suckerPUNCH will be posting interviews in a new section – in the ring
the fifth of five interviews will also be featured in the current publication of tarp: coding parameters. tarp is the architecture manual published by PRATT.
image: Shizuku by SOFTlab
images clockwise from top left: CHROMAesthesiae, Blue Marlin 2, pAlice, OVERLAP all by SOFTlab
sP: can you tell us about how you started SOFTlab?
mike SZIVOS: Starting the practice is a crazy story. I would say for us it was different in the sense that we weren’t looking to start a practice. I was freelancing, Jose was working for Ed Keller and one of the artists that I was working with on a freelance job wanted me to work on a full time project but he couldn’t pay me. He asked me how he could help and I told him I was doing a lot of freelancing and wanted to start a studio so he helped us start the studio. We worked a lot for artists on video and sculpture work but at the same time we always pursued what we wanted to do in the studio with our extra time. We didn’t know what would happen. In the beginning we thought we’d do video production but because the space ended up growing when our partner expanded his space and bought a 3d printer and CNC mill we were able to build things. Fortunately it started becoming a design studio and since we had to make money to survive we learned to do a lot of other things like the web work. For us it is difficult to do all those different things technically but more interesting. I would say the way we do web work is defined by the fact that we are architects which I think is good because otherwise it would be more traditional graphic based web design.
jose GONZALEZ: I would say the whole thing was haphazard in a way. Mike and I worked together in school and after we graduated I started freelancing. Mike called me and said there was an artist who wanted to help him start a studio and if I wanted to give it a shot.
mS: So we started a studio right out of school, but we didn’t know what we were doing and now our friends ask us for advice on how to start a business and all we can tell them what not to do. I was in our former partner’s apartment and he said that day he wanted me to come back to him tomorrow with a partner which was a ridiculous decision to make but I said sure and so I told him I had a friend in mind and I would get back to him tomorrow. It was definitely a roller coaster in certain ways but I am happy how the studio turned out but if it was any easier or different it wouldn’t be the same as it is now. It was an unplanned pregnancy.
jG: …with the pains of pregnancy.
mS: Which made us stronger in certain ways, we don’t get shocked so easily. I think with a lot of the clients we have that are crazy, we keep our calm which is good in terms of business. And it’s only because we’ve dealt with the some of the worst possible circumstances. With that said it was good to be around artists and a different environment.
sP: It seems that by starting your practice through freelancing, you were able to gain different types of experience and work in a range of mediums at various scales. How do you see this experience influencing your current work?
mS: Every project starts with an idea and that is because everyone in the studio is good at a different thing, but we do not want any project to be contaminated by those other things. If it is a web project it shouldn’t be thought of strictly as a website, but on the other hand, it shouldn’t look like a milled piece of foam. The goal when we meet is to not see anything that has to do with the project itself but instead we look at images and text that say what the attitude of the project is going to be. We want to take advantage of the fact that a project can be reinvented from the beginning. Obviously there are clients that we know what they want and we aren’t going to experiment with them but we try to recognize the ones that have this potential. It is not that we know how to do all these things but we are exposed to them so we want to bring those things together. In the studio we’re trying to develop a holistic approach, so if it is a retail space we would like to position ourselves to do their web site and whatever else they need. The most exciting situations are when someone comes to us with an open idea and we respond with a more strategic exercise.
jG: That can go through multiple media: web, print, built…
mS: For instance the other day an engineer came into our office and he doesn’t have any money so we asked if the best thing he needs is a website. If we have a lot of money we can do anything you want but for the amount of money you have it might be better to do something else. So we suggest those things. I think that the goal is for the studio to be very horizontal and blurry. It makes the work better for us to politely question and investigate the initial intentions of our clients.
jG: I would say a lot of the self generated projects start as an experiment to solve a specific problem or test a specific idea. They might start in 3d, Autodesk Maya, or scripting to solve a specific tedious task or to create a specific effect the logic gets translated into something else. The logic is always the same so things go in both directions. They might materialize on the web instead of in built work or vice versa.
