MAS Context : Analog
Lee Bey

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Photographer and architecture critic Lee Bey presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Lee Bey is interested in studying, covering and impacting architecture, urbanism, historic preservation and the role politics play in the creation of the built environment. He is executive director of the Chicago Central Area Committee, on-air architecture contributor for Fox News Chicago, writes an architectural blog called “Lee Bey’s Chicago” for public radio station WBEZ, and is an accomplished photographer.
www.leebey.com | @LEEBEY

MAS Context : Analog
David Schalliol

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Photographer David Schalliol presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

David Schalliol is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago. He is academically and artistically interested in issues of social stratification and meaning in the social and physical worlds. In addition to his sociological and photographic activities, David plays an active role on several websites, including his work as Founder and Editor of metroblossom and Managing Editor of Gapers Block.
www.davidschalliol.com | @metroblossom

MAS Context : Analog
Jessica Rodrigue

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Photographer Jessica Rodrigue presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Jessica Rodrigue received her MFA in Photography from Columbia College Chicago. She has exhibited at the Center for Maine Contemporary Art, and the Institute for Contemporary Art / Maine College of Art among other institutions. Her work is currently on display at the Hyde Park Art Center as part as the exhibition “No Place Like Home.”
www.jessicarodrigue.net

MAS Context : Analog
John Szot

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Architect John Szot presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

John Szot is an award-winning designer working in the New York metropolitan area. He runs John Szot Studio where he focuses mainly on researching the relationship between new technology and what makes the built environment meaningful.
www.johnszot.com | @johnszot

MAS Context : Analog
Andrew Moddrell & Christopher Marcinkoski

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Architects Andrew Moddrell and Christopher Marcinkoski present at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Christopher Marcinkoski is a founding director of PORT A+U. Previously, he was a senior associate at James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) in New York City, where he led much of the office’s large-scale master planning and urban design work. Mr. Marcinkoski is currently an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
www.portarchitects.com

Andrew Moddrell is a founding director of PORT A+U. He recently represented PORT A+U in Washington D.C. as part of the advisory panel for the National Endowment for the Arts inaugural “Our Town” initiative. He is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor teaching graduate and undergraduate design studios related to contemporary issues of urbanism at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Architecture.
www.portarchitects.com

MAS Context : Analog
Sarah Dunn

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Architect Sarah Dunn presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Sarah Dunn is the co-founder of UrbanLab, an architecture and urban design firm with a reputation as a professional practice known for its innovative solutions to, and long-range strategies for, the problems of both public and private communities. Their primary interest is in forward-looking projects that speculate on a more resilient and resourceful tomorrow.
www.urbanlab.com

MAS Context : Analog
Brian Strawn & Karla Sierralta

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Architects Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta present at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Strawn.Sierralta is a young, boutique architecture and design studio based in Chicago and run by Brian Strawn and Karla Sierralta. They are deeply committed to investigating the specific qualities of each project – its natural, cultural, social and political environments. Their goal is to find fresh solutions that are simple, bold, innovative and unexpected.
www.strawnsierralta.com

MAS Context : Analog
Stewart Hicks & Allison Newmeyer

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Architects Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer present at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Design With Company is the Illinois-based consortium founded by Stewart Hicks and Allison Newmeyer in 2010. They teach at the UIUC and practice what they call “Slipstream Architecture,” which reveals latent conditions of reality through design narratives and fictions.
www.designwith.co | @designwithco

MAS Context : Analog
Jeremiah Chiu

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Jeremiah Chiu presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Jeremiah Chiu is a designer and co-founder of Plural, a Chicago-based creative studio practice. With a focus on pursuing meaningful projects, Plural explores new approaches within the design process, experimenting in a wide range of media including print, web, video, sound, interactive and installation.
www.weareplural.com | @PluralDesign

MAS Context : Analog
Karen Semone

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Karen Semone presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Karen Semone is the Director of Content Strategy at VSA Partners, an experienced, high-performing branding firm for the modern age. VSA Partners blends world class strategic, creative and digital capabilities to help businesses drive results by inventing, reinventing and building brands positioned to thrive in today’s dynamic environment. For 30 years VSA has helped some of the world’s leading businesses including IBM, Nike, Harley-Davidson, P&G, GAP, Caterpillar and GE.
www.vsapartners.com

