Cranbrook Academy of Art (Doug Johnston)



Sep '05 - Apr '07

  • anchor

    The Trailer Saga: Let's put it to bed

    Doug Johnston
    Feb 1, '06 11:47 PM EST
    john and i

    This is my new studio space, shared with john. My space is on the right.


    the walls are folded out all the way now - this is how the rest of the studio looks.

    3 studios

    this huge space is shared by yuji, mike, and casey. lots of room for them to build things, and for bill to store his materials.

    Its really incredibly great to have so much space to work with. All the projects i want to do this semester will need lots of space, so this is perfect.

    So i'll talk about the trailer project now...
    The trailer is currently sitting in the corner of the parking lot by the art museum. Shan from the Metals department, who did an elective in architecture last semester and was crucial to the development and work done on the trailer, will be continuing the project as his own. The last plans i saw were to put a large somewhat sculptural water tank on top of it. I think john is going to help him with that too.

    At the end of the semester, with about 3 weeks left to go, we were all trying to figure out what the hell to do with the thing.

    Photo Hosted at

    There had been several proposals for the trailer that were individual projects, which is what the orginal idea was - to have the trailer be a collective site for the architecture students' work. I'll talk about my proposal's a little later.
    After we made the bend in the trailer, which really only took about 5 days of work, we were all wondering what was going to happen next. At this point only about 3 or 4 people had individual project ideas to contribute so we decided it would be awkward to have a trailer worked on by 10+ people, but only 3 or 4 projects really happening on the thing. It was clear that we should all decide on a single unified concept/design which we could complete in 3 weeks. We had about 3 charrettes to produce designs and Matt, after breaking his hand trying to drill holes in the trailer, decided to take on the role of project manager, which everyone agreed was a good idea. After a few crits on trailer design proposals, which really got us nowhere, matt appointed people to specific tasks. Yuji and i were put in charge of coming up with a design that everyone would love and that we could build in 2 weeks.
    At the presentation of that design, Shan, John, and i think someone else showed up with some designs also. Everyone agreed that none of them were very compelling. The problem was that there was really no unified or solid idea behind anything - it was mostly just sculptural form-making, with some visual or spatial effects as bonus features. That night we had a little 'pep rally' kind of thing with cheers and everything (no lie). We were all totally pumped to just finish this thing even if was not really going to be a very interesting project.
    Over the next few days, pretty much everyone except john and shan changed their minds. We all helped grinding a bit more, but really john and shan did the rest of the work. Everyone else with the project decided it would be a better use of time to spend the remaining two weeks developing some individual work to talk about at the end-of-the-semester critiques.

    At the and of the first day of the critiques we talked about the trailer. There was basically silence from the first years and several of the second years didn't even bother coming (which i thought was kind of lame). The critics seemed to want us to defend our work, but we didn't really think it was worthwhile. So then Ken Kaplan tried to get another pep rally going so we'll get it finished... not happening. Bill explained that the project was dead, its not going anywhere, and we all understood what a tremendous opportunity it was, but in reality it just wasn't going to happen, ever. We tried to talk about the nature of Cranbrook and group projects, the different design schemes, the work we did, the places it would have gone, but all of it was kind of like a eulogy for the dead trailer (which had even been painted black the day before). It was rough and somewhat embarassing hour, but we all learned a lot from prject in some way or another.

    It was not a complete waste of time. I think what we did was nice. In the scale of the studio space it was kind of a nice little pavillion we turned it into, with its own strange beauty. But its definitely not something we felt was material for a nation-wide tour to universities and museums. In fact, Casey and I noticed that as it sits out there in the parking lot (taking up 3 parking spaces), it actually looks kind of sad - like a large dead animal carcass swept over to the edge or the road.

    Some pics from the big bend:
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at

    The bend was put in the trailer for a few reasons. We were frustrated and bored with it being a large elevated flat surface which things either to go on or under and we were all very interested in what was happening with the structure, which couldn't be seen unless you got on top of or underneath. We felt that it this point the trailer (as it stood without any project attached yet) would be an intrusion into a space that was simply something to look at. We, at the very least, wanted people to engage it in a very simple architectural way - as a space or shelter to inhabit.
    We worked with several laser-cut cardboard models to choose angles we wanted to use for the bend. We chose one the allowed several people to walk under/into the trailer and at the same time emphsized the long bone structure of its mid-section. One of the main ideas was that the space created underneath would be perfect opportunity for several of the individual proposals that were being worked on at the time. The bend divided the trailer into 3 sections that could be encountered/expereinced in 3 different ways. Lastly, the bend also got of rid of the "wall effect" -the hassle of having walk all the way around the thing just to see the other side. Now viewers can weave their way around and through it in a very nice way.

    Grinding is dirty work:
    Photo Hosted at


    here are few pictures of the trailer as it appeared in the critique, taken by John. These can be seen larger at John's Flickr set.

    Mainly, i think eveyone is happy that its out of the studio and we can now focus on our own work again.

    Originally the trailer was going to be something like this:

    A sort of Miesian pre-fab site for the work which Bill said he was going to fabricate, and for which he had ordered two very large SIP's.

