HOME WORK Conversations
With Rachel Ghindea and Aaron Payne
September 10, 2020
Rachel Ghindea and Aaron Payne are architectural designers living in New York City, most recently working for Studio Ames and FORMA Architects, respectively. Rachel is a founding member of WIPstudio.
HOME WORK: Your plan drawing isn’t just one drawing. What’s happening here?
Rachel Ghindea: Our drawing is an ever-changing active plan. The idea for the drawing emerged from an observation of the blending of digital and physical spaces, of public and private spaces, and of different private spaces through the medium of the screen.
Aaron Payne: Said another way, the project started when we were stuck in our apartment. We began observing new ways that we occupied space through the use of screens. We represented this by aggregating new spaces on top of the apartment’s base plan, creating new opportunities for interaction—
RG: Like going to the park from within our apartment!
HW: Before we get into the content of the drawing, maybe you could talk some about the graphic quality of the drawing?
RG: Before the pandemic started, we were both working for academic firms, so we had inherited this specific drawing style with a very thick cut line and very light detail lines. This style let us layer situations into the drawing, like us on the bed or the cat watching nature documentaries.
The level of detail in the drawing is also a reflection of us being trapped in that apartment. We got to know everything down to the floorboards, the tiles, the food in the pantry. It all becomes hyperreal when you’re stuck in a space like that for so long.
AP: There’s a part of having been stuck there that engrains the apartment into your brain. We actually drew this from memory, having come back to Columbus, OH, from New York City. And while we’re very familiar with that apartment, I’m not sure I would call it appreciation. It was kind of a crappy apartment, with bugs and bad light.
RG: But the point of the drawing isn’t really the apartment itself, but rather the augmentation of the space through screens. Sure, the apartment wasn’t great. Then the question became how do we make this space something more than it is, something that we want it to be. The answer wasn’t in moving furniture around or making physical changes, but digitally augmenting the space. It helps to feel like you’re actually having your friends over for a meal, so we began looking at the view into their apartment as an extension of our own.
Maybe we’re not bringing ‘the outdoors in’ in ways that it’s traditionally been done, but we’re watching park walkthroughs on a big screen to add green space and visually add extra square footage to our apartment.
HW: You’ve described your drawing style and the use of the super heavy cut line. This is very effective in making the virtual extensions of the space appear real. The one place, though, that you don’t follow this graphic style, is in your treatment of the windows toward the top of the page. How are the real windows different from the screen?
RG: Curious that you notice that. I think it’s an interesting observation because those windows are facing a small interior courtyard—just brick, concrete, and an occasional passerby. So it’s not really the outdoor green space like we could see on the screens.
AP: We also didn’t draw any context around the apartment, like adjacent units or other parts of the building. This is part, I think, of the feeling of being trapped there.
HW: Another thing we’re seeing across the drawings is different treatments of the frame, especially the frame around the workspace. For you, it seems like that doesn’t include anything outside the cut line, but does include these digital spaces that can be appended to your apartment. That’s obviously an emphasis here, but we’d also be curious to know if you did any rearranging of the apartment to adapt it as a working environment.
AP: Before quarantine, we both would have worked at the desk that we had designated as office space. During quarantine, the whole apartment had become working space. One person might work in the bedroom for privacy, or just because we’ve been in the same room for twelve hours. So there wasn’t really a frame around our workspace, other than the frame around our entire apartment.
RG: I think we worked it out really well, but it also made me appreciate going into an office more than I had in the past. I used to ask my boss to let me work from home, especially if I knew I was going to be working late or something. I value the office space more now for the clear separation it represents between being at work and at home. Going to an office also brings you into the city, which opens up a lot of other possibilities. Maybe you go out for lunch, take a different route home, hop off the bus and walk a while.
HW: It has been said again and again that the conditions of quarantine have, in some ways, redefined our idea of distance. Can you talk about the situations that are appended to your plan? Are they near? Far?
RG: It’s interesting to look at the social aspect of that. After I graduated from Ohio State, my friends moved all over the country. We kept in touch some right after school, but much more so after the pandemic started. There’s no appreciable difference, now, between talking to your friend two blocks away versus your friend in Texas. This also has implications for work. Like we mentioned, we’re in Columbus now, but are still interested in working for firms in New York. If it’s remote work anyways, maybe there’s not a real difference.
AP: There are two noticeable shifts happening here, one is the type of activities you perform and where they take place within the apartment, and the other is the shifting adjacencies brought on through screens. All of these things begin to meld together and any sense of division or separation gets blurry. Any room in your apartment can now, and may have to, function as anything.
RG: We’ve been thinking about this as a sort of digital retrofit. There’s a lot more exploration to be done here, but I’m curious how these ideas can affect the current conversations on, say, adaptive reuse and preservation. Maybe we don’t need to be building new things, and virtual space can help us adapt what we already have.