Posts Tagged ‘painting

09
Apr
13

Design Wisdom: Get Grounded

The “G” element in my alphabetic mnemonic list for successfully practicing design is:

Get Grounded.

Riddle: What do electrical work and artistic painting have in common?

Answer: They both require being grounded. Granted, they have very different grounding techniques, but the point is: any work requires a prepared context, or ground, upon which to safely rest.

G-banner

Figure versus ground

Every designer is well acquainted with the formal distinction of figure versus ground. In my last article I talked about the need to establish a focal point or figurative aspect in any design project. In this context the importance of having a ground is in clearing away, making space for the figure to stand out and be appreciated.

If you want to make a statement, verbally or architecturally, you figuratively need to have the floor. If we were to take this to a deeper level, we might say you need to have the ground. One might be tempted, then, to think that it’s a bit like public speaking. A speaker’s first task is to gain the audience’s attention by becoming the focal point… in other words, by asserting control over the space and silencing any peripheral noise.

Are you making a speech?

Unfortunately, all too many designers end their conception of grounding with this clearing away or silencing. Yes, this approach can work for a small minority of projects (a public monument, for example) where you want the finished design to stand alone delivering a resonant soliloquy. But in most cases, architecture isn’t, or shouldn’t be, about giving a speech. You need to find a different type of grounding.

A better metaphor for most architecture design commissions might be constructing a conversation. In this approach, grounding is about understanding, acknowledging and reshaping your environment or context. Grounding becomes engagement with your neighbors. You can neither afford to ignore what people are saying nor simply repeat what they are saying and expect to remain welcome.

Using this analogy, it’s clear that the most valuable contribution of the designer is neither shouting down nor silencing the others in the room, but rather in shifting and elevating the ongoing discourse. The design process starts by finding common ground before you find the figure.

An example from design practice

At a corporate level, many business organizations seek to ground themselves by formulating mission statements, branding concepts and strategic plans. And yet, my experience tells me that such strategies rarely take on a tangible role in developing an architectural project.

Coming full circle back to electricians, a notable recent exception in my practice was in developing a new regional headquarters for NECA, the National Electrical Contractors Association. Working with these electrical contractors I was blessed with a client group who took their mission and constituents seriously and used them to effectively to ground their project.

Only rarely does a client’s full “wish list” find its way into a completed building. Even without “tangible” limitations – funding, for example, or the restrictions of the physical site — some degree of grounding  becomes essential if you want to shape a project into a more vital and distinctive whole.

My intake from the design meetings with the NECA Board was that they would repeatedly return to their core mission and strategic plan to balance the program and design decisions. Frequent questions included: Should a visitor’s first impression be about member services, trade mentorship or public outreach? Is a particular feature adding value for membership at the expense of the staff, or visa versa? Are we anticipating and encouraging growth or supporting a static vision?

This continual looking back to the core objectives of the organization proved to be really grounding for the project – both in the sense of stripping away the “noise” of unnecessary frills, and (to use another electrical term) ensuring connectivity between the organizational purpose and the resulting facilities.

Any successful design requires a prepared ground – the creation of which entails both clearing away and rooting to the established fabric of the surrounding environment.

Remember, Get Grounded 

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter G, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Grape and Green, and a photo of a Grounded plug.

10
Mar
09

“Nothing to Fear” Facade

Recently we were commissioned to do a design-build facade installation for Peter G.-Ray’s 2009 ‘Nothing to Fear’ painting exhibition at the Bridge Gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Two years earlier we debuted his work in the U.S. at AxD Gallery with a solo show entitled ‘CUT’. For that exhibition we built rolled aluminum panels on the exterior of our gallery, creating the appearance of their being cut and peeled away.

bridgeblog4

Views of finished window at Bridge Gallery, and the painting "Cut" by Peter G.-Ray, displaying similarly hand-rolled aluminum panels.

The designs for both gallery fronts flowed as fairly direct extensions of the artist’s interests in concealing, cutting, peeling and revealing. In his work, openings, whether rendered physically in cut materials or graphically with painted surfaces, are invitations for engagement. Simply put, Peter’s work invites curiosity. As art critic Ken Moffett has noted: “G.-Ray has combined the hallucinatory surrealism of Dali with the vigor and freedom of Jackson Pollock, metamorphosing these into something startlingly new. He hungers to unite extremes: Precision and free improvisation, the intensely graphic and beautifully painted, exquisite refinement of detail and pictorial force.” All in all, there is plenty in Peter G.-Ray’s work to sustain interest and wonder.

Our design-build exercises to date have all been conducted as “charrettes” of a week or less. In the case of the Bridge Gallery façade installation we had the added constraint of performing all of the work in a single day, including round trip transportation from Philadelphia, with materials and equipment fitting inside a mid-sized sedan.

Fortunately working conditions were absolutely perfect. The weather was very mild for late February. The trickiest part of the project was securing our work to the Bridge Gallery without permanently altering the existing marble façade. We accomplished this by working the head and a jamb of our frame into existing security gate hardware and bolting the base into the concrete sidewalk. Interest in our installation piece increased dramatically as the first aluminum panels were screwed onto the frame. (See “before” and installation photos below.)

bridge_installation3

Neighboring shop owners, tourists and random passersby stopped to ask us what was going on. We handed out quite a few postcards for Nothing to Fear during that Spring-like afternoon. As we finished up at dusk, Peter G.-Ray was quite pleased with results … the debut for both of us in NYC. Two days later, it snowed at the March 1st opening reception!

http://www.bridgegalleryny.com

04
Dec
08

Diversity in Practice

One of the touchstones at Always by Design (AxD) has been seeking diversity as a means of nurturing inquiry and growth, both personally and professionally. This flies in the face of “standard practice” which encourages market focus and specialization. Indeed, as we’re discovering, diversity certainly isn’t an easy concept to “brand”. Maybe it’s just luck, but on the architectural practice side, our practice has achieved a diversity of clients and project types beyond anything we had anticipated. In this past year alone we have worked on restaurants, a library, an auditorium, government offices, a church, a boutique salon, industrial infrastructure, and several residences.

While, on the art gallery side of AxD, the ability to select artists and artwork is wholly within our control, it’s still gratifying to look back and see the range of artists represented and artwork we’ve shown thus far. Media has included various forms of drawing, printmaking, painting, photography, collage, and sculpture. Subject matter has encompassed non-representational imagery, abstractions, landscapes, portraiture, details of nature, sci-fi and fantasy imagery, and gay erotica.

A selection of art exhibited at AxD

A selection of art exhibited at AxD

We’re confident that the lineup of artists we’ve scheduled for 2009 will continue our commitment to artistic diversity. Similarly, with our architectural practice on the verge of signing an agreement with a major hotelier, we’re looking to welcoming in the new year further diversifying our clientele as well.

Ed Barnhart, AIA




Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 31 other followers

Contact AxD