Variations on a Table: Jeffrey Inaba Uses Salvaged Materials to Redesign Dinner
In the Bay Area this weekend? Come along to Hayes Valley Farm between 11:00 am and 1:00 pm tomorrow (Sunday), to enjoy some organic Caffe Vita coffee and Theo chocolate, tour the farm, check out C-Lab's gorgeous table, and hear a few words from Ellen Gustafson. There's a Facebook invitation here, but no RSVP is necessary—Hayes Valley Farm is at 450 Laguna Street (at Fell), and all are welcome.
GOOD is proud to be a partner of the 30 Project: For more information about our goals and plans, see this introduction, "Have Dinner, Change the World" by 30 Project founder Ellen Gustafson, and "Tables to Change the World: An Interview with Michael Hebb."
All images provided by C-Lab and used with permission.
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Last week, we talked with Michael Hebb about the importance of the table in Western culture—and its power to bring people together and inspire critical dialogue, open-ended inquiry, and action.
Michael Hebb might orchestrate the dinner experience, but architect Jeffrey Inaba and his team at C-Lab are designing and building the tables themselves. Ahead of the 30 Project launch dinner in San Francisco on Sunday, I asked Inaba for a sneak peek at the incredible multi-colored, lightweight reusable table they are fabricating out of donated materials.
He sent me renderings of the 30 Project Bay Area table (above)—no photos, because it's being built today!—and talked me through its unique design. Click through for more, including photos and drawings of the three other gorgeous tables in the series C-Lab is building with Michael Hebb, accompanied by Inaba's commentary on each.
Inaba told me, "We're calling the 30 Project table, 'Tablecloth.' The surface is really thin. It's made out of the planks from shipping pallets, woven together with scrap nylon rope, and so it can be rolled out onto trestles and used for an event and then rolled back up and stored really easily."
"We've designed the trestles so they can stack, too, so the idea is that the 30 Project can use the table for this launch dinner at Hayes Valley Farm on Sunday, and then the farm can continue using it for classroom visits and workshops and other community meals, but it won't take up valuable space to store."
"We're still trying to determine the color scheme. It depends on the color of the cord, and what paint we can get donated—the idea is that it will be this gorgeous multi-colored table cloth all made out of reused and donated materials."
The image above is a plan drawing of table that Inaba and C-Lab designed for an Architecture for Humanity event created by Michael Hebb at the Armory in New York, earlier this year. According to Inaba:
"This is part of a whole series of tables that we've been working on with Michael. With each of them, what we're trying to do is to re-use as much material as possible"
The same Architecture for Humanity table shown in axonometric view, to give you an idea of how it was constructed. Each of C-Lab's tables is a unique shape and built from different materials, which is partly due to each event's specific location, program, and seating requirements, and partly the result of using whatever previously used materials that the team can source.
A photo of the Architecture for Humanity table, constructed and ready for use. According to Inaba:
"With all of the tables, the thing that's been really interesting to us is, if using repurposed materials is a given, then what are the possibilities in terms of design? The proportions and qualities of the materials we find set the constraints for the design, and then we try to exploit them to their fullest extent."
"With this table, we used eighth-inch fiberboard reclaimed from a building site. An eighth of an inch is really, really thin—so then, design-wise, what we wanted to do was to accentuate that thinness with a curvilinear shape that showcased a razor edge."
In addition to the material choices that shape each design, C-Lab works closely with Michael Hebb to think about how the table's form will enhance the conviviality of the dining experience.
"Michael talks about the fact that gathering around one table is very different and much more meaningful than being distributed around several tables, which I always thought on a symbolic level made sense, but I'm now convinced it really is the case. When you are all at a single table, then the dynamics of the meal and the dynamics of the conversation are very different," Inaba told me.
"Of course, the overarching thing is that we really want these tables to be beautiful as design objects"
The image above is a plan drawing of table that Inaba and C-Lab designed for a recent DKNY dinner event created by Michael Hebb.
The same DKNY table shown in axonometric view.
As he talked me through the different tables, Inaba explained C-Lab's design approach:
"C-Lab is a research entity and its main purpose is to analyze things on an urban level and a cultural level. So when it comes to making tables, we start by applying those analytical skills to determine what are the particular challenges that are faced by designers who want to make beautiful, low- or no-cost tables from re-used materials using workshop facilities that are open to the community in this particular city or place. And then we make proposals along those lines."
The C-Lab team building the DKNY table.
"In New York, we've used workshops that function as co-ops, and so we limit ourselves to using the machinery that's available there. There's no laser cutting or other advanced fabrication equipment—and that gives us a framework in terms of what we can design. It's important that our design criteria are as much about the circumstances of construction and the materials as the final use."
"Our goal isn't to make the aesthetic seem like it's recycled or low-tech or whatever. On the contrary, the idea is to make the table as nice as we can, accepting the limits that are made by our commitment to use reclaimed materials and co-operative fabrication resources."
"The other thing is that is important is the transferable knowledge, which is why we make all these diagrams to share after the fact. We want it to be really clear how each table is put together and how you could make it yourself, but also, more importantly, how to analyze a situation and problem solve for its constraints with the goal of trying to create something that's well designed and a beautiful object."
The image above is a plan drawing of table that Inaba and C-Lab designed for an Grammy event created by Michael Hebb last month.
Inaba also described the table debrief process, and how C-Lab is using this series to learn about what works and what doesn't in terms of spacing, scale, and form.
"We definitely want each table to be enjoyed and for it to be comfortable, so we spend a lot of time debriefing which details actually work in terms of translating what we think looks really nice in our renderings into the actual field conditions of fabricating it."
"The great thing about doing a series is that we're really learning a lot from each table and applying it to the next ones. They vary from event to event—it's not intended to be variations on a theme, but rather that we learn things from previous tables and apply it to new circumstances to try to make something that's quite different."
The Grammy table under construction by members of the C-Lab team. In thinking about what's next for C-Lab's table series, Inaba told me:
"The next thing we want to address—it's just a matter of budget and access to resources—is how we can develop lighting that's integrated into the table. That will give us a whole new set of possibilities for ways the table can shape the larger environment around it."
"That idea is really important. In this case, the table happens to be the physical object that we're working with, but the thread running through all our designs is the idea of how you make a built element that conditions the space around it."
The Grammy table, assembled. Inaba and C-Lab will be working with Michael Hebb, GOOD, Architecture for Humanity, and other partners to create unique tables for each of the 29 more 30 Project launch dinners over the coming months—watch this space to see how the series evolves. Inaba's final note is a reflection on the power of collaborative projects to create fresh opportunities where otherwise none might have existed:
"The thing that has been particularly inspiring about the 30 Project collaboration is the idea that we can initiate ongoing design projects for organizations or collective efforts that we think for one reason or another are of interest to us. In that sense, our design process expands from problem solving for a given context into identifying opportunities for doing work. That's a model of practice that can hopefully be a benefit to other people, too."