Just about a month ago, I turned 49 years old. Since I have the maturity of a 20-something, I don’t worry about how old I am, but I do find myself reflecting, on occasion, about lost opportunities that have passed me by. Luckily, I don’t have too many regrets at this point – but when I was in Tel Aviv last year, I met some young designers who joined together with one another in October 2014 (during their final year in school) to create a co-work space that would allow them to maintain a studio environment outside of the school environment, and continue to collaborate with one another on side projects and competitions as they each found work in different offices.
Wow … can you imagine!?! They did this while they were still in school!
As I was talking with Ben Sessler, one of the original co-founders of the Savioney Levinsky Studio, I couldn’t help but get excited about what these young architects and designers were doing. To allow them to address this in their own words, I recently sent an email off to Ben and asked him if he would be willing to answer some questions for me so that I could share it here.
LoaA: What gave you and the others the idea to start the studio? What were you doing professionally at the time?
SL: It all started when we were students in our final year back in 2014. We were three students studying architecture, and one textile design student. We spoke about locating a space in order to work together, a place with good vibes where we could consult with each other. We teamed up with 2 other working architects that did a lot of their own freelance work. The textile designer was waitressing in a coffee shop in the market and she saw a simple A4 sign that said that a certain space is for rent. The sign was there for the past few months and the space stayed empty, so we decided to examine it. We liked the proximity of the rental space to the coffee shop and the fact that it is situated on the street level, so we decided to go for it. It is important to stress we didn’t want to expose ourselves to unnecessary financial risks so we decided to upgrade the space with minimum costs. We broke down the plaster walls with our own gear, got some wood from our university in order to make some tables, and each person contributed some furniture. We didn’t even want to fix the broken glass in the front window, therefore we glued the front with yellow duct tape – shaping it as a plus. This, later on, became our logo and we fell in love with it.
The studio has become an inspiring hub where all sorts of people can come together. Its location in the bustling Levinsky Market in Southern Tel-Aviv keeps us happy and connected to street life.
Okay – so think about this a minute and put yourself in their shoes. You are in your final year of school and you decide to get together with a handful of your designer friends and rent some retail space to set up a creative collaborative. I had a chance to speak with all the co-founders and all were employed elsewhere, this space, in the beginning, was where they come together to take on moonlighting work and enter competitions.
But it has since become so much more.
This space has grown beyond the original co-founders and now includes tenants in other creative industries that rent out work space. This sort of cross-pollination between design professionals is frequently rewarding and helps to engage a community made up of people with varied tastes and interests.
LoaA: What prompted you to start taking on creative tenants?
SL: With time, we started to hold weekly meetings, discussing our vision of the place. One of the founders pointed out that studio is typically empty during daytime hours (when people were their jobs) which is a waste. He suggested that we should try to rent out working stations for other designers. We also wanted to lower the financial burden of maintaining rental space, something that we all agreed upon, so we started promoting the studio online. Soon enough a wooden jewelry designer joined in and after awhile we had some illustrators, industrial designers, and sculptures joining the collaborative. Those people helped make the place a multi-disciplinary hub that is alive during the day. We can divide the potential tenants into three distinct categories: young designers that just finished school, people that decided to start their own business and are just starting out, and those people that enjoy the creative process as a hobby.
LoaA: Do you have organized activities as a group or is it everyone working somewhat independently?
SL: Back at the end of 2014, we worked on designing and refurbishing the space. As students, some of us worked on our final projects there. The freelance workers did their own freelance work. We also organized a block party for Independence Day where we opened our studio up for friends and collaborated with the coffee shop next door to us by bringing lots of friends and playing music.
We’ve also participated in a few architectural competitions together – one particular competition was for young architects to design a music school, and another competition was to design a ‘crafts and designer warehouse’ that promotes young artists. Some of us also participated in a 48-hour design marathon in the south of the country. In that event, different groups needed to design an art installation situated in a big underground parking lot.
Most of our tenants work independently on their own projects. Nowadays, we are a group of 4 architects that run the studio, and we offer 6-10 working stations in addition to the space we use. As a group, we meet twice a month in order to discuss the technicalities of managing the studio.
Sometimes we also meet up and screen documentary movies in the studio – just for fun. In addition, the members of the studio organize Designer Sales every now and then.
Recently, the members of the studio initiated an event called “Open Studio”, an event was held for a few consecutive days. Every day, a different member of the studio organized a workshop that would be open to the public, where people could walk in, learn something, and try their hand at creating something by themselves. The image above was taken from an event where a textile designer showed how to print on different pieces of clothing – people were invited using social media channels like Facebook to bring their t-shirts and socks so they could try and make their own collection.
As a takeaway for participants, these were the sketchbooks that were created for the “Open Week” event.
Another component that has emerged from this studio is that coursework can be offered. In the picture above, this is a class being instructed on the drafting software ‘Revit’. I’m not entirely sure that I remember the story exactly but I seem to recall that someone offered to present a course on Revit and by hosting it at the studio, more people were able to participate and the cost of the course became much more manageable to those people who were looking to improve upon their skill set.
This was a photo taken from my Vibe Israel trip last year standing in front of the Savioney Levinsky Collaborative. You can see from this view that the storefront isn’t particularly large – but they aren’t trying to drive walk-up traffic in order to drive a sale. This was about creating a space where creative people can surround themselves with other creative types, share triumphs, commiserate, and collaborate with one another.
Out of all the pictures, this one is one of my favorites (despite the mysterious stain that seems to be on my shirt sleeve). I was the only practicing architect in my Vibe Israel tour group and my imagination was running wild as I was toured around the Savioney Levinsky studio. I can distinctly recall how much I wish that I had been a part of something like this so early on in my career. Not only was I impressed that the studio was created by students, but that it has been almost three years since they formed this collaborative and things appear to be thriving.
It’s fairly common that upon graduation, most design professionals enter the professional world only to discover the differences between the studio in school and the sometimes harsh realities of having a job … and they forget what it means to be a creative individual. Most architectural graduates go from everything being about the creative process and spending all your efforts on design, to get a job and start learning what it means to be an architect – and very little of what you are working on is design related. What the founders at Savioney Levinsky have done is to create an environment that allows them to continue their creative development and pursuing their individual interests.
LoaA: Do you have any goals for the studio?
SL: Regarding the goals, I suppose it is dynamic. We do question a lot of times what is our goal in all of this – on one hand, we agree that this is a great platform for us to do experimental things. We have our space in one of the most energetic and developing markets in the city. To be in this location is exciting and because of the emergence of this area, there a lot of options out there- whether it’s urban intervention in the form of street art, getting to know people from affiliated design industries or anything else we can think of – there are endless possibilities.
On the other hand, sometimes we fall into the routine of our daily jobs and we get tired.
We still fantasize and imagine all the things we could do- everything is on the table for us. We don’t mind maintaining it and pumping it up every now and then recognizing it as a single part of a slow process. We might take this place and embrace it fully in the long run after we will gain more professional knowledge.
If I had the ability to go back in time and make a change about my career development, surrounding myself with creative individuals who were willing to take chances and create something for themselves would be right up there at the top. I have become a big believer that you should endeavor to surround yourself with people who empower and encourage you to branch out and expose yourself to as many different things as possible. Rather than work completely within your sphere of knowledge and influence, if you start thinking that you can do anything and go anywhere before you know it, you can go anywhere and do anything. At least you’re willing to try, and that’s really the victory … just ask the people at the Savioney Levinsky Collaborative