Architect David Martin passes on his furniture-design prowess to University of Southern California undergrads
Edie Cohen -- Interior Design, 2/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
The University of Southern California visiting scholar and A.C. Martin Partners design partner and principal.
Brad Zuger's award-winning table in glass and steel, inspired by Pierre Chareau.
Ian Johnson's chair in steel and plywood.
Public-policy major Graham Fox's podium in the same materials.
Political-science major Seth Marsh's table, with glass topping a steel base that turns on end to go from cocktail to console height.
Eric Swakon's tubular-steel chaise longue with a hand-stitched canvas seat.
Fine-arts major Julianne Donohoe's Wassily Kandinsky–inspired table in steel and plywood.
Ryan Upton's painted plywood table with tubular-steel legs.
|A third-generation principal of A.C. Martin Partners, David Martin is an architect by profession, a watercolorist, furniture craftsman, Ducati motorcycle enthusiast, and restorer of exotic vintage cars by avocation. About the only thing missing from his overflowing plate was academia—until he started teaching undergraduates at the University of Southern California School of Architecture.
Martin's personal and professional ties to the Los Angeles university are strong. It's his alma mater, for starters. (He went on to earn a master's at Columbia University in New York.) Furthermore, his firm is responsible for USC's Viterbi School of Engineering and Viterbi Museum. A student center is currently in the design phase.
How did teaching come about?
I began with an intensive studio that entailed designing a hypothetical high school in a Los Angeles parking garage. It was fabulous. I loved it. But the time commitment, three afternoons a week, was tough to juggle with my other work.
Then, one evening, Robert Timme—who was the architecture school's dean at the time—came to my house, saw the furniture and lighting I had made in my garage, and said, "We've got to teach this at USC." So we organized a class in Furniture Design (Metalworking and Fabrication). As it's only a two-unit course, as opposed to five or six, it meets just one afternoon a week.
What was that first class like?
The university didn't have a metal shop yet, so we met at my garage mostly and also visited sculptor Guy Dill's studio in Venice.
How did it go in the beginning?
I found out a couple of things. If you're teaching skill safety and metal fabrication, your students will learn more quickly as a team than as individuals. I also discovered that, although most of the 19 people in the class were architecture students, they didn't know about one of the most difficult and rewarding things: the details of how materials come together. That means screws, fasteners, nuts, and bolts.
How do you respond to that?
After lectures on safety and the history of the modern movement, I assign a case study. Students are confronted with how the masters did it and how important detail is. Then they form teams to reproduce a classic piece. Last time, we had Jean Prouvé's Potence swiveling lamp and Eileen Gray's bar stool and table.
The team assigned to the table included the one political-science major in the class. But he happened to come from a furniture-manufacturing family.
And after they finish the repro piece?
They're on their own, although I encourage them to design a chair, a table, or something of a similar size.
What's the time frame?
It's 16 to 17 weeks, including eight weeks to build the second piece. That's a short period, especially since we're competing with major assignments from their other classes.
Besides poli-sci, what were the non-architecture majors?
We had one each majoring in philosophy, fine arts, and business—the university encourages a cross-disciplinary dialogue. Generally, they held their own, but they had some difficulties in sketching and measuring.
How do you see the ultimate value of the class?
It's a metaphor for architecture. Students learn to deal with program, budget, and time frame in addition to design and fabrication. Except, with architecture, it generally takes at least five years to do anything.
What surprised you most?
The enthusiasm and the creativity. This year, for example, we had a dining table housing cacti under a steel-screen top. Another time, a student built a "dream" nightstand with a urethane-silicone top. This past semester, I was particularly proud of Brad Zuger, who won the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Design Review Competition for a table inspired by Pierre Chareau.
Did you, yourself, come away with anything?
I learned what most architects learn. After teaching, you end up being more encouraging and supportive to your staff.
I'm not sexist, but women are better welders. Now I understand Rosie the Riveter.