Visual Arts

Jason Griffiths on Community Identity, Public Art, and His Chair Installations in Tempe

You might notice something a little bit different in the surroundings if you're traveling on College Avenue this month. Funded by the Tempe Neighborhood Grant Program, local architect and academic Jason Griffiths worked with the community in the neighborhood just south of Southern to design street furniture that could express something meaningful while still maintaining high levels of functional practicality.

"The idea was to use a simple chair, almost the iconic chair, to describe types of body language," Griffiths says. "Its eventual form was derived from looking at how two people might sit together and their relationship -- one leaning on the other, facing slightly away from each other and so on. These relationships were also informed by the immediate environment like views towards the street, local bus route, shade, etc."

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This type of exploration is not new to the accomplished architect. Griffiths published a book last year that was listed in the Los Angeles Times as one of the best architecture publications of 2011.

The book, Manifest Destiny: A Guide to the Essential Indifference of American Suburban Housing, looks at ordinary suburban architecture. "The simple house form is simply another starting point like the simple chair that can be manipulated to interesting effect," Griffiths says.

Starting with this simple chair form in mind, Griffiths held meetings with a group of about fifteen neighborhood members (aided by the organizational prowess of Katie Zeiders) to agree upon the negotiable design aspects of the chairs like color. Griffiths created the final product digitally and worked with Greg Brockman of Magnum Steel for production and installation. According to Griffiths, the process itself at this point is streamlined, but it still allows for expression.

"From design to fabrication most of the problems have been worked out," Griffiths says. "What this means is that we can produce a range of furniture pieces that all look like they belong together but are individually very specific."

The architect notes that the chairs can be tailored to fit specific environment and community needs while still offering an overarching sense of continuity in Tempe.

"Essentially Tempe can become know for this unique type of furniture," he says. "All we need is for other residents to apply for improvement grants and organize the process."

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Katrina Montgomery