When I caught up with James Brazil, inaugural Emerging Practitioner Teaching Fellow at the University of Miami School of Architecture, I thought we would discuss trends in graffiti art in Miami, Barcelona and possibly worldwide. Though we touched upon the topic of contemporary graffiti art, Brazil had more to convey about an awesome nexus of urbanism, architecture, construction, art and design.
Though drawn into what hip hop culture could be found growing up in his hometown of Perth in Western Australia (Brazil’s early favorite graffiti artist was Crash), it was not until later in life that Brazil began collaborations with artists.
Before pursuing his now main focus on urbanism, community development, art and public space, Brazil, an architect by training, worked for international architecture firm RMJM until 2008, when he became a chef in Edinburgh. About a year into his culinary career came an invitation (born of an architectural competition entry Brazil had submitted some years prior) to participate as a researcher/project team leader in the design, fabrication and construction of the Fab Lab House at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia (IAAC).
Fab Lab House, a self-sufficient, surplus energy producing, solar powered dwelling-workspace with an elegant, futuristic interior, was built for the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 competition. It is the first house completed by a Fab Lab, a workshop model initiated in 2001 by the Grassroots Invention Group and the Center for Bits and Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. Generally equipped with an array of flexible computer-controlled tools, a Fab Lab’s purpose is facilitate the making of anything.
With regard to a design aspect of IAAC’s Fab Lab, Brazil explained:
“The (Fab Lab) inside that school was all about one to one prototyping, prototyping things on a human scale or public scale immediately, not making little models then going through a design process.“
Inspired by the possibilities implicit in the creation of the Fab Lab House during what were the more nascent years of these workshops, Brazil’s interests began to permeate his thought about public space, urbanism and community development. To pursue these expanding interests following the completion of the Fab Lab House, he and two other like-minded makers founded Barcelona’s first community makerspace, MADE Makerspace Barcelona.
“We had a great experience because all of a sudden we realized we could achieve these quite, great complex projects quite well with . . . . you can see the perpetual possibilities of using a Fab Lab to construct not just houses but public space . You can construct the entire built environment through these Fab Labs if you were to continue along these protocols and this thinking.”
After completing the Fab Lab house, Brazil and a Fab Lab House colleague, Nicholas Waissbluth, founded uAbureau, a team of architects, designers, artists and builders worldwide working in new disciplinary terrain at the intersection of urbanism, architecture, construction and technology.
“Obviously after one and a half years in the most culturally rich center I’d ever lived in or been involved in, we met different creatives, different artists. It was the first time I met street artists – I mean, legitimate street artists, and the first time I’d met legitimate illustrators and creatives and everyone just vibe-ing off this melting pot that is Barcelona.”
Brazil began working closely with street artist friends, workshopping wall art into new mediums. Brazil’s collaboration with New York artist Max Rippon aimed to preserve the temporal aspect of graffiti and to use material efficiency both in the making and concept of pieces. Brazil produced Bristol artist Sickboy’s solo show, “Make It Last Forever,” at Lazarides gallery in London. Such artistic partnering gave birth to Fluorescent Smogg, a gallery, workshop and artist space that works with artists to create finely crafted limited editions that explore new material while preserving and complimenting artists’ underlying aesthetic and approach.
“Community development is nothing I’d ever felt strongly about, it was mainly because I was meeting all these different communities, all these new creative communities I had never had any contact with and I was super excited to work with them and collaborate with them.”
Currently uAbureau has collaborative projects underway around the world, including a floating Fab Lab in the Amazon and a food preservation and storage initiative in Ethiopia. They are also developing public/outdoor art installation projects in Venezuela, El Salvador and China.
Meanwhile, in his new hometown of Miami, Brazil’s architecture students participated alongside professional design teams in Park(ing) Day Miami, a civically sponsored competition for the international event that is PARK(ing) Day, a day when metered parking spots are transformed into temporary public parks to raise awareness and advocate for better quality urban space.
Brazil’s teams’ installations were moveable, interactive and adjustable to suit different shaped city nooks. All included horticultural elements, including compost and plants from local businesses. The students’ Hexat Garden won the Emerging Designer Category. This event has resulted in plans for the first permanent parklet installations to be built in Miami.