awkward spaces: makeshop

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A before-and-after shot: from strange concrete “appendage” to “red carpet”.

A few notes from the “Awkward Spaces Makeshop” with the Stanford d.school, where interdisciplinary teams each performed a quick makeover prototype on an “awkward space” of their choosing on campus. With only a few hours and limited materials, speed and creativity were valued over perfection. 

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We started off by exploring a small part of the campus and identifying “awkward” spots – be they awkward because of social interaction, design, spatial relationships, or use over time. 

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This table, for example, was bolted onto the concrete on the upper deck of the student union. Not only is the table – and its chairs – fixed and immovable (limiting social interaction), its also placed by itself (away from the other seating), in a corner (that catches all the sun), unshaded, and wedged in between two plate glass windows that look into office areas (awkward privacy issues). What’s more, the door behind the furthest chair can’t open all the way without hitting the seat (remember – its bolted in place). I can’t imagine anyone loving this awkward seating arrangement. 

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Next, the group shared back their awkward spaces and chose teams to work on a particular spot for the rest of the day. We chose this concrete “appendage” awkwardly and unattractively protruding from a stairway directly in front of the main entrance to a music hall. With no clear function – or even aesthetic decoration – this flat topped “podium” seemed ripe for an intervention. 

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This shot contextualizes the “appendage”, showing how its also centered in a pretty generic, colorless, hardscaped setting. Pedestrians and cyclists pass right by it (foreground) on a busy path, without being invited into the space for any conceivable reason. 

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With only four hours to come up with an idea, build it, and install it, our team quickly started throwing out ideas about how we could make the space less awkward. We discussed how different interventions could “highlight” the awkwardness (by making it stand out even more or even leveraging it), or “hiding” the awkwardness (by reconfiguring a space or how its used). We opted to highlight the appendage, and to actually use it as a centerpiece or stage. With the Oscars scheduled to air that evening, and the appendage’s location in front of a performance space, we came up with the idea of creating a  faux “red carpet” VIP area on the concrete platform, complete with photo backdrop for the Stanford community to shoot selfies. 

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Without a measuring tape, we made some quick guesses (using sneaker measurements) about the dimensions, then headed back to the d.school workshop to start building our prototype. 

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Part of our team got to work on building a frame for the backdrop. 

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Part of our team started creating on-brand Stanford imagery for the backdrop, adding additional colors to brighten up the drab concrete space. 

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A canvas dropcloth formed the backdrop, and construction paper and masking tape stood in for stencilled logos. 

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With time running out until the end of the workshop (and the day!), the team setup the backdrop using zipties. 

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Blue butcher paper stood in for a red carpet, and a pallet made a step. 

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Since the space was awkward, we called our intervention the “Awkward Oscars”, complete with an awkward fake Oscar make from tinfoil to hold up .

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The photo backdrop in use. 

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Selfie station complete with hand held sign, and awkward, tilted tree. 

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Much more colorful and fun than before! 

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Fellow team members creating a wayfinding sign that corrected an unused and unloved “awkward understairs” space, and simultaneously worked to help confused new students find a student ID office (confusingly and awkwardly located on a second floor midcentury building with only two outdoors staircases to locate). 

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A third team worked to “un-awkward” an unloved and underused seating area outside the student union hall, with a few strange seating arrangements (including a table with no chairs), dirt for ground cover, and a pile of trash behind both sides. 

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The team created a “sculpture garden” by creating a prototype modern art sculpture on a table, and added a simple screen as a backdrop to make the space feel more intimate and block trash from view. 

Thanks Our City, d.school, and the teaching fellows!

Make A Gorgeous Feathery Lantern From Yogurt Cups

Whether you’re looking for a last-minute gift idea or just feeling crafty, this fun, glowing lantern is an ideal DIY project that will bring a little brightness into your space this Winter Solstice week.

All you’ll need is a few cleaned plastic yogurt cups in addition to a plastic water or soda bottle. Easy! Dig through your recycling bin and you’re halfway there.

Cut randomly-sized triangles from the yogurt cups and glue them in concentric rings around the plastic bottle (with the bottom and top of the bottle snipped off).

Let the glue dry, add a pendant lamp socket and a low-watt LED bulb and enjoy the glow!

For the full tutorial, head on over to my Inhabitat piece.

Thanksgiving DIY: Watercolor Feathers

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I made a fun little decoration yesterday – a garland of fluttering paper feathers made from recycled magazine pages and decorated with a bright watercolor wash. Its a Thanksgiving decoration that veers away from the traditional brown and orange palette, and you can give it a try by following along:

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Step One: Find recycled magazines or other papers printed on a white background. Then create a feather shape template – I used two different shapes. Accordion-fold the paper and snip out a handful of feathers. Repeat until you’ve got at least 15-20. 

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Step Two: Get out your watercolors (I used gouache). Mix up some very watery colors, and brush them across the feathers. Make sure you’re painting on top of something you don’t mind getting stained. I used at least two colors per feather and let the colors blend together a bit. Let dry. 

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Step Three: Snip the fringe. Stack about 4-6 feathers together, and fold lengthwise. Using scissors, snip a fringe along the edges, but do not cut all the way across. Continue snipping all the way to the base of the feather. Unfold and separate the feathers, repeating with the next set. 

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Step Four: Measure of length of fishing line, and use small pieces of washi tape to attach each feather from behind. 

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You can hand the garland across a doorway, in front of a window, along the edge of a table, or just drape across a centerpiece. When they hang, the feathers catch any slight breeze or movement and twirl gently.  

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DIY Upcycled Travelling Picnic Blanket 

Its summer, which means its time to sit outdoors quaffing beer and delicately spearing olives with a toothpick. The challenge is getting comfortable on hot sand, pigeon-y urban concrete, scratchy drought-dried grass (for us Californians) and splintery decks. The answer is a cute, compact picnic blanket that rolls into a neat little burrito (and can even be tied onto your bike’s crossbar) and costs just about $4 to make. Your local thrift store or Goodwill has this strange section no one ever goes to, full of household linens. Score yourself a cute curtain or sheet for a liner and a thicker blanket or curtain for the bottom side and you’ve got yourself fifty percent of the way to this DIY picnic blanket. Head over to Inhabitat to read the whole step-by-step instructional by yours truly! 

make a sweater pillow!

got cabin fever? freezing to death? (if you live anywhere but california, that is…sorry!) try out this fun DIY tutorial i created to make two different couch pillows out of recycled sweaters from a thift shop. one version has a button closure and utilizes the existing hem of the sweater. the other has an envelope-style closure in the back so you won’t need to sew on any buttons. have fun! 

full tutorial here

xo, emily