Sometimes all it takes is great people, a bit of travel, and good food to make meaningful connections in a new city. A few weeks ago, Openbox spent one day in Durham and Raleigh where we were saw art and modernist homes, lunched with a hospitality innovator, got a crash course on design education in North Carolina, visited city strategists, and hosted thirty-five amazing entrepreneurs and creatives for the first Durham version of The Good Evening dinner series at the 21c Museum Hotel.
Here are a few snaps and insights from our 12 hours in Durham and Raleigh.
Stop # 1 The North Carolina Art Museum
NCAM is currently exhibiting the Black Mountain College Gallery featuring Bauhaus artists emigrated from Germany. Given we are producing The New Bauhaus documentary to be released this fall 2019 in conjunction with the 100th Anniversary of the Bauhaus art movement, we are super interested in extensions of the legacy in the U.S. and abroad.
Stop #2 The College of Design at North Carolina State
David Hill, the Dean of the College of Design, was generous to host us for an hour in his office, where we received a lesson on North Carolina’s design history from the Bauhaus emigration and beyond. The school has an impressive roster of past faculty, such as Buckminster Fuller. The school also recently hosted the globally traveling photography exhibit, featuring 100 photos from Berlin’s Bauhaus-Archiv including original works by László and Lucia Moholy-Nagy, the subject of our film and founder of the New Bauhaus.
Stop #3 Matsumoto House
Thanks to Dean Hill, we learned that Raleigh is home to one of the largest numbers of modernist homes in the U.S. With 30 minutes to spare before our lunch meeting, we asked our Uber driver to swing by the famous house that can be easily seen from the street. The home was designed by George Matsumoto in 1954. Matsumoto studied under Elie Saarinen before becoming the first Dean of the College of Design. There, he designed several homes and helped cultivate the modernist scene in North Carolina.
Stop #4 Lunch at Foster’s Market
Buzzing from a morning of Bauhaus and modernist culture, we were hungry for a delicious salad at Durham’s favorite lunch spot, Foster’s Market. There, we met local entrepreneur and president of Wintergreen Hospitality to talk about the benefits of applying human-centered design to hotel management and community engagement.
Stop #5 iLab at the City of Durham
Given Openbox’s expertise in equitable urban development and collaboration with the open city data platform, Stae, we were super excited to check out the design work being done by the City of Durham. The iLab is one of several sponsored by Bloomberg to foster innovation in growing cities. There, we met design strategists working on projects ranging from food waste management to post-prison reentry program development.
Stop #6 SmashingBoxes studio
Now it was time to connect with our co-hosts for that evening’s event, Smashing Boxes, at their studio. In their raw industrial space accented with furniture made from reclaimed material, we chatted strategy, entrepreneurship and community with founder CEO, Nick Jordan, and the leadership team.
Stop #7 The Good Evening at 21c Museum Hotel
Finally, it was time to take a break and enjoy dinner at the gorgeous 21c Museum Hotel. The hotel made our event extra special for our guests by providing a curator-hosted tour of the museum gallery. Executive Chef, Thomas Card, came by to share his philosophy on cooking and provide and a rundown of the menu for the evening. Meanwhile, our specially-curated guests representing the best of Raleigh and Durham’s creative, civic, and business scene, were free to get to know one another. The locally-sourced dinner included rotisserie hen “injected with ramp and morel mushroom butter” and copious amounts of wine.
Over the cotton candy dessert we asked folks to share on note cards one thing they learned through the new connections they made during the course of the evening. In the spirit of discovery, we kept the provocation deliberately open-ended. Through a quick synthesis we identified four big themes that emerged from the rich dinner table conversations:
Proximity is only one ingredient for connection
Many expressed surprise at having met new friends, probable collaborators and “amazing and talented people doing things beyond my comprehension.” It became clear that nearness is not enough to build a relationship. As one guest put it “proximity does not make you know make you know your neighbors. Talking to your neighbors helps you know them.”
Joy of un-meetings
No agenda, no structure, no problem! For some this was a reminder of “how much more personal and enjoyable an evening is when there is freedom to just be together vs. the expectation of an outcome.” But that’s not to say freedom means lack of productivity. One guest marveled “I was in a meeting, never knew it.”
Well, this might come as no surprise. But it’s also in the way in which food is presented and consumed that becomes important for connecting with one another--taking the opportunity to learn about what you are eating, the philosophy behind it, and the act of sharing all facilitate connection building. Plus, there was definitely an enthusiastic discussion about “huge catfish” taking place at one round table.
Shared lived experiences supercede artificial divides
Competition amongst the triangle cities is real, but a lot of folks would like to see themselves as part of a single whole. This starts to feel more than plausible upon bringing together “eight people from different backgrounds who live all over the country yet have a lot in common”.
After building so many new relationships and getting to know Raleigh-Durham more intimately, we can’t wait to come back--hopefully for a screening of our film if not before. At Openbox we design for better urban living from a human-centered point of view. Please be in touch if you want to learn more about our approach, talk to us about a potential design projects or The Good Evening in your city.