Professor Neal Prabhu on spaces that make you feel

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Faculty of Design Professor Neal Prabhu is a licensed architect, registered interior designer and co-director of nkArchitect, an award-winning Toronto-based architecture and interior design practice he founded in 2008, together with Nelson Kwong.

Prabhu describes his practice as an architect and interior designer as human based. “I (and our firm) strive to develop experiential spaces that evoke emotion while enduring simple everyday tasks for our patrons,” he says. “Common questions we ask our clients query what they do, when they do, how they do and why they do. With the answers to these simple questions we can establish an architectural response to their activities that enhance the functions of their everyday lives.”

 

The firm’s work includes architecture, interiors, furniture and landscape design for boutique commercial, residential and institutional spaces and for development studies. Its portfolio reflects a consistent modernist sensibility and approach to spatial quality, with detailing and materials tailored to each project. The firm’s work has received recognition from The Design Exchange, Canadian Architect, Canadian Interiors, ARIDO, AZURE, Harbourfront Gallery and The Globe and Mail.

 

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In addition to his devotion to a modernist sensibility, Prabhu is driven by qualitative aspects of space, emotion, proportion, light, materiality and detailing. In the classroom he strives to teach relevancy. He starts each term by talking about the projects his firm is working on, and how they overlap with the students’ own design projects to help them make a connection between their sometimes hypothetical projects and the industry. He also teaches human-centred design methodologies and human-centred material studies.

 

Helping students establish their own process is key: “I encourage exploration at the same time as practical consideration, allowing students to determine their own balance based on their particular design sensibilities. This was a process I valued greatly in my own education working with practicing professionals — and look to continue it as an active professional and educator,” he says.

 

As such, his advice for students is to create a niche. “The school and also the Environmental Design program specifically aim to prepare students to be design entrepreneurs by identifying niche markets that engage their creativity. OCAD U values interdisciplinarity.” he says. “Allowing students to uninhibitedly explore different aspects of architecture, interior and landscape design and research helps in the promotion of diversity of disciplines.”

 

Find out more: nkarchitect.ca

Writer/author/editor Suzanne Alyssa Andrew is also the president and biographer-in-chief of Biograflyer.

 

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Alum Matthew Evans on being a designer and a donor

The best part of studying at OCAD U for Matthew Evans (Industrial Design, 2002), was working on projects in the shops and studios. That’s why after graduating and landing a job at a multinational company in Italy, he decided to follow his own path. He moved back to Toronto to start a design-build company. As the sole proprietor of a private general contracting firm, he designs and renovates spaces for select clients. He recently completed a design-build of a five-storey building in downtown Toronto, and built a rooftop patio in the Distillery District.

“I didn’t want to sit behind a desk all day,” Evans says. “In Italy I worked for a company that produced products for film and photography, but I was marketing and managing. It wasn’t creative. I started my company so I could design and work directly with clients.”

The essential approach Evans learned while at OCAD U is to investigate what a client needs. “I intentionally don’t have a specific aesthetic because I don’t want to design for me,” Evans says.

“When a client comes to me I ask them what they like and do an intense exercise of how they want to use a space and what their lifestyle is like to figure out the best solution.”

Evans originally attended OCAD U after working as a junior photographer. He planned to pursue photography, but did the foundation year and decided industrial design was a good fit for him. “I would never trade in my industrial design training,” Evans says. “It’s [about] problem solving, and with that you can do anything. It’s the toolset you need to figure anything out.”

As an art collector, Evans often attends GradEx and buys artworks from new artists. Three years ago he approached OCAD U to see how he could do more to help students pursue their art careers. That discussion resulted in The Evans Award, a fund he began with Michael McClelland that provides annual support to a promising art grad. “It’s so important to help young artists bridge the gap between studying and working as an artist, and help them enrich people’s lives through their work,” Evans says. “If you’re considering donating, I would absolutely say go for it. Providing assistance at a grassroots level in a way that will directly benefit a student is so important.”