MAS Context : Analog
Cheryl Towler Weese

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Cheryl Towler Weese presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Cheryl Towler Weese founded Studio Blue in 1993. She acts as creative director and oversees the mentoring of the design team. Cheryl’s influence on the studio’s work shows in her contextual approach as well as her intrepid demand for craft and innovation. She has served on the national board of the AIGA, the professional association for design; taught and lectured on design at universities and conferences; and juried numerous design competitions, including AIGA’s 50 Books/50 Covers competition, which she has chaired and juried four times.
www.studioblueinc.com

MAS Context : Analog
Jason Pickleman

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Jason Pickleman presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Jason Pickleman runs JNL Graphic Design. Begun in 1992, the JNL specializes in the creation of graphic objects of unique cultural significance. Catalogues, site-specific artworks, dimensional signage, advertising, brand identities and related collateral are part and parcel of our daily work flow. They seek to do highly visible projects that sculpt the visual and cultural landscape we inhabit.
www.jnldesign.com

MAS Context : Analog
Lisa Smith & Caroline Linder

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designers Lisa Smith and Caroline Linder present at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Lisa Smith and Caroline Linder are the co-founders of ODL. ODL (or the Object Design League) promotes experimental and independent object design through public exhibitions and events to bolster the city’s budding contemporary design scene. ODL operates out of the Spice Barrel District, an emerging creative industries district between Pilsen and Chinatown in Chicago, IL.
www.o-d-l.us | @o_d_l | @lisachengsmith | @carolinelinder

MAS Context : Analog
Cody Hudson

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Artist Cody Hudson presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Cody Hudson is a Chicago based artist, also known for his graphic design contributions under the name Struggle Inc. His graphic work and paintings have been exhibited throughout the US, Europe and Japan. He has produced logos, album covers, and clothing for clients such as Nike, Converse, Stussy, The Cool Kids, and A-TRAK.
www.struggleinc.com | @Struggle_Inc

MAS Context : Analog
Craighton Berman

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Craighton Berman presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Craighton Berman is a creative director, designer, illustrator & idea-shaper. Fueled by a background in industrial design, innovation consulting, and illustration, he views design as a broad tool for shaping ideas of any subject matter and at any scale. He is also a lead designer with gravitytank and teaches in the Designed Objects program at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
www.craightonberman.com | www.gravitytank.com | @craightonberman | @fueledbycoffee

MAS Context : Analog
Rick Valicenti

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

Designer Rick Valicenti presents at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, an event organized by MAS Context on Saturday, October 15th 2011 in Chicago. The one-day event included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

 

Rick Valicenti is the founder and design director of Thirst/Chicago, a communication design firm devoted to art, function and real human presence. Rick was recently awarded the 2011 National Design Award: Communication Design by The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. In 2006, Rick was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) Medal for his sustained contribution to design excellence and development of the profession. This medal is the highest honor in the graphic design profession.
www.3st.com | www.movingdesign.com | @3stDesign

MAS Context : Analog
Video and photos

 

On Saturday, October 15th, MAS Context organized MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG, a one-day event that included presentations of emerging and established designers, a temporary bookstore by Golden Age and exhibitions by Plural and David Schalliol.

The 12 hour event provided a platform for critical dialogue around design, a place to share ideas and approaches from different disciplines, and celebrated the immense talent of the design community in Chicago. The quality of the presentations, attendance across the 12 hours, and positive feedback demonstrated the need of these type of events in Chicago. We are thrilled to have been able to push to create a culture of design in Chicago and hope to continue this effort in the future.

Thank you so much to all the presenters and to all of you who attended the event. Enjoy the video and photos!

 

Video shot by Cleo Ngiam and Emily Baek. Edited by Cleo Ngiam.

 


































Photographs by Matthew Messner, Alexa Vicius and Iker Gil.

 

MAS Context, a quarterly journal created by MAS Studio, addresses issues that affect the urban context. Each issue delivers a comprehensive view of a single topic through the active participation of people from different fields and different perspectives who, together, instigate the debate.
www.mascontext.com | @MASContext

Rick Valicenti, On the Importance of Collaboration

Call to Action, Chicago, IL, 2010
© Thirst

 

Stephen Killion interviews Rick Valicenti, founder and design director of Thirst, and presenter at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG

 

With a robust portfolio of graphic works, Rick Valicenti is an icon of communication. As the founder and design director of Thirst/Chicago, he has been making a name for himself since the company’s inception in 1988. The recipient of the 2011 Communication Design Award by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, as well as the 2006 AIGA MEDAL, the highest honor in the graphic design profession, he truly needs no introduction.

 

SK: What inspires your personal practice/work?

