drepucci

Hosted By:

Demian Repucci

Creative consultant, innovator, designer

Sep 20

2010

The relationship between Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson has at times been described as both a rivalry and a collaboration. But what was it? History is full of creative rivalries such as Picasso and Matisse, Adidas and Puma, Microsoft and Apple, even the entire Renaissance. Today, though, technology has fostered a new model of creative process. Using open source software development and online collaborative platforms like OpenIDEO, designers are encouraged to collaborate instead of compete.

In your opinion, what produces the most innovative ideas and effective solutions: ‘Competition’ or ‘Collaboration’? Are there circumstances where one works better than the other?


brianappel

Brian Appel

Art Consultant

Brian gave the final word

“For an artist, the most important and most delicate relationship he can have with another artist is one in which he is constantly challenged and intimidated. This is probably the only productive product of jealousy. The greatest pleasure is to be provoked to the point of inspiration… Jean-Michel and Andy had achieved a healthy balance. Each one inspired the other to do the next. The collaborations were seemingly effortless…”
Keith Haring (1989) on the successful collaborative working relationship between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Tuesday, September 21 at 4:10pm

ameliablack

Amelia Black

Design Researcher

Limited resources are a reality of the world we live in and as a result, it would make sense that our society should embrace the transparency of an opensource philosophy towards creative development. Collaboration is the way of the freelancer who is unable to bring life their projects without the support of a client, despite the competitive landscape of obtaining work in design. I would argue that collaboration and competition are not in fact mutually exclusive but rather sides of the same coin, in much the same way that architecture competitions effectively create space for innovative ideas in contemporary practice in our community and collaborate to bring greater awareness of architecture to the larger public.

Tuesday, September 21 at 10:53am

    drepucci

    Demian Repucci

    Creative consultant, innovator, designer

    Thanks for the comment Amelia! Yes, I think you are onto something with your point that collaboration and competition are somehow related. But I wonder if discerning the dynamics of that relationship are not as ‘cut and dry’ as simply assuming that implicit in competitions there is collaboration and collaboration happens within competitions. Your illustration of architecture competitions is a good one, I think, to examine further.
    We could begin by posing the question, “Would the same building selected as winner of a competition have been designed had it been the product of an open source collaboration?” We would all probably say that, no, it would not. I agree with you that competitions provide a stage upon which innovative ideas can happen. But I think they are different than transparent collaborations in that a competition is most usually one designer’s display of their unique solution rendered in their signature design style. Hoping to be chosen over another.
    The up-side to this is that our cities are populated with buildings that are visually and stylistically varied and that respond to programmatic needs differently. It could be argued that buildings designed by committee, while maybe responding well programmatically, might end up looking like the same bland visual mush as the last building designed collaboratively. An unfortunate example of this might be the ‘Freedom Tower’ in New York, pushed and pulled between Daniel Libeskind and SOM (as well as many other concerned eyes) so much that it ended up worse for the wear and a bit ‘muddy’ stylistically. Another example might be the blocks and blocks of high rise public housing constructed in the 1960’s in US cities like Chicago and New York. A resounding failure to be sure with many lessons to take from it. But the main point I think is that stylistic variation and visual character can be good things when handled correctly.
    The down-side is that the good points of the architectural competition’s winning design have to be taken with the not-so-good points. Very rarely (The aforementioned ‘Freedom Tower’ a possible exception) can the judges say “Designer ‘A’, we really like most of your design but we would like you to incorporate Designer ‘B’s lobby design instead of yours.” Designer ‘A’ would most probably say ‘It’s my design vision or nothing. I can’t let my concept be corrupted by outside influence!’ In this regard I think a competition differs greatly from a pure collaboration.
    Maybe, to come back to your original point, a competition is a form of collaboration in that the designers involved choose to be involved and evaluated against the others. If Designer ‘A’ is simply handed a commission he or she may or may not design to the best of their ability due to laziness, busyness, lack of focus, etc. However, if Designer ‘A’ is put up against Designers ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ in a competition they are more likely to spend the time and effort to submit their best work in hopes of being chosen. I think this could be seen as a form of collaboration. A collaboration spurred by ego. But spurred nonetheless to cultivate innovation and creativity. Which is a good thing.
    But I guess my question would be, is this the best way to arrive at the best design? Maybe one could argue that it works better for architecture than, say, industrial design or user experience design. A counter argument to that, though, could be formed. Sure some amazing buildings have been built as products of competitions. But they have also produced a large number of great buildings that haven’t been built as well. The point being that architectural competitions are pretty inefficient. Many designers do a large amount of work addressing the same programmatic scope and then only one gets chosen while the others get shelved. Not to mention the added problem that most often only the winner gets paid for their work. Might there be a better model for arriving at architectural solutions? One that utilizes the best ideas from each designer and allows them to build on the best ideas of the others. A system that enables architects to work as broadly or as incrementally as they want. With the possibility of getting paid for their portion of the solution.
    Or is that unrealistic?
    Maybe this traditional form of competitive collaboration is the best way to achieve the most innovative solutions in architecture. Whereas a different form would be better suited to other design disciplines. Or is the architecture profession just stuck in an outdated model yet uninterested in exploring new types of collaboration?
    I know I have gone on a bit here… there is definitely more there to talk about. But let me know what you think. Thanks again, Amelia, for your comment. I have enjoyed it!

