Thursday, December 7, 2017

ai3 Employee Sabbaticals - 2018

For the 3rd time in our firm's history, ai3 offered employees a 3-day sabbatical. The goal was very simple: employee growth.  Proposals were written and approved, and each person was required to "present" their journey to the rest of the studio.

Previous sabbatical presentations have been so meaningful and affected our ambitions to travel, create art, be mindful, run marathons, or just drink more bourbon.  We thought it might do the same for you, so here are (3) examples of our employee's journeys.

My sabbatical was an exploration of sketch and watercolor techniques typically used to document urban environments on location. I took photos during a recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina with the intention that I would later use them for this study.  I began with a series of ink drawing exercises using a continuous uninterrupted line from beginning until end of the skyline.  Unlike architectural drawing, this technique forced me to be more spontaneous and let my hand flow free of constraints.

The next was to incorporate watercolor into a study. I chose a photo of the tower at St. Philip's Episcopal Church with a building in the foreground and a tree line at the base. The process began with a single line sketch to quickly study the major shapes and forms. The next step was to draw a light framework in pencil based off of the ink study and then charge in with watercolor. The watercolor was layered on in three separate passes. The first was a light wash of the overall mass and shape. The second pass captured the shadows in a medium warm hue and then finally the darkest blacks and detail went on.

The third study was a combination of the two before using a photo of Broad Street. I started with a single line sketch of waterproof ink as loose as I could be with my fountain pen. It was then followed by a light wash of watercolor. Strong pigments were "charge in" in selected locations to create a vibrant atmosphere. Out of all the sketches created during my sabbatical, I found this one to be the most inspiring. The combination of loose but organized lines and blobs of color create interesting things that causes the eye to dance around the image.

Being a June baby, I've always been attracted to a beautiful pearl, especially a fresh water pearl, and it's been a dream of mine to start a jewelry line centered around the pearl. The pearl symbolized purity, generosity, integrity, and loyalty. 

For my sabbatical this year, I focused my energy on upstarting a jewelry boutique called earthen elegance boutique and "The Knotted Pearl" collection. I spent my time doing the following:
Day 1 - Branding  |  Packaging

Day 2 - Scavenging for the materials

Day 3 - Production of prototype designs & Set-up of Etsy Shop

My sabbatical was a self-guided 3-day @MasterClassOfficial culinary course with Gordon Ramsey. The course allowed me to focus on my love of cooking, to elevate cooking techniques reflective of our chef clientele, and to learn classic recipes with a modern twist. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Truett's Chick-fil-A, It's been our pleasure

Every successful design project begins with a willing and enthusiastic team, and boy, did we have a great one with Truett's Chick-fil-A in Newnan, Georgia. Collaboration was key - we met weekly with our Chick-fil-A client, graphics team, and the kitchen designer.  Day after day, we developed new floor plans, remaining focused on how the Chick-fil-A customer would experience each aspect of the space. 

We dove head first into the design challenge of combining the beloved Hapeville Chick-fil-A Dwarf House (opened in 1946) with the current Chick-fil-A concept.  The goal was to create something fresh and timeless:  the new Truett's Chick-fil-A.  Named after the Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy, Truett's celebrates his fun-loving and innovative spirit, and showcases the brand's heart and heritage.

With a little helpful inspiration from Truett Cathy's one-of-a-kind antique car collection, a trip to the Chick-fil-A headquarters, and a few too many chicken sandwiches, the design concept was underway.

A full-scale mockup was created down at Chick-fil-A's innovation center.  There we worked with the client team, physically moving elements around the space to see what felt just right. 

Each detail- down to the racing stripe painted on the wall, which paid homage to Truett's love of automobiles - was thoughtfully designed to support the new narrative of Truett's Chick-fil-A. 

Our client fully embraced the new design, but one element from the old Dwarf House was a "must keep" - the iconic red dwarf door.  Installing it in the new restaurant preserved the connection of long-time Chick-fil-A customers to the newly designed space.  

The new Truett's Chick-fil-A opened August 31st.  Devoted customers slept outside in tents (in the rain!) so they could be among the first 100 guests and win a free sandwich each week... for a YEAR!  

