Design Dialogue Celebrates Haystack Home @50

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts celebrated the 50th anniversary of its architecture this past summer.

This milestone made its designed environment in Deer Isle, Maine, particularly fitting for this year’s summer 5th annual conference entitled Design: Shaping the World and the World Shaping Us which focused on the responsiveness of design. Edward Larrabee Barnes (1915-2004) created for Haystack what has long been considered an incredible example of architecture that thoughtfully addresses function, site and spatial experience.

The conference was a mix of presentations, studio workshops and discussion groups that provided varied opportunities to examine different approaches to design. The impressive line-up of speakers ranged fr0m educators to practitioners to critics.

Discussions groups were led by Ellen Lupton (curator/Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum), Robert Krulwich (science reporter/National Public Radio), Robert Campbell (architectural critic/Boston Globe), Jack Lenor Larsen (weaver/ designer/scholar of contemporary craft) and Niels Diffrient (award-winning industrial designer).

The issues ranged fr0m an exploration of where the general public stands in the making of urban architecture to the re-definition of authorship in an age where everyone and anyone can produce and publish their own books. Hands-on opportunities to examine design were offered in the workshops of Rosanne Somerson (head of furniture design/RISD), James Carpenter (architect/glass design), Del Harrow (artist/professor of art) and Kendall Buster (sculptor).

Rosanne Somerson’s workshop started off with a formidable exercise: 45 drawings in 45 minutes. Simple in concept but difficult in execution, the series required discipline, endurance and focus to work through all 45 as each subsequent drawing developed fr0m the one before it. Regardless of the 4 tracts of design thinking selected prior to the exercise –  systematic, material, editorial, storytelling – when viewed in chronological order the drawings revealed how each individual’s mind processes information and develops ideas. Ms. Somerson’s insights about each participant’s drawings and the discussion that resulted fr0m this exercise provided us with an extra-ordinary understanding of each other’s creative thinking.

James Carpenter’s workshop centered on the idea of observation; a careful and thoughtful cognizance of our environment.  After a brief introduction on the properties of light in shadow and in reflection, we were sent outside to observe the phenomenon of light and to document the experience using photographs, notes, or drawings. We were to un-familiarize our eyes to what is naturally understood about light and look for the spatial interplay of light in the environment. Fr0m these observations we thought about future projects that could utilize these specific examples of light and presented them to the group.

How we see and organize the world affects the relationships that we have toward objects and their function and design. Del Harrow’s workshop investigated the process of making forms in clay using a new technology called Parametric Design that considers all parameters such as height, depth, weight, etc., within a 3-D object. This new process of form-making aimed to reexamine the labels that classify everyday ceramic objects: cups, bowls and plates.

Kendall Buster’s workshop on models and classification also began with an outdoor excursion to gather specimens fr0m the natural world. Through the process of organizing, describing, and sketching, the specimens took on a different presence in the world.

The conference provided the opportunity to understand how others interpret the world in ways that differ fr0m our own conceptions. My own conception of design is often filtered through my training as an architect; it underwent reshaping and readjustment throughout this conference.

My initial interest in the conference was primarily focused on the issues surrounding architecture but I found myself very much drawn to a multitude of perspectives coming fr0m the other participants who were writers, artists, educators and critics. There are parallels between pushing the boundaries of the typical housing unit and redefining traditional vessel forms in clay.

Through the variety in each presenter’s work, the discussions and the workshops, the conference underscored the nature of design in its manifold role in shaping the world around us. Design moves fr0m the scale of architecture to the intimacy of everyday objects. It was fascinating to explore how it is informed by the various ways that our individual minds process and organize information.

A recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Ming-Yi Wong has training in both architecture and fine arts. Her immersion in architecture has been continuous for the past decade. She has spent the past year investigating the material and conceptual manifestations of glass. Wong has recently relocated to Honolulu, Hawaii and describes herself as a maker of things.

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