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Terms and Conditions
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Privacy & Cookies Policy
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The tongues.cc website is operated by Voodoo Voodoo Ltd (‘TONGUES’).
This privacy policy applies to TONGUES.
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Jenny French & Anda French

March 31 / 2021

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Jenny French and Anda French are principals of French 2D, an architecture studio based in Boston. French 2D’s work combines formal exploration, experimental collaborative methods, and applied research in commercial, residential, and civic projects. 

The sisters work on housing and mixed-use with a focus on strange housing types that combine familiar ideas of home with more radical organisations and typologies. They also work on civic installations and exhibitions or sets in the city that bring people together for familiar rituals in unfamiliar spaces.

 

Q >How did your parents both being architects impact your own practice, research interests, and design ethos?

JF >One lasting impact is seeing firsthand the risk and reward of autonomy in running one’s own practice. As kids, we experienced a fluidity between home and work. We would spend the afternoon at our parents’ office, chatting up their Gen X employees, and using office supplies for our homework, and were sometimes privy to the stresses of making payroll.

AF >Also, our own research and design ethos has deep roots in their ’60s and ’70s activism and idealistic pragmatism, though perhaps we found our way back to these values through our own paths.

Q >How long have you two worked together as French2D… and how did the formation of the studio come about?

AF >From childhood we both had a feeling we would do something in tandem when we grew up, but the target was a moving one (probably even still is).

JF >When I was in my second year of grad school, and Anda began teaching, we conceived of the name as a kind of club for our side interests. Four years later (2012) the office officially formed just as we were invited to be MoMA PS1 YAP Finalists.

Q >You both live in the part of Boston where you were born and raised. How does this influence your practice?

AF >We’ve come to think of Boston by re-casting the sometimes pejorative term “provincial.” Provincial for us is about positionality; it’s about micro-histories. Being hyper-local opens us up to the complexities of being critical of a place, while also participating in its reimagining.

JF >It is perhaps not surprising that Boston, rich with a history of progress and missteps, is an appropriate testing ground for us to think through collectives, in particular the origins of material feminism. Just a mile from us is the site of Melusina Fay Peirce’s Cambridge Cooperative Housekeeping Association, which suggested ways that domestic labour and space could be collectivised in the late 19th Century. Proximity and shared history motivates us to revisit these increasingly relevant threads.

Q >What things are most strikingly similar about the two of you, and what are most glaringly different?

AF >Our brains are uncannily wired in the same way, so this is a tough question. Our similarities form the basis of our practice: our willingness to engage and take seriously anything we do; our openness, our candour; our interest in the deep production of work (hosting, catering, building, sewing, anything that supports people who interface with our work), or what we might call a kind of architectural care work. Together this means that we are surprisingly in sync and sure of our off-beat ideas from the start, and we don’t necessarily see the limitations of the profession on our work. We don’t ask, “But is it architecture?”

JF >In terms of glaring difference, we do have to remind new clients and associates that I’m the one with bangs (fringe).

Q >Flowing on from that: How do these similarities and differences infuse or inform the way you work together and the projects that result?

JF >A good example is the evolving way that we chose to represent our Kendall Garage project. Because of our deep similarities, when we finished the graphic façade of this 350,000 square foot [~ 32500 square metre] garage in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we both felt the exploration wasn’t yet done. We were searching for a way to play out the idea of building a drawing at full scale. Our searching led to a conversation about scale figures, textiles, and gendered bodies in architecture. We both immediately knew we had to make oversized dresses and wear them in the project photography!

AF >Our similar dispositions force us to play something out for ourselves. We all must risk failure to do the weird or novel thing. It helps immensely to have a partner to double down on those risks.

Q >The table — as a concept, a design element and symbol — has often featured in your work. What keeps bringing you back to it?

AF >We like the table as a metaphor for vulnerability and shared humanity. We’ve pushed the table in our work as a site for the nonlinear process of collectivity. You talk across, around, and under a table. It is the medium that absorbs and orients. It is a frame. It is a material that reorders relationships. It is a blank space of communal work that surfaces ideas and values.

Q >During your use of participatory design, have there ever been moments when consensus felt nearly impossible because of differences among stakeholders? What tools or approaches were used to overcome this so that the design process could move forward?

JF >We stumbled upon a way to work through what you are describing, essentially the stalemate moment of consensus. Consensus relies on the seriousness of an individual’s right to block the process, giving weight to the individual voice within the collective, and the process stops until the group resolves the concern. One would think that this would make the process impossible, but instead we have seen it inspire empathy and greater consideration for others’ perspectives, and less frivolous use of the negative block.

