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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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

FLOYD ANTIS

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

THE HILLBILLY BUS

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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

SCOPE

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

 

WHAT DREW YOU TO START SCOPE AND WHAT ROLE DID YOUR WORK IN DESIGN PLAY INTO IT?

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?

WHAT ARE SOME CHALLENGES YOU FACE

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. 

YOUR TALKS ARE STARTING TO GAIN TRACTION. DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING A GOOD JOB OF REACHING YOUR AUDIENCE SO FAR?

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.

WHAT ARE SOME OTHER TOPICS THAT YOU WANT TO ADDRESS WITH YOUR TALKS? WHAT OTHER TOPICS DO YOU WANT THE DESIGN COMMUNITY HERE TO DISCUSS MORE?

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.

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HOW DO YOU GUYS WANT SCOPE TO GROW? YOU GUYS ARE PRETTY NEW, SO WHAT'S YOUR VISION?

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. 

WHAT IS CRITICAL ABOUT SCOPE FOR YOU?

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

DESCRIBE YOUR WORKFLOW

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.

WHAT IS THE WEIRDEST THING YOU HAVE?

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

WHY DO YOU ORGANIZE YOUR WORKSPACE THE WAY IT'S ORGANIZED NOW?

I just dump stuff everywhere.

WHAT ARE THE THREE MUST-HAVE ITEMS FOR YOUR WORKSPACE?

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.

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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.

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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

/ˈtiː.skwer/

noun

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

/fuːd/

noun

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

/ˈskeCHˌbo͝ok/

noun

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

/ˈpen/

noun

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

/ˈkæf.iːn/

noun

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

/ˈswet̬.ɚ/

noun

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

/ˈkə-tiŋ.mæt/

noun

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.”

IMG_1584.jpg

 

8.         Drafting Board

/ˈdræf.tɪŋ.bɔːrd/

noun

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

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

 

9.         Books

/bʊk/

noun

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

/plænt/

noun

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. 

THE-BAND-CONCORD.COM

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

_DSC6170.png

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

_DSC6167.png

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

_DSC6159.png

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

_DSC6184.png

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

 

Form: Line, Plane, Solid exhibition

Interview with Mitzi Vernon

Why did you do the form exhibition?


I think students learn quite a bit in the foundation year, and I think there’s something very specific that they ought to have before they start to do very technical things. It kind of emerged three years ago, and I was interested because I wanted that to be true for industrial design the way it’s true in architecture. 

 

Why did you make the displays rather than purchase them? 

We were open to purchasing an extruded aluminum system, and it did come up when we were having a really hard time figuring out who was going to make these. But we realized that we loved this thing we had designed so much that we didn’t want to give it up for something off the shelf. When you can design a system with a joint that can work with everything, that’s the very best of industrial design. It’s like architecture. You don’t put a thousand different conditions in a good piece of architecture, you have a system that you build on. I wanted them to understand from the beginning what it meant to design something that you have control over so that you can have a system that’s not thoughtless. There are seven different flavors of the joint, which is the heart of the project. I call it tinker toy for travel, because we needed it to break down to be shipped around the world. The guys in the metal shop felt that they could CNC mill them, and they worked overtime to make these happen when we needed them. Our fabrication team of students cut, degreased, deburred, filed, and then brushed every surface on over 1100 pieces. It became an intense commitment to architecture, really. It’s architecture. I think we all felt crazy, none of us had slept for about two weeks before the opening happened.


What message are you trying to convey to the public?


For academics and students- the intellectual importance of the stuff we buy and use. For the general lay public- that product design is not skin-deep. I think the timing is good because people now can understand the beauty of an Apple product, and that wasn’t true so much twenty years ago. But I think now people have a different level of appreciation for the thing that they hold all the time. So part of it is showing people that there is a level of thought beneath the production of things they buy. There’s a deep, layered foundation in order for students to do this professionally, like in architecture. To me, this should go other places,
other people should see this. We’re currently talking about sending it to Japan, we also have a venue in Sweden that’s interested in it. We’re going to San Francisco to display at the AutoDesk headquarters as well. We wanted to share it with other academic places where students could participate in this exchange and show what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and that it’s important.