    Tuesday, September 21 at 1:54pm

brianappel

Brian Appel

Art Consultant

Brian gave the Final Word

“For an artist, the most important and most delicate relationship he can have with another artist is one in which he is constantly challenged and intimidated. This is probably the only productive product of jealousy. The greatest pleasure is to be provoked to the point of inspiration… Jean-Michel and Andy had achieved a healthy balance. Each one inspired the other to do the next. The collaborations were seemingly effortless…”
Keith Haring (1989) on the successful collaborative working relationship between Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Tuesday, September 21 at 4:10pm

Isn’t there an underlying competition within collaborating?

The we’re-in-this-together sensibility of collaborations theoretically drives all the contributors to push the collective exercise to the most innovative and effective solutions. If the assumption that the collaborators are equally invested is correct, then can’t we also assume that they’ll be participating in a form of friendly competition in order to most meaningfully solve the given challenge?

Tuesday, September 21 at 4:30pm

    drepucci

    Demian Repucci

    Creative consultant, innovator, designer

    Craig, thanks for the comment! And very interesting given the topic. These things are never as simple as we try to make them out to be. My question included!
    In regards to your collaboration comment I might fall on both sides of your suggestion.
    First, we might consider open source software coding as a form of collaboration. If we use Linux as an example, I would bet that the code contributors would agree with your ‘we’re in this together’ sensibility but downplay their competition with each other. Instead they might focus on a collective effort in competition with the behemoth ‘man’ of Microsoft or Apple, trying to break their iron grip on the operating system market. The individual achievement is downplayed but the positive contributions are welcomed and built on.
    On the other hand, there are collaborative platforms such as the new OpenIDEO ( http://www.openideo.com ). These crowd-sourced creative platforms seek to collectively develop solutions to generally humanitarian problems like how to get kids to eat healthier food or how to get more affordable learning tools to classrooms in the developing world. Since creative professionals are contributing their time for free I am sure there is an over-arching ‘we’re in this together’ sort of thing (although I am not sure that everyone being ‘equally invested’ can be discerned…). But the system is constructed differently than pure open source in that designers offer their ideas, with their names attached. Other designers and watchers comment on and rank the ideas in terms of popular approval. Ideas can develop through the process into full-blown concepts based on the comments and suggestions of others, but the ultimate goal is the most popular idea being selected as the winner. So it seems as though a bit of friendly competition is built into the model. Is this a bad thing? Probably not, as most designers want their ideas to be well regarded by their peers so will spend the time to make sure it is well considered and polished for presentation.
    But the question remains as applied here: are either of these collaborative models more effective at producing the most innovative and meaningful design solutions? Or are they both best suited for the tasks that they were used for? Now that I am thinking about it… it is hard to say. I am not sure that the Linux ‘open source’ model could really work to collectively solve humanitarian problems. An operating system is a single ‘thing’ that people can contribute to and edit incrementally to build whereas a humanitarian problem could have several different solutions, all needing their own development.
    So, yes, I would agree that there can be underlying competition built into some forms of collaboration. I think the trick, though, is just discerning how best to utilize that creative kinetic energy to collectively solve the problem at hand.
    Or are there hard and fast rules to live by?
    What do you think?
    Thanks for the comment Craig!