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Holography as artistic practice and architectural intervention: Meet Marcus A. Gordon

Marcus A. Gordon
Marcus A. Gordon

Marcus A. Gordon manages the Visual Analytics Lab at OCAD University and holds an MFA (2017) in Digital Futures. He works with some traditional materials including glass, metal, wood and stone, but these are used to house the focal points of his sculptures — holograms. 

In 2016 Gordon was commissioned by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) to create a three-dimensional digital hologram of brain activity patterns. He made “Holomentis,” a clear acrylic sculpture of a brain with the digital hologram visible inside. This public installation was an early example of the holographic work he pursued in the Digital Futures program.

 

“A major part of my thesis work was about how holography is a constant dialogue between physical and virtual space,” he says. “[It] took an experimental approach to fabricating holographic works in different contexts, so as to shed more light on the medium. I focused on the dimensionality of holography, as I believe this can be beneficial to architectural spaces.”

 

In examining the connections between holography and architecture, Gordon is exploring the potential of spatial imaging. His works also shows holography to be an expressive medium that’s well-suited to art and architecture. Ultimately he wants to pursue holography as an art practice as well as an architecture intervention. He plans to work on environmental holographic projects with architects and builders and incorporate holograms into buildings and landscape designs. 

Prior to attending OCAD U, Gordon was a digital designer and information technologist who consulted under company name Studio Diversity for well over a decade, fulfilling digital strategy projects while also creating digital art installations, projections and photography. He landed a project as a digital art strategist and researcher for a neural imaging company that was partnered with OCAD U’s PHASE Lab. There he met the Faculty of Art’s Anda Kubis and landed a public installation opportunity that resulted in “Holomentis.” It was such a positive experience he decided to attend the Digital Futures program.

 

Gordon received a Charles Pachter bursary to attend the program and also worked as a research assistant in OCAD U’s Visual Analytics Lab, which eventually led to his taking on the lab’s management. “The work keeps me networked, connected and in the know about things happening inside and outside the university.”

 

Find out more: marcusgordon.com

 

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Professor Laura Millard: “Make as much art as you can.”

Laura Millard
Laura Millard
Laura Millard
Laura Millard

Laura Millard’s recent works include aerial photographs of snowmobile line drawings made on frozen lakes. She’s also photographed jet contrails from military airshows. She often uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and drone technology to draw and record traces of motion in relation to the practice of drawing. In a new series, she will be transforming a drawing into a digital print on fabric for use in a six- by ten-foot light box.  

“My practice-based research explores drawing by combining media in new ways and by working across media. The research is done in my studio, in the field, while on residencies and in collaboration with other practitioners,” says Millard, who’s also an associate professor in the Faculty of Art. The result is work that records the landscape in alternative ways and explores new representations of place and environment. “My research tracks the problematics of how landscape representation, through colonial historical precedents, has framed the dominant discourse,” she says. 

 

Millard frequently travels to artist residencies internationally to further her practice. She is participating in a Banff Artist in Residence (BAiR) where she’s developing new work. It’s where she first choreographed ice-skating marks on the Vermillion Lakes and Lac des Arcs, documenting the temporary line drawings with a camera-equipped quadcopter over the course of a season. She’s also participated in the Brucebo Fine Arts Residency in Sweden and the Red Gate Residency in Beijing.  

 

Millard’s recent work was part of the group contemporary multimedia exhibition Every. Now. Then: Reframing Nationhood at the AGO in 2017. The exhibition aimed to address the mistakes of the past, rewrite and reclaim history and move into the future with new insights. Her work has also appeared in numerous solo and group shows, and she is often invited to do artist talks at galleries and educational institutions.  

Millard is a champion of the studio-based learning environment, both for faculty and students: “In my opinion it is essential that every professor teaching studio courses has an active studio practice. Failure, doubt, experimentation, chance, timelines, budget, frustration, elation — these are all part of an artist’s life and must be brought to the classroom.” 

 

As such her advice for students at OCAD U is to make full use of the studios and studio facilities. “Take as many hands-on studio courses as you can and make as much art as you can. Take advantage of off-campus studies in Florence, and student mobility and exchange programs,” she says.  

