Brooklyn, N.Y.–based design collective The Principals seeks to create objects and spaces that balance utility with whimsy. The collective was founded in 2012 by three designers—Drew Seskunas, Assoc. AIA, industrial designer Charles Constantine, and master craftsman Christopher Williams—who aligned their respective specialties into a shared, singular trajectory. By merging their trades, the trio wants to foster deeper connections to the environment.
Seskunas and Constantine grew up together and studied at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Pratt Institute. Constantine and Williams worked together at a design studio in nearby Bushwick, while Seskunas was designing a modular lighting system for technology festival Transmediale 2011 in Berlin. “I was having trouble finding people who could not just build my design, but could also understand what the idea was about,” Seskunas says.
That project, BotoxCloud, ended up being built by the trio at the Bushwick studio’s shop in its off hours. It is the first in the firm’s Botox series, which centers on the idea of producing volume with something flat and thus “demystifying complex geometries through making,” Seskunas says. BotoxCloud was later adapted into a consumer product of flat sheets that could be folded and combined to form a 3D puzzle.
BotoxLamp, the second in the series, uses hand-folded, plasma-cut aluminum sheets embedded with sensors that react to the proximity of passersby.
BotoxUtopia, the conclusion of the series, is a canopy of inverted pyramids of different sizes, made of cardboard and emergency blankets. As part of a workshop at the Polytechnic University of Milan, students adorned the underside of the canopy with networked sensors and LEDs that detect movement in the area and illuminate it.
A collaborative, hybrid design approach guides the firm. “We try to think about space holistically,” Seskunas says. “We’re always designing things from a very small scale to a large scale.” Exemplifying this range are two more of the firm’s projects: Bullseye, which is a slick, metal device that can convert almost any object into a pipe, and the immersive environment Snowblind, which alters the user’s perception of space and time through the manipulation of clouds, light, and sound.
Two larger-scale installations, Space Trash and Dynamic Sanctuary, incorporate the use of biorhythms. Space Trash, inspired by a friend’s struggle with multiple sclerosis, explores bionic architecture that uses myoelectric sensors attached to a user that translate muscle impulses into movement in the installation. Dynamic Sanctuary, a pavilion designed for the Ford Motor Co., links a heartbeat monitor to light levels to visualize a person’s pulse. “On one level, you’re realizing something that’s going on with your body that you’re not typically aware of, like electricity running through your muscles, or your heartbeat,” Seskunas says. “But when it’s actually broadening your experience of your surroundings, you begin to engage with them.”
The Principals also maintain a deep interest in recontextualizing mundane, ordinary objects by incorporating them into their work. The group employed inflatable air dancers, typically used for advertising by car dealerships, in AirMOSH, a kinetic installation at MoMA’s PS1 in Queens, N.Y. With the Dead Chair Tables series, they laid iconic chairs on their sides and topped them with glass as a commentary on their inefficiency as functional furniture.
“If someone is in an inspiring space, he or she might start to think about what it’s doing, how it’s reading their body, and therefore what’s going on in their own body,” Seskuans says. “We see that people’s ability to understand space has evolved, and we’re trying to tap into that so people are willing to think about space in more complex ways.”