    Wednesday, September 22 at 1:56am

jimmeredith

Jim Meredith

Strategy Design | Design Strategy

If I were to consider “most” as quantitative, I would propose that competition, which is inherently additive (and potentially cumulative, and maybe even exponential), is the winner. You and I and others, in a quest to differentially achieve, each develop separate innovations. As our competition extends through time and we are exposed to each other’s ideas, we have the opportunity to gain insight, learn from each other, correct paths, maybe induce others to enter the arena with their ideas, build on others’ concepts, and progressively expand the quantity and improve the quality of innovations.

I suppose, however, that competition, if it not a general context but implying a “winner” in the end, may also overreach to achieve “most innovative.” Competition then, in the sense of Amelia’s comment, carries a threat of overconsuming, stressing or wasting resources, or even undershooting if it is known that the resources are spare. Collaborative development, implying complementary and appropriately-scaled resources, might then be the right approach for sustainable solutions.

Competition = “most” | Collaboration = “effective”

Tuesday, September 21 at 8:29pm

drepucci

Demian Repucci

Creative consultant, innovator, designer

Brian, thanks for the comment. Great quote! The relationship of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat is an excellent case study of collaboration and has several parallels to the relationship between Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, the ‘competitive collaborators’ that inspired this conversation.
Warhol must have seen a rising star in Basquiat when he took Jean-Michel under his wing. But did he do it out of purely benevolent motives? More probably the established Warhol saw an association with the young, hip Basquiat as a means to remain relevant in the ever-changing art world. Basquiat, from his point of view, might have seen his relationship with Warhol as a short-cut into the rarified world of top galleries and collectors. What’s interesting to me is the thought that each probably saw the other as non-threatening. The art of Warhol and Basquiat was so different that they probably didn’t think that the other would ever encroach on their own stylistic turf. So it was o.k. to play together.
In terms of Haring’s comment about being provoked to the point of inspiration, I bet that it is easier to be inspired by someone who stylistically interprets things completely differently than you do. Too similar and admiration of the other’s work could possibly be a subtle admission that there is something lacking in your own work. This, I think, made it safe for the two artists to interact socially. Their work was so different that there was no danger of either one of them producing something that looked like the other’s work. An issue that makes the Warhol and Basquiat ‘collaboration’ paintings so interesting. As soon as they both contributed to a canvas, they were seen as a collective entity and opened to be criticized as such. When the 1984 Tony Shafrazi show of their collaborative work received less than favorable reviews, their relationship started to strain. I am probably getting off topic here but interesting stuff to think about.
In terms of Mies and Johnson, I think that their relationship was similar to that of Warhol and Basquiat in that they each used the other to their own ends. Johnson antagonized Mies with letters and used the as yet un-built Farnsworth house design as inspiration for his own glass house, completed before Farnsworth, to increase his own public visibility and design fame. But Mies probably put up with it because Johnson orchestrated his inclusion in a MoMA show, increasing his own design persona. But their relationship was probably much more adversarial that Warhol and Basquiat’s since both Mies and Johnson were operating within the vocabulary of ‘modern’ architecture.
Another difference in the two relationships is that the financial roles were reversed. Basquiat, the young artist, was broke. Warhol brought him into the fold of the established and comfortable ‘A’ list art world. The well regarded Mies, however, was the one fighting for survival while Johnson, though then unknown for design, had money and social connections at his disposal. It is fascinating how each of these four used their available resources to relate, whether collaboratively or competitively, with the other to achieve their goals.
Of course… I am extrapolating and making some assumptions about these relationships. Brian, you know much more than I about Warhol and Basquiat so please correct me if I am in error. But it is interesting to think about how these, and our own, relationships affect our creativity and the work that we produce.
Thanks so much for your comment!

Wednesday, September 22 at 12:50am

drepucci

Demian Repucci

Creative consultant, innovator, designer

Thanks for the comment Jim! ‘Most’ as quantitative – very clever! I think your description is correct when applied to a model such as OpenIDEO that I mentioned in another comment. Contributors –or are they competitors?- submit ideas and concepts, view other designer’s contributions and submit more ideas based on how they learn from or are inspired by the growing amount of concepts. So I think in that case you are right about being able to gain insight from others and adjust the conceptual direction.
But, returning to the original question (and maybe rewording it a bit), would this model produce a solution more innovative than other forms of collaboration / competition?
As Amelia mentioned in her comment, architectural competitions are of a different type altogether. During the process designers do not have the benefit of seeing each other’s work to inform and inspire their own. It is a competition of lone creative vision driven by a multitude of motives. Everything from altruism to ambition, inspiration, ego, fear, jealousy, pride, opportunism, etc. Not to mention that the bar is raised on the designer’s work as they contemplate the fact that their design will be judged in relation to the designs of their peers. To come in second place is to have your design not get built. And your billable hours not get paid. All this is not to say that these motivators are necessarily bad. They are just different. And may produce different results.
Which is another vantage point from which to consider this topic. How much does the platform on which a design solution is sought, one form or other of a competition or collaboration, affect the innovations that are produced? Is the influence of the model of engagement so profound as to produce greatly differing solutions? If so, then how can we discern what model would be best suited for the given programmatic requirements? Or is there a new model of designer interaction that would produce the best results for every scenario?
Thanks again for commenting!