RV: I am the principal, but really the design director, of Thirst, and in that, I’m surrounded by a great collection of designers. It’s a fertile place for good collaborative thinking. It’s not too big and doesn’t feel like we’re saying yes to a bunch of opportunities, but instead we tend to find ourselves saying yes to other designers and people involved in the design profession. Building it, making it, specifying it, designing it, mocking up an idea… whatever we can get our hands on.

In a way, gaining this client base happened by accident. It’s something that has truly developed over time. I think it was because I looked bored in most conference meetings and the only job that I was not irked by was when I was working with designers.

SK: Simply put, graphic design is about communication. How does this play a role at Thirst?

RV: We work both simultaneously for, and with, our clients. When we work for them, it is to satisfy a need or request (environmental graphics, website, brochure). This helps them communicate their viewpoints and ideologies. When we work with them, it is to both inspire the work we are doing as well as inform and catalyze the work they are doing. This is particularly true in our connections with architects where our communication presence, particularly in the realm of environmental graphics, often influences the formal decisions of the project.

SK: Could you give a specific example of working with a client/architect in this way?

RV: We’re currently working on a project with Studio Gang wherein the façade does not want to be violated by the marketing identification of retailers. The challenge in this situation is, how does a mixed-use building preserve the integrity of its architecture and at the same time satisfy the request of the retailer? “Hey I want the public to know that I am here as they drive by at thirty miles and hour!”

How do we as designers resolve this issue without plastering neon signs on the wall? To me that is a design process that’s incredibly collaborative between the graphic designers, architects and the clients.

SK: Is there a format you find best when working collaboratively?

RV: I wish I could say there was a firm methodology. We tend to follow the approach of talk, talk, talk. Then we make, make, make. Then we talk a little more, then make a little more. Finally we stop when we are done, when people say, “That is exactly right.”

Often, this is not what is expected. Think tic-tac-toe merging with leapfrog. Mad passionate sex merging with a handshake.

SK: You tend to question the tools of your trade within your work. How does this affect you as a designer, and ultimately influence the outcome of your work?

RV: I think most my work grows out of a sensibly that I have, that I am bored with graphic design. I am pissed off at most graphic designers because they have abused the public space. Most work is here today in the present, just long enough to be terrible. Design stuff that will very quickly find its place in the flea markets of the future.

If it is not terrible, it is well crafted but completely annoying and shallow. Fingers on the mirror, an illusion of depth, that ultimately is not there. That is why I am upset with design, and I bring that feistiness into a project. Most of the time I have to bridle myself to not replicate this riff over and over. I do so by challenging conventions.

It is very easy to pull an idea off the shelf, but it is more interesting to recreate the process of creating. We make an investment with our work, in the hope that the artifact will be more meaningful, more poignant. We want to be fully invested in the projects we do, otherwise it is just work.

SK: In any design profession, do you see the public as the true client? How does this affect your work?

RV: You are right, in architecture it is easy to access and understand how the public understands it spatially. As graphic designers, we need to respect the public and particularly the public space. We need to not pollute it with stuff and begin to tell a message of value. A message of value is, simply put, something that is worthy of being in the public debate.

SK: With that in mind, how do you see the Moving Design Coalition as a natural transition into developing continuously meaningful work?

RV: This idea began while fellow Thirst member John Pobojewski and I were teaching a class at Northern Illinois University, where we created a platform to present new thinking, to use design thinking/strategy as a way to reshape public opinion, to inform or direct policies. We found this a liberating way of thinking, especially while we were collaborating with students, mostly seniors and grad students. We invited them to look toward the future, the year 2019 in particular, to see how design could positively affect the future. A self-published book was created for the work and we continued this rhetoric by having one of the students in our office for that summer.

At the same time, we had just finished developing a brochure/pamphlet for Archeworks, which outlined their work. Of particular interest with this periodical was a spread exclaiming that two billions gallons of water leave Lake Michigan a day, which at first I thought was a typo. I went back and fact checked the number, and it was confirmed that we as a city indeed use, and flush away, that much water every day.

Astounded by this fact, we at Thirst, with the help of the aforementioned summer help, decided to make a curriculum for the intermediate learners, 3rd and 4th graders, inviting them to learn about the local water system, the water basin and most importantly their own water consumption. There was an interactive exercise within this program that required the students to log in their own water consumption for a three-week period. This documenting became a game among the students, where they began to compete on who could consume the least water. A workbook came out of this exercise and a grant was received that allowed us to produce the workbook and create a website and deliver the findings to the Chicago Public Library.

