The Edge: Somewhere Something – Design Intelligence
September 30, 20148 min read
Novedge: Biayna, Sacha and Jason, tell us a bit about you.
Somewhere Something is a design firm working at the intersection of art, architecture, computation, fabrication and education. We like to integrate emerging technologies as well as traditional design services, creating a new model for today’s architectural practice. We also provide computational design consultation and teach large firms in Los Angeles.
Biayna Bogosian: I am Armenian and was raised in Iran until migrating to the United States. I did my Undergraduate Architecture education in Woodbury University and went off to Graduate School at Columbia and lived in New York City for a few years. I am currently in the Ph.D program of Media Arts + Practice in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California. Since 2011, I have taught digital media seminars and design studios at Columbia University GSAPP, USC School of Architecture, Woodbury University, and Tongji University.
Jason King: I grew up in suburban Dallas, Texas. I came to California over 20 years ago because it’s the greatest place in the world to live and do architecture. I was a professional skateboarder for the first half of my life, designing and building ramps since my pre-teen years. Kismet has allowed me to continue designing skateparks to this day, doing several for my friends at The Berrics. I teach digital design studios/seminars/workshops at universities/offices all over town.
Sacha Baumann: I moved around a lot and lived in Northern California, Alaska, and Park City, Utah as a kid. Before our firms became my focus, professionally I was in retail management and fine dining. I had the privilege of working at some of California’s most outstanding restaurants in management and administrative roles. It also involved a lot of wine, including running a wine program and collecting. I moved to Napa Valley and eventually received a Bachelor of Arts in Industrial Design at San Francisco State University. I began freelance design and marketing work when returning once again to my beloved Los Angeles. Jason, Biayna, and I formalized our practice, Somewhere Something in January 2013 and our fabrication studio Some FAB later that year.
Novedge:Partnerships are powerful, but can also be challenging. How did you three come together? What makes your collaboration successful?
JK: Biayna and I met when we were both 1st year undergraduate architecture students and hit it off immediately. It may have had something to do with Radiohead. We started to collaborate on projects both in and outside of school which helped to develop an aptitude for digital workflows.
SB: Jason and I met when we both went back to school, sharing the fact that we had gone back at a later age and that we were in intense design programs. I met Biayna through Jason and the three of us met up in both Los Angeles and New York while she was in grad school. Like many successful creative partnerships, ours is based on a mutual respect for each other’s design skills and aesthetic. We came together because we were all ambitious, talented designers who wanted to remake and manipulate our environments.
JK: Collaboration is much easier now primarily due to the ease of communication afforded by technology. Due to our busy schedules outside of the practice, we are probably only in the office at the same time 2-3 days a week, but we are constantly in contact and sharing files. Also, we trust each other’s design sensibility and aptitude. Biayna and I bring a lot of the same skills to the practice, but have our strengths. She is a stronger coder, but I am more skilled with material, fabrication and machines. We are very quick learners when it comes to software and our ability to effectively implement it into our workflow.
BB: We consider this a long term collaboration, so we make plans accordingly. It isn’t necessary for us to know, or be experts in, the exact same things—if so there would be no need for a collaboration. This allows me to get a Ph.D, bringing those things to the firm, while Jason pursues more traditional goals like architectural licensure.
SB: And I am the Managing Partner of both of our firms, Somewhere Something and Some FAB, a position Jason and Biayna refer to as “the adult.” I oversee scheduling, contracts, firm governance, and client services. I’m the 9 to 5er of the studio, its decorator, and janitor. I also lead the marketing including graphics, social media, and networking.
JK: Basically the things neither Biayna nor I are very good at doing.
Novedge: What can artists learn from technologists and vice versa?
JK: It’s almost impossible to separate the two. So many artists are working in technological media—and certainly architects are doing so. Our entire method of working, from the generative idea to documentation is influenced by technology. So much of art is about process, and I think that’s the easiest thing to share between artists and technologists. It’s 100% bi-directional. Technology has benefited from engineers able to think like artists, and art has benefited by employing the products of engineering advancement.
We are always looking for inspiration and “the spark” and generally that spark figuratively happens due to a new experience. That’s one of the reasons I think workshops and maker spaces are currently so popular. Everyone wants to learn something new (to them) and get the spark.
SB: It’s always fascinating to discover the background of the participants of our workshops. I think we all thought in the beginning we would attract just architects, but instead we’ve found our workshops to often be an eclectic grouping of yes, architects, but also, fine artists, hobbyists, jewelry designers, product designers, photographers…technology is being used across disciplines.
Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?
BB: This year we curated and exhibited in the Blindspot Initiative show. We collaborated on our piece with Jose Sanchez of Plethora Project. The interactive installation invited users to complete the piece within a framework that we provided. It was part game, part architecture and it was fun to do an interactive project that used no sensors, motors, computers or anything in the interactivity.
JK: We also designed an interactive installation for a new housing project in Glendale called “Glendale is…” The project is a permanent aggregate cloud with RGB LEDs in each cell. The project uses Twitter and Natural Language Processing to parse every tweet sent within a 5 mile radius of the building. These tweets are processed to gather the overall “emotion” in the tweet and the count is added to the appropriate category: sad, happy, angry etc. These emotions are abstracted into color articulated in the LED cloud overhead. There is also direct interaction controlled by tweeting directly @glendale_is. There are discoverable patterns and colors one can find by tweeting specific words.