mS: The ideas generated float around in the studio, for instance you could say a vein of the work is circle packing and I wouldn’t seek at this point to make it any more complicated because I think it is generating interesting work. I would say trying to come up with an idea at the beginning is a moment of us pushing against the project being predetermined by tools sitting in the studio. I don’t want anything to be predetermined by anything lying around, such as a script we have developed. In the end you use those things because they are a sort of built equity and they make things easier, but we fight that in the beginning of a project.
sP: How do you see the roles of ambition and technique in your work? Do you start with an intent regarding a specific styling or is the script or process the driving force behind a project?
mS: The studio definitely has a certain style, but we would like it to be more linked to a way of working rather than aesthetics. And we still push back against that level of style. At this stage we would rather be less defined.
jG : I think that is also related to the broad spectrum of work we do. I would say there is no specifically defined style because there are so many different things we are doing in many different areas/mediums. Some things don’t translate into every one of them. The style is more of a way of working as Mike said.
mS: The range of work is not just what we like. It has turned out in a weird way to be interesting. It is extremely pragmatic in order to make money. There are a lot of things we do that are uninteresting which is something we try to get across to people working in the studio especially with web work, flash work, and interactive work. There is something new you learn through any exercise and it can be re-purposed in a different way . If you are building something for someone, pure production, you can learn something from that. In the studio what we try to do is keep a couple interesting things going because we know there are a lot of boring things and we try to get the younger people in the studio highly involved in those interesting projects. I want to do more interesting things but at the end of the day I know this work is paying the bills. So it’s a balance. I think its working.
sP: What do you see as the line between your client work and your research work? How do they influence one another?
jG: We always try to find the opportunity in every project. Whether it is a production project or a brand new design, as a spec project or with a client. We always try to find the opportunity for something interesting whether technical or to test new ideas.
mS: We are always overly optimistic. When someone comes into the studio and you know its going to be a boring project, we always think “this could be interesting”, but we are getting better at knowing when we should just given, get it done, and push it out the door. There are technical issues in figuring out how to do a wide range of work. If you’re just doing architecture you figure out how to manage a project or build that project. For me personally something I didn’t think about in the beginning is how to design the business. Our approach is more like: we work with a lot of crazy people and we ask our friends how it is done, but we also know that may not be the best way. We make a lot of mistakes but we are trying to figure out a way to manage all those things in our own way that works so we can recombine all of the types of work we do. It’s not just figuring out how to technically do it, but how to design in these different mediums and ways of working. We never worked for a web design company so the whole logistic side is something we are figuring out. I actually think we are better off finding a way that works for us by starting from scratch.
sP: How do you make the jump from the limitless space of the web to the tight constraints of your installation work? For example, how do your circle packing experiments on the web influence your recent cardboard tube installation?
mS: Some of it crosses over and when it does, it is great because it usually produces new and exciting results. You prove that ideas you had here work in another environment. What is great about the web is you can experiment without materials. It is basically your time and it is the equivalent of doing a rendering or a drawing but it is performative. You can test things and how people react to them very quickly. You don’t have to buy real estate and wait 5 years to make a website. With that said you say the web is limitless but I have all of the browser sizes memorized now. There is a limited amount of real estate on the screen at a given time. It is super plastic, in certain ways you can do anything which is super exciting. Even more than modeling. With modeling you are making things but when you are on the web, not that it is generative, but you are discovering a different way of organizing things. It is a lot faster than modeling. It is 2d and you can test those concepts very quickly because you aren’t worrying about a 3rd dimension.
jG: There is the immediacy of the feedback. You can do it quickly. Once you run it, it is right there. You test the performance of the project right away. With the built work the time scale is of course different. Architectural time is glacial time. A project takes months or years where these projects are expedited quicker, and this is of course related to the economics.
mS: There is no huge team. Even with the interior work we have done there is no contractor, which is bad in a lot of ways for us but there are less politics. With a website the client is mostly concerned with how it looks. At the end of the day a lot of the work we do that is a finished product we don’t have to spend money to do it.
sP: How do you mediate between the hi-fi scripting work and the lo-fi instillation work done in the studio?
