We've been championing the new design enterprise bubbling in Detroit—from Dave Seliger's Route 77 Motor City wrap-up to coverage of Maker Faire Detroit and of course showcasing work from CCS students. But it's the work of the people on the ground that get us most excited about design opportunities coming out of Detroit.
Longtime Coroflot member Brook Banham and his partner Judith Grubinger Banham recently announced the opening of their design studio, Middlecott, in the historic Penobscot Building in downtown Detroit. The husband and wife team are kicking off their new venture with an Open Studio and Sketchbattle this Friday where designers compete to the sounds of DJ Reverend Robert David Jones and DJ Guttertrash Evan. Guests get to vote for their favorite sketches at the end of each heat. Prizes include signed material from Scott Robertson and Syd Mead as well as some art materials from Utrecht.
As part of the 2nd annual Detroit Design Festival and DC3, the event promises to be a great opportunity for the larger design community in Detroit to get together and celebrate. On this occasion, we took the opportunity to talk a bit more with Brook about Detroit, design and music!
Middlecott Design Studio Opening + Sketchbattle
Penobscot Building, Studio 2100
Core77: People have a lot of preconceived notions about Detroit. What are some exciting things going on in the design landscape of the Motor City?
Brook Banham: The Motor City is where its at, seriously. Its fresher here then in any other city in America and maybe in the world. Just about no other city can offer what Detroit offers, affordability and an extrememe entreprenureal spirit, these two probably go hand in hand. The entrepreneurial spirit is fostered by all sorts of creatives moving into the city which makes a very diverse and available skill set. If you need something fabricated in metal, wood or rapid prototyping and CNCed, it's all here. The low overheads and the community spirit make such services very approachable. The economy often works with a barter system because nobody has any cash in the city. All of this is would not be possible in other cities like Boston or San Francisco.
Designers here can take greater risks in their creative approach. In Detroit, designers have a low overhead so they can afford to break out of the mold more easily. You may pay 1/10th of the rent you might pay in a place like San Francisco, which allows you the flexibility and freedom to do what you really want. We just leased a 21st floor 1500sq/ft studio space in the beautiful Penobscot building for the fraction of the price that it would cost in Boston or even Mumbai.
It's brave to open a design studio in this age and time. Why now? Why Detroit?
My partner and wife, Judith, and I started Middlecott in 2008 as a partnership. While the recession was in its throws in 2010 I decided that I wanted to take advantage of the slow time and get my masters degree. My love for all things transport naturally led me to the CCS in Detroit as it is the best accredited transport Masters program in the USA. And as an avid gas head (now electric head too, by the way) what better place then the Motor City?! During the two year program, Judith and I started seeing Detroit beyond its skin-deep, post-apocalyptic facade and really embraced the culture, spirit and people of the city.
Music is fundaMENTAL in my creation so the music was also great draw. As the home of techno it was also a huge bonus to find the music culture absolutely the best I have ever experienced— as someone who has lived in London, Germany and San Francisco all through the '90s club scene, I really know what I'm talking about.
The reason why we are doing this now is because we feel this is a good time to get our roots in place. When the economy takes off, we will be ready and will hopefully be a step in front of the competition. Since I just finished my masters and it had a strong business program which helped to nourish and develop our new company, we decided it was the right time to up our game. Finally, we want to shake up the design community and the best way is to do this is on your own. It's far more difficult to nurture a truly fresh approach when you work under someone else's rules. We believe the design world is a little stale, in particular the industrial side. I have been wanting to break free of the staid systems and tried and tested processes of design and experiment in doing something completely fresh with a different approach. Stay tuned for more about this!
You are a veteran member of the Coroflot community. How has the larger Coroflot community encouraged your development as a designer?
Yes I am a Flot vet. My Coroflot username is just brook....you see, it was early enough for me to just use my first name and nothing else. I think I became a member of Coroflot in '99 or 2000 just before graduation. When I was in school at Coventry in the UK, my teachers recommended it as the best place to put a portfolio on-line that would be seen by employers. They were right—Coroflot has, above any other media/social media site, brought me work, words of encouragement and success. When I get an email from Coroflot it's normally something interesting like a message of 'great work' or a job inquiry. I have also found the Core77 a great resource for design and thinking in both the blog and also when lurking around in the forums. I enjoy going to Core because you don't have to go through a lot of menus and bullshit just to read interesting articles. Just scroll down and see something you like and read...simple. Also most design-related questions can be answered in the forums by well-heeled professionals.
Do you have any advice to young transportation designers in the Motor City and beyond?
Yes, I have some advice for transportation designers in the Motor City... Send us your portfolio if you are any good and together we can shake this shit up!