Harness - Jasmax


Architectural graduate Mark Craven, interior designer Josephine Meldgaard, landscape ‘crossover’ Sara Zwart and graphic ‘guru’ Sarah Kappely discuss, ponder and decipher their ideas and perceptions of ways to ‘harness’ creativity.

Method in the Madness (or harnessing creativity), what does that mean tome?

Sarah Kappely: My physical surrounds are in a constant state of madness; my flatmate calls me the 'tinker'. I'm a hoarder, an over-packer, I take my mess with me. My structures and methods are more internal. I have a tidy mind.

Upon psychometric testing I was informed that it was lucky because if my mind were as messy as my desk, I'd be in a world of trouble. My work is internal methods and processes to harness something that makes sense from the jumble that surrounds me, not just in my physical environment but all the ideas: my own and others' in the practice.

Sara Zwart: So - if I asked you to find a file note amongst the mess on your desk - would you find it immediately? Or would you simply remember what was on the note? I'm jealous. My clutter needs some order to be of any use to me!

SK: I would totally know where it was. Well at least its general vicinity… there is method in my madness. I just don't throw anything away, and then I can't lose it! Ha! But I generally have more trouble remembering where I tidied things to...now just where was that safe place...?

Like the Sky ad - you have everything on the floor. If someone asks where it is, you just say "on the floor!" Covered.

MARK CRAVEN: I feel music is my architecture. When I designed at University, I would sit at home, improvise over a jazz song and start designing from there. I find music is generally enhanced through improvisation and architecture is improved through finding a freedom within a structured environment.

SZ: So is madness about letting go of control? I don't see that as a negative in design - it's often a rare moment in which a pure free-thought comes to me! I guess the more important question is how do we 'harness' these creative thoughts into an outcome that is useful in our discipline?

JOSEPHINE MELDGAARD: As designers, we are all slightly mad (or is that just me?).

SK: Designing for designers could definitely drive you to madness!

JM: As Sara alludes to - madness is also about disorder - in design this allows us to draw parallels from seemingly disparate things.

I think the important word here is method - how we harness and process our creative thoughts. How we give our ideas context and order our disorder!

MC: Instead of drawing an idea to form a model, I form a model which draws my idea. This helps me find freedom within a structured environment. For me each project is like a jazz song waiting to be shaped through improvisation.

Physical modelling helps me harness this floating atmospheric quality to form a conscious three-dimensional design. Utilising timber structures or challenging the way it's used as a spatial material is what inspires me. Its potential to provide warmth in a space on a human scale, or its elegance in a dynamic structure challenging the conventional has become a cornerstone of my design.

SZ: I'm pretty envious of people like Mark and their processes - they seem to produce the most stunning models or sketches so intuitively!

I tend to use words to harness my ideas... as you'll have noticed, they don't always initially make sense - but often an idea will eventually appear... likewise I will trawl texts and occasionally there will be a quote or phrase that brings some clarity. And on the topic of words... you can never go past conversation - other people's slants on life often influence my design.

Words are my way of collating the madness - purely to give it clarity and form in my own mind. I am embarrassed about the lack of drawings in my sketch book - but somehow a design always falls out when it is needed.

How does Jasmax invite and foster the opportunities for madness in design?

SK: I find great value and inspiration in the Design Weekends away. These give us the opportunity to go crazy, make a mess, build models, discuss ideas and draw inspiration from the natural environment. Having a lot of creative people, avid photographers and plenty of wine on hand helps too!

SZ: I love that at these design sessions, reality is thrown out the window - and seemingly mad ideas applauded. This is very refreshing in a firm that is often (mis)interpreted as institutional. The size and stability of Jasmax allow a greater degree of folly! When I used to run my own practice, I was so caught up in the busy-ness of business that my design definitely suffered, and purely creative moments happened largely after hours on unrelated projects.

MC: As a graduate, I am blown away by the creative freedom of Jasmax: to design, voice opinion and to ask for one. To me, the diversity of people and work is one of the strongest features. This seems to create a controlled sense of madness in itself, one that continuously evolves from project to project.

JM: I enjoy the every-day office interactions that provide opportunities for a little madness. Working in a collaborative studio environment can feel like a fevered hive of activity at times. I like to have enough space to spread out, make a mess and then ponder for weeks, before clearing everything away again to make room for new mess.

So how does working in a multi-disciplinary firm affect your practice?

JM: Being surrounded by a diverse group of creative people with expertise in different fields allows us to broaden our experiences and knowledge. I find the diversity of our office culture refreshing - it keeps things interesting for me.

SK: Working across all disciplines in the firm means I have to have good communication skills. Ideas and opinions need to be pooled together and reinterpreted through me. As a graphic designer, I draw these together to feed into how we represent Jasmax as a whole.

SZ: I am always curious to see how the other teams approach design. I occasionally enjoy stirring the architects up to look at a site with slightly different eyes. But I think this can come down to different individuals and their values as well as different disciplines. It's always nice to know that there's an expert somewhere in the office!

MC: I agree, the more diversity the better.

SZ: Sometimes I will even use a totally unrelated discipline such as dance or social geography to provide some 'method' to add clarity to the confusion of my designs. I guess that's a little like music is to Mark. I can never trace my ideas to a single 'lightbulb' moment - they're always an amalgamation of input from other people and sources.

How does this flow through into your work? How do these interactions and 'creative' sessions change what goes out the door?

SK: Some of it is in very basic ways: in just having revitalised your enthusiasm for creativity.

Noting form and scale. Learning to think about things from a different angle or perspective.

Helping to breed a collaborative environment, so when you need help and advice you can source this from different areas in the practice. Oh just found a post-it on my desk! It says "give context to your thinking" which is what talking your ideas over with others does.

SZ: I agree - although collaboration is a lot harder than you think! It's amazing how often you're working on a design problem and bump into someone at Friday drinks who is simultaneously dealing with the same issue in a different project/discipline. Allowing for those informal exchanges is vital!

JM: I'd like to think that these sessions inspire us to think more - to not settle for the most obvious answers.

MC: They do this by providing a forum to ask for opinions and not solely relying on your own.

Jasmax is an architectural, interior and landscape design practice, with 195 staff based in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.