mS: There is an effort always in the studio whenever we make something to make it not look like a rendering, plastic and white. The choice in materials is economical and also a way to embrace the fact that it is a different medium. We aren’t looking to replicate a rendering. While work with artists it was a little aggravating to make something in a super interesting way and they just care about the final external geometry. Everything gets coated in fiberglass and a faux finish. That is very forgiving, but also boring. The detailing of things, not necessarily the tectonics, becomes very beautiful when we feel like we are engineering it. The patterning of clips becomes a level of complexity in the project but it is circumstantial. We would want to make that clip exactly what it needs to be. The Ferrari F1 looks like it makes sense because it is hyper engineered, we feel this type of beauty comes from such a precise intentionality that you can’t even pin point the individual effects, and yet you say it is beautiful. That is the goal.
sP: There is a current shift away from wanting built to look like rendering and going beyond rendering with materials and effects. Is this something you are interested in exploring in your work?
jG: I think there is finally an understanding now that the rendering is not reality but it is just an effect. With the built work, the goal is achieving that effect.
mS: In the studio when we sit down everyone has ideas and there needs to be criteria. We need to quickly test ideas. The rendering is one form of testing and given a short timeframe that may the best way, but it is just one way to test it. You don’t know if it works until you build a prototype. Since we work digitally a lot it is fun when we get to build something. We use it as an exploratory exercise rather than just hiring someone to copy the shape you have in the computer. There is a chance in making it and testing it at full scale that the design can still happen instead of stopping at the computer.
mS: It isn’t something I’ve thought about before the studio really. I wanted to do big buildings, but now I don’t want to go past interior work. You control the level of detail and you have more control over the process. As a young studio this something that makes me happy. You know in school now kids produce projects just like professional projects. We’ve done projects that are interesting but they didn’t happen or we didn’t complete them so they are not on the website or in the portfolio because we are lucky enough to have that time scale so everything in the portfolio has been made or is a completed product. That’s a good feeling. It is a different scale. Everyone wants to get as many projects completed as possible. Especially for clients, it says you have gone past the rendering and design and finished something which says a lot for a young studio. There are a lot of talented people but everyone asks can these guys make something?
jG: That is important, it’s is not just speculative. We are interested in actually putting the projects out there.
mS: We are interested in testing it. We want to let it be elusive to become something bigger. We are not afraid to say something has failed. To a certain degree that is the first step to get to the next thing. I am interested in new work but I am not interested in sci-fi. I am interested in the cusp of unachievability. Proposing something that is so crazy already makes the project a failure, it is never going to happen. It will influence students which is great. I don’t know but I think most of the work we have done is interesting. Does it match up to the craziest work I’ve seen? No, but we are happy to have tested things by making it. We can say we have learned through trying to build things. There is equity in that. The goal is to do something interesting, but to also be conscious of proposing something crazy. I guess it is a matter of what arena you are in. We do a lot of crazy digital and graphic work, but we would never propose it as architecture.
sP: You both graduated from Columbia’s GSAPP. Do you see a shift from the work that was going on there when you were students to what is coming out of there now?
jG: I would say that the shift is going past the computer space of the 90s is the goal. We all decided, consciously or not, to start testing these things outside of the computer. After Tschumi’s paperless studios it was time to bring it back to paper in some way. I don’t know if it is a reactionary thing or the evolution of the work. For me, it’s just not interesting anymore to see a rendering.
mS: Our studio is product oriented.
jG: You have to produce.
mS: A lot of our work is not built.
jG: It is just built in different media.
