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Alejandra Lillo and Bryan Flaig have every reason to be cocky. Hailing from the groundbreaking global design and architecture firm Graft Inc. (Lillo served as managing partner and CEO, Flaig as project manager and manager of business development, both in the Los Angeles office), the two have a number of high-profile projects under their belts that some say ushered in a new school of architectural thought in regards to shape and dimension.
But these genuine trailblazers have a deeper purpose than just making a name for themselves. “Our goal is not to become famous or brand everything under the sun with our identity or ego,” Lillo explains. “Rather, we want to harness the power and potential provided in part by the client.”
To do that successfully, the two felt they needed to live by a more robust business model than the one most starchitects fall into. And that required recognizing that they are not just artists, but service providers as well. Born from the drive to make these beliefs a reality was Undisclosable—a firm that knows when to be quiet and when to make some noise.
“Our goal was to become as visible or as invisible as any client would necessarily need at any given moment,” Lillo says. “Our goal was basically to give agency. And if our exposure or our visibility was beneficial to the client for whatever the case may be, then great. If our visibility doesn’t benefit the project and doesn’t fit the brand, then we can be as invisible as they need us to be.”
The attitude is one they picked up while working with different hospitality operators, each of which has its own iconic recognition and doesn’t need the brand of its designer overshadowing it. But the name Undisclosable also lends itself to the intimate process of creation that, at the end of the day, tends not to be disclosed to anyone. It’s also a moment that’s so intensely rewarding and interesting it trumps any name recognition or fame they could ever achieve. For Lillo and Flaig—and now Undisclosable—it’s reward enough.
Simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating, their decision to strike out on their own was fueled by their desire to do their own small part in sparking the economy. But more importantly, it was to be able to immerse themselves in projects that allow for a wonderful expression to occur during use.
“Often times, a space gets designed and we as designers don’t get to see how people occupy the space,” says Flaig. Not so with one of their first projects as a firm: an installation at the infamous Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival in California.
The Creators Project is a partnership between Intel and Vice, and is a global network dedicated to the celebration of creativity, culture and technology.
As Coachella’s first-ever creative partner, the Project collaborated with select headlining acts and curated a series of art installations on the grounds of the festival.
Undisclosable was paired up with the U.K. band Spiritualized to create a physical manifestation of the song “Ladies and Gentlemen, We are Floating in Space.” Also part of the installation team was film director Jonathan Glazer and a company called One of Us, which was in charge of visual effects and the technical aspects of the project. Designed in a month, executed in nine days, and up and running for three, it was an amazing study in human behavior. Lillo and Flaig enjoyed watching the participants react to the visual, environmental and auditory prompts in the space, which was lightproof, soundproof and cold—no easy feat considering the build was directly off the festival’s main stage.
“Fifty people were let in at a time. The participants were not given direction as to how they were to use the installation,” Lillo says. “It was fascinating to see people use it. It started to display trends of leadership.”
Upon entering, participants crossed through a few layers of materiality. The space was designed to be very dark at the perimeters, with the darkness being accompanied by a crackling white noise. Pools of light were placed throughout the inner space and as users got closer to them, the sound started to crystallize. Each pool was given its own unique sound; within one pool, users could hear a woman’s voice, the next a harmonica, another a violin and so on. It was only once participants were standing in that pool, under an intense shaft of light, that they were able to discover the uniqueness of that particular moment.
“It really started to present mimicking patterns between humans which I thought was incredible to observe,” says Lillo. “If someone decided they wanted to lay down in this pool of light, then you’d see other people would feel comfortable with that and they would do the same. You were observing humans as social animals, and what their responses are to environments when they’re not provided with queues and how to use it was fascinating.”
It goes to show that often the best experiences can come from more temporary spaces. Part of what the two learned from working so heavily in hospitality with Graft Lab is that through the nature of the brevity of someone’s stay, there is a unique opportunity to experience space in a different way, because you don’t have to live with it forever.
“The experiential quality is the thing that then provides the branding to the product. There’s few things that create more buzz than the narrative behind the experience than one person talking to another person and telling them how great the experience was,” says Lillo.
And as for their own brand and firm, they will continue to take on projects that resonate deeply with the user. “It comes down to what’s at play, who’s involved, how much fun can it be, and what can it turn into,” says Flaig.
Just don’t expect them to talk about it.
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Alejandra Lillo & Bryan Flaig