This week, Delirious LA caught up with the organizers of the 2020 AIA|LA 2X8 STUDENT EXHIBITION. As it enters its 14th year, the 2020 exhibition which opens on November 5th, 2020 at 6:00 PM, via http://2×8.org will be free to the public and entirely virtual. Issues of social equity, as they relate to housing conditions in Los Angeles and other cities across the country are the theme of this year’s work. To engage these issues more effectively, SoCal NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) consulted with the participants on issues of race, economic empowerment, and urban diversity. Delirious LA was delighted to speak to 2×8 program co-chairs Tatiana Sarkisian and Kirill Volchinskiy along with exhibition designer, Garet Ammerman, to learn more about this year’s 2020 AIA|LA 2X8 STUDENT EXHIBITION.
Tatiana, Kirill and Garet, greetings to all three of you, and thank you for taking the time to meet with Delirious LA. How does the 2×8 Exhibition and Competition fit into the larger mission of educational outreach for AIA|LA?
TS, & KV: Thank you to Delirious LA for taking the time to discuss the 2×8 program with us. The Competition bridges between academia and professional practice by providing a platform for student design work to be recognized outside of their respective schools. This serves as a path toward future professional opportunities and financial support as they pursue their academic goals. Furthermore, AIA|LA assists students by providing resources to help them out in licensure, mentorship, and building a network of professional contacts. The 2×8 Exhibition and Competition is an opportunity for students to develop a connection to our organization, and we hope that they will consider joining AIA|LA as young professionals.
GA: This is the first year I have worked with the 2×8 committee. Previously, I had only known the 2×8 student exhibition from a design perspective, and I have learned a lot about its’ underlying mission as well as all the work that goes into organizing it. It is such a great opportunity for students to be able to gain exposure through working with a nationally recognized organization like AIA/LA. The 2×8 Exhibition and Competitionprovides an inclusive and elevated platform for the students to share their work with the world. It is the longest running program of its kind and it engages students from most of the schools of architecture across California.
2020 has been such a challenging and difficult year to plan a public event of any kind. What were some the challenges you faced in putting together this year’s 2020 AIA|LA 2X8 STUDENT EXHIBITION?
TS: 2×8 usually focuses on the traditional gallery exhibition format, which is conducive to a large opening reception, with educators and practitioners in the same space engaging the students’ design work firsthand. This year, we had to think about how to recreate that experience, while making sure to do justice to the work of the students. This had to be our priority. We had to prioritize everyone’s safety during these times of C19, and we have been able to achieve this goal through the generosity of our sponsors, and the commitment from our amazing committee. We have had an overwhelming amount of support and were able to raise $30,000 in scholarship awards for the students this year.
KV: One of the greatest challenges this year was developing the technology in-house, pro-bono, solely using the talents and time of committee members to build this year’s virtual exhibition. In 2020, our challenges also became our opportunities, and not having a physical exhibition allowed us to manage funds and award a significantly larger scholarships to the students. Additionally, the virtual format of the exhibition allowed us to access jurors from east-coast institutions and practices including Jennifer Bonner from the GSD, Marc McQuade from Adjaye Associates, and Paul Petrunia from Archinect.
GA: The greatest challenge I faced this year was the abrupt reconceptualization of the exhibition from physical to the new virtual platform. While we were working through design details and materials acquisition for the original physical exhibition, I received the phone call that we were switching over to a virtual format. This necessitated a total reboot regarding the design of the exhibit. It was an opportunity and a challenge. The new format required a design response which could take advantage of the ways that visitors would interact with the work within the virtual space of the exhibition.
In what ways did the inclusion of SoCal NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) affect the process (and outcomes) of this year’s program?
KV: The coming of the Black Lives Matter movement to the forefront of public consciousness this spring prompted a re-thinking of the topics of equity, inclusion, and opportunity for many members of our discipline. SoCal NOMA has authored point by point plans for the profession regarding improving diversity, equity, and inclusion in architectural firms. They have also issued a similar challenge for colleges and universities. The 2×8 program is partnering with SoCal NOMA to hold a panel discussion where students of color engage representatives of architectural institutions directly. This discussion will be moderated by Josh Foster from NOMA. The title of the panel is “Dismantling Systemic Racism in Pedagogy.” The intended outcome of this panel is to reinvigorate the discussion surrounding these topics and share various strategies across institutions.
TS: The inclusion of SoCal NOMA has really opened the conversation within our committee. We needed to ensure that we were being responsive to these ongoing issues, which is why the supplemental panel discussion is organized the way that it is. Because all entries are anonymous, we do not factor in issues of identity in determining the winners of the competition. But we strongly advocate raising public awareness through our public events and programming and hope to continue this effort in the future.
How was the design of the 2020 AIA|LA 2X8 STUDENT EXHIBITION adapted from its original physical format to the new virtual one?
GA: Related to the aesthetics of the design itself, I would say that very little was adapted from the original physical format. However, some of the organizational and experiential strategies were bridged into the new virtual approach. A point of emphasis in the design of the original exhibition was an avoidance of a linear progression of project after project as displayed on a wall. This led to the creation of 9 free-floating ‘pods’, each with 3-4 sides available for the display of work. The notion of the ‘pods’ gave individuality to each display wall, with slightly different shapes and orientations within each physical room. This approach persisted in the new virtual exhibit. You can see it in how we navigate through the students’ work within the scaffolding of the virtual exhibition space. The limits of horizontality are further dissolved as the viewing angles can move vertically as well, and we maintain the uniqueness of each pod, each of which houses 1 student project.
KV: Originally, we had a building with an exhibition space and without that, the exhibition ceased to be tied to a specific physical site. Instead of being dictated by budget, square footage, and materials, the drivers for the new exhibit became the technology and the constraints of what the committee could assemble. The design ceased to be tethered to a space and is now only constrained by bandwidth. The 2×8 program is structured to provide visibility for students and opportunities for emerging faculty to design a public exhibition. The competition brief, to which Garet responded with the winning proposal, mandated designing for a second life of the exhibit. The theme of housing created a need to focus on zero waste and using materials that would be able to be repurposed after the exhibition was demounted. All these considerations were cast aside however, and the budget reserved for construction of the exhibition was made available to the students as scholarship awards.
Looking forward to next year, do you feel that some of the changes made in 2020 will affect the format of the 2021 AIA|LA 2X8 STUDENT EXHIBITION?
TS: With each iteration of this exhibition, we are given the opportunity to build on the previous years’ experience, and to expand the possibilities of what the 2×8 program can offer. While it cannot compare to an in-person connection, an online experience can supplement our efforts in supporting the students on their path towards professional careers. This year, we were able to reach outside of our network in Los Angeles and enjoy the perspectives of a diverse group of practitioners who agreed to serve as jurors and panelists. This is something we would like to carry forward in subsequent iterations of the program. The new virtual exhibition format allows for greater exposure of the work, and provides access to a national, and international audience.
GA: I like the idea of a virtual exhibition that is mirrored by physical exhibition. I do not foresee the virtual realm eliminating the need for an in-person experience with an opening night and the tactile experience of concrete space just yet. Assuming that the physical exhibition would forever be documented online through any number of social media sources, it seems appropriate to have a more curated version of that documentation by the organizers of the event. All of this is dependent on logistics and resources however, and there is a lot of work going on behind the scenes to create this year’s virtual exhibition. We have hopefully achieved a successful virtual platform for the AIA/LA. The 2×8 Exhibition and Competition that can be built upon for years to come.