TAC 2.0: An Interview with Annie Coggan
This past summer at TAC Brooklyn marked the largest studio remodeling project we’ve undertaken since we first opened our doors in 2009. We can’t wait to show you the fresh face of our flagship headquarters! Our Director, Kelly Valletta, recently had the chance to sit down with designer, entrepreneur, and longtime friend, Annie Coggan, to discuss her vision for TAC in the future. This past summer into fall, Annie has been working with us to rethink the design of our flagship studio, and offering her expertise as we re-imagine the possibilities of our Brooklyn headquarters!
Kelly: Thank you for coming to chat Annie! After all we have been doing it’s so nice to actually sit in the space and look back on the process. Let’s start with your involvement, can you talk about your relationship with TAC?
Annie: Well, I was a resident in the second class of TAC’s Artist in Residency Program. It was a time in which I really wanted to shift my architectural career into a making career. I realized that the reason I got into architecture was because of this idea of intimacy of space and making and using my hands. I wasn’t happy with the work that I was doing in my architecture process, the (TAC) residency was a springboard to asses that, and then I always participated in different ways. I like the fact that I can be a resident mentor, and teach a color workshop, and come to events. TAC is very good at inclusiveness, it’s a very open community. I also like the fact that I am a member of the community who is older, but sometimes I feel younger, its why I’m hooked on TAC. I can be the newbie and not understand anything, I don’t have to always be the authority or the teacher. It’s not about hierarchy, but there’s freedom in not having to put yourself in a box here. And then I became the designer for this project.
Annie: The changing dynamic of TAC was really the impetus for the design.
Kelly: We needed functional multi use space and accessible storage to facilitate a wide range of programmatic needs. Our needs now are really different than 7 years ago. We were such a small team when we first opened. We weren’t quite as handy back then as now, but what we did gave us such a sense of pride in the space.
This time around so many friends of TAC gave their time, and it was manual labor and sore muscles. It was so heartwarming that people donated what time they could. Some people came and knocked down walls for 12 hours, some people came by and hung a shelf because they had that time to give, and so many people expressed that same feeling of pride and ownership. I think people get that same feeling from creating their own work at TAC as well.
Annie: Its interesting because I had like a crisis in my practice where I was so sick of giving over drawings. My residency at TAC was the beginning of ‘I’ve gotta make things, I can’t spreadsheet things.’ I knew there was a way of making space that was much more visceral, much more tactile, much more about community. So this project was this huge reward for me to pull back out of the traditional architectural practice and just seeing that the community made this. It was like a present for me having a value system at this particular point in my career.
Kelly: Our community is so giving and hands on, and this experience was a beautiful affirmation of why TAC exists and who we are here for. We connected with each other through making space, and now we all get to use it.
Kelly: When we thought about the floor plan it was important that it could change with the seasons and over time. Very little is permanent because our needs are drastically different during our 9 month residency and Summer Camp when Kids of TAC need all the wide open space they can get.
Annie: What is interesting about the space is just by shifting over things, now that you see into the dye lab (when entering the studio), it feels more spacious. A lot of it is the ceiling plane of the lights are really expansive. I’m really interested in the change of the feel of the space and the expanse of the space by just shifting where people occupy the grid in between columns.
Kelly: It was pretty awesome having our own private professor of architecture, the relationship was very educational in nature. So we learned a lot of things about space planning and materials and all you have to think about in undertaking a project like this from you and Caleb. It was interesting thinking about the many different ways our space functions and maintaining and elevating our multi use space. It was also interesting to think about fabric as a barrier, and as a buffer of sound.
Annie: We basically modeled the space on the other side of the storage wall for the Artist in Residence, so that for instance, when you walk into my closet at home, you can’t hear anything. In a way we were trying to reproduce that immersive environment over there to create privacy.
Kelly: And it is still an open space, it is not exactly like walking into a closet or one of your knitted rooms, but its pretty neat when you stand next to it it does muffle the sound.
Longevity on a budget.
Kelly: It’s actually a bit less working space having added 7 studios and a pantry, but the space feels more functional than ever. Did you feel it was difficult to fit all our needs into the space?
