Monument Magazine
State of Convergence.

- New York multidisciplinary studio, Commonwealth, delivers dynamic creative output by converging high technology and manufacturing processes with artisans and industrial specialists.

-By Brian Fichtner In recent years, the image of young architects and designers toiling away in the belly of a large firm has given way to a more entrepreneurial picture, as graduates, aided by computer technology and relatively affordable prototyping machines, establish their own practices. David Boira and Zoe Coombes did just that when, shortly after receiving their masters degree from Columbia University, they formed their own multidisciplinary studio, Commonwealth. Now with the help of a multi-axis CNC machine, the duo works on the intimate scale of furniture and product design and manufacture while pursuing a variety of collaborative projects in the visual arts.

The immediacy of in-house rapid prototyping has allowed the pair an astonishing output in the four years since they founded Commonwealth. Boira likens the process to that undertaken by a graphic designer: "Its an instant gratification, if you will. Like when a graphic designer does something on the screen, prints it and can see if he likes the kerning. We work much like that. It's a little bit extravagant but, for us, it's a way that has allowed us to grow"

This growth has also been fostered by the studio's proximity to industry. Located in Brooklyn, New York, Commonwealth is able to tap into a wealth of artisans and industrial specialists native to the region. The convergence of high-tech design and fabrication with traditional assembly and finishing lies at the heart of most Commonwealth projects. "What we are trying to do is bring together polarities because that always serves to amplify things," Coombes explains. Commonwealth's 'Lard Series' (2009), a collection of furniture that juxtaposes austere form with an excessive surface, is exemplary of this goal.

Referring to the 'Lard Series' Boira notes, "It's about adding an element that breaks it from looking as though it came from a file- to try to add a level of tactility so you can see that there's craftsmanship in the project." Thus, whereas the glistening, undulating surface elements featured in the 'Lard Series' are obviously generated by a computer; the framing of the table and bureau exhibit all the characteristics of a minimalist design produced by a skilled woodworker.

Both Boira and Coombes employ words like 'tactility', 'voluptuousness' and 'ornament' to describe their work, although they seem less interested in decoration than the sensory experience of their designs. The 'Fleshless Floor' (created for a private space within an art gallery, began with the desire to "create a floor that felt like an old rug". From early experiments using RealFlow, a fluids and dynamics stimulation software, the duo ran various animated scenarios of a liquid gushing into the space. They then sought to tame the scenario to a level of production, compressing the file to a plane with a surface depth of 6mm. To avoid a 'techy' look in the finished product, they utilized a 14-ply plywood and had the surface finished by a local craftswoman, who lacquered it to a near translucent white, which produces an almost fleshy appearance.

Many of Commonwealth's projects evoke an immediate sense of wonderment; a reaction that happens, more often than not, when a design's formal beauty is informed not only by function, but also by cultural and intellectual ruminations. Such is the case with the 'Morfina' door handles, (2008). An exquisite pair of curvaceous forms cast from rapid protoyped SLA photo-cured resin into polished bronze silicate, the 'Morfinas' are more than mere studies in computer aided ornamentation. Rather they are an attempt to embrace two schools of thought. They are named in reference to the Post-Impressionist Catalan painting entitled 'La Morfina' by Santiago Rusinyol which features a bourgeois woman in the ecstatic throws of a morphine high. The painting was at the symbolic center of an artistic debate between two rival movements: 'Modernisme' with its espousal of the decadent and voluptuous, and 'Noucentisme', with its call to austerity and order. Commonwealth’s 'Morfinas' lie at the heart of similar tension: computer-driven design colliding with ancient manufacture; excessive form clashing with the simplicity of function.

The irony of the 'Morfinas' project- a commission from a wealthy real-estate professional prior to the collapse of the global economy- is certainly not lost on Boira and Coombes. Nevertheless when pressed as to whether or not they feel the need to adapt their style to the current economic conditions, the pair are adamant in their unwillingness to compromise.

"I'd prefer to continue doing work that is accepting of some kind of voluptuousness of form, especially when the materials make it economical in the big picture," Coombes elaborates, "rather than be focused on creating an aesthetic of earnestness, which I think has a lot of currency right now."

Brian Fichtner for Monument Magazine.


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