It was important for the space to honor and celebrate Truett Cathy:  his entrepreneurial spirit, his generosity, and his fun-loving nature.  Truett was a quotable man, and his sayings - carefully hand-painted on the white brick walls by a local artist - are sprinkled throughout the restaurant. Other hand-painted details include an evolution of the Chick-fil-A logo, from the early 1960s to present day, which patrons can glimpse while they wait in line to place their order. 

We're thrilled with how the design came to fruition, and couldn't be happier to participate in the future of Chick-fil-A.  
Thank you, Gwen Newland, for believing in ai3. 

Instagram Photo Credit:  @Mcneilsigns @dvdphoto @dantcathy

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Congratulations Kellen Minor, our newest Principal at ai3

Ahhhh, our dear Kellen - Special K.
A ridiculous perfectionist. An artist. A watercolorist. Beloved Snack-Provider. His gentleness and creative passion have found a home at ai3.  We love him for how much he loves his wife, Krystle, and his son, Rowan, and we won't forget his dog Roma, so named for his honeymoon destination in Italy.

To be a Principal, one must embrace all that we stand for at ai3.  Kellen's honesty, curiosity, accountability, and fearlessness to do his best for ai3 and his clients makes him a true asset to our studio.  Joining us in 2013, Kellen has led and inspired our studio to produce some of our best work.   

Congratulations to Kellen for earning this new title.  
We look forward to your future creations with the team here at ai3!

Fish Head Mock-Up for Dragonfly Miami; Actually 10' tall

I don't know what to say...
The beautiful family-  Krystle & Rowan
Serious about costumes- Office inside joke (dish detergent in dishwasher)

And, serious about Halloween home decor

Jason, Amy, Kerry, & Kellen at Cooking Class

Blame McLean if you're ever frustrated.  He brought you here ;)

There's Roma!

Kellen was a big part of the award-winning design for Cooks & Soldiers

Rowan and Kellen

Yep, you're stuck with us!
The Alps- Kellen's inspiration for a BrewPub design, sigh....

Monday, September 19, 2016

Embraced by the Mississippi Delta... Inspiration from our benchmark trip

Ethan Lewis, Jillian Rooker, and Kerry Wittwer met up with our client and the locals of The Delta for a recent benchmark trip before the project kick-off of a boutique hotel in Cleveland, Mississippi.

By Ethan Lewis

"Getting there is the hard part. But once you are, The Delta is in your blood." 

Luke Chamblee with Chamblee Hospitality Group flip-flopped his way through the paint-chipped double doors of The Crystal Grill in Greenwood, Mississippi.  Like a star high-school quarterback walking through locker-lined hallways, he winked, waved, and nodded at everyone he passed.  It seemed as if everyone knew one another, and not in the "know-of" way, like really knew one another, like they had something in common.  Even Luke, a city slicker from nearby Jackson, making his maiden voyage to the Delta, was unconditionally welcomed... and Kerry, Jillian, and I were right by his side. 

Over a half-dozen steamy hot-tamales and "still the best around" fried chicken tenders, Luke explained the details of his new venture, a boutique hotel in Cleveland, Mississippi.
"But why?" I thought to myself. "I guess that's what we're here to find out."
For those of you who don't know (I didn't) the Mississippi Delta is not, in fact, the Mississippi Delta. The true delta of the Mississippi River is located some 200 miles to the south, in Louisiana.  The Mississippi Delta, however, is an alluvial plain cradled by the Mississippi River to the west and the Yazoo River to the east. Covering a great deal of the west side of the state, "the Delta" seems flat enough to see all the way down to the Vicksburg bluffs from its northern tip near Memphis. Setting out from Greenwood, we began our criss-crossed traipse through what has become known as "the most southern place on Earth."

I wiped the lens of my cell phone camera with my already sweaty waffle shirt and began snapping shots of vast soy bean farms. I thought to myself, "Oh, this one is going to turn out great," but was interrupted by Luke's sarcasm, "You better take those while you can, it's the only soy bean farm in the Delta." There's something about it, though -- the way endless rows of dark green crops meet the light blue summer sky, or how the breeze moves across the leaves, creating synchronized dances of waves.  Right then and there, my affair with the Delta began.

