Objects by Architects was shown in the Keller Gallery at MIT Architecture in September and October 2012.
Sarah Hirschman, Curator, Designer.
Mariel Villere, Curatorial Assistant.
Clay Anderson, David Costanza, Tyler Crain, Fabrication Assistants.
Architects make objects. Chairs, famously, but also models, prototypes, tests, and toys. Many of the objects in this show are for sale somewhere, but that no longer means that they were mass-produced. The advent of rapid prototyping technologies has made short fabrication runs possible, which means less risk and more play. Being able to produce objects on demand rather than in bulk upends traditional economies of scale and allows the small practice to operate like a very big one. Alongside developments in making, it’s become much easier to sell directly to consumers on the Internet, something many of the exhibitors here do. With the middle fabrication ground between one-off art objects and high-volume mass production now wide open, the architect-designed object can operate in an entirely new way.
The work in this exhibition is by no means comprehensive. How could it be? Assembled through word of mouth, scouring websites and blogs, and soliciting suggestions, this abbreviated collection stands in for the vast range of objects architects, defined broadly, are producing now. Different from when working with a single client, the architect-as-object-maker’s designs can be for one or for many: friends and family, perhaps, but also customers of design websites, furniture retailers, boutiques and wholesalers. The object is no less designed than a commissioned house, but it is vastly more accessible. When an object can act as a sort of calling card – a branding exercise that speaks to a larger sensibility – as well as a gift or a prototype, there is no single place you can look to find it.
Objects by Architects positions the architect in the blurry territory of design. While many of the exhibitors here are practicing, others self-describe only as “architect-trained.” What is the difference? Once the architect migrates to a small scale, is she no longer an architect? And when custom furniture is designed to fit into a building, is that not entering a field in its own right? The economics of production and distribution for mass consumption are both scaled down and scaled up from architecture – they latch into global networks of sourcing, fabrication, and distribution in ways that architecture typically, as the production of a singular object rooted to a singular site, does not. There is no clear line drawn, and that seems productive. It allows the architect to operate on many platforms – as cultural guide, as entrepreneur, as artist.
This exhibit emphasizes soft boundaries, the experimental nature of the objects on display, and the agility and potentials of a smaller scale without a single client or set of programmatic and material limitations. Human ritual and the materials of everyday life are prioritized, creating sensitive and playful responses with leaner, faster, nimbler design and fabrication. Objects exist in our lives; as part of our lives. When architects produce objects, it is worth our study to find out why, and what their perspective brings to the experience of everyday life.