Interview with Amanda Phung

What was the process of the exhibition?


Well, Mitzi had asked us in the end of fall semester if there was any interest in helping the team. I thought there were going to be more people joining the exhibition team from my class, but I ended up being the only one and that caught me off guard a little bit. I just remember seeing the third and fourth years sitting around the white table, and at that point they were picking which pieces would go into the exhibit. It was really interesting to me to watch them identify the pieces that showed the qualities we wanted the most. At that point it was the only thing I had really seen, and it caught my interest. One of the third years who told me his platter went to Europe two years ago. And I thought “that’s really cool, that you can say your work has been displayed internationally.” I didn’t know at the time if we were going to be traveling, but I just kind of assumed we would, and I was really excited to be a part of something that big.


How is it working with the upperclassmen?


I love it so much! I love my studio and I definitely feel like ID is a lot tighter than architecture and other disciplines. I’ve gotten to know them and most are really friendly. Initially I watched people work and asked a lot of questions. I would say definitely that they’re like another part of my family now, like my studio and then their studio. We had a conference this past weekend, where a good amount of people went down to Savannah, so I would say that we’ve definitely bonded a lot. I’ve learned so much from them experience-wise, like what to expect next year, photography skills and light organization. It was quite worthwhile.

 

Interview with Matthew Cox

What was the biggest lesson you learned throughout this entire process?


I think craft is one of the big things that I feel like a lot of people missed out on, and I really had the opportunity to learn more about. For your work to be in an exhibit it’s got to be top-notch, and that just shows you that craft is extremely important. If the idea’s there but it’s not well-crafted, you don’t want it in the exhibit. I put a piece in there and I’m not happy with its craft, and every time I walk by it, I don’t like looking at it because I know that I could do better. And once I get that thing back I’m going to redo it. So I think craft is one of the things I definitely took into consideration and learned a lot about.


Was there a specific project or a form of yours that was a success?


I loved all of mine. But I feel like my most successful, not in the sense that it’s finished, but in the sense that it’s well-designed and well thought through, was a platter that’s up there right now. It’s really great because I got to learn all about the process. I made it by hand instead of CNC-ing it, and the process was something unbelievable, I can’t even begin to explain to you how intricate it is. It involves about ten machines, just going back and forth between machines and adding false pieces to turn it on the lathe and then taking off false pieces. But I don’t know, I know that it’s not done and I want to finish it a little bit more, there are some curves that I want to fix, but every time I look at it I know it’s one of my most successful pieces because I went through so many different iterations and so many specificities of how it’s made. Process-wise, it was really awesome.

The exhibition is comprised of over 200 forms from over 100 Industrial Design students.

Interviews conducted by Austin Ledzian, Kevin Garcia, and Luisa Lacsamana  

Photos by Matthew Cox and Austin Ledzian

Stories from V1: PlayLab Interview

Boundary. Simply the conception of something that separates one thing from another must be entirely foreign to Archie and Jeff, the  proprietors of PlayLab. As if somehow the two avoided learning the confining lesson which boundaries instill in us. Archie and Jeff, graduates of Virginia Tech with degrees in graphic design and architecture respectively, met in Cowgill and have since been collaborating under the name PlayLab. Since then, they have been doing just about anything that interests them.


The partnership between Archie and Jeff was set into motion at Bollo’s coffee shop; the name PlayLab was conceived in the cafe. With napkins as their medium, the duo produced sequences of sketches–continuing until they made the other laugh, or cry. Even today they develop ideas through similarly humorous methods, a great example being the Marc Jacobs collaborative (see next page). Upon graduating from Virginia Tech, PlayLab produced some records and album art in 2008 before moving to Greensboro, Alabama to Launch PieLab. With the hope to reinvigorate the small town, people were brought together at one table. PieLab was a critical catalyst informing PlayLab how to move their design firm forward.


