Designing a Design Lab: Interview with Kyo Bannai

By Julia Einstein, Assistant Director of Family and Studio Learning

Join us for the opening of PMA Family Space: Design Lab, on February 19–a perfect activity for your family during February school vacation! The PMA Family Space is an interactive room in the McLellan House dedicated to families exploring, creating, and most importantly, having fun! This year, as part of The Artist + Family Project, we are inviting artists from the community to interpret the museum’s collections in new ways and to construct family-friendly activities for the PMA Family Space.

The first artist to transform the space is local architect/designer Kyo Bannai. Inspired by the context of the McLellan House, Kyo incorporated elements of architectural design for families with children of all ages to enter in and become designers!

Give us a bit of background about yourself in the world of architecture, your influences, etc.
Although both my parents are designers, architects, and developers, I didn’t quite understand why one would become a designer—I guess I could attribute it to nearsightedness. It was always around and pervasive. For a while I was too busy learning about cadavers! It didn’t occur to me until decades later that everything inside a body was designed just so. And now, I see how everything around us is designed. The paper clip or the pencil on your desk was designed for utility. The teacher’s lesson was designed to convey a certain idea. Even the giraffe’s neck is designed for survival.

Describe the Design Lab concept.
A primary guideline was to interpret the museum’s collections in new ways. Being an architect it made sense for me to think about the PMA’s unique and impressive collection of buildings that make up the main part of the museum: the McLellan House (built in 1801), the Sweat Galleries (opened in 1911), and the Payson Building (opened in 1983.) Over its course of history these additions, renovations, and restorations contributed to physical, functional, and emotive changes inside and out. So, my concept started with the statement: “The museum is constantly changing… and every change alters its surroundings.”

The asking of the questions and the invitation to respond is the premise. What does this look like in the experience you’ve created for the Design Lab?
Recently my husband and I took our kids to the International Spy Museum while in Washington D.C. We loved the way we were given an alias upon arrival and instructed to be that person on the card and go through “spy training.” How fun is that? Pretending to be a designer is obviously not quite as sexy, but this was the idea I was aiming to emulate.

Upon arrival you can pick up a Design Lab Workbook at the Admissions Desk to experience the designer’s process through exploration of museum “hot spots,” sites where you’ll sketch your observations, then return to the Design Lab to share what you saw. Everyone has the choice to build their ideas and to post them onto the charrette wall. It’s a bit like online social media, isn’t it?

To further the community idea building, a special bonus will take place on a Free Friday evening event when family ideas will be compiled and presented. It’ll be a collaboration with many people participating in a visionary process! How thrilling, especially for the young ones, to see their ideas become a part of an installation at the Portland Museum of Art?

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