mS: We do web or video work which doesn’t pertain to fabrication, but it is product oriented. The video can’t be a 5 second clip, it has to have titles. The good and bad with the digital fabrication equipment is that once again it is another machine. When we were accidently introduced to CNC equipment it was amazing because we saw it as another thing to augment the work, but I think more often than not it is thought of as something that makes work easier. It dictates some work out there in a certain way because there is more thought about the machine and how it operates rather than the project. Everyone needs to realize as soon as possible that it is just a tool. When you introduce a band saw into a shop you don’t take away all the other tools in the shop. The reality is that if the machine isn’t there you can just sand out the shape for two days. I think it is great that people in schools have access to that equipment but it is expensive equipment that on a day to day basis a regular person wouldn’t use it. It is a highly specific piece of equipment. There is a romanticism around it that it solves all problems. It does solve some problems. When we first milled something in Hoboken, we milled a piece of foam and realized it was just a piece of foam and was useless. For us, being in New Jersey around artists we were in a vacuum unlike being around our friends who would say you can’t do that or you need to do this or you need to do it out of wood and hardcoat it. There was a lot of that going on where no one knew what they were doing. We were in a vacuum, so we were forced to make mistakes and gained an understanding of the machine. We didn’t fetishize it because if we did we would have never moved away from the machine. We could’ve easily stayed, we weren’t hugging the machine. It was great then and it would be great to have access to a shop of our own, but we have enough of an understanding that we can do the work through other shops. We can give it to someone else to do. The client can pay for it instead of us doing it for free.
sP: Do you think about the fabrication of the finished product while you are designing?
mS: As soon as the idea happens, then the tests start happening and how we are going to fabricate it influences the design. Pragmatism is extremely important for us because we do smaller projects with small budget sand tight time constraints. We try to produce dry things with no paint, no sheetrock, with parts that we can just put together on site. Another thing we try to do with web and interior work is ask if it can do more. When we do things that snap together we ask if it can be easy to rearrange. It is sustainable in a certain way, because you don’t need to have as many things. We always want to do more with less.
jG: It is always performative in that sense.
mS: A lot of the web work is squares and circles, there isn’t a heavy graphic style. We try to take something simple and do something more with it.
sP: How do you see interactivity and performance customization underlying ideas in your work? How do these ideas translate from a table to a wall to a website?
mS: If you are working in flash developing a square that can become a photo gallery when you click on it and then you move back to designing a table which is also a square, you are forced to question if there are any similarities. The goal is for the movement between the web and built work to be very blurry. The web work we do is extremely influenced by architecture. We think about a website in an extremely modular way. Working in another environment, you learn things, you prove that ideas you had in one medium work in another environment. What is great about the web is that you can experiment without materials. It is the equivalent of doing a rendering or a drawing, but it is responsive and interactive. At the same time moving from the web to fabrication there is a chance to test it at full scale and advance larger design ideas. The choice in materials is a way to embrace the fact that it is a different medium. Since we do work digitally it is important when we get to build something.
sP: What do you see as the difference between the resonance of built work versus a rendering?
mS: This one thing that is frustrating for me, the fact that students are so ready to stop at a rendering and not make and test things. Of course, you will never build a full scale building in school, but you can make physical tests. Renderings are just one way to look at a project, but I don’t think you can test the results just through renderings, but that happens more often than not. That is unfortunate. I miss a thirst to test your ideas. Recently teaching technical classes, I see that there is a lot of talk about drawing theory but a drawing holds the same position as a rendering to me. I definitely like nice drawings and we try to produce nice drawings in our studio but you won’t see them on our website so much. The drawing isn’t a product, the project is, but unfortunately that is getting reinforced as a push back to renderings. In some cases drawings have been positioned as a sacred thing because of skepticism towards renderings. There is no theory course on renderings, yet I guess.
jG: We have the idea that none of this stuff is actually precious, be it a rendering or a drawing. All of this stuff is disposable because it is digitally produced and you could vary it and make a trillion copies of it. That is a shift from drawing where the drawing was ‘the drawing.’ There is an evolution that the drawing is now just something that helps get you to somewhere else.
