Cultured Magazine

Fall 2013

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Page 51 of 123

Pooling Resources Two emerging studios make a splash with a collaborative project. IMAGES COURTESY OF FAMILY AND PLAYLAB BY DAVID SOKOL Clockwise, from top: Family and PlayLab's floating Plus Pool in the East River, New York; the tent for StreetFest in front of the New Museum in New York; Family's proposed design for the expansion of the Serlachius Museum in Mantta, Finland. In every design process, someone proposes "What if?" An architect challenges a homeowner to dream beyond copycatting the neighbors; an engineer asks a town to rethink a necessary road as a community amenity. Dong-Ping Wong didn't wait for a client to question outside the box. After a particularly sweaty summer in 2009, the California-born architect wondered whether New Yorkers shouldn't have better access to the waterfront. "It took me six years of living in the city to even think of the East River as an amazing natural resource, and not just as a border between Manhattan and Brooklyn," he says. Wong hatched the idea that a public pool could seize this untapped potential, additionally filtering the river water in which it floated. The idea would become Plus Pool, a name evoking both the pool's shape and its unprecedented filtration function. At the time of Plus Pool's conjuring, Wong had already left New York–based architecture firm REX 50 CULTURED to launch his own practice, Family. His former colleague Jeffrey Scott Franklin had left REX earlier in the year to commit fully to PlayLab, a design studio he founded with his best bud Archie Lee Coates IV when the two were still students at Virginia Tech. Wong reached across the months-long absence, asking, "What if this speculation were proposed to a wider audience?" "I think the biggest draw was their ability to explain and show ideas very simply, cleanly and engagingly," Wong says of the reunion. "And it's always better to work with rad people." PlayLab had proven both points already. For the residents of Greensboro, Alabama, Franklin and Coates cloaked a 21st century community redevelopment center in the inviting guise of a pie shop. Confirming their radness, the pair had also started their own record label to have the opportunity to design album covers. For Plus Pool, PlayLab turned Wong's concept into a powerful brand and the combination is catapulting the project to reality. Two successful Kick- starter campaigns have funded research and prototyping, and Coates says, "We have full confidence it's going to happen." In the meantime, Family and PlayLab have also produced new tents for New York's street fairs and a city-block scheme for a design competition in Zagreb, Croatia. Individual accomplishments include the retail environment that traveled in Bruno Mars' "Moonshine Jungle Tour" caravan—PlayLab's doing; Family is currently developing a variety of schemes with Kanye West and a community-center prototype with the 2 x 4 firm. Designing together or separately, with famous clients or for the public, both studios say that their collaboration underpins their work. Coates says partnership with Family has stoked his and Franklin's indefatigable curiosity. It has also concretized their interest in design that benefits people, about which Wong concurs: "Design shouldn't be driven by design. It should be driven by simply making everything better."

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