33 is a multi-disciplinary design studio located at 33 Temple Street
in the East End of London. The studio is comprised of Dan Eatock and
Sam Solhaug. Many who know the work believe believe it is an intelligent
use of systems that makes it remarkable. Although their intelligence
does distinguish them from other studios, this is not what makes the
work great. What makes the work great is Foundation 33s ability
to gamble in faith.
The first time I spent an afternoon with the partners of Foundation
33, we sat in Sams mothers living room and watched Formula
1. Sams mother, who was also watching sport, sat in an adjoining
room. Due to the enthusiasm pouring forth through the door, I assumed
she was watching basketball or boxing, but no, she was watching golf.
Anyway, we watched Formula 1, listened to Sams mother and had
an expectedly good time. Expectedly because Sam and Dan had
done this before. In fact, their shared enthusiasm for Formula 1 is
how they came to know each other.
Joe: ... Why did you take the car Jimmy?
Jimmy: I dont need anyone else pushing on me.
Joe: Go on and say it.
Jimmy: Forget this.
Joe: Youre totally out of control and youre hoping what
you did tonight would get you thrown out because youve been
looking for the exit.
Jimmy: And you dont even know what the hell youre talking
Joe: And you dont know who you are anymore. Somebody put it
in your mind that you have to be perfect every time out or youre
a failure. Well, forget that. Just forget it. I was going to give
this to you before all this went down tonight. [Hands Jimmy an old
trophy.] Impressive isnt it?
Jimmy: What is it?
Joe: Its the first thing I ever won. And when I won it, it was
probably the last time I ever felt pure victory. No pressure. Nobody
breathing down my back. Just driving because I loved it. Pure. Thats
what youve got to get back to. Doing what you do naturally,
just you. I mean, I dont have your gift, but I do have a couple
of things you dont have. I got will and I got faith. Wait, dont
laugh. Im serious. Because I believe you can will yourself into
anything and do anything. And faith, thats like believing in
something. Man, thats like having a good disease. Its
contagious. If you hang around with people that have it, youre
gonna catch it. And thats going to change your attitude. And
winning is an attitude. So if you trust me now, and if you trust yourself,
by the end of this season youll either be on top or you wont,
but I guarantee it youre gonna know what Jimmy Bly is
really made of.
(Exerpt from the recent film Driven, Written
by, and starring as 'Joe', Sylvester Stallone.)
To begin, I will set up a very simple three-stage model for the design
process from which to examine faith. Stage one: the designer conceives
an idea. Stage two: the designer employs a system of manufacture.
Stage three: the designer presents the manufactured idea to the public.
To simplify this study even further (knowing full well that faith
can appear at any point in the process) I will examine faith only
as it applies to the second stage: selecting a system of manufacture.
I do so because, as I mentioned, it is the focus on systems that distinguishes
Foundation 33 from other firms.
To introduce the idea, our first subject of study will be Driven
a film about life on the Formula 1 circuit. Apply the model. Stage
one: Stallone has an idea. Life on the Formula 1 circuit is interesting
enough to warrant a screenplay. Stage two: Stallone finds producers
who employ a pre-existing system of manufacture. Driven is a typical
big-budget, big-marketing, big-moral, Hollywood-style melodrama. Stage
three: the producers put it in the cinema, then onto video.
Now focusing on stage 2: a preexisting system of manufacture has been
employed. It is important to note the term preexisting
as this offers the first clue to understanding what type of faith
has been embraced. The producers have faith that the codified system
of manufacture will deliver a quality picture. I will call this faith
in a preexisting system of manufacture takers faith.
Takers faith does have value it frees the taker from
the burden of owning stock in the system of manufacture, allowing
the taker to judge the final product without bias. We could also call
this type of faith consumers faith. In investigating faith we
learn that takers faith is the simplest form of faith: it demands
nothing but acceptance from the designer. Weve also come to
learn that the simplest form always presents itself first Therefore,
if faith does present itself to the designer, it will always present
itself in the form of takers faith.
The vast majority of designers know only this form of faith. They
believe faith is a simple two-option game, take it or leave it. What
weve come to learn, however is that theres not just one
overarching kind of faith which one can accept or deny; there is an
alternative. I will call that alternative makers faith. This
is more complex; it demands more than mere acceptance. To achieve
makers faith you must flip takers faith like a coin. Makers
faith dwells on the backside. Makers faith, as opposed to takers
faith, comes from a belief that the present system of manufacture
is not good enough to work with. It is a faith in the possibility
of a new system. This type of faith leads the maker to invent their
own systems. Stallones great fault was that while in the position
of the maker, he employed takers faith. This incongruity is
fundamentally why this film is terrible. An example of a film about
life on the racing circuit where the makers of the film employ makers
faith is Le Mans starring Steve McQueen. This is an original and inventive
film. It employed a new system altogether: very little morality, very
little dialogue, documentary-style pacing, constructed almost entirely
of racing footage, though this was eventually disrupted by the studio.
