Contract magazine has published a new On Our Radar Q+A with Robert Benson, a design principal in our Chicago office, that touches on Robert’s work, creative inspirations and passions, and design process. Contract publishes its On Our Radar series i in partnership with KI Furniture to highlight leading creative designers.
Read Robert’s full Q+A online. Here are key excerpts:
Tell us about yourself?
I really love what I do; there is a chance to learn new things nearly every day. I love music and art. I love cities as much as I love being very far from them. The tranquility and peace of the natural landscape clears my mind and restores my soul. I love my wife and our two children, who are two-and-a-half years old and one year old. Watching them transition from tearing blocks down to building them up is exciting.
How do you find your creativity?
This is something I constantly work to improve. I try to introduce as much variety to my day as possible and I get a lot out of traveling abroad. Paris, London, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Shanghai, Tokyo—each are completely different but for me, the result was the same. A flurry of photographs, sketches, paintings, and most importantly, ideas came through me. I still think of them often and still draw from them.
Northern Michigan has always had a huge influence on me, but in a different way. There, I seem to be swimming in the basics of light, air, sound…energy. I tend to work through what the ideas mean. It is a reset…restful…rebirth.
I read and experience as much as possible.
You have a passion for art, design, and music. How does this inform your work?
Aside from the pure pleasure of it, I think this is directly related to creativity. I am obsessed with the space between the experiential and intellectual. I find that space inspirational.
I’m a bit retro as I own all my music and do not use Spotify (no one understands this). I play my entire library on random which is hilarious, as Vivaldi will be followed by Vince Staples. While I am working, often a piece of music with the right mood will hit me and I will play it over and over and over. I like to stay right in that space.
What are some examples of how your photography, paintings, and music have connected you with opportunities at work?
Photography has always helped me see. Light is a magical material most evident when taking pictures. I’m not a great painter but learned more about space by making paintings. I actually painted some things I saw in photography and it clicked.
Music is very architectural as it possesses a version of light and space. I collaborated with an orchestra and worked with a very talented Maestro. He taught me about transformation in music, space between the notes, space between the instruments, etc. The architecture of it—it’s all there.
What are some examples of the projects you’re most proud of and why?
Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab B201, in Laurel, Maryland, which is in construction. Their mantra is based on a quote by biochemist Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: “We see what everyone sees but think what no one has thought.”
Rockland Public School prototype k-5 school in Rockland, Illinois. Watching the positive energy of 600 kids entering a school we designed was an emotional experience for me.
Showtime headquarters West Hollywood. The President and CEO were wonderful and completely involved. Plus, we were able to flip the script architecturally and have the actors “watching” the viewers.