Phantasmagoria of 2 ships passing the night

During my late night walks along one of Chicago’s lakefront harbors, I observed two ships passing. One is going one way while the other is headed another way. On that particular night as if by pure coincidence, they come near each other at the harbor. Each had a mission to accomplish and will later on sail their separate ways. But for that moment, both started flashing messages to each other for the first time and their proximity allowed for radio transmission.

In a parallel situation, “Boats on a port tack shall give way to boats on starboard tack! Sail away!”, replied Dîner en Blanc Chicago when I tweeted my concept sketch for a table setting design.
The points of sail. Image Source: Wikipedia

It was for a “clandestine picnic dinner party of a random crowd dressed entirely in white that comes together at an undisclosed location through a word-of-mouth campaign.”
Photo by Lira Luis

When I first learned about this flashmob/ popup picnic hybrid from Megan, who was one of the pedestrian leaders for Dîner en Blanc, I had a déjà vu moment. The concept was similar to the Taliesin Formal Evenings I’ve experienced while at the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. This is a monthly tradition started by Frank Lloyd Wright when he founded the Taliesin Fellowship. Mr. Wright believed in the holistic training of architects. The formal evening was a platform for “apprentices” to socialize with his clients, residents, staff, and VIP guests while experiencing local culture and architecture. I remember a conversation I had with Minerva Montooth, social events organizer at Taliesin since the 1950s, where she shared, “When apprentices arrive at Taliesin for the first time, some are shy and do not necessarily have the social skills that are important (for when they become architects). The formal events at Taliesin allow the apprentices to meet Mr. Wright’s clients in a setting where they could learn how to interact with high profile people”. It was one of the remarkable experiences I had when I lived at Taliesin. In retrospect, which other architecture school would require the students to bring formal attire (for me it was an evening dress) and tattered clothes (for construction) at the same time?

Taliesin Formal Evening. Photo by Taliesin, The Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture

In the case of Diner en Blanc, they required attendees to bring real dinnerware and flatware but at the same time carry their own tables and chairs. Both schools of thought have a resonant je ne sais quoi to it.
Photo by Ryan Cosens of Cosens Photography
I decided to apply the skills I’ve learned from Taliesin to this popup picnic. I started to sketch some ideas on how I would design/arrange the table setting. The chairs would be part of the whole composition as well. The design concept is based on an abstraction of the lakefront harbor overlooking Lake Michigan and the boats/ships passing by. The central object, a luminous cube represents the Chicago Harbor Lighthouse. Fortunately, the dinnerware I already own is actually shaped like a boat! I incorporated some diffused lighting effects at the plates’ edges, drawing inspiration from the lighting stylings of James Turrell.
After the sketches, I tested the idea by building a “mockup”.

The last element to be designed is the menu card. 

When it was time to build this design at the day of the event, this was how it turned out.

The process was almost a ceremonious event at the arrival of each meal course, the reason being: I moved the lighting to mimic the energy of that specific moment in time.
Dessert presentation

"Lights in Fantasmagorie" by Lira Luis. Photo by Theodore Isaac

"Lights in Fantasmagorie" by Lira Luis. Photo by Theodore Isaac

"Lights in Fantasmagorie" by Lira Luis. Photo by Theodore Isaac

It was truly a night filled with phantasmagoria and a celebration of design, something that I would recommend to my architecture and design colleagues to experience at least once.
Photo by Theodore Isaac

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