Most importantly, what came out of this exercise was a confirmation that our curiosity and collaboration could yield something of value.

SK: What brought you to collaborating with Archeworks?

RV: It began with us being asked to help develop their student publication and that jumped into the realm of me being a board member. From there, we made a film that presented an Archeworks’ project at the American pavilion for the Venice Biennale. The film was a direct result of a board meeting held after the Mobile Food Collective (MFC) was already accepted into the Biennale by the curators of the High Museum of Art. When they saw the project, the curators were not keen on presenting the particular object being developed, the MFC, and were more interested in the concept and the program. The letter being read to the board members was basically dismissing the entry as one of the chosen projects, and I spoke up and said that a film could be created that would show both the students and the project. I teamed with various collaborators, asking if they could share their talents and expertise, so that the film could be made.

The film is in the permanent collection of the Art Institute modern wing, and is going to be shown at this year’s Architecture Film Festival in New York and perhaps most importantly presented to the world at the 2010 Architecture Biennale.

SK: Could you describe, in a little more detail, what is produced within Moving Design?

RV: In the summer of 2010, taking the information and values developed from the first Moving Design Call to Action, we asked a select group of designers to commit their time and contribute a tuition/donation, without any credit given mind you, to come together for a 6-week period to make interventions throughout the city regarding this extreme water consumption. The outcome of the program showcased on a website, itsourwater.org, so that others can see what had developed during the various discussions and outputted projects.

The fallout of this self-fulfilling program was unlike anything we imagined. The policymakers invited to come on Tuesday evenings reconnected with Moving Design after the program ended, asking us to rethink and reshape their presentation to a variety of groups. We ended up being back in service with the people whom we were listening and responding to, but never expected to help. This was an interesting full circle.

A second call to action was created in the Summer 2011. As a result of learning about two people who were hit by cars while on their bikes, I found myself asking, where is the designer in this conversation? As a driver myself, I noticed an increasing number of bikers on the road, but realized I was unsure of the proper etiquette of how I should behave and what they are expected to do. With this in mind, I became more aware and began to notice the free-spirited bikers who were weaving in and out of traffic as if everything was a bike lane, but also just how the bike lanes themselves were one of the worst pieces of graphic design bullshit in the world, ending at every intersection. You know, what happens to the biker in a space like that, does he levitate over the intersection, magically appearing on the other side were the bike lane begins anew?

When it was time to have our second call to action, we said we had to put the graphic designer and artist at the forefront of the conversation. This time we wanted more designers, more conversation, more impact, and ended up getting 46 people with 6 facilitators (over 50 people all together) invested again in an intense 6-week conversation. Needless to say, we rocked it.

Logan Square became a destination of the work and we aligned ourselves with the Active Transportation Alliance, which was tremendously supportive of the work. The outcome of this second Moving Design collective was the Our Road program, which we are slow to finish. But we want to put together a book and a website where we can collect and showcase our energy and give the information back to the city.

We have met with the Commissioner of the transportation committee on developing separated bike lanes. Also, we spoke with a number of aldermen to say, hey, this could better your ward, and every time you have another mile, we could celebrate the separated bike lane. Basically, we did our best to promote design thinking and show how it was being underused and underappreciated in problems like these.

Most of all, I was reminded that in collaboration, your personal contribution might not always count for much, but as a whole group it becomes truly significant.

SK: You appear to begin with a very traditional understanding of your design profession, in this case graphics, and find ways of implanting that way of thinking and that way of working in mediums that are not yet calibrated nor understood as graphic mediums. You are not looking to create a clear structured system, but rather a flexible system for which projects can grow and mutate.

RV: There are things that designers are trained to bring to an argument, our tools of the trade, if you will. Flyers, postcards, zines, spokecards, passion statements and these things inform and excite the public. Many of these items were given out to the public during the Call to Actions free of charge, paraphernalia of the design investment, propaganda for our ideas and opinions.

We were giving things away and videotaping constituents. The collaboration was really more than just designers at work. Yes, we were the ones organizing and presenting the works, but it was really a citywide discussion that was being developed.

SK: An approach that I have noticed, a trend if you will, is the forward-thinking design entrepreneur. Rather than waiting for a client to come knocking on your door and say, hey would you do this for me, it is becoming more critical to develop awareness of a problem and then present a thoughtful solution. Your work, with Moving Design in particular, tends to build upon this point.

RV: Designers have waited for permission to do their work for a long time. Some educators even stress that design is the one artistic profession in which you are required to receive permission to practice. That day is over. The self-initiated designer is the one who says the campfire blaze is happening right here. If you want to get warm and out of the darkness, come on over, the fire is already started.