MS: In the studio, there is one thing at stake: the project. Our main concern is, what do we need to do to get the project done. We like to show screen captures and photographs. Of course a photograph can be taken in a way to make things look better, but we want people to see it so it is available to for critique or discussion, rather than making it look slicker. We are proud of the work, but we are also interested to hear criticism. Everyone is trying to promote their studio and obviously how you represent yourself is important. I see a lot of that going on and I think it is unhealthy. We have no reason to make our work look like something it is not. When we produce images, those images are up for grabs, as far as how people want to talk about them. And that is important to us.
sP: Did your recent project, pAlice shift the current thinking in your office?
mS: It shifted the office mentality a lot and we are still trying to figure out where that is headed. It created a lot of exposure for the studio and again it tested whether we could build something like that. I had my doubts at certain moments. Someone asked us to produce an installation and of course, we didn’t have enough time. When you are in school, you see somebody’s body of work that they produced over ten years and you think of it as an instantaneous thing and you think after school you are going to go do installations. So we did a few things for friends and galleries and then we realized very quickly that it is just like doing a website or a project where you do one and then you are on peoples’ lists and they know they can count on you. So you do more and then at some point it manifests itself into you being known for those things. pAlice was big enough that now we have conversations about doing more but there is little money involved in these projects, the production was insane and we need to figure out how to make it feasible for the long term. There are two things at stake on every project, the project and the studio. We want exposure for the studio because it creates more work. The goal of the studio is to get exposure for a certain type of work so we get hired to do the work we like. So it has changed the mentality of the studio because we know we can do something at that scale and now people are asking us to do those things. We are working with artists again. Having been around artists in a business sense, I joke with people that just because we are in a gallery we are not artists, we are designers. We are mindful of the differences and overlaps between us and artists. pAlice is a project that would not be possible without some of the tools we have developed. It proves to us that these tools are working. It needs custom scripts and laser cutter because of the precision required. We learned in the end even with all that precision there are issues with tolerances. If each clip is not pushed in fully every time – that compounds across the piece. There was a lot of moments of doubts in that project. That project for me in a lot of ways was a miracle… in a convent. We make it a point not to stay up all night, to treat things like a business and get things done a day ahead. We were there the night before and when we first hung the middle piece in the space we realized that if we don’t get anything else to work, it will still be cool, but we wanted to get it all done. In the last three hours it came together, we thought certain parts wouldn’t fit in the room but it somehow came together in the end. On those projects we have students coming to help us and the studio becomes their environment. We try to give them access to our equipment, we give them keys whether it is good or not, they are good friends of ours and it is great on a project like that where people are willingly to volunteer a lot of time and are excited to see the results of what they been a part of. Of course we would like for everyone to be compensated but it is good in the end to know that the people who worked on it were happy with the results. The effort is to make them feel a part of it. We want to get them involved in any way we can, obviously there are technical issues, but we want them to have some authorship of the project. The fabrication was pretty straightforward but it was intense.
jG: It was also a test of what was possible. When the idea was floated we all said: ‘there is no way, no time, there’s only 2 ½ weeks.’
mS: The laser cutter was running for two weeks straight in a 900 square foot studio when phone calls needed to be made. We had just finished another project that was a lot of work so we were like ‘lets take a break.’ When we received a call from Christina, the co-curator, and saw the photos I was like ‘shit this is a room so we have to do an installation’. Which is something we’d be more interested in doing anyway, but we were a little reluctant to ill ourselves so soon. So we said yes and by the next Monday we needed to give her a proposal. Sunday night it was like ‘oh shit we need to send her something’ so we met at the studio Sunday and had some people come in to help. We had two proposals, the first was a simple one tapping into interactivity in the studio and do something smart, simple and economical . Paint all the walls white and use a TV screen to make ambient changing color in room or ‘this.’ Everyone was like ‘fuck it lets do this’ and I was surprised. There was some stress involved, some massaging and all that stuff and Jose had twins during the production, but I would certainly do it again.
jG: It was only possible because some tools had been created beforehand for other tests.
mS: That project is part of a lineage of things going on in the studio.
jG: That project was the ultimate test for that system that Mike had used at Columbia and Pratt.
mS: That is research that started at Columbia with Ken and Jeffrey from Associated Fabrication. It has been going on for a long time. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to spend so much time with raw experimentation lately so it is great when a real project forces experimentation. This drive for smart experimentation is something we felt strongly about when we started the studio.
sP: How do you negotiate the relationship between atmosphere + effects and tools and processes?
