Last semester, I, along with a few of my classmates, had the chance to have lunch with visiting professor Craig Borum from the University of Michigan College of Architecture and Urban Planning. Borum is also the founder of the Ann Arbor-based firm PLY architecture. The discussion we had with him, along with his lecture later in the day, opened me up to some really interesting ideas.
His view of architectural practice is rather realistic and immediate, yet also atmospheric and artistic. That is, in fact, the mission statement of the firm. The word “ply” means to layer, and Borum believes opposing elements can be stronger and richer through this layering. With his work in Michigan, he bridges the gap by invoking Great Plains symbolism with locally sourced materials.
The Zola Bistro in Ann Arbor is a beautiful example. This wall of local wooden blocks recreates the stacked hay bales of Jeffersonian farmlands.
Here, a wall of coat hangers becomes a beautiful detail indicative of waving stalks of grain.
And in the bathroom, a customer of the bistro has the power to move a wall as the door symbolizes the massive presence of trees in the forest.
Here at the Zola Bistro, and with all of their work, Borum and his firm observe the atmosphere of the landscape around them and allow those feelings to inform their design and construction processes.
It is a trait that I value highly from a professional firm, and one that is underused. At the end of the day, you have to do what the material and the landscape are telling you to do. It is a simple way to bring the presence and the beauty of nature into your work.
Interested in more of PLY’s work? Check out their website!