There’s something captivatingly transient about Vancouver. From illegal venues in Eastside alleyways to pop up boutiques for coiffed dames and their dogs, crops of spaces targeting various groups of Vancouverites exist with a sort of nervous urgency. We don’t know how long spaces last here and our moments with them acknowledge the risk within the excitement. So, we’re always a little shocked when this fleeting aspect of our city is envisioned away from the risk and instead redesigned into something unique to be celebrated. studioCAMP is behind the redesign.
“The underlying studioCAMP theme is camping out,” says Ian Lowrie, one third of the studioCAMP trio. “We’ve gone from studio space to studio space. At one point we had no studio space and were doing projects purely online through stuff like gmail chat and dropbox. The campers themselves have changed over the years, too. It’s very ephemeral.”
Nigel Dembicki, Genta Ishimura, and Ian Lowrie are the three UBC Environmental Design grads who currently make up studioCAMP. They identify themselves as a group of designers focusing on architectural design, with a mandate for small, “human scale” social interaction within public spaces. Especially lately, they have truly embraced this passing quality within their collective: Genta just returned from a year spent away in Whitehorse working as a designer for Kobayashi+Zedda Architects. “It was a good time to take a year off and think about studioCAMP from a Northern perspective,” says Genta. “Whitehorse is a tiny community of 35,000 people, so everyone comes together for every event that happens. studioCAMP tries to embrace that collaborative approach– we try to get different people involved in each project that we do.”
Their latest project reflects this goal. “I love a city where you can stumble upon something that engages you,” says Nigel. “So we’ve been working on the bending bench project. It’s a 37.5 ft bench on caster wheels and hinges that’s in segments. You can fold the pieces of the bench into a compact piece, or stretch it out.”
What’s impressive about the bench is that the trio are still in their 20s, yet are already [partnering with] the city. The bench will be part of VIVA Vancouver, the official city program that transforms road spaces into public spaces. studioCAMP spent months getting their idea approved. “It was a long process of applying for grants… and looking for sponsorships. We went around so many businesses, looking for material products. We were firing concepts off, and the bench was something that actually came back.”
This scale of public engagement is familiar to studioCAMP. In the past, they’ve set up a portable barbecue kitchen, transported by bike; later this summer, they’ll be designing the East-Van Kickstand (a community bike space) within a shipping container. “There are always two different perceptions of things like light switches, taps, doorknobs: what people see exists, and what actually exists,” says Nigel. “We are interested in challenging how people interact with these things and the built environment around them.” It is curious, then, that their first foray into the visual arts will an exhibition later this month at Shudder Gallery in the Downtown Eastside – the one neighbourhood of Vancouver that constantly fights and challenges citizens’ perceptions, and is marked by serious architectural issues, such as single-room occupancy. Yet studioCAMP opts to remain tight-lipped about the themes of the show. “As far as interacting with the neighbourhood goes, as long as we have an installation that engages passersby from the outside as well as from the inside, we’re happy,” says Nigel. “There’s a lot to learn about community and public space from the Downtown Eastside,” adds Ian. “Any architectural intervention needs to be really careful not to mess with that.”
Like many creative projects in this city, keeping studioCAMP is no small feat. “studioCAMP is like a struggling band,” says Nigel. “It’s a passion. We hope to turn it into a passion that can cover its bills. We’re trying to be optimistic about the plights of the creative community.” Yet perhaps, in this city of short-lived ventures and projects, taking the pressure off is exactly what studioCAMP needs. “We’re in a great place right now,” says Ian. “We’re approaching projects we actually want to do… because we can. We’re part of a free group of creative people in this city. That in itself is pretty incredible.”
By Polina Bachlakova, presented by The Cheaper Show.
The Cheaper Show is an annual community art event based in Vancouver established in 2001.