 

Find out more: lauramillard.com  

 

 

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Meet Yasemin Oncu

Yasemin Oncu
Yasemin Oncu
Yasemin Oncu
Yasemin Oncu

Yasemin Oncu paints monsters. Sometimes humorous, sometimes cruel, these wild figures portray fear, desire, anxiety and fantasy. Oncu, who graduated from OCAD U’s Interdisciplinary Master’s in Art, Media and Design in 2016, says the monsters act as mirrors that reveal people’s unconscious like dreams, and also reflect moral degradation.

“My work is a mix of emotional and primitive responses to the current political and cultural context. It involves a lot of symbols and gestures that hide the immediate meaning,” she says. “The viewer doesn’t have to look and see what is already there and get into a negative mood. Instead I’m trying to revert the dark content into a semi-dark, more playful scenario.”

Her OCAD U thesis project, “DE.MONSTRAT.TION: The Monster and the Demonization of Other” comprised a series of monster paintings. During her research she noticed the word monster in English comes from the Latin word “monere” meaning “to warn.” “The monster and demonization are my metaphors to enter the critical art scene to warn people about violence and cruelty invading our lives around the world,” she says.

Her work was shown at the 2016 Luminato Festival at The Hearn Generating Station in Toronto and included by The Artist Project in a group show of emerging artists. “I’ve been working on new ways to express my reactions to the world we live in. And, unfortunately, cruelties and calamities ensuing from wars, economic, political and ecological destruction continue non-stop,” she says.

Oncu received an undergraduate degree in Visual Art at Sabanci University, Istanbul, and moved to Toronto to pursue a Master’s degree. “I always wanted to do an MFA in a university that is specialized only in the arts, and OCAD U definitely had a lot to offer,” she says. She describes her experience of the program as liberating. “I had the chance to freely explore my ideas and express my feelings and thoughts the way I wanted. The Master’s program gave me a great opportunity to learn how to theorize those ideas and develop the ability to focus on my methodology.”

Writer/author/editor Suzanne Alyssa Andrew is also the president and biographer-in-chief of Biograflyer.

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Vanessa Rementilla on interdisciplinary design strategy

Vanessa Rementilla
Vanessa Rementilla
Vanessa Rementilla

Vanessa Rementilla’s career-focused work as a multidisciplinary design strategist has always been about solving marketing, user-experience and digital design problems. One of her personal passions, however, is the intersection of informal learning, child development and media — an area of research that working towards a Master of Design in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation program enabled her to delve into.

Beginning with the research question, “how might digital leisure games foster critical thinking and grit?” Rementilla explored the effects of mobile device ubiquity and the growth of mobile gaming on children. Her investigation into the “invisible teacher” role of games led to an analysis of game design, player motivation, child development stages and other factors that influence learning outcomes. She’s also creating frameworks for identifying skills that may help provide direction for parents, educators and game developers in the future.

Along the way, Rementilla enjoyed the challenges of group work and co-creation with her colleagues in the Strategic Foresight and Innovation program: “Successful group dynamics are hinged upon one’s self-awareness and recognition of others’ diverse personalities, mental models, communication styles and creative problem-solving approaches,” she says. She also points out that the program’s methodological focus enhanced the foundational user-experience design skills she brought to her team projects: “It gave me a much deeper and broader knowledge,” she says. “It equipped me with methodologies and tools to design for organizational change and global systemic issues.”

“Coming from a creative background, it was easy for me to integrate design thinking and other human-centred methods into my innovation practice,” Rementilla says of the program’s approach. “[It] allowed me to shift from designing with a small “d” on problems that deal with the traditional sense of design to designing with a big “D” — solving problems that affect a larger group of stakeholders and more complex challenges.”

Rementilla, who received her BFA in Visual Communication from the University of the Philippines has global perspective on the future. She says she plans to use the knowledge she gained from the program to guide organizations committed to lasting transformational change. “Using the power of design thinking and other innovative technologies, I hope to be the catalyst for organizations to explore new possibilities and solutions in an increasingly complex, uncertain world.”