“We went door to door asking people to come have pie for $2 a slice, and eventually people came, and the pastor brought his guitar in and people started sharing local stories. And then we got a grant to buy a building on main street. It was the first building to open in the town in ten years. At the same time it was rated the #1 pie in America by the magazines my mom reads, but it was never really about pie, it was about people. And then we came back to New York and we were like, we need to do shit like that again and again. It wasn’t about making a ton of money, it was about doing a good project and making it sustainable. That was the thing: make something and give it to people.”

 

Design, in it’s attempt to be significant and esteemed is often inclined to neglect the people and communities for which it is intended. Archie and Jeff learned through their work on PieLab that design is never about an individual, it’s about people. They applied this principle to their design work in New York, where they established the PlayLab firm to output their ideas. Just a few of PlayLab’s present ventures include an architecture journal, a small clothing line, and a water-filtering pool to float in the rivers of the Hudson River.


Over coffee, we had the pleasure of talking to Archie about what allows PlayLab to operate effectively in so many contrasting domains. “Stay interested in things, be critical but not too critical, and make things you want to make. Realize you have all the power in the world to make them.” You can feel the sort of youthful exuberance that floats from his words when discussing how PlayLab grew from two students with a propensity for design into a studio in New York that collaborates with the likes of Marc Jacobs and Google. This palpable enthusiasm is derived from the absence of boundaries, as the excitement is not limited by one’s preconceived notions. When starting a project they are not hindered by what one thinks the idea should become, achieved by constantly reconsidering assumption, which is undoubtedly one of PlayLab’s strongest assets.


Archie and Jeff realized while studying at Virginia Tech that their work was more than a task to complete, and that individuals couldn’t thrive functioning as islands in the sea of design. “You’re drinking coffee and listening to music and sharing things with people and joking around and being assholes. You’re not working 100% of the time and you do that because in those moments, some really nice things happen, but you might only be working 15% of the time.” The bond between Archie and Jeff, one fostered within the walls of Cowgill Hall, remains a constant in their lives. This connection is why their work remains unmistakably strong regardless of the current PlayLab directive. “Most days start off just meeting with Jeff to talk. ‘What happened last night? What did you see?’ We just try to share what’s happening and get right into it, looking for something stimulating.”


In emphasizing the partnership, I certainly don’t want to discount the aptitude for design that Archie and Jeff possess. Talking with Archie I think he tends to do this himself, only out of modesty. But it really is the youthful spirit in their collaboration that makes PlayLab unique and has started to attract a high echelon of clients that provide them with the resources to do their most inspiring work.


At present they’re working on PlayLab’s most ambitious project to date, the +POOL. The walls of the pool will actively filter water from the Hudson River into the pool itself, offering the opportunity to swim in a river that would otherwise remain too polluted. The shape of the pool itself will introduce a high surface area of filtration material into the river that would not be possible with a different shape. The +POOL has established itself as an optimistic beacon for a cleaner, healthier river and it’s a beautiful display of an initiative in new technology.


A top class of engineers, such as those from ARUP and IDEO, are working on the pool’s filters and a test called FloatLab is currently underway. “We raised money this summer to test the filtration system that we designed to float in the river for six months and to test every 15 minutes. The filters are looking good so far. They seem to be working, but we’ll see at the end of the six months.” Additionally, a long list of high-profile corporations have offered capital and publicity for the +POOL, now a nonprofit initiative. There’s an ecosystem surrounding each PlayLab project.


“Because of the publicity from +POOL our phone rings a lot more, but we just keep it chill. We still just do the work we want to do. Now we just have a lot more freedom because of all of that. Right now we’re talking to Marc Jacobs. They asked us if we had ideas for this one specific thing and we gave them something they didn’t really think they were going to get. And they said yes, let’s do that. And we were like, exactly.”
 

