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Studying with Collaborators

Posted by Damien on November 02, 2010

I dipped into Bruce Mau’s Life Style recently. Dipping is really the best way to experience the book if you’ve not got the time to read the six hundred and twenty six pages from beginning to end. I don’t think he wants you to do this anyway.

As I dipped in, kind of looking for inspiration about how to sum up the work we’ve done over the last few years, and within a few pages I arrived at this:

To understand the studio, you must understand the way we have defined collaboration. A collaborator comes to the studio with an undefined relationship to the proposed work. They approach with an understanding that anything is possible. They arrive prepared to ignore the limits, engage content, and develop something new. They may have expectations, even quite specific ones, but within those expectations or desires, there is space for invention. We, on the other hand, enter an open space of learning. It is an enviable position. At the best of times we have been students with the world’s greatest teachers.

And the text goes on to list learning things like architecture with Frank Gehry, urbanism with Rem Koolhaas and so on. Page 223.

I like this passage. It connects with something we try to do here: truly collaborate with the client. In a fashion where we’re not so much leading as we’re facilitating, and learning on the project together. Almost every project we work on tends to spawn news ones, new directions and take different trajectories. And this comes with knowing that we don’t, at the start, know yet what we’re going to find out as we embark on a collaboration together. But we do know we’re going to learn a lot.

I was thinking about our list.

We’ve learnt a tremendous amount both from the people we’ve collaborated with but also in exploring the field with our clients.

So as a first pass, we have studied:

The future with Ashoka Changemakers.

Complex system design with Changemakers’ Discovery group.

The supply chain black hole with the Future of Fish project.

Strategic investment with the Packard Foundation.

Urban redesign with Urban Re:vision

Making it personal, with Proteus Biomedical

States of mind with Silverado winery

Storytelling with Architecture for Humanity, and Kosmix.

In my own words, when I look at the projects like this, I end up being grateful for how much you get to learn with each collaboration. Because it is inevitable that if left open, you’re going to be changed by a real collaboration.

In Bruce Mau’s words: Our collaborators have helped create a situation in which we have more at the end of our work than we had at the beginning.

I think there’s something to this in both how you see what it is you do, but also in how you see the projects and “clients” that come through the door. I know I’ll be writing more about this in the future.

In other news. People came to resurface the parking lots outside our studios. I had to wrestle with the desire to push a bright yellow Post-it note into the black tarmac that had sharpied on it: DO NOT WALK ON THIS. But then I noticed someone had… forever leaving their mark on the ground. And their shoes.

I also have to draw attention to this Kickstarter project: the Glif. Thomas and Dan presented a story of how they’d like to manufacture a mount for the iPhone 4, so it could work as a camera. They created a great short movie, were very likable, and asked for a mere 10,000 dollars from the community at large.



When I found out about it, they had a measly  6,000 dollars pledged, with a lot of time to go before the funding period ran out. Today they closed the funding goal time (they set at the outset and can’t change) with a total of 137,417 dollars pledged.

This isn’t the most extreme case of funding on the Kickstarter Platform, but it is one of the top 100. And it was fun to watch the number climb and have that nice fuzzy feeling of having contributed.

That’s it for now. More to think about on studying with collaborators.