New York’s Commonwealth enjoy collaborating with some of graphic design’s brightest talent to create unique objects

Zoë Coombes and her husband Francisco David Boira  have been running their New York studio Commonwealth for just over one year. Both are trained architects and have an affinity with digital technologies, regularly employing animation software to generate the unique forms that appear in their collaborative and self-initiated design projects.

The studio is a product of a sea-change in architecture and design: where the former creative endeavour no longer regards the latter simply as a post-build add-on. These days, says Coombes, it’s no longer a case of just getting a graphic designer “to create a mural in a bleak corner of a building” – there are now more points of overlap between architecture, product design and graphics than ever before. Take Commonwealth’s latest design for a table, for example, where the form was generated by a computer programme based on “rule-driven scripts” instead of a traditional layout composed on paper.
The other part of their business is collaborating with other artists and exhibiting the results of their teamwork in their gallery space, Espeis, which is next door to the studio. Curated by Maxalot Michael Place’s On/Off show was the first exhibition to take place here, with a selection of his printed work framed in Corian (a solid surface building material) thus enabling the design of each print to carry on and out into the frame itself. Another exhibitor, Kenzo Minami, etched designs into wall tiles (see page 3), creating Closer, a series shown in the gallery space alongside huge sheets of his dramatic Futurist wallpaper.

Just finishing its current run at Espeis is Tropism, a collaborative exhibition between Commonwealth and digital artist Joshua Davis. Here, Davis’ work adorns the walls as a series of large-scale prints and also, in no doubt unfamiliar territory for the new media stalwart, as a range of delicate porcelain vases. “As architects, we wanted to ‘scale down’ and work with graphic designers where you can get more detail, more intricacy,” says Coombes. “There’s a faster turnaround, too, as it’s harder to be so experimental with something as large as architecture.”

Tropism is no exception. While the end product is formed from a more traditional material, Commonwealth began the project with a model created in the computer programme, Maya, and rendered using rapid prototyping. “We sent the model to American Precision Prototyping in Oklahoma and they made it out of plastic. Then we took this piece to a porcelain makers, Boehm, in New Jersey and they made the mould for a series of vases,” Coombes explains. Illustrator files of Davis’ designs were printed onto paint sheets and fused to the objects during the firing process.

Next up for Commonwealth is a collaboration with Matt Pyke of Universal Everything which will take place later in the year. More information at

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