Growing to Extremes

Photography by Isabella Bejarano. Styling + Art Direction: Flore Morton

Coat by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design. 

The challenge of our time is how to adapt to seemingly insurmountable obstacles – economic, environmental, and existential – in ways that promote survival.

An unusual project was taken on by Academy of Art University School of Architecture students, under the guidance of instructors Alexandra Neyman and Monica Tiulescu. 

The students in the Architectural 609 class – Intermediate Design Studio –collaborated on a project with Fashion School merchandising instructor, Hersha Steinbock’s FSH 328 Interpreting and Reporting Fashion class. The class “dealt with notions of nomadism and identity,’’ Neyman and Tiulescu explained. “Our conversations with fashion students and Hersha dealt with a design of a growth system sited on a human body,’’ including the opportunities provided by prosthetics. 

“On both ends – architecture and fashion – we were always interested in the blurring of the normative identity…Our studio started with the human body as a malleable and highly regenerative organism.”

Conceived as part of a larger project based on the concepts of biomimicry, a growing trend which finds inspiration in nature to solve human problems, the work from the courses was shown at the Atelier Gallery
on 79 Montgomery and, subsequently, at The Cannery.

A more recent ARH 609 project was based on the same concepts involved in an unusual pop-up exhibition at an Oakland medical building. As Tiulescu and Neyman explained it, the students’ work explores two parallel concerns: “The first is research into the philosophical and physical implications of body modification, as it relates to social identity. The second is the development of a building block system that maneuvers like an evolving ecology through adaptation, resulting in emergent behavior.

“The installation celebrates the grotesque and the authentic and capitalizes on beautiful deformations, the procedure and process of transmutation and the cultural process of extreme adornment to the point of creating multiple identity or indefinable identity,’’ they add.

The joint architecture-fashion project built the framework for a Community Bazaar in an area south of downtown San Francisco. Underneath the freeway on Fifth and Brannan Streets a new model for urban living and thought was created.

The students are, “researching processes of complex behaviors,’’ they add. 

Cape by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design. Belt and shoes stylist's own. Prosthetic models from the School of Architecture. 

“We also examine the neighborhood as a social construct embedded with dynamics and resistance.”

“The logic of design is generated through a rule-based process of growth that capitalizes on aggregation, variation, and evolution.”

Reconsidering the idea of fashion meant incorporating the notion of globalization which fuels a hypercommodified world.

“In the 79 Montgomery and Cannery shows, bodies were dressed in muslins. The prosthetic had to negotiate with the body as well as the clothing designed for the body, which was an interesting opportunity.”

When asked how the creative use of tattoos and other body adornments, plastic surgery and changing out understanding of disease can contribute to constructive new approaches to the existing problems, whether in an urban landscape, or more individual challenges, the instructors replied that the experiment “does not intend to solve any particular problems, resolve any social issues, but rather it operates within that context as a site of opportunity.  However, [it] does take a social stance, as far as being interested in intensifying the local conditions of the site and the global conditions of San Francisco from a social and political perspective. We capitalize on all kinds of defective conditions and anomalies found in the process, as we celebrates human diversity to the extent that anyone can be who and whatever they want to be.”

It’s a worthwhile notion to consider as Academy students – whatever their discipline or field of study is – struggle to come to grips with their physical and psychological boundaries and come up with new alternatives for a new generation.

Coat by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design. 

Top and culotte by Stephina Touch, MFA Fashion Design.

Shirt by Pheobe Wang, BFA Fashion Design. Skirt by Stephina Touch, MFA Fashion Design. 

Shirt by Pheobe Wang, BFA Fashion Design. Skirt by Stephina Touch, MFA Fashion Design. 

Dress by Stephina Touch, MFA Fashion Design. Prosthetic models from the School of Architecture. 

Bathing suit by Shumpei Okamoto, BFA Fashion Design, and Andrea Nieto, BFA Textile Design. 

Skirt by Vicken Derderian, MFA Fashion Design. 

Coat by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design. 

Top by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design.

Coat by Nika Tang, MFA Fashion Design. 

Special Thanks

Mohammed Al Omran, Mohammed Alaqil, Raya Alavi, Yousef Algiaan, Dima Almobarak, Sondos Ashi, Jesus Gutierrez, Chanan Jaionnom, Ponlapee Mahavisessin, Fady Rophael, Soufiane Bedda, Jenna Chen, Dugesar Manjeet, Fadol Amjed, Chao Ching Hsu, Peiliang Liu, Si Beck Nam, Rapeepong Tanmanee, Ke Wang, Tyler Whalen, Xianxiu Zheng, Shadi Sinclair, Cheng Zeng, Youchen Wong, Yi-Hsuan Wong, Sulaiman Alkhulanui, Qasam Ali, T Almutair, Yi Wang, Saraswati Sri Lalitadewi Latumahina, Chen Hung-Chin, Danny Prem Jethnani, Robert Everett, Nicholas Kostal, Kylee Keller, Alexandra Barrett, Sami Almidani, Ahmed Fouad Banaja, Ye Bao, Mohammed Moustafa Fouda, Amanda Pinon, Jasmine Serrano, Ana Jimenez, Siyu Han, Po Yee Wong, Xu Lin, Jacqueline Wray, Hao Hsu, Anna Evans, Sarah Lemp, Rachel Ambasing, Zihe Liu, Jaclyn Kershek, Lea Ben-Ichou, Nicole Soliman, Brienna Logan, Kylie Sun, Jonathan Viramontes

Model: Achok Majak, Scout Model and Talent Agency. Make-up: Victor Cembellin for Workgroup Ltd. using MAC Cosmetics. Assistant photographers: Nick Gutierrez and Jake Merril. Assistant stylists: Winnie Huang and Stephanie St. Croix.