Interview conducted by Luisa Lacsamana, Austin Ledzian, Kevin Garcia, and Stephen Good

Words by Stephen Good

Photos by PlayLab and Luisa Lacsamana
 

Member Spotlight - Erin Kuschner

What is your position at Studio Collective?

Layout Designer and Editor.

What is your year? 

Third.

What is your major? 

Architecture.

Why do you heart Studio Collective? 

I get to work with so many inspirational peeps. My fellow SC members, the folks we interview, and our supporting faculty are all incredible designers and human beings. I'm lucky to get to be a part of such an outstanding crowd.

What does design mean to you? 

Design is an opportunity to make an impact on this world. Design comes with a moral obligation to create things that make our lives better. If I can grow up to design a house that makes someone’s life a little more beautiful, I’ll be so happy. If I can design an office that makes a person’s work exciting and enjoyable, wow. I’ve seen design that demands respect and inspires change and it starts every day at someone’s desk. That’s pretty exciting.

Who is your inspiration when it comes to creativity and design?

I’m inspired by the people who teach me. Maybe this means I want to be a teacher, I dunno. My studio professor Clive can talk for hours and not say anything that I disagree with. Some of the teachers I have are so good that I walk out of their class every time with the full intention of becoming and Architectural Historian or an Acoustics expert or a Screen Printer, depending on the subject. Not only is what they know awesome but they make it so exciting to learn.

If you could transform into any animal at will, what would it be and why? I would be a dog. I could hang out with my dog as dogs. Wow. I wouldn’t want to be a small dog-- probably a very large and furry one. People love big furry dogs so I could definitely eat for free and play games and go on walks. When I wasn’t busy being fun and adorable I would be sleeping because dog life seems to be exhausting. Yeah.

If you could be any character in a fictional world, who would it be and why? 

It’s funny that you asked me this question because I think about it all the time. As of right now, I would be a Leaf Village ninja in Naruto. I would love to devote my time to helping villagers and defeating evil ninja. Conversely, I would be hype about being a Sand Village ninja and being evil with crazy cool abilities.

What do you aspire to accomplish after college, and how do you think Studio Collective helped you prepare for it?

 I’m not sure what I want to do exactly. I want to live somewhere fun and I would really love to be happy. I might want to go to grad school. I don’t know if Studio Collective is preparing me for any of this but it’s a great way to meet people who I will probably know for the rest of my life. :)

Unlikely Ensembles

Unlikely Ensembles was a collaborative project put together by students from School of Architecture + Design and the School of Performing Arts. We did quick interviews with students involved in the event, ranging from an architecture student involved in Design-build experiment, a performer, and a passerby.

Ken (Design-build participant)

“We usually don’t do studio projects as a team, so it was very interesting to investigate that dynamic throughout the week. Unlike a typical studio project, it was quite an experience to understand the atmospheric and spatial quality while permitting grant, fabrication, and time. Making an agreement as a group was the most difficult part of this project. It’s discouraging when your idea gets thrown under the bus, but everyone contributed to the final product by the end of the day.”

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Michael

“I think this is such a wonderful idea. As a performer, I can tell you that performing on street with people passing by is definitely different than performing in a set environment. I particularly enjoyed performing on the drill field today in this piece of architecture due to its dual quality. Its closed feature gives you a sense that you’re performing in an intimate space, but you get the sense that your performance is heard throughout the drill field due to its open quality.”

Alex

“I was very confused at first. The first thing that I have noticed from a distance was the panel. I thought they were solar panels from far away but I knew that they weren’t since they were made out of wood. However, I saw the pattern on the panels and I thought they would make noise depending on the wind. I’m not a design major but I thought it was cool how the panels were aligned with the direction of the sun.”

 

Interview and photos by Sue Jung