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Hinge crew in front of MOHAI

Finding architectural inspiration in the everyday

As an artist and architect, I am always amazed by when and where creative inspiration strikes. Something as little as the color or structure of a flower on a short jog around the block with Fern (my eternally enthusiastic 9 year old pup) can create a kernel of an idea for a architectural or design project. What I have found is that more often than not inspiration comes from the observation of the world around us, rather than in the great masterpieces of our own minds (sarcasm intended). It is through the connections between sometimes disparate things that sparks a new way of approaching or seeing something. Even when inspiration does not strike, these kinds of observations and connections almost always breathe energy, life and enthusiasm into our work. For this reason, we make a point of getting out of the office on a regular basis just to talk or see new things.

As part of our annual retreat this year, Hinge decided to visit Seattle’s Museum of History and Industry, partly to see the LMN Architect’s fabulous adaptive reuse of the Lake Union Armory a number of  years ago but also to visit Mohai’s exhibit “From the ground up: Black Architects and Designers”, we were excited of course, but we had no idea the kind of learning, wisdom, and inspiration that would come out of that visit. I personally felt my goals and aspirations for our firm and the work we do sharpened and raised by the things we saw that day.

Adaptive Reuse at MOHAI

If you don’t know yet, one of our great passions at Hinge is adaptive reuse and finding and revealing the beauty of what already exists everywhere, but especially in existing buildings. The team at LMN and their sub consultants were masters at this. We love the way they celebrated the industrial nature of the structure by exposing the trusses and the plywood underlayment on the roof, while maintaining many original details and materials – such as the floor, facade and original stairwells. We love the fact that any new insertions – such as the elevator tower and exhibition towers reveal their newness through form, materiality and detail. And of course, one of our favorites, we love the fact that they truly celebrated the new grand stair complete with industrial detailing that reflects the building structure and fabulous rounded look out platforms that allow visitors to experience the central atrium and all of its exhibits and activity as well as get up close and personal with the building structure on their progression up the stairs.

“From the ground up: Black Architects and Designers” MOHAI Exhibit

Like so many professions, architecture in America is woefully underrepresented by people of color and especially by Black architects. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), a nonprofit that helps establish state architecture licensure, reported that as of 2022 only 2% of architects in the US are black. As architects, the buildings we build are for all people regardless of race and if (as suggested by the exhibit) buildings actually influence the make up of people who occupy them, then we have an absolute duty to make sure that the people who design buildings and thereby influence the makeup of our nations people and its culture represent every race and culture found in our country and not just the white majority.

Mohai’s “From the ground up: Black Architects and Designers” was packed with information on the impact that Black architects despite their small numbers have had on buildings and the profession as a whole.

We at Hinge know how important this is, and we also know the first step to change is learning. We also know that experiencing this exhibit at MOHAI was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what we have to learn. I think my take away more than any other was how little I really did know. I am embarrassed to admit that the vast majority of these architects were unknown to me. So few had been celebrated or acknowledged in my professional training.

We learned about so many impressive architects including Samuel Cameron of Roluda Architects who designed University of Washington’s Ethnic Cultural Center in 2013. We also learned about the early pioneers like Robert Robinson Taylor, the first formally educated Black architect and John Anderson Lankford, the first Black licensed architect, and Paul Revere Williams the first Black member of the American Institute of Architects.  And the current big players like Philip Goodwin Freelon, founder of the Freelon Group, and the first Black architect appointed to the US Commision of Fine Arts, Ohio-based Moody Nolan the US’s largest Black-owned-and-operated architecture firm and Diébédo Francis Kéré, principal at Kéré Architecture in Berlin and  the first Black architect to with the prestigious Pritzker Prize.

Perhaps most impressive to me as a woman architect, who knows how many hurdles we still have overcoming gender stereotypes in the construction industry, were the black women architects like Yolande Daniels co-founder and design principal of studio Sumo, Beverly Loraine Greene, the first Black woman to become a licensed architect in the US, and Kimberly Nicole Dowdell, who at 40 is Principal of global architecture firm HOK and former president of the National Organization of Minority Architects.

Engaging Visual Communication

If you haven’t been, the exhibits at Mohai are an art form unto themselves. They are visually compelling, and often interactive multi-sensory, but convey ideas and complex information in a way that is clear and easy to understand  and that pulls the visitor through the exhibit. Much of our work at Hinge is communicated to clients through graphic presentations.. The Mohai exhibits taught us so many lessons on how to convey complex and often technical information in a way that’s easy and fun for our clients to understand. Some of our favorites were:

  • The roughly thousand year old crosscut of an old growth tree. Not much needed to convey awe beyond its sheer size and age conveyed with simple date markers on rings. Even the steel structure preventing it from splitting and cracking was fun to exam
  • The sculptural timeline of Seattle’s history and development. The repetitive cylindrical display windows wrap around the visitor literally immersing them in time and history while simple black and white photos and text with pops of gold draw the visitors eye and invite us to lean in and look closer.
  • The history of illumination and electricity in the Northwest which uses simple black and white iconography with pops of yellow overlaid on a wall size graphic of the night sky to convey a complex history that can be understood in a moment’s glance.
  • And of course the charmingly playful microsoft globe conveying Microsoft’s “mission to put a computer on every desk and in every home”  that artist Obadinah Heavner sculpted for the company’s 1990 annual report

Poetry and Symbolism

Many of you may not realize, but before I became an architect and then went on to found Hinge Studio, I was trained as a sculptor. I was and am largely a mixed media artist, but much of my sculpture has elements of found objects and especially found / salvaged wood that I have carved.

Perhaps because of my background the massive wood sculpture by a team of artists from John Grades Studio resonated with me almost more than any other element in the space. The piece takes its name, Wawona, from the ship from which the wood for the sculpture was salvaged.

The piece inspires both emotionally and mentally. The beauty of its form and craft invites touch and  interaction. Visitors discover that they can crawl inside its silo-like interior lit dimly by the holes in the barnacle-like forms carved into its surface.

Symbolically this piece captures both the history of Seattle and its future. The massive mast-like form extends below the floor into the water of Lake Union below and above the roof toward the heavens. The portions of the sculpture extending out of the building are left to weather and age over time. The form and shape harkens simultaneously to the natural forms of the environment that was here before Seattle, and to the industry and invention that made Seattle what it is today.

The poetry and symbolism inspires us as architects, because truly great buildings should go beyond just serving a purpose or a function. They should nurture the spiritual and mental experience of the people who interact with them for generations to come.

Cross-polination

Hinge knows the value of creative cross-pollination. We love to collaborate with other makers, builders, and creators and constantly engaging other creatives as we journey through projects. We find it opens our minds to new possibilities. Interested in collaborating or working with us? Visit our Contact page to send us a message.

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