We're so excited to introduce you to our first Collective member, Ara Anderson. Ara is a second-year student at the Rhode Island School of Design, RISD (pronounced “RIZ-dee”), where she is pursuing a bachelor's degree in Architecture. Ara grew up on the San Juan islands off the coast of Washington; a dreamy and beautiful place where she connected with nature from a very young age. So it's no surprise that environmentalism and sustainability are some of the guiding forces that motivate Ara. Her works show organic structures as she continues to venture forward in her relationship with design. Even though Ara studies architecture, she doesn't consider herself an architect. She struggles to put herself into any particular design category, but Ara likes it that way. We feel very fortunate to have Ara's diverse and growing skillset as part of the Collective for Creative Good. What follows is our entire interview with the artist, creative, and architect - Ara Anderson. We talk about remote work and life under coronavirus, architectural design, community development apps, and dogs.
Stephen: So how have you been doing in these crazy times we're living?
Ara: “I’m home chilling in quarantine. I don’t know, things are alright. I’m just watching a bunch of instructional videos, trying to keep busy.”
Andreas: Aren't you technically on Spring break?
Ara: Spring break technically starts next week, and we were going to have classes this week until the situation got worse and then we dropped everything and ran away, and now we’re trying to reconcile. Basically, nothing is happening until the 30th, so I’m on my own to keep busy until then.
Andreas: I know you've worked with us in the past, but now that you are officially a member of the collective, is there anything else that you want us to share about you?
Ara: You can put my new portfolio up! I finally made a nice Behance with the work that I have. It’d be nice to share some work from there. I’ve sort of been thinking a lot about what kind of presence I have. I think these profiles are a super useful thing for all of us that are featured and for them to exist. I was just looking at this guy with all the architectural stuff, Harry Chadha, I want to talk to him because his Rhino work is really cool. It’s exciting to be able to use the collective as a networking tool that’s useful for everyone involved.
Stephen: It's so great to hear that you already see the value of the collective! That's exactly what we are going for - to use the collective to bring people together and have conversations and connect with folk that are doing similar work through monthly calls and meetups. And we have all sorts of awesome things in store!
Ara: Yeah, and for people that are freelancing, being able to connect and see where other people are working, that’s a HUGE help!
Stephen: How did putting together your portfolio go?
Ara: I spent a long time rounding up my previous documentation. I think it’s a little hard for me to put myself into a field and that can definitely be a struggle. Considering what type of work I’m looking for. I’m comfortable being someone who is doing a bunch of disparate things, but that can make it difficult to build a brand or appeal to a specific kind of field.
When I was putting together my portfolio I realized that I have vast gulfs between the types of work that I have and I think that can be a source of anxiety. There’s definitely pressure to make your portfolio a cohesive unit, but it isn’t always. Personally, I think that’s a good worry to have because I want to be spanning different fields and I want to be doing different kinds of work, but it’s then a question of specialization. If I only do something for a certain amount of time, will I be competitively good at it?
Andreas: That’s a super interesting point, I think us designers are prone to self-doubt and I think what you’re saying is really touching on something that all of us feel in different ways. However, let me be the first—hopefully, I’m not the first—but your portfolio is AMAZING and you should absolutely be proud of the work you’re showcasing. We also believe that there is great value to having diverse interests and diverse skills and experience.
Stephen: Things seem to have been thrown in the air recently. How do you feel about applying to architectural programs with everything that's going on?
Ara: That’s a very interesting question and very poignant question. I actually had a great internship lined up with a small architecture firm in San Francisco. They're a very young firm and because of that and because of what’s going on, they were unable to guarantee that they’d have enough for me this summer. So that’s something that has dried up because of all of the uncertainty that’s going on.
The other remote work that I’m doing is drawing installation documents for tiny homes for a company called Pacifica Tiny Homes and that’s still going strong, but at this point in California no one is going to bring a stack of documents to a city planning office and I don’t even know if city planning offices are running right now. So it’s definitely disrupting the workflow of what I’ve been doing, but I’m hoping that things bounce back soon.
Andreas: Very cool! How did you make that connection with Pacifica Tiny Homes?
Ara: My father was buying a tiny home and in the process of doing documents for their property, the guy that was supposed to be doing their documents just wasn’t delivering on time, so they asked if they wanted to outsource this to anyone. So they decided to outsource it to me while I was at school. The guy who owns the company liked what I did so much that he offered me a position doing it for them on an ongoing basis. So it was this lucky chance meeting, and I’ve done a bunch of work for him at this point and he wants me to do more, which is AWESOME. I’m also in the process of grooming him to get you guys to remake his website. Which, is a great example of how us being connected with you guys can help all of us get more opportunities.
Andreas: That’s awesome! That’s kind of our dream: an opportunity where you can do exactly what you’re best at. And, when you do need help, you have a collective of people that you know will be ready and right for the job.
Ara: I’m really excited, having seen the people you have on your website. I’m excited to be able to be connected or just know about their work. It’s all super exciting to me. I guess I have a question for you, how have you come in contact with these collective members? Have you worked with them all? How are these connections happening?
Andreas: Most of these connections have been through our own network and that's how we expect things to grow at first. It’s the type of thing where we know that they are talented, we know they are good people and that they match our values as an organization, and when and if that right project comes along, we know that they’d be a good fit. Those are the types of people that we’ve been approaching as we grow the collective and we want to make sure we have the right people coming on board.
