Reporting by Sarah Pease
A reception earlier this month marked the official completion of another successful collaboration between the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and neighboring Brown University. Four RISD students, Taylor McKenzie-Veal, Scot Bailey, Ian Stell, and Yumi Yoshida, along with faculty advisor Christopher Specce, worked for almost two years to design and produce a suite of site-specific furniture for Brown's newest building, the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts. [Ed. Note: We'd previously been impressed with work from Mckenzie-Veal, Bailey and Stell at Ventura Lambrate in Milan last year.]
Brown University's Granoff Center for the Creative Arts
The furniture designs were conceived and produced to resemble the familiar furniture typologies present in a living room. "The suite of furniture can be rearranged, adjusted, and adapted to the multifunctional program of the building. These furnishings extend the utility of each landing and breathe life into the space with a punch of inviting color," described McKenzie-Veal. The collection includes the following three pieces:
The Granoff Sofa
The Granoff Sofa is a flexible seating system design specifically for the landings within the building. In its complete couch arrangement, the furniture fills the full width of the landing. At once, the sections of the sofa can be pulled apart to become three independent seating surfaces. Users can rearrange the sofa into a large variety of formats to cater specifically to the task at hand.
The Granoff Chair
The Granoff Chair is a geometrical lounge chair that utilizes the formal language of the building to create a surprisingly comfortable seating experience. Designed to mirror the triangular, planar forms of the building and contrast with the organic forms of the couch, this chair provides a counterpoint to the other furnishings as well as a wonderful spot to sit and enjoy the building.
The Granoff Side Table / Stool
The Granoff Stool & Side Table is a multifunctional task surface that directly interfaces with the couch and chair. A set of three can nearly double the seating quota of a particular landing or simply provide users with a surface to place their belongings or kick up their feet.
The leader behind this collaboration is RISD alumnus and Brown professor Richard Fishman, who came up with the idea for the collaboration after participating as a guest critic in the Department of Furniture Design at RISD during the spring of 2011. As Director of the Creative Arts Council at Brown University, Fishman was integral in the fruition of the Granoff Center, which was designed by the award-winning firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro.
The building design includes quaint open spaces adjacent to the stairwell on each floor, described in the program as "living rooms." These common spaces are intended for a range of community uses, including exhibitions, performances or class gatherings. At the time of the RISD critique in Spring 2011, the Granoff Center was nearing completion yet still unfinished. Impressed by what he witnessed during the critique, Fishman identified an opportunity to involve RISD student designers in the Granoff Center project and invited the four students to design custom furniture for the living room spaces. Following the production of prototypes in the summer of 2011, Marty Granoff commissioned the batch production of the Granoff Furniture Suite.
RISD Furniture Faculty and advisor on this project, Chris Specce demonstrating excellent color choice and use for the Granoff Chair.
RISD faculty member Chris Specce was involved in writing the design brief and advised the students throughout the entire process. Specce noted that the "process was atypical. There are unique challenges present when designing furniture for an unfinished building with a flexible program." Specce described one particular configuration of the Granoff sofa as the "hot tub" configuration—a fun, inclusive style of seating that can be created by mixing and matching sofa parts from different living rooms within the building.
It was important to the designers that the furniture was produced using local manufacturers and vendors in Rhode Island and eastern Massachusetts. McKenzie-Veal proudly noted that "the design of the couch purposefully utilized materials and processes that were relevant to the context of local industry such as the yacht building industry that exists in Bristol and Newport, Rhode Island." A total of 14 different local vendors were employed to produce parts for the furniture.
The Granoff Suite in its final installation at opening night.
At the reception Thursday night, RISD Provost Rosanne Somerson expressed how proud she was of the students, so early on in their careers, for developing furniture that references its architectural context but also stands on its own. She called the collaboration "a case study for a model of contemporary design," drawing the crowd's attention to the reinvention of a designer-to-consumer model of production.
From left to right: Taylor McKenzie-Veal, Ian Stell, Richard Fishman, and Scot Bailey at the opening event earlier this month.
The Granoff Furniture Collection is on permanent display in the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
Thank you to Taylor McKenzie-Veal for furniture descriptions and photos.