Sure, I love Atlanta, been here my whole life, probably going to die here.  But when I say I have an obligation to the Delta, an obligation to preserve what had been culturally neglected, I'm being honest as the rust and the heat, the mud and the mosquitoes.  For this reason, Luke's project has inspired us to dream a little deeper and attempt to involve the whole Delta community.  We drove to Greenville the next morning, under the spell of loose guitar strings plucked by Robert Johnson, to pick up Kerry at the Mid Delta Regional... err... Airport? Put it this way, Kerry dropped her ID in the bathroom and the one cop working the building approached her and drawled, "Think you dropped this in the bathroom, ma'am."

Carving our way through soy, corn, and rice farms, we arrived at a long and straight dirt driveway lined with sunflower fields leading to the Baby Doll House in Benoit.  Stepping out in the heat, we encountered a true character, epitomizing the spirit of The Delta. Eustace was his name.  He toured us all around the film-set-famed property of its namesake - a historic plantation house that was spared during the Civil War because the owner, Judge J.C. Burrus, had a personal friendship with the commander of the Union forces at the time.  Eustace walked us through his shotgun shacks (on Airbnb), introduced us to his skunk-huntin' dogs, explained that the blue porch ceiling confuses and deters "dirt-digger" wasps from nesting, and showed us his mastodon jaw signed by the "Gunslinger" himself, Brett Favre.  (Apparently, it was the only autographable medium he had on his person when he randomly encountered Favre in the Delta backwoods on a hunting trip.) Sticky with sweat, we felt a cool breeze pushed by a wall of rumbly dark clouds and all joked about the impeccable timing of Kerry's single-prop plane.  "We need it!" Eustace hollered, as we hurried to the truck and thanked him for the education and hospitality.

Rain.  Like I've never seen rain before -- a summer storm whitewash of water balloons.  Good thing the roads are as straight as bowling alleys with gutter-bumpers of soy fields.  When we safely arrived at the Delta Meat Market in Cleveland, we were warmly welcomed by a head full of long and sandy hair held back by black-rimmed eyeglasses and with a big smile, he said, "I'm Matty, it's great to meet you, welcome." Something was off, though; there was no drawl, no accent, and in fact he looked and sounded like he could have been from the East Village.  Sure enough, Matty had moved from Stuyvesant Town, New York, to the Delta after a stint at Teach for America, and had been captivated by the charisma of the region.  He started an ice creamery and recently joined forces with Chef Cole Ellis, a prominent and well-respected figure in the Delta.  Cole is the proprietor, owner, and executive chef of the Delta Meat Market and soon-to-be executive chef of the hotel restaurant.  Cole is a man of big dreams, big personality, and big skills.  He brought us out burgers under slabs of thick-cut bacon, watermelon wedges sprinkled with feta cheese and dribbled with balsamic glaze, and for dessert...? Hot, fresh powdered-sugar donuts with pounded, syrupy blueberries.  For lunch, y'all.

With a food-induced coma dangerously nigh, Kelli Carr, the bright-eyed and energetic tourism director for the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, took the reins and led the way to Studio 230, where we spoke with local artists.  Later we cooled off in the shade of the lush gardens at McCarty Pottery, where we met the owner. By the sweltering 3 o'clock hour, we immersed ourselves in the history of the blues in Dockery Farms, where B.B. King said, "You might say it all started right here."  Soon after, we toured Delta State University, home of the Fighting Okra, and got a lesson in the history of music at The Grammy Museum.

On our way out to legendary "Po' Monkeys," one of the last remaining tried-and-true juke joints, we received word that Willie "Po' Monkey" Seaberry had passed away that evening.  I had only heard of him days before, but everyone from Memphis to Vicksburg, surrounding Mississippians and Arkansawyers, and anyone who had been down the Mississippi blues trail considered him the spirit of the Delta.  You could feel in the thick, hot air that this was a tragic loss for the entire community and the end of an era.  With Kelli in tears, we waded through black clouds of mosquitoes and approached Po' Monkey's dilapidated shack to pay our respects.  Justified by Cole, even with such a tragedy, there would still be celebration, "Because that's what 'Monkey' would have wanted."

Somehow, after only 48 hours, I felt like I was a part of a bigger family -- a family full of crazy uncles and cousins, but family nonetheless.  And amidst the poverty, the lingering racial divides, and the confining reliance on agriculture, the Mississippi Delta embraces you with its history, charm, humor, and eccentricity.  As designers and architects, we have the unique challenge of telling stories without words.  Fortunately, the Mississippi Delta has a story to tell, and a damn good one at that.