BR Interview. Archie Lee Coates (PLAYLAB, INC.): “A good idea should feel like a no-brainer”

Newsroom 10/10/2018 | 11:56

Archie Lee Coates IV is a founder and partner at PLAYLAB, INC., a New York-based creative studio founded in 2009. With no particular focus, they explore themes using art, architecture, and graphic design to initiate ideas. Past projects include: giant worm tents for the New Museum of Contemporary Art and Storefront For Art & Architecture, a rebrand of America for SFMOMA, and a compilation of all the times Joaquin Phoenix has walked in his films, titled Walking Phoenix. In 2011, the studio co-founded the quarterly publication CLOG, and in 2010, co-founded + POOL with Family New York, an initiative to build the world’s first water-filtering floating pool in New York. PLAYLAB, INC. is: Archie Lee Coates IV, Jeff Franklin, Anya Shcherbakova, Dillon Kogle and Phil Gibson. BR met Archie at Unfinished 2018 and challenged him to a fast Q&A.

By Romanita Oprea

What motivates you?

Positivity and risks. 

Where do you find your inspiration and how does it work? 

Everywhere, mostly people’s experiences.

What is art for you?

An attempt to understand something and share it through a point of view.

What is your approach as a teacher? What do you want your students to gain from your classes? How do you teach them to initiate ideas?

We want them to not get hung up on the negatives, or on things that don’t seem possible. We want them to find the tiny bit of good in something that no one else may see, and make that thing larger. We want them to move fast, fail often, always learn, work hard, and most importantly: be good to people.

Someone once told me that in the right environment and with the right teaching, anybody can become creative. Do you agree with that statement? How would you comment on it?

Everyone is already creative. Doing something with that creativity is the hard part. There’s no escaping hard work.

You co-created + POOL. How did that come to be and what are your main long-term goals with the project?

It was an initiative between friends, launched as a lark. We got some interest early, and it grew into a full real project quickly. Short term: we’re building + POOL in New York. Medium term: we want New Yorkers to have a different relationship with their water, and for citizens to feel they’ve reclaimed a bit of public space for themselves. Long term: help other cities access their polluted rivers all over the world.

Do you have any other initiatives that combine art and creativity with social responsibility and environmental protection?

Not on the level of + POOL, but PieLab in 2009 was an incredibly beautiful project that dealt with community and social responsibility in a minimal way with large impact.

You also launched CLOG. What are your goals for the magazine and what is its unique contribution to the market?

To slow the discussion around important topics down, and grow the conversation around it. CLOG free is ad-free, multi-biased, and not glossy.

What are your favorite projects and why?

Jean-Claude and Christo’s Surrounded Islands. The effort, positivity, scale and beauty.

When have you faced the biggest challenges and how did surpass them?

Working with people. Treating them well, listening to them.

What does creativity mean to you?


Where do you see the future of architecture in the next five years?

Fewer architects.

What would you say are the main trends in architecture at this time and why?

I’d say “not practicing architecture”. Finding alternatives. The blurring of boundaries and disciplines. 

How do you convince a client to say yes to a very courageous idea?

You have to present to any audience you share something with a clear and powerful vision of what the thing can be, and how you’re gonna make it happen. A good idea should feel like a no-brainer, and our job is to make it so easy to say yes, like they can press a “go” button.

Another important projects in portfolio:

Grown Up Flowers launched in May 2018 and hosted by the Avenues of the Americas Association. It imagines flowers inflated many times their normal size, giving visitors a new perspective on these iconic and playful representations of beauty. Six different flowers by the names of Jack, Rose, Teddy, Wilson, Kerri and Wilt, could be seen sitting, lounging, floating, standing tall or even bending down to greet visitors.

Exhibition A/D/O

PLAYLAB, INC. was selected to curate and design the Design Academy’s Summer 2017 exhibition at A/D/O, a project space by MINI, titled “Common Sense”. The prompt was to explore the role of senses in design, as well as commonality. Our exhibition explored multiple views of the same subject, presented through seven different experiments. Each highlighted frequent themes in design, and of studio interest: color, branding, value, language, identity and sound. Each experiment included a contribution from different collaborators, who explored their own perspective on the given theme. Experiments were accompanied by printed pages which served as takeaways. Visitors could grab the pages as they went from experiment to experiment in order to form their own program.

Christopher Wool a living contemporary artist, best known for his paintings of large, black, stenciled letters on white canvases like “Apocalypse Now”. We were commissioned by Christopher to create a digital archive of his work from 1985 to today. The strategy was to design an archive that reflected how he saw his own work, regardless of how the public does. Built with Camp Quiet.

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