So for the past few months I have been busy to say the least so this is a bit delayed. However, despite being busy and very focused something wasn’t feeling right, I just didn’t feel inspired, I didn’t feel creative. In the final weeks of planning for St. Louis design week, my mentor and I were approached and asked to do a submission for an organization called perennial. If you don’t know much about Perennial it can be summarized in one word; AWESOMENESS. They are a non-profit organization which teaches DIY classes and are all about up cycling.
Each year they do a show called lost + found where they invite local artists, architects, and designers to take on a challenge. They give each team an item, all items are the same so there is no advantage, but each item has certainly all seen better days. This year’s item was a ladder, seems simple enough right? Think for a moment what you would want to do with a 50 year old wooden ladder and what comes to mind, standing on it certainly wasn’t an option. So in a creative fashion we picked up our ladder and took it back to the shop, stared at it for a minute, and then preceded to the bar in hopes of sparking an idea.
Some ideas take a few beers, some take something stronger, but when Derek and I work together on something it seems to come about much faster, or we just have bigger glasses. We sat down and started to think about we could do, and what we wanted to keep as our core values in the project. We knew that there were so many other creative minds working with the same problem, but we challenged ourselves to thinking differently and taking an angle we didn’t see anybody else taking. We thought shelving or a stool would be too obvious of an answer and we weren’t about to take a simple approach to this problem, after all we are architects… So we asked ourselves what a ladder was. The simple answer was a utility item that most people use to change light bulbs in their house.
With that in mind, we decided to flip it, and put the ladder on display and allow it to be illuminated in the room. The thought that we could allow the ladder to become the light in the room instead seemed logical to us. The not so simple part came about when we decided it wouldn’t be a lamp, but we would elevate it, the same way it was used to elevate ourselves, so we decided to suspend the ladder and create a pendant light. We also knew that we wanted to preserve the character of the ladder so it could still be recognized as such.
We had the idea for what we were going to do, and a general idea for how we were going to do it, but like all good things plans change. Along the process of building it we discovered so many happy accidents that continued to enhance our design and simplify the process. Once we had deconstructed the ladder and had the pieces lain out in front of us we started the process we originally set out to, and we began cutting the pieces to the size we wanted. we knew that the height would be roughly the distance between the cut outs for the treads so we could use that notch for one of the louvers as we started to assemble the pieces we started to look at what we had going, and started to wonder how we were really going to make this thing work.
With only one piece on the side we knew the support was going to get very thin and might be more fragile then we liked, so we decided to double up on the corner pieces, but with the corners receiving the louvers at a double angle it was going to be tricky. So we decided to use a thinner piece to separate them and allow a tiny sliver of light to filter out between them. This separation piece allowed a large amount of the original character to be revealed as well, with the caution stickers and the owners name still clearly visible. The thinner pieces of wood that then became the spacers also allowed for a flush surface to mount the light fixture, and a support to suspend the pendant from the ceiling.
Each of these very “happy accidents” came about by playing with the pieces once we had begun the process. Proving the importance of how building a model when designing is important. We started out with a napkin sketch knowing that it wouldn’t be the final design but simply the way to start the process of discovery. We used that idea to guide our decisions along the way, and there were pieces removed from that concept because they did nothing to enhance what we had going, and sometimes in the process of design you had to subtract to enhance.
As designers we can do something completely on paper and assume that it is truly the best thing since sliced bread, but once you walk into what you’ve created you start to realize how much better something could have been if you weren’t just relying on drafting board victories. Having the actually physical pieces to play with allows you to really capture the essence of the project, and the reason why so many talents designers prefer to work in three dimensions.
This was a great exercise for us to work through; we had a lot of fun, and created a very unique piece that one family is now appreciating in their own home. I had opportunity to walk through with the family that won the auction about the process we went through in creating the light. The joy in their faces as they lit up was probably the best feeling I had in a long time. To have a conversation with somebody who appreciated the amount of time and thought that went into the piece was astonishing. The fact that it raised over a hundred dollars that Perennial is now able to use in furthering their mission was an added bonus. I can’t wait to see what item we have to work with for next year.