Posted on Monday, July 1, 2013 by Susannah Magers
Tim Bishop (MBA in Design Strategy 2010) works for Parallel Development, a Brooklyn-based design and fabrication studio. The five-person company specializes in collaborating with digital designers, artists, and architects to bring their visions to life.
"We develop the electrical and mechanical platforms they require for their works," Bishop explains, "The works take many forms and might have various levels of interactivity. Frequently they are custom 3D LED displays."
Aviary, a Project for the Dubai Mall
Bishop recently returned from a hectic couple of weeks at the Dubai Mall, where he and his team were installing Aviary (2013), a unique interactive environment designed in collaboration with the architecture firm Höweler + Yoon.
"The piece is two spiral arrays of glass tubes, which range from eight to 13 feet tall. They are touch sensitive and have speakers and an LED core, and as you stroke them, they light up and make sounds that evoke a bird in flight." Each tube has a different programmed response, and, like a shared musical instrument, Aviary can be "played" by one or many users.
Bishop ended up postponing his flight back to New York so that he could stick around and document the first public interactions with the piece. "Kids discover it very quickly. They're more apt to reach out and touch things," he says. "And the mall employees will play it as they're walking by, which prompts other people to explore it."
The client wished to fully explicate the artwork with signage, but Bishop's team preferred to leave things mostly unspoken so that people would be "rewarded for their curiosity. Ultimately we compromised. But there are definitely some Easter eggs buried in there that aren't mentioned on the sign."
The Many Challenges of Aviary
Aviary is the most ambitious project that Parallel has yet undertaken. As far as they know, they're the first to construct anything like these touch-sensitive glass cylinders. "The original prototypes were far less elegant because we thought each cylinder would require a very strong steel core. Once we discovered that the glass could handle the structural loads, the project took a whole new direction. In many ways it became far simpler."
Troubleshooting and problem solving are naturally a part of any job, and Aviary provided no shortage of opportunities to apply those skills. "Deep into production we discovered we had a serious heat issue inside the glass that was causing the LEDs to fail. Curiously, we hadn't observed this behavior in any prototypes, but the timeline required that we find a solution fast."
With about a month to go until delivery, they found themselves undoing weeks of work. "We had to modify parts, add temperature sensors and fans. We were ventilating all these things that had originally been designed to be watertight."
The project also marked an expansion of roles for the company, as Parallel was deeply involved in the conceptualization and design processes, rather than just the production. "This is a new step for us, and we hope it will lead to more such projects."
A Bit of Background
Bishop's undergraduate degree is in mechanical engineering. "It was a very hands-on program, and I spent much of my last couple of years in the machine shop." After that, in his professional life, "I sought out workplaces that were tied to manufacturing, but I found that my engineering degree often confined me to desk work."
Not only was he feeling stalled in his career, but the business he co-owned had stalled, too. "I didn't have the first clue how to grow it. And I started to suspect that the people I was working with didn't, either." He began researching MBA programs because it seemed the best way to advance himself -- and the company -- and stumbled upon CCA's MBA in Design Strategy. He attended an information session, and was sold.
"Just like most other people who go back for graduate school, I was looking for change, looking to be inspired. The DMBA's combination of business and creative problem solving felt like the perfect blend of what I was looking for."
The MBA in Design Strategy Experience
Bishop vividly recalls feeling shaken and challenged during his first semester in the program. His student team was tasked with providing a solution for a health-care client. It was an unfamiliar arena, "yet I had to find some way to contribute. The DMBA was great in that it routinely pushed us out of our comfort zones, then taught us to reflect on how we responded when pushed."
He soon found that a technique he's dubbed "idea dumping" was a successful and necessary part of his process. "Prior to entering DMBA, the places I'd worked didn't really cultivate environments where I felt comfortable sharing ideas outside my area of expertise. The DMBA showed me how a silly-sounding idea can trigger a rather plausible one from someone else. And also how quickly a bad idea will die once you say it out loud.
"It's valuable throughout a project, too, not just early on. Later in the health-care project, we revisited our early brainstorms. Some of the initially more promising-sounding ideas suddenly had no place, whereas others took on a validity they hadn't had before."
This is now something Bishop and his colleagues do on a daily basis. "We sketch and say 'What if . . .?' a lot. Sometimes we laugh and move on, and other times we latch onto something that becomes the whole framework for the project."
Working with Leo Villareal
Another of Parallel's clients is the visual artist Leo Villareal, who has been much in the news in the Bay Area recently for his installation of 25,000 LED lights on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge.
"We've done projects small and large with Villareal," Bishop says, "and each has its unique set of challenges. Last year we were working on a permanent installation called Hive (2012) in the Bleeker Street subway station in Manhattan. It's a fairly corrosive environment, so we had to be careful in our material selections to avoid anything prone to galvanic corrosion. There was a lot of back-and-forth with MTA engineers to get the design approved. Then, come installation day, I found myself mediating a union labor dispute. It was a learning experience."
Ben Rubin's Semaphore and Shakespeare Machine
Another work that Bay Area residents may be familiar with is Ben Rubin's Semaphore (2006/2012). Semaphore is a giant abstract code transmitted by the Adobe headquarters building in San Jose.
The public is invited to try to solve it; it's an update of a related work that went public in 2006 and was eventually cracked by two local scientists, who recognized it as an encoded version of the text of Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49.
Bishop is also very proud of Parallel's work on Rubin’s Shakespeare Machine (2012), which remixes 37 different Shakespeare plays in a site-specific, LED-lit, chandelier/sculpture hanging in the lobby of the Public Theater on Lafayette Street in New York.
Both Hive and Shakespeare Machine recently won public art awards. As for what's next for Bishop and Parallel? "I suspect we'll be making more installations based on the Aviary platform. And we'd like to continue expanding on our collaborations. Maybe even conceive some projects on our own."
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