CAAD Students Explore Design Ideas for Vassar Art Work Spaces

Photos Lisa Brawley and Karl Rabe

Eight students enrolled in this year’s Creative Arts Across Disciplines (CAAD) summer program faced a daunting challenge: to prototype a workshop space in the Old Laundry Building, the temporary home of the multidisciplinary programs, to inform the development of the future Center for Multidisciplinary Studies. In less than four weeks, with help from collaborators on two continents, the students explored design research methods and prototyped ideas for how the space on the first floor of the Old Laundry Building might be flexibly transformed into a multidisciplinary workshop space.

The students participated in design workshops and research presentations led by Vassar Professor of Art Tobias Armborst, an architect and urban designer; Dan Lockton, an Assistant Professor of Industrial Design at Eindhoven University in the Netherlands; and Lisa Brawley, Faculty Director of the CAAD summer design research program and Senior Lecturer in Urban Studies and American Studies. They also received hands-on assistance and advice from Tom Pacio, CAAD Program Director and Director of Creative Arts and Institutional Grant Innovation, and from Vassar alumnus Omri Bareket ’19, who has worked as a stage design technician for a Brooklyn production studio and who recently toured the United States studying creative maker spaces. The students also surveyed Vassar students and staff and visited area spaces, seeking input on how the space might be re-imagined.

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Vassar alum Omri Bareket ’19 (right) builds a workbench with Juliana Sprague ’21 (center) and Charlie Mangan ’22.

Brawley said this summer’s project built on work that previous CAAD participants had been doing in the past. “For the three summers of my involvement with the CAAD program,” she said, “we’ve focused on design research methods as a way to explore the process of generating ideas, of becoming more comfortable moving iteratively from confusion and indecision to more fully formed ideas. Prototyping is a key piece of this process––putting emerging ideas in tangible, if provisional form.”

As part of this summer’s theme of “thinking with things,” students turned to the Old Laundry Building itself to research and create a prototype of what a workshop space in a more permanent Center for Multidisciplinary Study might become. “This addresses a longstanding need: Many students in the Multis undertake forms of ‘critical making’ as part of their senior theses, or in intensives and classes,” Brawley noted, “but there is currently no dedicated space for them to do this work—they borrow space in the Art Studios or work in their dorm rooms.”

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Pia Behmuras ’23 (right) delivers a presentation on her group’s work at the conclusion of the project.

The ideas developed by the students include clean, simple signage, the use of “warm” colors (red, orange, and yellow) for the walls of the workspace, storage space with shelves, and movable carts that provide easy access to materials. They created maps and “QR” barcodes that enable students to use their cell phones to locate not only the shared work space in the Old Laundry Building but also other such spaces throughout the campus. Under the guidance of Bareket, students also built two rolling workbenches that transform a large closet in OLB into a kind of “toolkit”—the benches can roll out into the larger room for a workshop, and then move back in when the shared space has another use.

Student participant GinGin Plehn ’22, said the program had been both challenging and rewarding. “I’d taken some classes with Lisa Brawley, and design was a component of some of them,” said Plehn, an economics and urban studies double major from Princeton, NJ. “But I wanted to expand my knowledge of design, and this program enabled me to do so.”

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Juliana Sprague ’21 (center) explains her group’s work as GinGin Plehn ’22 (left) and Cali Garzon ’22 look on.

Harrison Gable ’22, an international studies major with a studio art correlate, said the program had afforded him the opportunity to use his knowledge of graphic design to help “reinvent” a space on campus. “I really enjoyed the experience,” Gable said. “It was a four-week exercise in creative thinking, and the skills I acquired are transferable to many other things I enjoy doing.”

Bareket, who took part in the summer program as a student in 2016, said that while his CAAD experience differed in many ways from this year’s, he saw one common thread: “More than anything, what CAAD offered then and what it continues to offer,” he said, “is the chance to collaborate, to create new situations and try new things in a shared, creative atmosphere.

“The message of CAAD is ‘Try it,’” he concluded. “Take the leap off the ledge and realize this is a moment to take a crazy idea and be creative with it.”

The Creative Arts Across Disciplines Summer Program Fund was made possible by the generous donation of Henry Wendt III and Holly P. Wendt ’57.

August 27, 2021