mS: I think this is now re-informing the more technical computer driven work. I see it happening more. There is a lot of geometry driven formal effects. In the studio I am always joking about our architecture friends lack of using color. Color for me is another thing that, again, goes back to ‘can it do more.’ Access to materials, access to color, access to sound, and temporal effects makes a project more complex in an atmospheric or environmental way. The goal in the studio is to start not with a complex idea but a simple one that you build in complexity so it becomes very thoughtful throughout. The simple idea with the mirror was to make a very geometric shape which links back to another thing we do a lot to make things readily intelligible when you see them either how they’re made or how they go together. One effect is that it allows someone who views the project to easily become part of it, rather than be alienated by it. There is also the effect that comes from thinking ‘that is crazy and awesome and cool even though I don’t understand it’ but that’s what makes it great. There is also that moment where someone can totally understand it and wonder ‘how can I do that.’ So the geometry was simple, almost a minimal surface. We are always critical of the abilities we have, maybe a reaction to Columbia. So we put a mirror on it, thinking it would have an interesting effect, but we also wanted to somehow camouflage a piece of geometry that we thought was very beautiful.
jG: It was also a pragmatic thing. There was a legacy since it had been worked on so many times. There was a sense of how we could make it different, differentiate it from itself. So, it is not just chipboard. That is not the main driver, but the system was set up which allowed for a secondary skin which hadn’t been tested. It was in the system from the beginning.
mS: That was added in to the clip because it was easy to add a nub. So we added it in because we knew these things would get duplicated but never tested it. It was very beautiful and there was discussion about whether to apply the mirrored surface or not. It wasn’t a discussion about more work, because the mirrored panels were already cut. The plan was always to put the mirrors on and we had photos of it before it was clad so we were like ‘fuck it we should put them on there.’ We think of a lot of our projects in a narrative way, so if there is a room, we think about what someone sees when they come into a room and what gets revealed. The mirror was a way to camouflage the geometry when you walk in the room, but as you walk around you begin to discover the geometry. It wasn’t like you could never uncover it, but at the same time you don’t just walk in and see it. In that sense the effect can be longer lasting. Even if the material has a texture and the shape is complex you can walk up to it and the material has a depth to it or complexity to it. With color and material you can add that to the formal qualities. It was an experiment really, that’s why the mirror is on there.
jG: At the end of that project everyone was surprised how the piece looked. I don’t think any of us had an idea of what the overall effect would be. It was tested in real time and at real scale. A lot of the pleasure at the end was that it was a surprise that it worked and looked incredible.
sP: For pAlice you reference both the alice universe and lewis carroll. Do you see both high and low culture playing a role in your work?
mS: I would say for me, a lot of inspiration can be drawn from everyday things. It could be marbles in a jar. I like to mention those things because highbrow things seem to get more playing time these days and sometimes they get mentioned in a very constructive way and sometimes they don’t. What is unfortunate is that students forget to look at the everyday things. For instance a tree is very complex and a lot ideas can be drawn from that. Listening to a professor talk about a theorist talking about something else makes me want to go back to the baseline and look at that simple thing. There is a comfort in going to a school that stresses theory, in that you feel a little more comfortable in your ability to move between the two. Kind of like hip-hop as an everyday thing to look at, students have better access to that the professors but they don’t use that as equity. There are a lot of superficial going with high culture as a mechanism to alienate or convince.
jG: It is always a reactionary thing, poking fun at the heavy super serious theoretical themes. None of us as architects really know this shit at all. We talk about the workings of the cerebral cortex or something else that sounds complex and assume that it will make our work complex, or more interesting at least. As architects, we skim through a few books and pretend to be experts in highly specialized fields. So for us is poking fun at that as well.
mS: Video and web, in some ways, is easier to access for most people. I was initially interested in architecture for its ability to make someone question things, to look at things differently. With video you can do that to a certain degree with CG. With architecture we wouldn’t just show a star trek video. There is no suspension of disbelief. That’s how I feel about some projects that are going on out there now. I think everyone wants to do something new and the statement of doing new things and doing a new cool image has been made in our mind so how can you do this in a way to affect everyday life.
jG: One of the first ideas for that project was the one that got ultimately carried through, how can we invert the relationship between inside and outside. That is why all the openings were joined.
