Collective Creation

What does the collective creation of a building design look like?

Though it’s a common preconception, STARchitects  do not create buildings: teams do. It’s true — all major building projects are created by teams — sometimes very large and complex teams comprised of designers, technicians, consultants, user groups, stakeholders, administrators, etc.

This is Collective Creation.

In Holland Cotter’s New York Times article, he writes of miniature subcultures called collectives. He describes these groups as “organizationally complex and specialized, beyond what any individual artist could manage.” The places and/or studios they organize, real or virtual, are where multiple voices have life as “simultaneously blended and distinctive.” Relative to the design process, Cotter claims the sheer existence of these collectives undermine the artist as the “media star” (i.e. the STARchitect).

This phenomenon – Collective Creation – is not exclusive to artistic expression. “Research, archiving and creative hacking are just as likely to produce objects, experiences, and information that is politically didactic or end-in-itself beautiful, or both.” Even if far from interested in producing art objects, the pinnacle of these jobs is providing an experience of the world through a scientifically-based aesthetic language of symmetries and disharmonies, tones and shades, concreteness and abstraction.

No matter your profession, your connection to Collective Creation is closer than you might think.

One Friday evening, a “working” gallery called HOT SOUP opened its doors to a crowd, curious to see and experience the latest concoction of art. There were free drinks… and appetizers… oh, and did I mention blazing heat to ward off the winter? A great night – not only because of the drinks or eats, but because HOT SOUP is a working glassblowing shop and, on this particular Friday, the owner and staff put on a 30-minute impromptu performance. The crowd was hypnotized as Frosty the Snowman’s head came to fruition in front of our eyes.

As I watched, I was enamored by life as human beings with distinct creative and intellectual energies. Here were 5-6 people working in concert: One tending the furnace to get the right temperature, another rolling a molten bulb of glass on a coloring bed for Frosty’s eyes, and another helping shape the head with a steaming pad of wet paper. If the lights were off, we’d see a ballet of long poles, with glowing ends, pirouetting gracefully through the air.

Drawing parallels: the design process in architecture, at least in our studio, is like glassblowing. Each project is the opportunity to congregate a diverse group of people to interact on a specific proposition or problem statement. The intention? Constructive dialogue whether verbal, written or illustrative. Like the glassblowers, each person makes a unique and critical contribution toward the dialogue – a word, a line, or a gesture. Anything may be the catalyst that points the dialogue in the right direction. As in glassblowing, the design process moves quickly – each twist and turn an enrichment… a revelation… leading to yet more revelations. Liquid hot and running toward bare hands, the glass calls for rapidly weighed decisions that seem part intuitive, and part ‘brute’ intellect.

Frosty’s head, like a design studio’s dialogue, is the result of elegant teamwork. Collective Creation.

What a privilege, for any of us, to be working on a project with a group that works in this way. And what a benefit to any Owner to have this kind of creativity and teamwork brought to their project.