Annie: No, but the budget was frustrating, all budgets are frustrating. We all wish we had a million dollars, but I think constraints are really beautiful. All we could afford to do architecturally is just one wall, and we put tons of energy into one wall, and then a beautiful thing happened.
You know, that’s a great lesson for me in the Textile Arts Center community’s priorities. I actually proposed a number of very cheap solutions and you didn’t even respond to them. I think that means the ethos of the community is a sustainable ethos, that you want to be here a long time, that you want things that are lasting and you care about the environment. It’s a shift from many small business build outs that are expedient. I think we are just at a point in the life and history of the TAC community that expedience is just not the way we can operate. Budgets are actually narrative conditions about your value system. I think people don’t like to talk about money and economics but I think you made a really strong decision that it wasn’t the most expedient.
Kelly: Well, we had finite funds but we knew we needed to think long term in the way we applied them. Certain aspects of the studio weren’t working for us anymore, but we couldn’t afford to make any necessary updates for a really long time. When we needed to find a new home for our Artist Residency Program we found that this was the most cost effective way to do it and it allowed us to reinvest in our space. We got to treat ourselves to a lot of new equipment like convection burners and a stainless steel dye lab table. Integrating our ‘office’ into more of a computer lab feel allows us to offer many design classes we couldn’t offer before, which we are really excited about. And we got to add all these storage solutions that make everyone’s work flow easier when creating or teaching in the space.
Annie:I also find it interesting that rather than expanding, downsizing is a more valuable way to move a business forward. I think again the ethos of the community is to take care of the places you are in rather than just cast the net wider. To sort of craft and hone what you have, is a healthier way to make space. Rather than everything has to be an expansion, everything has to leverage, everything has to scale. All those words just don’t make sense.
Kelly: No, not always in New York City!
Annie: And not in what you guys do, so I’m fascinated to see how this next year goes. It’s not leaner and meaner, it’s richer and denser.
Evolution of the project.
Kelly: You mentioned honing in, I really liked that about the process. Some designers have a vision and stick through and follow it, but I don’t think that’s how either of us works. It was valuable being able to deviate from the plan when a better solution came our way.
Annie: I also just really respect how people feel in the space. The studio users are really embedded here, so I’ll never be able to contradict their experience of the space. You all deeply felt how it needed to be, it was so intuitive and embedded. So I don’t like to contradict the client or collaborators experience because you’re here all the time. I also just feel like you have to respond to the space. Drawings are great road maps, but if you’re too hung up with the original vision your going to miss out on opportunities.
Kelly: Right, we found so many opportunities to save our pennies that we couldn’t have had we been rigid and stuck to the plan. And we were able to harness the brilliant artists and designers using the studio throughout our planning process. We consulted with everyone whose path we crossed working in the space for their opinions, and so many ideas were sparked along the way from these impromptu collaborations.
Annie: We were constantly responding to what presented itself materially. One of your great gifts is being able to look at a material and make it into something you need.
Kelly: Being artists and art educators at TAC we know how to be resourceful, it’s almost a job requirement. It’s so ingrained in textile history as well, so many processes familiar to us came about from using what is readily available.
Annie: We knew we had to reuse the felt “wallpaper” here, we had to. I think we both would have been horribly sad to throw that out.
Kelly: It’s true, and we reused everything, down to the studs in the walls, and repurposing wood from the old furniture to make new. It was important to us that as little as possible ended up as waste. So we had all this felt we wanted to use, and you took a roll home and played on the laser cutter and the felt CNC, and in the end we cut it all with just a blade and a ruler, but you knew weaving was the way to go.
Annie: Oh, I don’t know if I did from the beginning, it was after that exploration. Felt is an amazing material. It is naturally fire retardant so it means for the building industry it is something you can go to right away without worrying about the fire rating. Legislatively, it’s in the house as far as flammability ratings for textiles because now they have seen the chemicals they use are bad for you in gassing.
