Design in 5: Sketch120

“The popular feeling among the body of architectural workmen, especially the younger members of the profession, has recently been inclining strongly toward the opinion that an opportunity to reach a higher standard of work is necessary, and an association has been formed having in view the attainment of this end.” The Critic, January 29, 1881

128 years ago, a group of young New York architects decided to form a voluntary association for “the purposes… of architectural study.” At first, the League was a sketch club: members met monthly to draw their responses to a design problem, such as ‘American Country House’ or ‘Turkish Fountain,’ assigned and then critiqued by established practitioners of architecture. Within a decade, the League began to present the lectures, dinners and exhibitions that have formed the core of its programming ever since. The spirit of encouraging continuous learning and supporting fellowship among young designers has remained a constant focus throughout the League’s history, and runs through the projects and ideas shared here on the good ol’ Omnibus.

These days, formal architectural education is a lot more prevalent and accessible than it was in 1881, and the emergence of a wide variety of design disciplines has institutionalized itself within postgraduate educational programs, professional associations and consultancies. Indeed, the evolution of design’s role in the public life of the city threatens to segregate young practitioners into narrower and narrower bands of activity. And the intellectual loss that can occur between the ferment of the studio environment in design school and the realities of professional practice kind of makes you wanna… “form a voluntary association for ‘the purposes… of architectural study!'” Right? By study we mean hang out, meet friends, check out studios and projects, and share in the delight of putting pen to paper to solve a design problem on a Saturday afternoon. With beer.

Design in 5, a group of the Architectural League for designers roughly five years or less out of school, does just that. Formed three years ago, the committee organizes a fun group activity once every six weeks or so, the most recent of which you can check out here. Their large annual event is an informal charrette called Sketch120, in which participants are given a design problem (with no advance warning), some paper, and two hours to brainstorm with pencils and markers. All work is then pinned up and informally discussed with a professional jury whose members have included Sunil Bald, James Biber, Andrew Blum, Lauren Crahan, Omar Freilla, David Leven, Granger Moorhead, Robert Moorhead, Philip Nobel, Elizabeth Royte, Calvin Tsao, Alex Washburn and Mabel O. Wilson.

The inaugural Sketch120 in 2007 took place at The Old American Can Factory in Gowanus and addressed the fertile design challenge posed by scaffolding: at the height of the building boom, how could designers rethink the possibilities of scaffolding as “both a spatial condition as well as a surface proposition.” The following year, Design in 5 held the charrette at 3rd Ward in Bushwick and asked participants to consider how, in terms of the individual urban resident, trash might “be revealed, concealed, disposed of, reused, recycled, or given new value.” This year the committee chose to zoom out to the meta-issues at play in the cultural, political, technological, economic, and aesthetic trends and desires that categorize design work as period or movement. The brief was to define the next great architectural ‘ism’ and to manifest it in the design of a chair. The fun took place in the inspiring environs of the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Long Island City. Check out a video of the event below:

We’re sharing this not just because we think all of you Omnibus readers should get involved with Design in 5 — a good place to start would be the group’s Open Forum next Tuesday — and become members of the Architectural League, but also because this publication shares with Design in 5 a passionate belief in constant enrichment through the combination of collaborative problem-solving, urban exploration and design thinking. —C.S.

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