Technology as Future Craft.

In conversation with A/D/O Designer-in-Residence Stephen Burks.

The first Designer-in-Residence at A/D/O, Stephen Burks brings over a decade of experience bridging craft traditions, manufacturing and contemporary design. He has consulted with furniture manufacturers Cappellini, Missoni, Dedon and Ligne Roset to create luxury objects that fuse material innovation with handcraft techniques.  A recipient of the Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for industrial design, he’s the first designer to have a solo show at the Studio Museum in Harlem. Burks’ approach reconsiders the role of craft in manufacturing. We spoke with Burks about his practice and what it means to return to what he says is an “incubator state” during his time as Designer-in-Residence.

“We like to talk about our work as bringing the hand to industry,” Burks explains. In his corner of the A/D/O space, visitors can get a glimpse of the creative process as the designer and his studio prepare concepts and collaborate on projects with their clients. As Designer-in-Residence, he is asking a number of questions of himself and his team: What are we about? Where are we going? What are the questions we want to answer? What questions do we want to answer with clients, brands, collaborators and artisans that we’re working with?

Burks’ most recent work with Dedon sheds some light on his process. Using a highly-durable plastic designed specifically for outdoor furniture, Burks collaborates with artisans of the Filipino island of Cebu to develop and adapt traditional hand-weaving techniques for contemporary forms and materials. “Today, with automation, digital technology and digital manufacturing, we face the unique challenge of how to extend these craft traditions into the future,” Burks explains. “We understand that it's through the hand that we find the most potential for innovation. We like to call the artisans we work with a kind of hand factory, because there's power in what they make by hand—not just economic, but political and cultural power.”

In his new role at A/D/O, Burks hopes to examine this power and create strategies for scaling so that the artisans themselves can make a more pronounced contribution to the global design dialogue. He argues that designers today must wear multiple hats and look at the broader context of their work, so that it can create new cultural and political contexts. Using the maker movement as a source of inspiration, Burks sees the various projects at A/D/O as filters through which he’d like to reconsider his own work: “For example, how does 3D printing impact how we might weave a chair for Dedon? And how does the Urban-X Futures incubator and the idea of social networking impact the non-profits we work with?”

In searching for new ways to progress his body of work, Burks hopes that the residency will invite new ways of thinking. “I’m really here to reconsider the relationship between the hand and industry, the future of technology. And I believe that the future of technology is craft.”

LinYee Yuan