Find out more: http://vanessarementilla.com

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Stein Wang: Design for Reason

Stein Wang photo credit DesignExchangeDX
Stein Wong
Stein Wong Family White

While finishing the Industrial Design program at OCAD U, Stein Wang founded a design studio called Hi Thanks Bye with another student and colleague, Topher Kong. Kong’s role in the firm is to design for emotion, while Wang designs for reason. Wang is a multidisciplinary designer who pursues design as a logical exploration of human desires. His work reflects his interests in furniture and interior design, emerging technologies, scientific research, social trends and innovation foresight. While at OCAD U he focused on learning about systems thinking, experience design and product development.

 

Wang says he emphasizes research throughout his design process. “My design thinking is sensible and logical at the same time. ‘Design for reason’ is the motto for my practice.”

 

He describes his OCAD U thesis, “Now You See Me,” as a conceptual solutions challenge to Canadian hiring practices as they apply to East Asians. “It examined racial bias experienced by East Asians in professional settings. It’s a bias that is promoted and perpetuated by the media’s clichéd portrayal of East Asians,” he says. “Though government policies exist to create equal employment opportunities, research shows that corporations and businesses grudgingly work at maintaining the minimum requirements.” Instead, Wang’s thesis suggested ways to encourage diversity and value inclusiveness.

While at OCAD U, Wang also designed a concept for a sound deprivation experience at the Wayhome music festival, a monitoring system for patients with congestive heart failure and a collection of versatile and customizable side tables with a unique felt storage pouch.

 

He chose to study at OCAD U after a recommendation from Spencer J. Harrison, a Drawing & Painting instructor, who also served as an artist-in-residence at Wang’s high school. Wang says his experience at OCAD U broadened his perspective on design: “My instructors and the program chair provided many opportunities and encouraged me to explore what the design process can be applied to beyond the traditional sense of industrial design,” he says.

photo credit DesignExchangeDX

Wang’s studio collaborated with the Design Exchange and the Centre for Social Innovation on a project for the Honest Ed’s farewell party in 2017. Next, he and his partner plan to complete their first collection of furniture and interior objects, and get ready to exhibit works at several international furniture trade fairs. They’re also working to fulfil window space and interior space design requests from clients.

 

Find out more: steinw.com and hithanksbye.com

 

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Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste: “We talk a lot about grit.”

Laurelle Jno Baptiste
Laurelle Jno Baptiste

Dr. Laurelle Jno Baptiste, an instructor in the Digital Futures program, is a technologist, innovator and digital leader who’s spent more than a decade helping organizations around the world develop and implement online technology platforms. She is presently the Chief Learning Officer and also the Chief Operating Officer at Vocalmeet. 

Vocalmeet is a multi-platform, mobile-friendly technology ecosystem. By offering a full suite of services, from an event and conference planning platform to member-management and learning-management systems, member-based organizations and associations can focus on member engagement and growth. “I started my career working in the corporate sector, and discovered that a lot of associations were using legacy technology.” Jno Baptiste says. “Our technology is forward thinking.”  

In her roles at Vocalmeet, Jno Baptiste takes time to understand clients’ needs. She looks at everything from course content to technology compliance issues and regulations to ensure clients offer the ongoing learning and technology options their members require. “I’m passionate about lifelong learning so I’m doing something I love and bringing it all together with technology,” she says. 

Jno Baptiste also provides consulting on agile project management and iterative technology builds. All important experience she brings to the classroom. “In my last class, we had a lot of discussions about iterative design and development.  About 95 per cent of design start-ups fail because people don’t think iteratively enough. They build something for years and by the time they launch, the market has changed. It’s important to get an early version out as soon as possible.” 

Jno Baptiste is eager to teach entrepreneurial verve and resilience. “We talk a lot about grit. It’s not easy and you need to have the ability to keep moving forward even when you’re challenged,” she says. Her OCAD U classes also look at how technology is changing society, new technologies and artificial intelligence, and how to start a company. “My classes are very interactive, with lots of time for students to share research and ask questions.” 

“I’m passionate about my work and always do my best to give back. I’ve received so much from mentors who helped to steer my life and career. Being in the classroom and sharing my knowledge is one of the most rewarding things I’ve done,” she says. “I want to help students know they can do it, because I do it every day.