SK: And of course, you have also designed an arrow to point people in the right direction.

RV: A giant arrow with built-in LEDs!

SK: Earlier you spoke about collaborating with students, rather than teaching them. Talk more about that.

RV: I did not say that intentionally, but it is a way that I feel. The role of the mentor or initiator is truly collaborative. It never worked for me to be demonstrative, the dictator. I don’t tend to say this is what we are going to do and this is how we are going to do it. I am more inclined to say, this is a situation and lets see what our response is. I will give direction and guidance along the way, but never will I give a solution. So I think that is collaborative.

Students, then, are freer to come back to me and say I am not certain if this is working, what if we try this? I never want to end the conversation with people saying that they are not sure that something is working or that it does not work. Those ideas or ways of thinking stop the thought process and evolution of one’s works.

SK: So you would say that failure is acceptable?

RV: Absolutely. You can say the path is a series of closed doors and you have to open them for a solution.

SK: Is there a different approach when you are presented with various projects or project types?

RV: There really is, and there is a similarity in the form of questioning and also specific standards regarding craft and performance. That said, every project requires a certain amount of customization to the process.

And at times, I kind of wish that this was not the case. There is something nice about going to a place like McDonald’s and everything always tastes the same. And I know that the guy in Europe flipping the same uniformly-sized burger is doing the same repetitive task as the guy living in Illinois. I wish that could happen here, because we would make much more money. But that is not how we value success, because for us success is found within developing a cool process. Thirst has a personality, an attitude and an approach. The approach is open. The personality is liberated. And the attitude is frisky.

SK: And what is next, for both you and the company?

RV: I have been in practice for myself for 30 years. The future would be for the studio to take its spirit and its attitude and portfolio and find a way to elevate it to a level of greater challenge. I want to make our collaborations larger and more fertile. And turn it into a business that has life after me.

We want to push on that boundary, that edge of what is expected of us, and ultimately what we are able to produce. The first step in this process was to invite an industrial designer into the studio mix. In the first five months since her involvement, she has had a dramatic impact on how we think about design. I can only imagine that the multi-disciplinary approach of design will continue to grow. Why not have an architect, and communication about space?

SK: What do you think the next step is for American Design, and what is the role of collaboration?

RV: Collaboration at every level. The businessman, the public, designers, engineers, the inventors. Everyone has to roll up his or her sleeves and work together to trick it out. Having exhausted all our manufacturing roots, we are left with the service industry, and we are happy simply saying we do what the others don’t. But truly, we need to get back to that creative spirit and start thinking critically. We have to be in love with risk. We have to fully embrace risk. And designers need to lead the way.

 

Rick Valicenti is the founder and design director of Thirst, a communication design firm devoted to art, function and real human presence. Rick was recently awarded the 2011 National Design Award: Communication Design by The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. In 2006, Rick was awarded the American Institute of Graphic Artists (AIGA) Medal for his sustained contribution to design excellence and development of the profession. This medal is the highest honor in the graphic design profession.
www.3st.com | www.movingdesign.com | @3stDesign

Stephen Killion is an Architectural Designer and writer currently based in Chicago. A regular contributor to Architizer blog, he has also written articles for Mark Magazine and Design Bureau. With an interest in the overlap of architecture and graphic design disciplines, he acted as images researcher and contributed original images for Float! published by Frame publishers.

We Are Plural, We Experiment: A Discussion with Jeremiah Chiu

MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG
© Plural

 

Stephen Killion interviews Jeremiah Chiu, co-founder of Plural and presenter at MAS CONTEXT : ANALOG

 

Plural is a young, Chicago-based studio founded in 2008 by Jeremiah Chiu, Renata Graw and Christopher Kalis (who has since left the studio to pursue teaching). Friends and collaborators during school at University of Illinois at Chicago, Plural began as a freelance business that blossomed into a full-time design firm.

 

As their Master’s studies came to an end, Jeremiah questioned the value of heading straight into an agency setting, a somewhat expected transition. Not wanting to feel uninspired, Jeremiah instead focused on the potential of becoming an entrepreneur and starting his own design firm.

“The way I saw it, this is the point in life when I have the least amount of responsibility. I was accustomed to living like a student and not having money, so I decided to take the risk. I felt that, if I had to, I could live poor for a little longer.” Sharing his perspective with both Renata and Christopher, they quickly decided that joining forces and pursuing their own firm was next on their path.