mS: You could look in a door and not understand the room. You could understand the room secondarily through a surface and not the walls.
sP: pAlice is an installation that takes on architectural problems such as enclosure, space and aperture. Are you starting to see ways in which your other work can engage architectural concerns in order to negate static renderings and objects?
mS: It crosses over in to other work. You use the ability. Like program in architecture. If you are working on a website, you look at twenty screens and you can go here and go here and then you jump into a project and its not necessarily done that way but your mindset is of the narrative process of how it is viewed and how it is used. It is one dimensional if it is an object. The thing we did was an object but we asked if it could do more things.
JG: If we would’ve floated it in the middle of the space, it would’ve been sculpture.
mS: Most high brow art seems to try and exist in a vacuum and we don’t want that to be the case for our work. We don’t want to peel off the layers of constraints. I think creativity gets watered down in a vacuum. There seems to be a romanticism surrounding art that it is void of all the corporate and client constraints so pure cultural work can happen. Some artists think of it as purity, but I think of it as a gap. We would’ve never done that project if someone didn’t ask us to do it. We would’ve never done it as good as we did if we didn’t have the time constraint. Because we are doing work to make money, we have less time than we would like to and it is frustrating because there are a lot of things going on you want to explore more. Maybe we say this to justify it. Maybe if we had that time we would just take it easy. Maybe that is just making ourselves feel better.
sP: Do you think there is a possibility for architecture to engage more mainstream audience’s through the integration of atmospheres and effects?
jG: That is related to the mediums as well.
mS: There is no web site that is highbrow. Some architecture has become high brow. We try to make things in a smart way but through a designed intelligibility we try to make our projects accessible to everyone. I don’t know if architecture should be high brow because it is accessed by everyone, but architecture has a lineage that real design architecture was really expensive and only done in certain places over the last 2000 years. When I spoke recently in Puerto Rico we were there with a lot people that showed amazing work, but work that is extremely futuristic, years ahead of when it could be built. It was good for people to see it because it was everyday people who have never seen work like that and they were blown away. Some of the logic in their work exists in our work but a lot of people came up to me afterward and said they appreciated our work because it was different, but they could understand it and see themselves maybe doing work like that. That felt good. Maybe they aren’t going to build anything like that. but it might change how they would build their house where as the other stuff had nothing they could really access. I also tried to demystify some things, I showed them the sanding. I showed them where it was difficult in the shop. I showed them one project that failed. It was interesting to see. It was good, that means we succeeded in a certain way. We are trying less to fool people and more to get them on board.
jG: Everything is readily available. A website might just be stacked blocks. It is simple. You understand the overall scale of it but it creates something completely unexpected or new with recombinatory logics.
mS: One thing that is interesting is that more people our age are becoming technically savvy. Our attitude in the studio is first and foremost that we are designers and people hire us for a way of thinking, an attitude. In that sense, the things we do we don’t think of as proprietary which is different than a lot of our friends. Some of the romanticism happens because of that. They don’t show it. I don’t fault them. We are slightly different. It comes from our time at Columbia showing scripts and writing things and people coming up and saying ‘hey you should sell that.’ And its not because we embrace open source so much, but its because we aren’t going to sell it. We aren’t going to manufacture it in a way that it can be sold. Turn it into a product. For instance the project we just finished that has cardboard tubes on the wall. Part of that project is interesting, and we do this a lot, is make videos of how things are made. Again to get exposure for the studio to do more work. That thing you look at it and you might say ‘how did they do it’ but the video is in that case instructions on how to do it. And someone might say ‘why do you give that out’ and our friends always email us and say ‘where did you get the tubes from’ and we email them and say ‘we got them from here.’ People hire us because we think in that way, not because we are the only people who can do that. Certain scripts we are not necessarily interested in using them over again so they are available. We had a friend come in and he uses Corian and he says he figured out a way to get bolts into Corian and we said ‘that’s cool how do you do that?’ and he tells us he can’t tell us that. Now that everyone has a business there are real issues with that. The technical aspects have produced this piracy type of effect which I think is unfortunate because you might want to expose how something is built because it is interesting but you can’t because of a policy you have in your studio. Everyone has their emails now with the disclaimers. We are never going to do that. I know why they do that to a certain extent.. We are never going to do that until we are much bigger and lose a fight with our lawyer, who will make us put it there. We do want people to think that we are an office in the sense that we can get things done. We want people to hire us for our attitude and part of our attitude is having fun in a way that produces creativity. Architecture has become so serious. We bust our ass when we sit down in the studio. It is serious business. But there is music on. I feel seriousness stifles creativity. It is too serious right now. In teaching I always wonder why the students are so boring. I think ‘you are younger than we are. Be radical.’
