A/D/O by MINI | Isometric Studio turns five

Isometric Studio turns five

Like most five-year-olds, Brooklyn-based Isometric Studio has confidently found its voice and personality – through architecture and graphics projects geared towards social good.

Five years in, Isometric Studio is taking a moment to pause, look back, and take stock of its achievements. Sitting in their workplace-cum-apartment, a loft-style space in the heart of Williamsburg, partners Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid talk passionately about their work – a large proportion of which revolves around benefitting an array of minority groups in various ways. Building on first-hand experience, the duo has formed the core of the practice around design’s importance in raising awareness of issues affecting those with social disadvantages.

“I take pride in our social position, and also who we are,” Chen told The Journal. “I used to be kind of embarrassed about it – the queer people of color doing social good, it seems very earnest in an almost naive kind of way. I've learned that, like, whatever. Even if people perceive it that way, I'm fine with that, so long as something gets done.”

Isometric Studio's projects include a floor installation in Princeton's International Building

After working under Paula Scher at design agency Pentagram, RISD graduate Chen originally founded the studio in 2013 with Alex Huang. Huang went on to work as a creative director for various startups, but graphic designer Chen and architect Jawaid – who have been in a romantic relationship for 13 years – decided to join forces professionally and continue Isometric Studio.

Both Princeton alumni, Chen and Jawaid – who cut his teeth at OMA in Rotterdam – have completed several projects for the university. These include visual identities for the school’s LGBT Center, Women’s Center, Environmental Institute, Humanities Council, and Carl A Fields Center for confronting institutional racism and classism. The duo also created an intervention in a new building that houses both the Economics and International Initiatives departments.

“For the international folks, the building was too austere, and didn't really express their story,” said Chen. “They wanted some kind of spatial identity that didn't interfere with architecture, because it was very expensive and prestigious, but still told the story of what it means to be international citizens, particularly at a place like Princeton.”

The studio's other work for Princeton includes the visual identity for the school's Fields Center

In the building's atrium, Isometric applied vinyl lettering onto tiles to spell out quotes from from global authors. The subtle text emanates in concentric arcs across the flooring on three levels. “It looks very ephemeral and very light touch, but is probably our most permanent installation,” Chen added.

This project is indicative of Isometric’s approach to combining architecture and graphics, ensuring the result is beautiful, thoughtful, uplifting, and beneficial for the users. “To be able to represent voices that are often oppressed or invisible, [in a way] that's not just value added, it is core to who we are and what we do,” said Chen.

The Germ City exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York reimagined the flow of microbes

The theme of social good continues through projects including exhibition designs for Germ City, about microbes in the metropolis; the USAID 2014 Biennial, showcasing the development agency’s contributions; and That’s Worth Celebrating, highlighting the work of philanthropists Seward and Cecelia Joyce Johnson.

While recognizing the importance of social good projects to them both personally and professionally, the duo wants to ensure that this type of work is not solely what they are known for.

“It's part of our identity, and we can't help but reflect it in our work, but at the same time I think we're very wary of being known as a ‘social good’ design firm,” said Chen. “It is a challenge for us to accrue cultural capital within the design industry, because our work is not seen as playful and cool. Instead, it's seen as serious and thoughtful."

Among Isometric's restaurant projects is the Kimoto Rooftop Beer Garden in NYC

Therefore, Isometric branched out to designing branding and interiors for several restaurants and hospitality spaces in New York City, including OkonomiKimoto Rooftop Beer Garden and Junzi. With each, the studio has used a minimal aesthetic infused with elements influenced by the cuisine served, and has intended to create spaces for conversation. “Food brings people together. It's about it community, it's about sustainability,” said Jawaid. “And debates can often become much more nuanced and personal, and kinder, when people are having a meal together.”

Most recently, the studio has created the visual identity for Rule of Thirds – the new restaurant at A/D/O in Greenpoint, set to open later this year. Although wary of taking on another Asian restaurant project – fearing again that the studio might become typecast – Isometric spoke to George Padilla, JT Vuong and the Sunday Hospitality team behind the venture, and agreed to come on board. Conversations with interior designer Loren Daye led the studio to use the natural textures planned for the space, and the restaurant’s name, as starting points for their design concept.

The branding for the upcoming Rule of Thirds restaurant at A/D/O features a "cast of characters"

The resulting visual identity is based around a circle, which is missing a segment measuring roughly one-third of the whole. This forms a repeated motif to be applied across paper materials like menus and coffee cups, and fabrics like staff aprons and tote bags. The shapes are accompanied by characters, drawn in an “illustration style that was reminiscent of Asia, but not a direct mimetic copy”, which will also be used on signage and a mural across the restaurant’s exterior front wall.

“It's a huge restaurant space that operates all day,” said Chen. “The objective is to bring people who would not normally find themselves at restaurants, for any number of reasons, to invite them in and to make it welcoming with a cast of characters.”

“While it's fun, it doesn't feel frivolous,” he added.

The visual identity will be used across menus, products, apparel and wall murals

With half a decade under their belts, Isometric is now looking ahead to more projects spanning graphics, architecture, spatial design and beyond. Coming up, an exhibition of contemporary Muslim fashion at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, and a collaboration with a major tech company to address police brutality in the lives of Black Americans. These continue the thread of promoting diversity, equality and acceptance that forms the heart and soul of Isometric’s work.

“It is important to have some sense of mission or meaning that grounds a design practice, because these days, we are so inundated with images and trends that can feel vacuous,” said Jawaid. “I think it's important for designers to figure out what they're excited about or what they're interested in, and how they can help to think about the larger community in some way.”

Andy Chen and Waqas Jawaid