Neil Doshi and Scott Barry discuss “Connections”

View of  “Connections,” 2012–13, Yucca Valley, California. Photo: Jaime Beechum.

Working under the moniker Women, designers Neil Doshi and Scott Barry are in the first phase of a five-year design initiative that sets out to inhabit a different location and set of working conditions each year. Currently underway in Yucca Valley, California, their first year, titled “Connections,” will culminate in two structures integrated into the terrain’s large rock formations and natural environs, remaining after completion as a design residency and library.

ONE OF OUR INITIAL IDEAS was to base our studio on a certain finiteness—the notion that we would only operate for one hundred projects. The idea for a five-year design studio that reconstitutes and remodels itself each year within a specific geographic and economic context then grew out of this. Around that same time, we were in Joshua Tree one weekend, visiting artist Andrea Zittel’s High Desert Test Sites and wandering through the hills of Yucca Valley looking for an Earthwork installation, when we eventually got lost. We happened upon the property that’s now the site of “Connections”— the first-year phase of the cycle. The desert seemed far enough from Los Angeles and resonated well with the studio ideas of potential, duration, and disorientation. The project has an intentional precariousness to it––we don’t own the land on which we’re building, we’re integrating the project into an existing community, and we’re learning how to build a house as it’s being built.

After we finish construction on “Connections,” we plan on living there for the remaining half of the year and using it as a site of production. In parallel we will be finishing the interiors and producing objects for our day-to-day lives, such as furniture, utensils, textiles, and so on. We came up with the idea to eventually turn the structures into a residency and library after we got more ambitious with our building plans. Our initial thought was to make the structures more temporary than permanent, more shanty than house. But now we want the spaces to continue on as sites of production when we leave, so we’re aiming to develop one of the structures into a library and the other into a design-based residency program.

Moreover, we’re interested in expanding notions surrounding our practice by treating each of five years as a separate point of inquiry. The first phase’s questions, for example, being: How do we survive out here? What and how do we build? Who do we work for? The project is industrial office park meets Zen garden meets the renter’s class. (A friend told us, “There’s a saying that the world is split between owners and renters.”) Although the idea of a “plan” might seem rigid, ours was conceived with a sort of looseness and operates as an outline, meaning that the practice is almost entirely shaped by exterior forces, with no heavy ideological guidelines. We’re setting up a situation and then dealing with it. If anything, we’re more interested in what happened after the countercultural movement of the 1960s collapsed—what happened after the utopian bubble popped.