sP: Architects’ attitudes seems to be loosening up. It seems architecture resisted pop culture for the last 25 years because of its embrace of critical theory and fear that pop references would undermine the seriousness of the work. There has been this persistent attitude that architecture has to be all doom and gloom to validate itself intellectually. Do you see architecture starting to engage pop culture?
mS: Fabrication might lubricate that a little. You can’t make anything in a suit. This idea of standing away from the production and the work and making it a business is too serious. When we were in Hobokoen we were milling a lot and it was totally unorganized. I would have MDF dust all over me and then have to go somewhere and I’d be like ‘fuck’ and have to vacuum myself. Most of the clients we have know how we operate when they come into the studio. That’s what makes it OK. They decide that moment if they are OK with that, it’s a sort of filter. That attitude is transparent . They know we make things. They want to know what we’re making. I’m guilty of coming into the studio a little sideways. That happens to a point at a certain scale, but how you see us is how the work is produced. Not that we look like everyone else and follow the norm. Not that we look radically different but we operate how we want to.
sP: What do you see as the current and future potential of digital design in academia?
mS: We were very much about setting up a studio, so teaching came after that. I realized once we started teaching that it allots time for the more exploratory and experimental tracts in the studio. Academia is interesting because it is so far from the real world in certain ways that it is the perfect place to develop an agenda. It’s perfect because you have a machine of people there exploring. You are not going to learn how to script in my class, but some people present their class in a way that you will learn all those things. We don’t think that the way we work is the right way we just know it works for us. So when I start a class I say this is exposure to these techniques to see how they work for you and get you comfortable trying them.
sP: There is an almost religious fervor that surrounds the ‘script or die’ mentality in Mike’s words. Do you see your projects as starting with an idea, a software platform, or both?
mS: One reason why we don’t want to do that is because it is boring. Simply put. I see the reasons why you might do that, but I think the reason for doing that is everyone is trying to get as far as they can as young as they can and by coming up with that religious approach it gives you that spearhead. Our attitude is like if you pick that thing and you are wrong you are fucked. But I understand why people do it. I think it is bad for students.
jG: We are also forced by the range of work we do. We can’t do it all in MEL scripting, or actionscript.
mS: I am reactionary to that, in some points I go out of my way which is just as bad as those people who respond to that. I remember being at Columbia from the first day and because I could do certain things I was labeled the computer guy. I wasn’t upset about it, but we haven’t replaced design with the computer. When I first started teaching, I didn’t want to be put in the computer camp but we get put in that camp because we overlap through the use of digital tools. I don’t want us to be thought of in that way. I think there should be a lot of different styles. We take advantage of it when we get put into group shows because of that and that gives us a podium for propaganda against it.
jG: The newness of the tool only lasts for so long.
mS: This is a foothold for you to jump off from, but if you don’t jump off, that tool will not be unique in a year and that is happening faster and faster.
JG: That is why there is no fetishizing the tool or technique. We are highly aware of that.
sP: Whose work is on your radar?
mS: anish kapoor, universal everything, jonathan harris
jG: aranda lasch, UVA
sP: What are you reading/listening to/watching?
jG: A lot of baby books at the moment…
mS: Reading emails mostly, way too many. I am guilty of playing the same songs in the studio because I put a playlist on repeat when I get in the morning… could be anything from Santigold, MJ, Black Angels, Rolling Stones, 50 Cent…. the good stuff.