Nevertheless, due to their faith in the possibility of a new system
of manufacture, these filmmakers created an interesting and enduring
Pure takers faith
Now that we understand the possibilities, lets look at how Foundation
33 employs faith. When Foundation 33 accepts a project into their
studio, the first thing they do is determine what kind of faith will
be employed. If the system of manufacture is already in place, they
employ takers faith. They take the existing system and whittle
it down to its most pure state their faith is strong. This
aggressive approach has resulted in a cohesive body of work. The work
comprises sharp, aesthetically stripped-down material that seems to
be inspired by Modernisms tendencies for reduction. There is,
however, one important difference: although their aesthetic is reduced,
they do not seem to be interested in Modernisms tendency to
control content. Foundation 33, rather, provides as much information
as is available, selected in the most democratic way possible
every part counts. Take for example a simple promotional card for
a table. This is a very basic piece, no new system of manufacture
has been invented. It is ink on paper distributed with the goal of
promoting a table. Typically, a card like this would be edited to
one beautiful image of the table and one rather clever word like hard,
pure or imagineered. Foundation 33 on the
other hand, creates something less like a postcard and more like a
construction manual. The card walks the potential buyer step-by-step
through the production of the table, explaining every possible detail
down to the width of the slats used minus the width of the saw blade
cuts. The resulting card is not only a remarkably generous and respectful
piece, but also a perfect piece of documentation.
Makers faith squared
Now, if the system of manufacture is not acceptable, Foundation 33
can employ an equally impressive makers faith. Take their 10.2
Multi-Ply Coffee Table. The project began with Eatocks interest
in turning a 4¥8 foot piece of plywood inside-out (think Robert
Gober but inside-out). Solhaug then determined that it should be more
than just a sheet of plywood it should be a table. Both leave
the conversation and independently do a little sketching. They meet
the following day and present one another identical drawings, each
having invented exactly the same new system of manufacture, with the
exception that (architect) Solhaugs were drawn by hand, while
(graphic designer) Eatocks were drawn on the computer (1)
makers faith squared in this case. The 10.2 Multiply Coffee
Table is made from one 4x8 foot sheet of 1 inch thick birch veneer
plywood. The sheet is mechanically cut into strips from computer specifications,
rotated 90°, then reassembled. The system that Foundation 33 invented
for this project states rather simply that every bit of material must
be used and every newly revealed surface must be exposed. Thus, with
a strong makers faith in this new system, every bit of the sheet
is used and every newly revealed surface is exposed. They go so far
as to use even the sawdust; the table derives its names from the weight
lost in the cutting. One table generates 10.2 pounds of sawdust. The
result is an unexpectedly beautiful and strange table with the final
dimensions determined solely by its own production.
Faith over intelligence
So: to state that Foundation 33 makes remarkable things due to their
intelligent employment of systems is no longer an acceptable statement.
The foundation of their process is not intelligence, but faith. Dont
misunderstand me, they are intelligent men and, like many others,
I believe intelligence is the great divider. I believe it so strongly
that I can no longer trust it. So I look at Foundation 33 making things
that impress me, and the first thing I see is no longer intelligence,
its faith. Why have I not been able to see this faith sooner?
The problem is our present cultures reduction of faith to this
simple take-it-or-leave-it gamble for a solution. Faith in this form
is too closed and flat to employ god knows Ive done everything
I could to reduce my dependence on it. After coming to know faith
through the work of Foundation 33 Ive discovered a much more
complex and open form of faith that I trust in the same way I used
to trust intelligence. Now that Im becoming a believer, Im
able to both laugh and smile when Stallone states Faith is like
a good disease. I still think its hilarious, but now I
get it as well.
(1) In their own words:
Conception (The Multi-Ply project began without us knowing): First,
a simple concept of cutting a 4x8 sheet of 1 inch thick plywood into
one inch strips, then reconfiguring with the edge as its surface (Dan).
Second, the notion of continuing this surface as legs, giving specific
function (Sam). Finally, the idea of producing this from a single
sheet of plywood without any waste, a recursive design system (Dan
and Sam). We talked about these ideas for many nights in a bar in
Minneapolis until closing time. In this particular case we agreed
to meet the next day for lunch at the Walker Art Center (where we
both worked). We both went to our homes and independently produced
drawings early into the morning without the other knowing. Dan's on
the computer, Sams lead on vellum. We met for lunch and discovered
that our drawings were identical, and even to the same scale. We immediately
embarked on what was to be more engineering than carpentry. Over the
next five months, working after hours in the carpentry shop in the
basement of the Walker, we invented a system and constructed our 10.2
Multi-Ply Coffee Table, identical to the drawings from that lunch-time