Recent Design Projects

Sharon Lynne Wilson Center ArtsPark
Margot Mazur and Dr. Gerould Wilhelm and their guild of practitioners have done extensive work around this Center for the Arts. ArtsPark was designed to increase the connection of their community to art and nature by united nature and art in inspiring ways. The design was focused on the referencing of the geological significance and original vegetation. Most recently, Margot collaborated with the sculptor Susan Falkman to create a limestone cairn to serve as entrance signage to the ArtsPark.

Hand-colored Botanical Drawings for Public Art Spaces
Recently, Mary Marguerite Lowther (Margot Mazur) completed over 1600 botanical illustrations—black ink drawings—for the book Flora of the Chicago Region: A Floristic and Ecological Synthesis. Now she is hand-coloring the drawings, planning to have them transferred to tiles to be used in public art projects. A whole mural of them could beautifully convey the floristic diversity in the Chicago Region.
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Creating Naturescapes—outdoor spaces where children can enjoy creative play outdoors and develop a love of nature—is a passion for CRI. Fox Valley Country Day School "Kid Cove", Akakwaa Naturescape, and Morningstar Montessori's Classroom in Nature are wonderful examples.
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The Pokagon Cultural Center Project
Working through colloquium with the Anishnabek people, and using site assessment to understand ecological and cultural history, CRI assembled a diverse team of professionals to develop a comprehensive design plan for this community.
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Educational & Interpretive Projects
Passionate about these projects, Margot and an artist's guild rich with talent made up of artists, artisans, craftspeople, and writers create works with fine art quality, durability, sustainability, imagination, and beauty. From hand drawn interpretive signage of native plants and animals to miniature bronze sculptures of animals of a place to hand carved woodland folk, to streetscapes of permeable pavers to beautiful red cedar boardwalks and hand made way finding signs … they love a challenge and opportunities to do original work.
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Our Design Process

Colloquium-Centered Creative Direction

The issues related to design today are much more complex than ever before which compels many clients to seek designs more individually and specially attendant to their programs and place. That which we design, particularly sustainable designs, must be more timeless than designs have been in the recent past. Although reeducating ourselves by turning from the design practices we commonly turn to is no easy task, CRI challenges itself to find a new way of thinking about how contemporary models of design can be developed to better serve the way to a healthier seventh generation.

Design professionals most commonly serve the client in either a single-studio approach or in a newer approach called "integrated design". As the title implies, although "integrated design" broadens professional participation, the approach still tends to be a hierarchical process in which all ideas are filtered through one profession and generally only one of the professions has a relationship with the client.

"Colloquium-Centered Creative Direction" is the new design idiom CRI is modeling to meet todays needs.

We have found that this process:

  • Engages the client in the design process and draws from them a deeper understanding not only of their own needs but what is possible and heretofore unimagined.
  • Results in a place-oriented design that always looks to save what is native, restore and conserve what is possible, and find ways to acknowledge and integrate existing assets or resources.
  • Makes one less likely to default to boilerplate solutions.
  • Creates a place of quality and locally resourced beauty crafted by local artists, artisans and craftspeople whenever possible.
  • Is really a lot of fun and rewarding for all involved because egos are sublimated and all are working towards a common goal and participating to their highest and best effort.

So often the arts hold truths that stand the test of time in the wisdom and vitality of their message. The School of Athens, painted at the beginning of the 16th century, has come to be a meaningful piece for CRI from which we infer the beauty of the colloquium. For us, it is a visual representation that recognizes that neither one person nor one discipline can achieve the wisdom and perspective necessary to address the complex nature of design today. Our reading of the painting sees the coming together of inductive reasoning as represented by Plato and other figures on his side of the painting and deductive reasoning as represented by Aristotle and other figures on his side of the painting. Plato reminds us that there are numinous realities that come to bear on the facts of existence, while Aristotle emphases the importance of our five senses and empirical observations. The two frontal architectural arches depict the coming together of both ways of thinking. They meet at the top, support each other, and the whole is linked by the keystone of wisdom. This marriage of minds, in colloquium results in perspective as seen in the middle of the painting where the great hall moves back to show the long view. Important in nature is the irritant that stimulates change. Note the sprawled, cynical figure of Diogenes and the thoughtful, yet unsatisfied figure of Heraclitus in the left foreground.

