Our monthly staff feature series highlights the diverse pursuits and hobbies of our studio members outside of the office. As an office, we believe that making time for our personal interests and activities re-energizes us, provides us with new perspectives and knowledge, and ultimately enriches our work as an architecture design studio.
Kate Brown is an Associate at MBB Architects. She joined the office in 2017 and has worked on projects such as Gordon Chapel for St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s School, and a master plan for the University of the South’s Theology Department. She recently took time to tell us about casting concrete. Below is an edited version of the interview. Check out Kate’s castings at her Etsy store, betonbrutstudio.
When and why did you start casting concrete?
I started casting stuff as an undergrad because everyone else was making really perfect little models out of sticks and I could never pull that off. It just didn’t work with my abilities, I guess. I realized I needed to do something different that was more reflective of the way I think and work. I started experimenting using resin, plaster, and casting around objects, and started having more success on my projects.
Now I’ve doubled down on concrete where I use rockite and aggregate. It started because I really wanted to make a planter. Since then, I’ve consistently failed every time I’ve tried to make a planter, so I’ve done other things – I’ve made little boxes, a book with my mom which was really fun, other kinds of small model size objects. Most of them are household objects because I like to be able to use them afterward.
What is your design process like?
I almost always start by sketching and then sometimes I’ll model it in Rhino. The issue is it’s really hard to understand the scale if there are small things that you would hold in your hand, so I almost always make some kind of prototype. I’ve had a lot of success using Legos to make prototypes and molds. A lot of times I’ll make a few different prototypes just so I can get a sense of the details and the scale.
You have an Etsy store for your pieces. How is that going?
It’s fairly steady. What’s the most fun about it is interacting with people. It’s nice getting feedback and talking with people who see this object that you’ve made and understand it and relate to it. In terms of the design, that’s been the most rewarding part.
Has casting influenced your work at MBB or maybe the influence is the other way around?
There’s a few designs where MBB influenced my casting. There’s one casting that I started after I talked to someone in the office about Euclid’s Elements. I have a copy of the book and wouldn’t even have thought to open it if I hadn’t had this conversation. After I looked at the book, I designed a candle holder based on one of the drawings.
In terms of influencing my work at MBB, I think one of the most important aspects of casting is failure. If you spend time making molds and casting objects you start to see that every failure is an opportunity to learn something new about the material or process. It’s a kind of reorientation of the way you look at things. I think through failing, my attitude about the process has evolved where to I feel like I’m a more resilient designer now.