Oliver Hess, co-director; Jenna Didier, founder and co-director

If you boil it down, Materials & Applications’ 25-by-40-foot outdoor exhibition space, just off of Los Angeles’s Silver Lake Boulevard, is nothing much fancier than a repurposed front garden. However, in its nearly 10 years of existence, nonprofit founder Jenna Didier, 41, and her co-director Oliver Hess, 38, have made that gravel yard a 24/7 laboratory for experimental architecture. Didier always knew that she wanted a place where innovative and emerging artists and designers could collaborate on new ideas for public space. “Architects seemed to understand its purpose intrinsically and began right away to propose ideas,” she says.

Materials & Applications (M&A) works with architects who often spend much of their time gazing at a computer screen, so the architects’ installations often test how to viably translate ideas from science and computational design into structural reality. “Software-based design tools allow for such diverse creative and technical pursuits, but they often remove the depth of process,” notes Hess, himself an artist with a technological bent. “By returning to the meaning of these processes it allows for greater perspective on the design process. It is necessary to reaffirm this approach daily.”