What’s in a basket? Students explore industrial weaving in Stephen Burks’ workshop

“I think I have a basket, but is it one?” asks first-year Master in Design Studies student Jimmy Pan as he considers the multi-colored vessel he’s fashioned out of interlocking card stock and tape. Pan is one of five students to participate in the J-Term workshop “Making the Industrial Basket at Three Scales” led by 2019 Loeb Fellow Stephen Burks. Over two weeks in January, students focused their attention on the ancient craft of basket weaving, taking a close look at how baskets have been made over the centuries and studying how traditional methods can be translated into digital fabrication systems without losing their artistry.

In order to achieve this, Burks, an industrial designer whose ongoing project Stephen Burks Man Made seeks to bring artisanal methods into the future, had students each bring a basket into class. Baskets came from their homes, second hand shops, and, in one case, from the netting used to hold fruit in the grocery store. They then made a series of drawings to better understand the design elements of their chosen basket. From the drawings, students decided on a part of the basket—scale, materiality, legibility—to study through building their own handmade basket. The final products, created from everyday materials, used techniques gleaned from the original baskets but were not meant to be recreations. “The only goal is to for them to arrive at a basket, and an original one. One that has a little bit of invention,” said Burks.

Mitsue Guerrero Monsalve (MDE ’20): “For the research part of the course, I went deep into exploring basket craft in Mexico. I had no idea about that part of the culture, which is part of my own background as well.”
Edward Wang (MArch ’21): “Stephen [Burks] brings a very specific way of working and pace to how he leads the class. That way of working—that speed and what is expected from production—is something I will bring back to my other work at the GSD.
Jimmy Pan (MDes ’20): “The process was the thing that changed my outlook on how design could be pushed forward. Instead of drawing first and making after, maybe those things can happen simultaneously.”
Sophia Sennett (MLA ’19): “I’m really interested in the idea of weaving zoomed out at a landscape architecture scale, thinking about how different parts of landscape are interwoven, and how understanding how different systems coming together in abstract ways is relevant to the work I do at the GSD. I’m also interested in how weaving can be helpful for green infrastructure projects or things at a different territorial scale.”
Saad Rajan (MDE ’19): “When we were making the baskets, it was like a meditative experience. Once you got a pattern and you got a routine going, you go into this zone where you are creating; you enter a blank state. That was something that was really nice to experience and something I wasn’t expecting.”
Stephen Burks: “I think the workshop was particularly interesting for the students that are used to the digital space. They are going through a very traditional design process in a way, from drawing, to analyzing their drawing, to translating that into a thing you made with your hands.”