Find out more: vocalmeet.com 

 

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Meet Kaia’tanoron Dumoulin Bush

Kaiatanoron Bush
Kaiatanoron Bush
Kaiatanoron Bush
Kaiatanoron Bush

Mohawk illustrator and artist Kaia’tanoron Dumoulin Bush decided to study at OCAD U for the courses offered in the Indigenous Visual Culture (INVC)program. She also chose it for the opportunity to learn from faculty members Bonnie Devine, an Anishinaabe/Ojibwe visual artist; Gerald McMaster, a Plains Cree/Member of the Siksika First Nation curator, author, artist, and Canada Research Chair; and Ryan Rice, a Mohawk curator from Bush’s home community of Kahnawake, QC. “So far my experience has been lovely,” she says. “The opportunities I’ve had since joining INVC have been above and beyond my expectations.”

 

Bush transferred into the program from Dawson College in Montreal, where she received diplomas in Fine Arts and Illustration & Design. Prior to that she worked as a music educator with the Viva! Sistema in Kahnawake, a program designed to create social change for children and youth.

 

Her practice includes illustration, design, painting, sculpture and installation, and her bold, expressive works all feature a strong point-of-view. “My personal work focuses on intimacy and sexuality in societal and personal contexts,” she says. She also draws on her familial background: “A big portion of my research goes into learning family histories and finding ways to articulate those histories effectively.”

 

In addition to doing what she says is “as much drawing and painting as possible” in as many classes as she can fit into her schedule, Bush also does freelance design and illustration. “Up to this point, most of my professional work has contributed in one way or another to community-building and organization within the Indigenous community of Toronto,” she says, noting that she’s also open to fulfilling other projects.

 

One of her past side projects was to design a Mohawk language version of the “Toronto vs. Everybody” shirt. She’s also been interviewed about her work and indigenous visual culture issues for Canadian Art magazine, CBC News and the Toronto Star.

 

Bush says she always carries a sketchbook and drafting pencil with her, and enjoys sitting at her light box and inking something while listening to music. After graduation she plans to pursue a master’s degree with a strong studio practice: “The benefit of having a diverse practice is being able to branch out and work in many different fields,” she says. “I would love to apply for residencies and travel.”

Find out more: kaiatanoron.format.com

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Meet Fahrenheit-212’s Jason Brown

Jason Brown
Jason Brown UPS
Jason Brown Thomson Reuters

Jason Brown, who attended the Design and Visual Communications program at what was then OCA in the late 1990s, took a detour en route to becoming Head of Design at Fahrenheit-212, a large firm in New York City. In his fourth year at OCA, he had an opportunity to relocate to Los Angeles with his band. While in LA, Brown sang backup vocals for Montel Jordan (known for his single “This is How We Do It”). He also started working for ad agencies.

Yet Brown kept circling back to what he loved about design while at OCA: “Every day I learned something new, so every day my head exploded,” he says. “It changed my perspective and I learned about strategically approaching my work and solving challenges through design.”

Brown moved to New York to focus on design, and says he’s still applying what he learned to his high-profile work today. “The critical thinking to reach solutions that are relevant and authentic to clients led me to get to where I am in my career,” he says. “It’s not just about design to make things look pretty. At OCAD U I learned in critique that the notion of whether you like something doesn’t matter. It’s about what’s right for the challenge and the client.”

As Head of Design at Fahrenheit-212 Brown leads innovation teams through research, design, execution and testing. “My role is to ensure there’s a design point of view that’s executed at every stage,” he says. Brown says he also mentors young designers.

He’s quick to offer young designers advice: “First and foremost, be open to trying things. You have a lot of time to make career decisions and there are lots of spaces to practice your discipline. In terms of your value, be aware that there are greater opportunities for growth for designers who are strategic thinkers and storytellers. Show your value in those areas and you’ll be compensated accordingly.”

Brown also points out that all designers should be aware of how the industry is changing. “The categories are shifting, so what was once the work of brand consultants and agencies is starting to blend, through business agency acquisitions, into a new model we haven’t seen yet,” he says. “It’s now more important than ever to understand, from a top level, the path that a client might take to bring a product to market, and know the opportunities for design to play a role.”

Find out more: fahrenheit-212.com

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