest thing you have on your desk?

Maybe my ostrich pillow. You can stick you head in and then you put your arms through the holes in the side and just lay on top of your desk.

Did you get the coffee machine specifically for this desk?

No, I had it since second year. I got it really cheap in Costco and it practically pay for itself in the first six months and I had it for three years. I have it normally in my apartment but with the second desk I had enough room to put it.

Aayush, 2nd year architecture


Can you describe your workflow and process?

I’ll start with roll paper and just start making sketches and coming up with iterations of ideas. If I come up with a good idea then I start to develop it and move from one step to the other.

Why do you work on more than one desk?

The guy on my left is never here so I use his desk. The other desk in the end is a common table, so if my desk is full of stuff and I don’t want to move it I just go to the next desk and if I have stuff there, I move to the next one.

Daniel, 3rd year architecture


What is one thing on your desk that you love?

My lamp. I wanted a really efficient and good-looking lamp, which are not very common to find. So I decided to invest a little more on a nice looking lamp.

What’s the weirdest thing you have on your desk?

Polyurethane. Just chilling there. If I inhale it, I’ll probably die.

Helen, 2nd year architecture

What are three must-have items for your desk? 

I would say a pen, my sketchbook, and tea.

What is one thing on your desk that you love?

My plants. I have an aloe plant and a shamrock right now. These guys ended up here because they weren’t doing so hot at my house. My house is overridden with plants.

Trey, 3rd year architecture

Why do you organize your workspace the way it’s organized now?

[Laughs] Well. I don’t know where to begin. Things...are organized based on how I use them, in the sense that if I’ve been using it recently, it’s in kind-of a pile.

Is it true you made stuff for your desk?

I took a lot of it home actually but I still have my little glue-holder. It’s all sheet metal. I had this [cup holder] last year for paints and stuff. I have a bookshelf. I made the wood part and actually, I found these [concrete slabs] in the dumpster! Somebody just threw them away.


Interviews by Alexandra Pena, Chloe Molinos and Jee Yun Kim

Photographs by Chloe Molinos

The Vertebrae

Zach Downey graduated from Architecture in 2005 and has since worked at SHoP architects as the Digital Design Specialist and the Director of Applied Technology. He now works at Parabox, a company he co-founded that develops automation tools for architecture, engineering, and construction firms. These tools increase the efficiency of workflows so that getting to the end product is faster and easier. 
He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia and the New York City College of Technology.

The Vertebrae functions as an intervention using felt to address the center circulation aisle of Burchard Hall and questions its presence as a space for meeting and collaborating. By the suspension of the undulating ribs, the installation implies and projects spatial boundaries, and the reverberation and resonance of sound within different locations of Burchard Hall is decreased. The addition of a soft interior ceiling plane encourages space for conversation and a sense of privacy and creates a home for the Design/Build collaboration table.

In collaboration with Zach Downey of Parabox Labs, this project was designed to instigate the use of parametric design tools. Not necessarily for the process of form making, but for understanding the role of these tools as instigators of speed, efficiency, and accuracy in our methods of designing. By using grasshopper software, the phenomena of catenary curves were easily simulated in order to manipulate the curves assuming gravity as a key component within the installation. In using gravity, not necessarily as a limit to the design, but as a driver for the language of the installation, we became interested in creating an intervention that was solely structured on tension. Relying upon the context in which we were designing, the columns became the compressive structure that allowed for a completely tensile intervention.

The workshops that were held in order to design the installation were an investment in the power of collaboration with digital tools as a method of working to enhance speed and quality in design discourse. Over the course of two workshops within two days, the installation developed from mere ideas to a set of documents for making. The materials were fabricated and the intervention was assembled over the following three days, allowing the project to exist within one week.

In all, the intervention is driven by the intent of the Digital Mentorship Collaborative as a student led and sustained research and demonstration group within the School of Architecture + Design. The group functions as a think tank for digital tools and processes, believing in working collectively to share working knowledge and ideas of the digital world with our peers and colleagues.

Writing & Photos by Bryce Beckwith