Working out of the Box is a series of features presenting architects who have applied their architecture backgrounds to alternative career paths.
Are you an architect working out of the box? Do you know of someone that has changed careers and has an interesting story to share? If you would like to suggest an (ex-)architect, please send us a message.
Albert Chu and Jenny Myers formed Otaat / Myers Collective through a shared love of design on the small-scale. Albert's "Otaat" focuses mostly on leather-craft, and Jenny's "Myers Collective" produces architecturally-minded jewelry. Together, the friends joined forces in creating personal, elegant accessories.
Where did you study architecture?
Albert: We both studied architecture at the GSD, where we overlapped by one year.
At what point in your life did you decide to pursue architecture?
Albert: Ever since I could remember, I always loved making things -- whether they were tearing apart the sofa cushions and making a fort, stacking math blocks into skyscrapers while in elementary school, folding and taping together scratch paper, drawing cross-genre spaceships for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and more. And so it always seemed a natural progression to pursue the actual building of buildings. I loved the I loved the idea of making objects that were quite personal to the individualpossibility of permanence and creating an artifact that could exist beyond the immediate context.
Jenny: I knew from a super young age that I wanted to be an architect, but always pictured it as a kind of inclusive discipline - without distinct boundaries - where art and textile and graphics and all the senses played a vibrant role within an architectural framework. So, after immersing myself in graphic design and fine art studies, I headed to Los Angeles to pursue environmental design / spatial studies at Art Center College of Design. I fell in love with LA, and worked for a significant time as a graphic designer / art director in an architectural context while melding my 2d and 3d leanings into daily explorations of my own. I then made my way back east to Harvard to make it official and study architecture with gusto.
When did you decide to stop pursuing architecture? Why?
Albert: I love the creative process and was itching to make objects that had a different personal relationship to the user. Whereas architecture is all about creating an environment, and potentially a larger commentary, I loved the idea of making objects that were quite personal to the individual -- an object that could potentially be a daily, utilitarian piece that would attach onto the individual’s life. And, remembering some of the skills my mom taught me when I was a little kid, I started sewing again and made a series of bags that I gave to family and friends. And fortunately, there was some positive feedback, which then encouraged me to continue down this path.
Jenny: I am still practicing architecture actually! I decided to get involved in accessory design to give myself a more immediate outlet for creative ideas - and making things (to wear, to inhabit, to share, to eat, to study) has always been a natural part of what I do.
Describe your current profession.
Albert: For Otaat, I wear many hats and get to do really fun, interesting, educational things everyday. I get to work in pretty much every aspect of object conception, development, production, and distribution. And while it feels like quite a heavy load at times (sometimes with way too much driving around all of Los Angeles County in one day), I really enjoy all of these processes!
Jenny: I’m pretty much ‘working’ around the clock these days, but I’m doing everything I love to do. I work with Loescher Meachem Architects as a designer / creative director on a variety of commercial projects, and occasionally independently partner on exhibition design (like the Never Built LA exhibit at the A+D Museum) or help friends with residential projects. I work on Myers Collective all other times, and, like Albert said, wear many hats - from design, to prototyping, to coordinating production, to keeping the blog and website fresh, etc...
What skills did you gain from architecture school, or working in the architecture industry, that have contributed to your success in your current career?
Albert: Architecture in general is such a great profession because it teaches and encourages a very wide skill-set that is part technical, part creative, part psychology, part everything-else-you-can-imagine! And that variety has helped with everything I do. Being a ultimately my vision is for Myers Collective to be a true collective, expanding into furniture, housewares and architectural projectsyoung creative who’s establishing a new creative project and who has to wear multiple hats at a time, I feel as if everything I was able to do in the architecture world has been directly helpful with nearly everything I do now. But beyond the procedural, I feel that my architectural education has fundamentally formed the way that I approach creative projects. I am so grateful that the intensity of architecture has made me nearly immune to the sometimes exhaustive iterative process that demands a rigor and criticality to reach an interesting, thoughtful, simple result.
Jenny: Architecture, both in education and in practice, has really helped me work as creatively as possible within certain parameters (social, spatial, budgetary, programmatic…), and I think that is a beautiful part of responsible, and responsive, design. It’s also helped me hone my creative voice - kind of coalesced all my various creative interests and given them a home, which then plays back into my design across the board.
Do you have an interest in returning to architecture?
Albert: I would love to work with architecture in the future in some capacity because architecture has such a meaningful role to me. It can be such a collective, communal experience, not only in the generative and production phases but also in a larger sense. And this breadth is something that is really interesting and inspiring to me.
Jenny: I am interested in staying in architecture for sure - ultimately my vision is for Myers Collective to be a true collective, expanding into furniture, housewares and architectural projects, which is really where it has been heading all along. I still haven’t given up on my childhood ideals of an inter-disciplinary creative practice!
Managing Editor and Podcast Co-Producer for Archinect. I write, go to the movies, walk around and listen to the radio. My interests revolve around cognitive urban theory, psycholinguistics and food.Got a pitch, or want to write for us? Contact me!