    After some deliberation and worrying about saftey by Bill, the containter space was pushed down to a milky acrylic surface covering the trailer which would be laser cut, lit, and manipulated in several ways. Later we cut off the sides as you have seen, and the we decided to but in the bend, and in the end we scrapped the acrylic idea altogether.


    Here are some of the proposals I produced for my indivual work with the trailer:

    I was interested in the travelling of the trailer as a social networking tool. I saw it as an opportunity to have people intereact on many levels - with one another in person, across state lines, and perhaps online as well. Eric also was interested in how the trailer could work in person and online and so he began developing a gps tracking photo-booth that would upload geographic-data-encoded photos to a website which would track the trailer along its journey. He has much more experience and interest in that than i so I decided to work more on the other forms of possible interaction.

    First i was intersted in sparking conversation and one of my ideas was to have a stereo and speaker system on the trailer that would blast a 9-second clip from Journey's "anyway you want it" when someone would push a random button on the vending machine (which was going to be at the rear of the trailer). I dont really have pictures of that, but it developed into another project that I am currently working on, which will be submitted for the annual cranbrook chair show. I'll show some pics of that soon.

    Next i was intersted in the audience, which would be almost entirely architecture students and architects. I wanted to expand the space of the trailer with something that deployed out of its side and created a place for people to gather for some kind of communal activity. I designed a 6-person pencil (of which i made a 4-person sketch version) which was a direct way of bringing in multiple forms of communication. I then somewhat obsessively designed a unit which would ride underneath the trailer and would be deployed by six people who wanted to use it in the auduence. The unit was a box which unfolded in a floor, out of which unfolded two benches, a table, and a scroll of paper.

    Photo Hosted at

    I was only half-way excited about this idea,and it didn't do so well in the critique. So i decided to scrap it all together (though i think i am kind of excited about it again) and came up with another idea: haircuts. I was trying to think about other semi-universal aspects of humans that, when somehow addressed on the trailer could begin to break down the borders between people in a very simple way. I thought, "everyone needs a haircut sometime." So i ordered a RoboCut vacuum-haircutting system from Ebay. I tried it out on yuji a bit to get the hang of it. He ended up giving himself the haircut altogether because i wasn't very good at it.

    Robocut Haircutting System

    But there are many amazing things about it including A)you can give yourself a hircut with no mess! and B)it is shaped like the guns in Logan's Run - which is reason enough to buy one. And how can you resist these images?

    So i worked on a tray system that would hold the robocut system and be tucked away inside the trailer during travel. At each stop the trays would deploy out along with some seats and then the whole system would be plugged into a power source and its ready to begin "chopping" (that was the theme for the semester) some hair. Furthermore, i wanted to redirect the flow of the cut hair so that the trays also double as the tanks for the cut hair. They would be made of clear acrylic so that the people using and viewing them could see the hair that was chopped from previous locations around the country. Perhaps I would ask that people make a tape line or mark indicating which strata of collected hair belonged to their location.


    For Eric's photobooth project he also needed a seat that could deploy out of the side of the trailer while being completely hidden during travel, so we designed and fabricated a semi-functional prototype out of steel and automotive shocks. The final version would have used two shocks and had a mechanical push-button deployment system and it was going to work beautifully. I was really excited about that and i hope to use the same system in some project in the future. The most awesome part of making this prototype was learning how to bend/forge steel. We bent 1/2"x2" bars and some 1/4" plates to make the clips that atached everything to the trailer. I really enjoyed making it and Eric is great to work with.

    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at
    Photo Hosted at

    So after it was decided that there would be no individual projects Andy and I collaborated on a few designs for the trailer, all of which were pretty bad. I'll only show one because it involved my very half-assed learning of Rhino's 'loft' tool, which is nice. So the idea is that it would be made of a small-diameter perforated metal on a supporting water-jet cut steel structure. The front part on top would have been a public gathering area for open discussion or even public addresses. As it moves over the bend it turns into an inclosed space with seating for more private meetings or sheltered lounging. pretty basic, and pretty bad... but it was my first attempt at modelling in Rhino. I kind of cringe when i see it now.


    I have become very used to modelling in Sketchup was is a great but very limited program. I made a sketchup model of the bent trailer for everyone in studio to use for developing their designs.


    A few more cardboard models and critiques later, Yuji and I produced this design, which i am more fond of, but still not really excited about. It could have been fun to build though. Its a wood deck in a 1/4" steel frame supported by a series of 1/4" steel ribs. It didn't do very well in the crit, obviously.


    Finally, here's a pic of the trailer being towed to its current resting place, the parking lot.

    trailer in tow

    So, there you have it.

    I'll post any pictures I get of Shan's continued work on it.

    This is a ridiculously long post.


    • No Comments

    • Block this user

      Are you sure you want to block this user and hide all related comments throughout the site?

    • Back to Entry List...
  • ×Search in:

Affiliated with:

Authored by:

Other blogs affiliated with Cranbrook Academy of Art:

Recent Entries