Community Building

A furniture-design competition in San Diego creates more than a prototype.

If you’re a reader of this column you may remember me describing the river stone washed through the ages into egglike perfection that sits next to my computer. Now there is also a small machined-metal cube with a slit notched into it and a red dot etched onto its surface. It’s the story of the cube I’d like to tell you about. This is the 3-D logo of an ambitious furniture-design competition called Linedotbox, announced last January. Aiming to test creative muscles and build a community of San Diego architects, it also called attention to the promise of a new generation.

Early on, project coordinator Laurie Fisher’s enthusiasm engaged me as she explained that designs would be submitted anonymously and that prototypes would be made of 15 to 20 of them—and then asked me to serve as a juror. But having gone through the production process for a competition Metropolis ran some ten years ago, I sent up a warning signal: Are you sure you want to commit to making all those pieces?

At that point I had not yet met Paul Basile, local gallery owner, furniture maker, mini-cab advocate, entrepreneur—a young man of seemingly unrestrained energy and imagination. But even had I known him, my advice would have been the same: work with a reasonable number of designs so that you don’t exhaust yourself and your all-volunteer organization.

Eventually each judge was sent a book of 48 drawings of varying skill and sophistication; Basile ended up making eight of the highest scorers. Then in late October, on the day when the big party was to be held at the Reincarnation—a smartly reused dairy that is now a live-work-gallery space located next to Antoine Predock’s rising baseball stadium—the judges gathered to pick a single winner. Now we were judging objects. We could handle them, sit on them, move them around and determine how close or far from the original idea they were. The award went to Matthew Ellis of Blue Motif for his storage piece. Although the judges remarked that the scale was somewhat off (it should have been smaller so that the top drawer could be easily reached), we thought its form was the most innovative.

Everyone who cared to learn about the nature of objects, as opposed to pure design, had an opportunity to do so that night. And it seemed that Laurie’s dream of building community was also set on a positive course. As for me, I came away with a hopeful feeling about San Diego and the next generation of architects who will build and rebuild this potentially amazing American city. The little cube reminds me of the positive energy I witnessed there, just as the stone makes me realize that perfection takes time.

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