“We spent the last few weeks of school using the amenities available (professional photolabs, printing, etc) to clean up our portfolios, create a business card and put up a website, so right when we finished school at graduation, we had a job. When professors asked us what we were going to do next, we would just hand them a business card and say send us anything you can.”

As Jeremiah describes it, the beginning was a lot of figuring out the finer details of running a business and developing as a studio. “We were taking in almost anything that we could get. I did not even think about the economic crisis when we started. In a funny way, it actually was somewhat beneficial. Without any overhead, we were not suffering in the same way as some of the bigger competitors. Because we could develop a project for less, we were able to get projects that were in some ways bigger than ourselves. Now, three years later, we are discussing more what we want to do and with whom we want to work. We are in a good place as a business; we can now talk about the work we want to do.”

This past summer, Jeremiah and Renata traveled to Europe to participate in a groundbreaking two-week workshop in Urbino, Italy. Guided by a handful of great designers, including Karel Martens, Armand Mevis, Maureen Mooren and Leonardo Sonnoli, they were a part of a program dedicated to risk-taking and exploration within the field of graphic design.

“That trip was a good learning experience, because it gave us the ability to reflect on our practice. We decided that it was important to be authentic and meaningful. We have to be able to show and communicate that this is our point of view. These are ways in which we are trying to move past simply saying I can design something that looks aesthetically nice and functions well, and be more driven by the idea of telling clients this is what is best for you and your company.”

Italy was the catalyst that pushed their ideas of their chosen profession; experimentation is their true tool of the trade. Engagement and communication, whether through a human collaboration, a handheld device or more traditional graphic forms, keep them wide-eyed. When asked about the subject, Jeremiah states, “You have to communicate, otherwise your piece ultimately fails.”

Although print and web design are understood mediums of the graphic designer, Plural tries to question both the idea of how we communicate and what vehicles are best for that interaction. “As a firm we constantly ask, ‘How do we create a good experience?’ When navigating something such as a website, questions arise from whether it is best to guide your viewer or allow them to explore the space themselves. It is the goal of the office to take something that we know, something familiar, and give it impact.”

A great example of this experience-driven design process is the firm’s business card, a solid black rectangle that’s only useful when physically handled. It is through interaction that the purpose of the business card becomes apparent — through the heat of a human hand, the thermochromatic ink fades away and reveals their contact information.

 


Plural business cards
© Plural

 

Collaboration with clients is handled in much that same mindset as material exploration. “When approached by a client, we always ask, ‘Is what you want us to create the most successful way to communicate? What are you trying to communicate?’ The only way that you can make a meaningful project is if the client shares the same thought process as the designer. We try to develop a design/project that is perfect for that client and no one else.”

Work with the Whistler and Volume Gallery, two young Chicago startups, are great examples of where this approach to design holds true. Their work with Volume Gallery revolved around developing an image for the brand that included creating the website, logo and continuing to develop catalogs for the various shows.

 



Volume Gallery
© Plural

 

At the Whistler, they created a site-specific installation that first documented all the objects within a bar and then pasted them on the bar’s storefront window. Complementary to this branding, they developed a projection of coloration that associates with the noise levels, and thus busy-ness, of the bar. This installation is accompanied by a printed publication, which acts as both an explanation and reapportion of the installation project.

 






Whistler
© Plural

 

Although the spatial considerations of graphic design are abstract, it’s something Plural hopes to continue to pursue. “Simply stated, we like to bring a certain level of interactivity to the profession of graphic design. It is a dangerous situation to have a ‘style’ and we try not to promote that with our work. Of course we have tendencies, but we never do anything with the mindset of fitting a particular formwork.”

What’s the most important thing he’s learned since starting his company? “The best advice I can give someone is practice and experiment, because if you’re not uncomfortable, you’re not learning. We’re doing what we do because we’re engaged in continuously studying and finding new ways of approaching and experiencing.”

This mindset, and willingness to not hunt an anticipated outcome, is what makes Plural’s work so exciting. A curiosity is found in both their final designs and the process of creation that keeps their work distinct.

 

Jeremiah Chiu is a designer and co-founder of Plural, a Chicago-based creative studio practice. With a focus on pursuing meaningful projects, Plural explores new approaches within the design process, experimenting in a wide range of media including print, web, video, sound, interactive and installation.
www.weareplural.com | @PluralDesign

Stephen Killion is an Architectural Designer and writer currently based in Chicago. A regular contributor to Architizer blog, he has also written articles for Mark Magazine and Design Bureau. With an interest in the overlap of architecture and graphic design disciplines, he acted as images researcher and contributed original images for Float! published by Frame publishers.