AF >Three years into the design process for Bay State Commons Cohousing, the plans had to change and we held a special meeting to show that, at first glance, this change would affect 20% of the household floor plans. At the time, the larger group urged the 20% of affected households to think of the greater good. It was tense, but we moved forward to refine the design. The next time we came back, it turned out that 80% of the household floor plans had to change and it was incredible to watch the people who hadn’t been affected in the first round realise they now had to live up to their request for personal sacrifice for the greater good. In some ways, it comes down to the difference between mediation and consensus and considering whether we are resolving conflict or balancing interests.

Q >What were the most surprising insights, epiphanies or inputs you received during the participatory design process for the Bay State Commons Cohousing project?

JF >The anecdote in our last answer really describes the kinds of surprise we encounter in each participatory process.

Q >How do you think the pandemic and its aftermath will likely affect co-housing? And do you see this mode of living becoming more popular?

AF >For cohousing to expand as a viable popular option, we have to reconsider the idiosyncrasies of the model, both the positive – rethinking the nuclear family, shared resources of care and support, and the negative aspects – its struggle to be more inclusive and its economic barriers to entry.

At a moment when fundamental challenges to the social, economic and political fabric are imperative, we think cohousing can be pushed, pulled, and remoulded as a fertile ground for critique, experimentation, and action at broader, more inclusive scales. Through a lens of invisible labour and childcare, emotional support and caregiving, we see cohousing as a way to organise our environment to answer these issues.

JF >The pandemic has put a laser focus on the inequities of care. The recent New York Times piece on Silvia Federici underscores that the conversation around undervalued domestic labour may finally be mainstream. As we question the definition of family, and with it parenting, we also question the confines, community, and connection of typical multi-family housing.

In “revolutionary parenting”, bell hooks asserts that “problems…arise when parenting is done exclusively by an individual or solely by women.” It would follow that this call to expand the role of caregiving to a larger community also asks for a housing typology that nests and intersects traditional territories of the family within a new collective body

Q >For projects that aren’t centred on co-living or co-housing, how can participatory design be incorporated into the design process; what would be the benefits of doing so?

AF >For us, the core of participatory design is about human emotions and vulnerability. Our participatory design methods ask if materiality can broker or disrupt normative relationships between people. We appreciate the Benjamin Franklin Effect which is “a cognitive bias that causes people to like someone more after they do that person a favour”. This is a cornerstone of how we think about making spaces for social, emotional, and physical interactions. For us that means working on teapots, dresses, tables, walls, and buildings to be a little bit cosier than everyday life.

 

Anda French received a B.A. in Architecture from Barnard College, Columbia University and a Master of Architecture from Princeton University. She serves on the Board of the Boston Society for Architecture where she organised the BSA’s Now Practice Now Series, and works on the BSA’s equity, diversity and inclusion efforts.

Anda is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the Princeton University School of Architecture. She has taught at Syracuse University, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and in the Barnard + Columbia Undergraduate Architecture Program. She is a registered Architect in Massachusetts and is NCARB Certified.

Jenny French received a B.A. in Art History and Studio Art from Dartmouth College, and a Master of Architecture from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design. She is a recipient of Harvard’s Julia A. Appleton Traveling Fellowship.

Jenny is an Assistant Professor in Practice of Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design, and is the Coordinating Faculty in Architecture for the Harvard GSD Design Discovery Program (2017–2020). She has taught at Northeastern University, Tufts University, the Boston Architectural College, and served as a thesis advisor at RISD. French previously worked at Bergmeyer Associates and SHoP Architects, where she co-edited the firm’s monograph Out of Practice.

Jenny French and Anda French. Photo by Steph Larsen

Cohousing Community, Malden, MA. Completion Date: Spring 2022

Cohousing Community, Malden, MA. Completion Date: Spring 2022

Outlier Lofts, 2018. Drawing by French 2D

Outlier Lofts, 2018. Photo by John Horner

Together Again (in progress). Overlay drawing by French 2D

Kendall Square Garage Screens, 2019. Photo by John Horner

Kendall Square Garage Screens, 2019. Photo by John Horner

Cozy Wall/Wall Cozy at the Harvard GSD, 2020. Photo by Anita Kan

Memory Fort for Coachella — Design proposal for Coachella 2020

Dinner Cozy — Invite for an Immersive Dining Experience (postponed)