Design, Build Transform

IYBI posterIn the summer of 2012 I met a group of talented designers that make up the Community Design Studio of Winston-Salem (CDS). I have been lucky enough to work with some of these talented architects, graphic and industrial designers, and tech savvy professionals on occasion to help add a layer of creativity to our local area. When the leadership of CDS  arranged to bring the film If You Build It to Aperture Cinema of Winston-Salem and host community conversation after each showing, I jumped at the chance to be involved. I actually had no idea how I could help out, but I knew I had to be more than a viewer of this film.

You see this film is about something very important to me – Creative Collaboration. In my life I have been exposed to quite a few collaborative ventures around the design/build premise, and I have found that it fuels my passion in life. By participating in these types of ventures I have discovered my purpose in life – to be a driving force in the success of a design/build community collaborative program. I don’t yet know how this is going to happen, but I know it will. I can feel it deep in my soul.

One of the first projects of this type that I was exposed to was a project of UNCG’s Interior Design Program as they build what is now called “My Sister Susan’s House” a respite home for young at-risk mothers in Greensboro, NC. It was here that I met Robert (pronounced Ro- bear), a French-Canadian Architecture Professor at UNCG. The company I was working for was installing the electronic security systems in the building. My crew of installers came back to the office going on and on about this unique house being built by college students. Eventually I found it necessary to stop by the site to check on the progress and I immediately realized what all of the buzz was about. The design was unlike anything I had seen in person; but what was more unique to me was the atmosphere on the job site. The positive energy of college students doing the construction was intoxicating to me. The source of their energy is more from a place of love and a need for accomplishment, as opposed to a need to make money as quickly as possible and limit liability, which is what I was accustomed to on a job site. The leader of this band of eager beavers was Robert. With his french accent, infectious smile, and long hair he almost looked like one of the students, but it was quickly obvious he was responsible for every move made by all of the students. Robert empowered them to learn by doing, but somehow managed to keep them on track and calmly answer a bazillion questions daily.

IYBI poster 2Last week when I discovered that CDS was looking for guest speakers for their film event, and that one of their intended speakers would not be able to attend I immediately offered to do whatever I could to help out. Suddenly I am the guest speaker for one of the events. So I nervously began to prepare myself for the upcoming event, but I also put in a call to Robert to see if he could possibly clear some time in in super-busy schedule to participate. As luck would have it he was available. So now I found myself privileged enough to be sharing the “stage” with my good friend, whom I respect greatly, and participating in a community conversation about something I am very passionate about.

One of the taglines of the film is Design, Build, Transform. I totally get it now. Design/Build type projects are not for everyone, but for those of us that are so inclined, it can be transformative to a degree that is difficult to explain to someone that “doesn’t get it”. For those who do “get it” it’s not simply the words used to describe the transformation, it’s the passion that shows through when we talk about it and do the work. It can be infectious and intoxicating. I will stand by my friend Robert in two days in front of an audience. I hope my passion rather than my nervousness shows through, and I hope we make some new allies in our search to do meaningful work.

Imagine when…

ii dreams come trueJuly 2, 2012 was a very important day in my life. In the week prior to that day I was struggling to find balance in my life. I was working very hard at building my electronic security business, but I was not making much progress. I had recently transitioned a relationship from pseudo-romantic to indifferent. I was struggling financially even though I felt as though I was working nearly all day every day. Then I heard the blurb on the local public radio station event calendar.

Imagination Installations was hosting a design marathon at SECCA (South Eastern Center of Contemporary Art) and everyone was invited. The purpose of the event was to imagine a public art installation and design it so that it could be built and installed in Winston-Salem. I was so stoked! This is my jam. This is just what I needed – a chance to be a part of something dynamic and creative. I cleared my calendar for the day Saturday July 2, 2012 and sent the word out on facebook and via email. I remember talking to people the entire week asking them if they had heard about the event. “Can you come out”? “Do you want me to stop by and pick you up”? I wanted to share the good news with everyone.

On the day of the event I showed up early and as I dismounted my chopper the butterflies started furiously fluttering in my belly. I was greeted by the organizers of the event and it was obvious that they were professional designers. I suddenly became very self conscious and wondered if anyone would decide me not worthy of participation in a design charette. As people filed in I found that I knew only a small number of people there, which helped to maintain my nervousness.

Right on time the organizers rallied all of us in the auditorium and set out the parameters of the day. They introduced themselves and the intent of the  “Imagine when… project”. They then organized us into teams and sent us to tables supplied with pens, pencils, markers, paper, and various art supplies. My team consisted of an industrial designer, a recent college grad with a BA in Fine Art, a female pastor, a financial consultant and her 12 year old daughter, and me. As the ideas started to flow I didn’t even notice how the butterflies inside of me turned to a fountain of creative ideas that flowed like a rushing river. I was so excited that I had to sit on my hands from time to time to keep from monopolizing the conversation.

My team of designers had diverse backgrounds and viewpoints, and it was quickly obvious that we had very different visions of what makes a great art installation. Differences of opinion often times leads to friction and sometimes argument, but in this structured environment with a common goal we were able to use these differences to expand our individual thinking to places we could not have gotten to otherwise. I think this is called chemistry, good chemistry. There were some moments of near frustration, but our will to create a winning design before the deadline over ruled and we moved forward.

At the end of the day all of the teams gathered to present final design concepts and explain each team’s ideas. There were few similarities between the 8 final ideas presented. They ranged from a design that included a labyrinth and a public garden, to a digital waterfall that works like a dot matrix printer to transmit messages in water that the public could create at various points around town and view online. After presentations awards were handed out in the form of tiny little trophies.

I don’t remember what the trophies were for, save for one. I did win the trophy for most ridiculous pursuit of a tiny plastic trophy, but that was part of what made that day such an important day in my life. As we were voting by applause I whooped and hollered and clapped as loud as I could to cast my votes, and some of those votes were for my team’s ideas. I noticed a kindred spirit just behind me during one of my voting rants and I turned to see a beautiful girl smiling and giggling at me. I asked her to help me out here and in a few minutes, after an extremely raucous vote by me and my new accomplice,  I had my trophy – the little plastic one. What I didn’t know that day is that the girl smiling and laughing at me would become the love of my life, but that’s a story for another day.

One of the many lessons I learned that day was that collaboratively we can accomplish magical things. All of the good ideas, and even some “bad” ones helped to open up new passages of thought during our design marathon, passages that could have been left untraveled otherwise. That day I found so much more than a way to pass the day or forget about my troubles, I found the real me; and as a bonus, the greatest bonus, I found Cyndi.