PORT A+U (Architecture + Urbanism)


I Love GLC (Great Lakes City)
© PORT A+U

 

Stephen Killion interviews Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell, founders of PORT A+U, and presenters at MAS Context : Analog

 

PORT A+U (Architecture + Urbanism) is an architectural firm and speculative research collaborative, founded by Christopher Marcinkoski and Andrew Moddrell. With a footing in both New York and Chicago, the two-man office is developing dynamic understandings of what is possible when creative theoretical thinking is used to approach very real architectural and urban issues.

Not afraid to compete on a global level, this small firm has made a name for itself by developing strong thought-provoking work. One of their best known projects, Carbon T.A.P. // Tunnel Algae Park, was the winning entry to the 2009 WPA 2.0 Whoever Rules the Sewers Rules the City Competition sponsored by cityLAB at UCLA.

I sat down with the founders at their Chicago office to speak a little more about the breath of their work, and their approach to designing large-scale architectural interventions.

 

SK: What is the approach of Port A+U?

CM: We see our work as “Hyperbolic pragmatism,” fantastic but yet rational work. This contradiction, between the practical and whimsical, we believe, is what gives the work its value.

We do urban design, but we don’t really like that phrasing. It is not really a well-defined discipline. Simply stated, we are interested in urbanism, and things related to the urban realm. Our work is focused on existing systems (infrastructural, ecological, economical, social) and looking at the potential embedded within those existing systems. We reimagine what already exists within the urban world.

SK: Where do you tend to sight your works?

CM: Architecture tends to have a gradient of public to private. Civic space, on the other hand, is almost always purely public. We find that to be the type of space where we intervene. We work with spaces where people interact and overlap, the public urban realm.

SK:Why the draw towards the urban?

CM: Our particular definition of urban does not relate to a particular population or density. We like to think of urban as any landscape or natural system that has been modified by humans. We are just as interested in the man living in an RV in the middle of the desert as we are in the city. We are able to design within a variety of landscapes and scales by thinking in this way.

AM: Human occupancy = Urban condition

 

National HEDGE
© PORT A+U

National HEDGE
© PORT A+U

 

SK: And parks, do they play a role in your designs?

CM: My experience at Field Operations has altered how I view the public realm. Public environments are the spaces that define the urban context. We are not trained as landscape architects, so a park only becomes interesting when it is tied to something else, another system, another infrastructure. It has to have demonstrated potential.

When you look at a project like the High Line in New York, it can be understood as a retrofitted abandoned infrastructure. The High Line represents failed infrastructure being reclaimed. Our practice would rather work with systems before they have failed. It is understood that urbanism is an experiment and tends to create unexpected byproducts.

AM: It is not just about developing urban efficiency. We try to make aware of the urban by-product and then we synthesize this to produce something new rather than simply fixing something.

SK: Since the scale of your projects is typically quite grand, how do you see the role of your interventions in regard to how they interact with more traditional understanding of architecture as a building?

CM: Urban areas are composed of a variety of layers, a composite if you will. Architecture is just one layer of that landscape. It is important to understand that each system and layer affects the other layers. We try to understand the potential synthesis between all these layers and how they relate to the greater idea of the project.

Large scale physical planning has lost its value in the United States. We tend to be very ad hock as a society in regard to urban planning. Our work is a physical example of how new urban ideas can exist. Architects used to think more about the urban scale. We are interested in thinking physically at the planning scale. We negotiate the planning scale but develop interventions rather than just a series of lists and bullet points.

 

Re-Cultivating the Forest City
© PORT A+U

Re-Cultivating the Forest City
© PORT A+U

Re-Cultivating the Forest City
© PORT A+U

 

SK: What is the role of research within your design process? Do you see research as something that adds weight to your design?

AM: That is exactly it! We are always trying to find a way to make the research an active part of our design. We don’t accumulate data to just have it lying around our studio. We always research to apply it within a project.

CM: The research is not a separate exercise, it is always happening parallel to the design itself. Our work tries to advocate speculation. We want to get others, architects and the general public, to think about cities and urban landscapes.

SK: What do you tend to research?

CM: We like to take a look at things that might seem totally benign in the urban context, without much foreseen potential. By studying these benign conditions, the potentials begin to become revealed. Design is not just a service but also a way of perception.

Urban design and architecture have become responsive professions. It is typical to be given a problem or a project from a client and then asked to respond to their needs. PORT A+U is interested in reverting that situation. We want our design and research to showcase an existing condition and showcase the present potentials. We promote an idea through our work rather than just responding to a client.

