MINI is making a maximum splash by opening its new creative space and design hub not in its hometown of Munich, Germany, but in New York City — Greenpoint, Brooklyn, to be exact. The new A/D/O design studio is a mashup of a creative workshop for designers with a retail store and a restaurant, while its name is a nod to the British Motor Corporation’s Amalgamated Design Office that created the first MINI in 1959.
Now owned by BMW, MINI as a design-led brand—just think of the elegant statement made, for instance, by the dual-hatch rear doors that have become synonymous with MINI design—has continued to advance creativity in general as well as through specific initiatives such as A/D/O.
The 23,000 square foot, graffitied former warehouse also serves as headquarters for Urban-X, a startup accelerator by MINI and HAX Futures that is focused on creating new mobility services applications.
brandchannel spoke with Esther Bahne, MINI’s Head of Brand Strategy and Business Innovation, about the launch of A/D/O and how it extends MINI’s design and innovation vision:
bc: Did you look at other brand experiences in coming up with the framework for A/D/O, and what’s the thread that aligns its mix of activities with the MINI brand?
Esther Bahne: MINI is a design company, ever since the development of the first MINI in 1959 by designer Sir Alec Issigonis and his team, the Amalgamated Drawing Office. We believe designers will continue to determine what our world feels like and how we experience it, and we wanted to sharpen their tools and give them a strong platform. When we relaunched the MINI brand, this was the motivation we started with—we wanted to build a physical space for the design community.
The framework for A/D/O then really grew over time, as we researched both the available resources in the area and the needs of the creatives themselves. Design is the foundation of everything MINI does—it’s the thread that connects our car business with A/D/O and other new initiatives such as MINI Living and MINI Fashion.
As A/D/O is not based on cars and car sales, we did not look to initiatives of car brands for inspiration but rather to the wealth of design, art and cultural institutions in NYC as well as globally.
Bahne: The Design Academy is at the heart of A/D/O, and will offer a range of programming for professional designers, intended to provoke and invigorate their creative practices. It wants to surface new points of view on design and its role in shaping our world.
We are starting with a timely theme: “Utopia vs. Dystopia: Designing Our Imagined Futures.” These are disruptive times, also on a technological level. Major scientific progress, for instance, in artificial intelligence, robotics or biotech seem to alter the fabric of our lives. Will this future feel utopian or dystopian? We think designers will and should have a major role in tipping these scales.
Through the lens of design, we ask what ethos to embrace, what language to use, and how and what to adopt. What is human in our techno-fueled future? How can design accommodate our limitations and preserve our virtues?
“Utopia vs Dystopia” will focus on the role of design in helping frame key choices and shaping the principles by which we view them. Its first festival will run from January 27-29, 2017. This weekend alone will feature conversations with some of the world’s most important voices in design including noted critic Alice Rawsthorn, industrial designer Yves Béhar, and John Maeda; a mini-marathon of curated films screened in partnership with the Architecture & Design Film Festival; and nightly events.
bc: What’s the criteria for the workshop space and how will you build an active community?
Bahne: While A/D/O is defined by its public programs, we’ve also dedicated a special area—the Workspace—for designers to make a more permanent home at A/D/O. Membership is open to professionals of many creative disciplines but selective based on an application process. We are assembling a group who will not just work on individual projects in isolation but who see A/D/O as a unique setting for exchange and intersection. We employ a full-time team to make the Workspace thrive. Our Studio Supervisor and Community Designer—both designers themselves—will oversee the suite of fabrication tools and work constantly to help members get the most out of A/D/O.
bc: What’s the role of partners and collaborators—even guest curators—and how do you intend to grow A/D/O?
Bahne: We established A/D/O with the goal of exploring new boundaries in design, which can only be done by permanently opening our doors and continually inviting new voices to join the discussion. The scale of programming we aim for—more than 200 events per year—and our refusal to compromise quality to achieve quantity requires us to engage a broad group of collaborators to bring A/D/O to life.
We’ve already gathered a team of talented collaborators to build A/D/O and as we look forward to filling our programming calendar, it will be peppered with an array of partnerships with individuals and organizations. A/D/O is convening a unique audience of design professionals who are eager to tackle new terrain and the opportunity to address them will be fertile territory for partnership.
bc: Will there be a virtual or digital extension of A/D/O, or is it really designed to be experienced in-person?
Bahne: Yes, we intend for A/D/O to also grow a digital presence over time, to include designers and design fans into a discourse, who cannot visit and to continue a dialogue over the year with those who came. But first and foremost, A/D/O is a physical space, built for in-person experience on the ground.