The smoking industry lobbyists actually laid those flammability restrictions onto American fabric mills and they are just now saying those things are toxic too, so thank you cigarette companies for even more toxic conditions. We are in this funny time when designers and people making space will get to use fabric more and more as that legislation changes.
Buying felt now would have been out of our budget. We were lucky we had it here already. We got to make and assess and we got to a strategy, and its really beautiful. I’m blown away at how nicely detailed it is. I just knew that we had that breadth of quality material and I just said we gotta use that shit again!
Kelly: So many of the details were things we found so exciting from past Coggan + Crawford projects. How did past projects inform this design?
Annie: I was really surprised, you would respond to something like the door handle detail after you had seen our house on Pearl Street, and understood it intuitively. I didn’t have to present it, and then those things got incorporated. It was part of the logic of the Pearl Street space and it became part of the logic of this space. It looks like a project that Caleb and I did, but it also looks like a project that TAC did. Everything made sense ultimately.
Kelly: When did you start using certain motifs like cut out handles and mismatched/found spindles in your work?
Annie: The cutouts are Le Corbousier, our favorite architect. He uses them as a very direct way of not having anything additional. With the advent of modernism, any kind of embellishment was bad.
Kelly: And for us any hardware was more money!
Annie: Exactly, and so we were trying to figure out how to double stack every act we did. So Corbousier really invented this language, and I think Caleb has gotten really good at this language and now it’s sort of fait accompli. We have doorknobs in some projects, but my husband always hates them. He’s like why? Why did you buy it? Why is there an embellishment?
And then the spindles came out of our Mississipi projects, we just had no money and I was just thinking like TAC. I was finding chairs behind the bars in the college towns and putting them together. A chair for a restaurant was like $300 a pop. We were our own clients so we had a similar experience with a really bare bones budget but kind of rising to the occasion. In contrast to Caleb’s lack of embellishment I always like a curvy frilly thing, but give it a job, give it a responsibility. Maybe we’ll have to put them in as surprises somewhere, some surprise spindle action.
Kelly: Yeah, we’re not really done here!
Annie: No, never!
Life at TAC.
Annie: Do you think the dynamic will change?
Kelly: The greatest shift is that the residency is now in the main studio. I think it will really increase the exposure of our residents and the program itself. We are looking forward to our Second Saturdays, 5-7:00 the second Saturday of every month. This coming weekend in October we are beginning with Gowanus Open Studios from 12-6:00.
Annie: So be there or be square.
Kelly: Yes, be there, we will be! But normally 5-7:00 on a Saturday is also Open Studio time, so we anticipate a really nice time for visitors to be able to engage with AIR and see people at work in the studio. We’re really excited for the integration of all of our programs.
Annie: What do the kids think?
Kelly: They are so funny, always. So many kids stopped short at the door, jaws dropped, and made a big show of their surprise. ”It looks so different!” “Did this all happen over the weekend!?” There were a few students in the teens class who ‘lost their way’ just to walk behind the storage wall to look peek behind. A few said “oops I went the wrong way!” but they just wanted to look, it was inviting. Some kids asked if they could walk through, and went on a gallery walk to check out the artist’s’ work. I think it’s really exciting and inspiring to work alongside people in this studio.
Annie: Does that happen anywhere else?
Kelly: Community serving organizations are really special in that way and this textile community is a really special one where all ages interact and learn from each other. I’m looking forward to the day one of our Kids of TAC applies for the residency. We already have former students who come to help out teaching in summer camp and other programming. One day… in TAC AIR Cycle 20.
Annie: You are you are going to have generations of these artists, I don’t know if I can talk anymore without tearing up!
Kelly: Well then thats a wrap. Thank you Annie, it was so nice of you to take the time to talk- we are so grateful for our new digs!
We can’t wait to show you the fresh face of our flagship headquarters! Check out photos of our studio’s transformation in progress + come visit TAC Brooklyn during Gowanus Open Studios the weekend of October 15th + 16th, from 12-6 PM, to take a tour of our brand new, state of the art textile facilities, and meet the Artists of AIR Cycle 8! LEARN MORE.