We are currently designing 3 housing units on a particularly challenging lot in Mount Washington.
Novedge: What software do you use?
BB: A principle tenet of Somewhere Something is that we don’t believe in using one specific software or tool. We like to look at the main objectives of the project first and choose our toolsets accordingly. Our design process consists of:
Data gathering, Analysis and Simulation, Physical and/or Digital Execution, Testing and Feedback, Revision and Completion.
JK: We were pretty early Rhino adopters, and consequently it’s the backbone of our workflow. There are so many factors that go into our software choices; cost is a big one when you are a small business, obviously. Compatibility with our fabrication equipment, and specific project needs would be the next two most important. It’s important to have facility in the basic software in your workflow, but also be able to integrate necessary software into that workflow if the project mandates.
That said, we don’t want to spend all of our time learning software, we want to be using it to create. It’s important to find a balance.
A sampling of specifics:
Rhino: It’s the perfect mix of freedom and precision. I think its a damn good 2D drafting software as well.
Grasshopper: Super powerful and extendable through a multitude of excellent plugins, it’s where we spend a good amount of our time. We use many more Grasshopper plugins than included in this list, but we have tried to include the ones we use frequently.
Weaverbird: Rhino’s biggest limitation is it’s mesh capabilities, but Weaverbird in Grasshopper does much to remedy some of this. I consider Weaverbird great for modeling, but essential in efficiently thickening meshes for 3D printing.
RhinoCAM: I struggled with other software’s interoperability with Rhino geometry for years. The seamlessness and ease of use of RhinoCAM makes it my go-to for creating GCODE for CNC machines.
Rhinonest: Anyone who uses this will immediately think about how many frustrating hours they wasted nesting files for milling / laser cutting.
KeyShot: Whenever we need slightly more polished renderings we use Keyshot.
Bongo: We use Bongo for it’s ease of use in creating animations inside of Rhino.
Centipede: Centipede allows you to animate multiple sliders in Grasshopper. It’s an ongoing struggle of how to make effective visualizations in Grasshopper, and Centipede is a step in the right direction.
Adobe Illustrator: Vector linework for client presentations. We also use it for Graphics, and to send files to our laser cutter.
Adobe Photoshop: To edit photos/renderings.
Adobe Premiere Pro: More and more of our presentations are videos. We still print the standard architectural drawings—plans, sections, elevations, but renderings and (obviously) animations are much better suited to the video format. Also, a lot of our projects are interactive, making it nearly impossible to effectively represent it using static media.
Adobe After Effects: We use AE in concert with Premiere to make dynamic presentations.
VisualARQ: Along with Rhino’s layout tools, we use VisualARQ for our construction documentation. The parametric architectural objects make for an efficient workflow. We have created Rhino Templates with our offices layer matrix consisting of nearly 200 layers with specific attributes, and custom VisualARQ objects whose components are created on our layers inheriting lineweights and linetypes. Together with our custom layer states, it makes documentation a breeze.
I am curious to see how VA grows. Hopefully, it will become a viable Revit alternative. At the current scale of our office it works very well, but I am not sure that would be true if we were doing gigantic buildings.
Processing: Processing is an exciting and powerful open-source programming environment for designers, artists, and architects across disciplines. It is based on Java and uses Object Oriented Programming (OOP) structure, which allows simulation of complex and high population behaviors. Processing allows users to manipulate forms in real time, create motion graphics, visualize data—all with little drain on computer memory.
Python: Python is a versatile programming language that is used in the Rhino/Grasshopper environment to extend functionality of the platform and its plug-ins. It facilitates creation of parametric as well as non-linear geometric relationships.
Firefly plug-in for Grasshopper: Being able to gather data from sensors (etc), manipulate it and write it to actuators using Arduino—all in the Grasshopper environment—is incredible.
Hipchat: We try to use Hipchat instead of email for business related things. We have specific rooms for each project and general rooms for ideas, business planning etc.
Novedge: How do you collaborate with clients during the creative process?
BB: One of the main research threads in our practice is the incorporation of user data in the designer environment. So, the client inputs are crucial to our design process.
JK: We have been lucky to have clients who are also artists, giving them the ability to understand the design process. We generally have a few meetings and get them to talk about what they want and what they like. We also have them set up a board on Pinterest of designs or materials (or anything) that catches their eye to give us an idea of their aesthetic preferences.
This culminates in a standard presentation consisting of necessary drawings, videos, models, diagrams, materials etc.
Novedge: How does teaching inform your art practice and vice versa?
JK: Teaching keeps us sharp and also educates the new breed of designers working in modes that we dig.
Teaching is a big part of our practice. Simply due to the size of universities, there is inherent (and sometimes necessary) bureaucracy that moves at a different speed than technology. At Some Some, we can teach a piece of software that was released last week, something that would never really happen in the traditional university setting.
Would you like to see more? Visit Somewhere Something on their website and don't forget to take a look at SomeFAB. And don't forget to like Somewhere Something on Facebook and follow the team on Twitter.