Following this notion, CRI's approach to design is colloquium-centered. A Creative Director guides the process from beginning to end. A team of professionals is chosen based on the needs of the project and a willingness to work on the design guided by a Creative Director, with the participation of the client and with the work being accomplished almost entirely in colloquium.

It should be noted this is a very different approach from "Integrated Design", a process currently used in many design projects today. Several important differences came to light for CRI in choosing to move from "Integrated Design" to "Colloquium-Centered Creative Direction". They are as follows:

  • In a typical "Integrated Design" process a Creative Director is not seen as necessary. In their place a lead is chosen from the team of professionals usually falling to an architect or engineer. From CRI's perspective, the lead cannot help but take on a proprietary role over the process, which naturally leads to an emphasis on their profession. In the case of an architect, for example, the building becomes the priority. CRI has found when a team of professionals are unencumbered by a hierarchical design structure such as is found in most contemporary design processes they are freed to be more creative and to work more openly across the table with experts in other fields.
  • It has been our experience that "integrated design" does include a broader array of professionals than if the design was all handled in house by a single design firm. A more nuanced, responsive and workable design is likely to result if tradesman and craftspeople are involved in the colloquium. In colloquium-centered design, with the exception of the tactical details, design concepts are filtered by the entire colloquium and dialog with the client, who becomes the ultimate filter.

As the Colloquium-Centered Creative Direction circle illustrates, the client and their places are at the center of this process from beginning to end. For the process and project's success, the client is asked for a clear commitment of time and participation in the colloquium as well as clear communication so the team can work in harmony and stay connected.

The client's first job is to define a set of first principles. First Principles are neither guiding principles nor goals and objectives. In as much as they come from the client's firm understanding of their program and needs they cannot be compromised at any point in the design process. Throughout the process the client will be guided in a thorough discovery of their needs and become educated to all the opportunities available to fulfill their needs. Centrally seated the client is constantly being enriched by the team of professionals and inspired by creativity. Over time, the client becomes the guiding force behind the aesthetics and design of the project.

The Creative Director first and foremost represents the interests of the client. The establishment of First Principles enables the Creative Director to reach into a broad network of professionals to create a colloquium with the expertise to fulfill the directives set out by the First Principles. Adept at the skill of listening and an excellent communicator of the client's story is essential to convey to the practitioners a sense for the client's aesthetics and preferences. With regard to our model, The School of Athens, creative direction would not be achieved by either Plato, Aristotle or even Socrates. While fostering an environment of collaboration the creative director is constantly pushing and expanding on the creative output of the colloquium. The creative director is bound to uphold a level of excellence to ensure that the deliverables are attendant to the First Principles.

The Client, the Creative Director, and the Guild make up the colloquium. The Guild runs the gamut from design professionals, consultants, construction professionals, code enforcers, artists, artisans, and craftspeople. We are especially interested in forming The Guild from locally available expertise whenever possible. Of special importance to CRI is the bringing together from the beginning of the project local artists, artisans and craftspeople. For far too long we have left our "creatives" in the shadows when, in fact, they are generally the most in tune to local resources, mores, and the local idea of beauty.

CRI's Colloquium-Centered Creative Direction

The Client is at the center of this process; everything revolves around the project goals, objectives, and first principles established by the client. The client should be inspired and guided by the entire team to make the best decisions.

The role of the Creative Director is to represent the interests of the client, to select of the Guild, to facilitate communication and collaboration, and to assure the First Principles are not abrogated.

The Guild includes the creative professionals selected to design and build the project—architects, ecologists, consultants, landscape designers, accountants, strategists, engineers, artists, craftspeople.

CRI is a 501(c)(3) Non-Profit Organization