Wednesday, September 22 at 2:52pm

sarahcloonan

Sarah Cloonan

Graduate Student

Since this conversation is hosted by the Philip Johnson Glass House – now a part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as is Mies’s Farnsworth House, I believe an at least partly historical reflection is necessary as a method of determining the most successful atmosphere for architecture and design related fields in the future.

To speak directly to Demian’s outstanding poster designs for the Modern Views exhibition now on view at Sotheby’s, I believe the allusion to two modernist masters “duking it out” in the ring is the perfect example of both competition and collaboration.

If a boxer by definition is not a boxer until he engages in a bout with another boxer, then the art and sport of boxing depends upon two factors – relationships and engagement. While the relationship in architecture may not be one of physical proximity within a boxing ring, it frequently remains within the “arena” of the design profession, and the engagement may be either between the building and its user, or the designer and his/her consultants. Regardless, it is an act – an event that can, at times appear collaborative and competitive. I’m sure most professionals have at times fallen victim to a “propping up” only to then be “knocked down” by an opponent? What is apparent in both the Johnson-Mies dialogue and the boxers is that it is within this arena that the some of the most poetic, fluid acts are carried out – whether in architecture or sport and it is the greater public who has the most to gain and is therefore the winner.

Friday, September 24 at 9:31am

drepucci

Demian Repucci

Creative consultant, innovator, designer

Great thoughts Sarah! (and thank you for your kind words about my posters:) ).
I completely agree with your portrayal of a boxer. A profession built on the necessity of establishing a collaboration / competition with another. I can be a boxer only if someone else wants to be a boxer with me and against me. All this talk about boxing has got me humming that Simon and Garfunkel song. Speaking of those guys… there’s another collaboration / competition that might be worth examining! Haha
But… getting back to Philip and Mies, I think they were both wise in maintaining and cultivating a continuing public dialogue with each other, even if at times adversarial, over the years. This tension allowed both men to benefit from each other’s strengths to remain publicly visible and professionally productive. So, yes, I would agree that the relationship between Philip and Mies is a good example of how competition can be a form of collaboration. And vice versa.
I don’t think, though, that all competitions and collaborations are just differing ways of describing the same relationship. Architecture competitions, as Amelia mentioned earlier, I think do not allow for much collaboration within the design process at all. Did the designers invited to submit a design for the new MoMA building collaborate and help each other with suggestions on how their submissions might be better? Of course not. I do like your last point in that it is the greater public that gains. Maybe ‘collaboration’ in terms of the current model of architecture competition happens long after a winner is chosen. Looking back, the public examine all of the competition submissions and potentially learn from the diversity of ideas the components of each solution that might have worked better than others. That learning can then be applied to subsequent design concepts in the future. In that way I guess we could look at it as collaboration. But a posthumous one really.
So maybe the architecture profession, or the potential clients for that matter, should ask themselves the question if there might be a better, more creatively additive and productive way to structure design competitions / collaborations for new building projects. Is the traditional architecture competition an outdated model?
I guess my larger point would be to take your interesting examination of tradition and look at it through the lens of the design process today and how it could be applied and developed in the future. Given today’s technology and the multiple ways in which we have available to interact with each other, I wonder if there might be a new model of competition / collaboration that could emerge that would utilize the symbiotic relationship of the two sensibilities more effectively to achieve solutions that are more innovative than might have been possible previously. IDEO’s ‘design thinking’ philosophy and methods along with their new OpenIDEO platform I think is an example of a good direction with a lot of potential for future growth. But how else might relationship within the design process be developed? As talked about above, a little competition is a good thing. But so is collaboration. What sort of interaction model can we build that will make the best use of both?
Thanks for engaging Sarah!

Friday, September 24 at 12:15pm