SK: And Architectural thought process allows you to approach the urban this manner?

CM: Process of creating a project is usually quite exciting, but the technic of how you get there, more often than not, is not. The strategy of how we develop our work is much more important than the technique or the process. It goes back to the idea of distilling a complex set of ideas into a fundamental idea or package.

The role of the architect is one of an orchestrator or director. We think about how we would showcase our work if we were going to present it to a Mayor. You have a minute to get an idea across. We want our work to be understood in that minute, so that when a longer conversation is created we can explain the finer details of the work/project.

SK: How do competitions play a part in your design and research?

AM: The competitions we partake typically don’t require a structured program. A good example of this was the WPA 2.0 competition. It was not a competition about algae and CO2. The brief of the competition simply asked the participants to “design an infrastructure”. We were able to take our interests, including our growing interest on algae, and embed them within the programmatic requirements of the competition.

CM: I think that is a really good point. A lot of young architecture offices use competitions to explore a medium and expand their work. We are very picky about which competitions we enter. The competition becomes a vehicle to test our ideas and develop that research into a physical manifestation.

 

Carbon T.A.P. // Tunnel Algae Park
© PORT A+U

Carbon T.A.P. // Tunnel Algae Park
© PORT A+U

 

SK: Since most of your work is speculative, what is the role of the image in regard of how you showcase your ideas?

AM: We take a lot of pride in how lucid our work is. We want our projects to be super clear in terms of the goals and outcome of the project. Our work should be able to be read and understood by a lot of different audiences.

CM: We tend to try to start each project with a super complex set of issues and rationally distill them down. We are always unpacking our ideas. We want people that have no relationship to the technologies or design pieces we implicate to understand the projects we create. If a project cannot be understood, even if it is the greatest idea ever, it is not a successful project.

SK: What is the global reach of your own work. Do you feel the globally-connected world as a giant urban environment?

AM: One thing that has happened is that projects have become much broader, in the sense of what/how you engage with a project. New topics have become important to the profession of architecture that were not taken into account 20 or 30 years ago. To be creditable, you have to be more aware of your broader surroundings.

CM:In a global world, you have architects that are embedded in a place. On the other hand, you have architects that parachute in (OMA,BIG, SOM etc.) and engage a problem in an educated manner. We fall into that second category and we are interested in drawing out the latent conditions of a place. These conditions are what give weight to the work.

There is a shift in the dynamic of the profession. Smaller idea firms can now have a much larger global impact. Not so long ago, only the firms with large overhead and an expansive team could work internationally. Now that so much work can be accessed much easier than before, it is easier for smaller firms to engage in that discussion.

SK: What do you see is the role of young designers in regard to navigating this ever-changing global landscape?

CM: The idea of young entrepreneurs is becoming more and more essential. Theoretically, the people who stick around during hard times within a given profession are very entrepreneurial. I don’t think architecture and design can be about just the one thing it has historically been about, building a building.

In architecture schools we learn how to physically and spatially represent an idea. We are taught to develop physical constructs from those ideas. It is important to architects to insert themselves, and their unique way to approach design problems, into the urban discussion. We don’t have visions of Miesian grandeur, in regard to being the sole designer of the world.

AM: We don’t just sit around and wait for the phone to ring. We are always out pursuing ideas and projects. We put ourselves at the periphery of the idea that architecture is just designing buildings. We try to understand and present the good that design-thinking can bring to other discussions. We purposely try to interject ourselves in conversations where architects have only been asked to respond to after the fact.

 

 

Christopher Marcinkoski is a founding director of PORT A+U. Previously, he was a senior associate at James Corner Field Operations (JCFO) in New York City, where he led much of the office’s large-scale master planning and urban design work. Mr. Marcinkoski is currently an Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture and Urban Design at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
www.portarchitects.com

Andrew Moddrell is a founding director of PORT A+U. He recently represented PORT A+U in Washington D.C. as part of the advisory panel for the National Endowment for the Arts inaugural “Our Town” initiative. He is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor teaching graduate and undergraduate design studios related to contemporary issues of urbanism at the University of Illinois-Chicago School of Architecture.
www.portarchitects.com

Stephen Killion is an Architectural Designer and writer currently based in Chicago. A regular contributor to Architizer blog, he has also written articles for Mark Magazine and Design Bureau. With an interest in the overlap of architecture and graphic design disciplines, he acted as images researcher and contributed original images for Float! published by Frame publishers.

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