We’ve also been adding freelancers that we’ve worked on projects with and had good experiences with and we’d like to have them on another project in the future. Ultimately, we want to avoid ever having to go to the ‘great unknown’ to find someone for the needs of any given project. Part of it is making sure that we’re providing a channel where you can find work that fulfills you as a designer.
We want collective members to feel comfortable pitching ideas for cooky projects to other members and for those members to support one another in creating those things. We want to provide the tools and infrastructure for our collective members to succeed. The Collective is a group of people that are doing design for the right reasons, focusing on projects that benefit causes that we all believe in. Those ‘good’ projects are a fundamental part of our identity.
Ara: So basically facilitate interactions between people and then being able to join forces to make those things happen better.
Stephen: Exactly! Helping good people do good work, but enough about us. We were wondering, is there a program or a passion project that you’d be interested in working on?
Ara: I think that in terms of my grandiose ideas in what I’m working with right now...I’m concerned with building and designing places for people to live that are health-sustaining and energy efficient etc., but that’s a very down the road sort of thing because it takes a while to get to a point where that’s possible.
In terms of immediacy, things that I’d be interested in would be compiling and making information. For example, information about growing your own food, it’s a very popular topic right now. Information about how to capture rainwater, energy efficiency in south-facing windows, passive solar, heat absorption, being able to make that information in an easy to use way that can be published for free, that isn’t a super-dense textbook from the 80s. I also think there could be a lot of potential for tools to engage communities and neighborhoods more.
Thinking about the situation right now, maybe designing a tool that allows for better methods of cooperation between community members and neighbors, whether that’s an app that’s a neighbor connector. That allows people to collaborate and work together on a project. These are ideas I’m throwing out. Things I’m interested in, in the long term, are making tools that let people work together to create things that become self-sufficient and sustainable and making those tools free and replicable. Whether they be digital or spatial tools.
What’s amazing about this moment, is that everyone is realizing how much you can do remotely and the amount and power of technology that we have right now. We can use that for a lot of good. I went to a talk at school by Mindy Seul, she works a lot with the structure of the internet with her research and she described the amount of energy we use to be online and run servers and how that should create a mandatory flip side of using that power to be sustainable and ways to offset that. And our careers are based on the internet and all that technology, and therefore I believe that we have an obligation to use that technology to offset our own impact. She showed us a low impact website that runs on solar panels and when the solar panel doesn’t generate energy, the website shuts down, and I think it’s such an amazing way of illustrating the impact of technology and creating things that live in this space that are aware of the impact that we are having.
Andreas: Given these crazy times, what are some of the things that you have been doing to keep yourself busy?
Ara: Well, I’m trying to keep my schedule as much as possible. Because I have a very ironed out schedule at school. I always start my day doing yoga and then have some time to clear my head and then I jump on my desk and start working. I guess keeping projects that I’m excited about. Like I’ve been doing this python class online.
I definitely have a tendency when I have space like this, I come up with so many multi-month projects that I can’t possibly do all at once. So I’m trying to be better about diving into one thing. Definitely exercise and I’m lucky enough to be living in the woods, so there’s lots of space for running.
Well, first of all, I just came back from the east coast, so in the house, I am isolating myself from my family members. Particularly, because my grandma lives with us. The situation at RISD was really bad, we stayed open for far too long as cases were climbing in Rhode Island. What eventually happened was that a Brown student got it, which means any number of us could have been exposed. So that was a big reality check for me. Things could have been so much worse. So I’m isolating myself and trying to do my due diligence, but I think this is making everyone more aware of how their actions impact those around them. Especially as we relate to our environment and society, so I’m hopeful we can use this as an opportunity to understand things a bit better.
Stephen: Yeah, it's changed self-perception and definitely habits. Would you consider yourself a night owl or a morning person? Has it changed since this all started?
Ara: Up until about this year, I would have considered myself a night owl, but I’ve kind of converted. I now really swear by the morning routine and the more I live that way the more I wish to live that way the rest of my life, which I guess is a sign that I’m getting old. Since I don’t take joy in working at 3 am. Ultimately, I think human beings run better if we have a rhythm and having a rhythm just feels really good.
Andreas: Totally! I think part of my rhythm is eating and food. Food is really important to all of us at 409. So, we were wondering, what does your typical meal look like?
Ara: I usually have coffee and a protein shake and in the afternoon I have a meal. Usually a fried egg, with meat and veggies. I was doing the keto diet at school and in dining halls, I had very limited options. I’ve done it for 2 months and I’ve really liked it, but I’m not sure if it’s sustainable. I’m constantly tweaking my diet and it’s never stable. I think it’s over endorsed, but keto has been really good and it has sped up my metabolism and given me lots of energy.
Stephen: So that's what you eat generally, but what is your favorite food?
Ara: Green Tea Ice Cream Mochi, my grandma’s chocolate chip cookies and yummy breakfast food like pancakes, French toast croissants, etc.
Andreas: Sounds so good! Along with food, dogs are pretty important to us at 409 Co—we love our feline friends too—but what is your favorite breed of dog?
Ara: Border collie. I grew up with them. Right now we have a Shepard/husky and he’s a lot more dog than what we’re used to, but he’s very cool. His name is Aibek.