Bryan Taylor

The Bard Rebirth

Growing up, I always wanted to be an architect. I attended one of those career days in seventh grade, excited to learn more about my future vocation. I asked the speaker how much he got to draw, and learned that after codes and engineering and meetings, he was really only able to draw 10 percent of the time. I was devastated, vowed to never again consider architecture, and eventually, found my way into design. And when I really think about my time today, I humbly wish that I could spend 10 percent of it drawing.

I’ve come to learn, however, since leaving the school years and entering a creative line of work, that every problem has a creative solution — to the architect and designer alike. When a brand needs a logo to visually communicate what it represents, there is a creative solution waiting to be unearthed. But so too does civic policy have plenty of questions in need of creative answers, as do teaching, engineering, and construction.

In 2014, Tap & Growler gave us our first branding project, which included building out their restaurant space. The problems that needed to be solved within the 2,200-square-foot interior were the same that needed solving with the brand identity — they were just in three dimensions. That project went well and led to more built design projects at Beergarden in 2015, ColdFire in 2016, and the Bard Building in 2017.

Drawn’s new home is dubbed the Bard Building after an idea that I had 15 years ago, to bring a collective of solo creatives together in one building, where everyone leased small portions of a bigger space. The idea was to bring designers and photographers and writers together to do their individual businesses, but also to benefit from the shared creative environment. In these 15 years since, we have turned our own company into that collective, so when I had to create a legal name for the new Drawn office building, the Bard seemed fitting.

Bards played an important role in ancient Gaelic and Celtic culture as professional storytellers. Before Netflix, people had to depend on theatre and the recitation of stories for entertainment and teaching. Many of those stories had been passed down for generations. This was the role of the bard in the British Isles, including one William Shakespeare, also known as the Bard of Avon (the city, not the cosmetics company).

In a sense, what we are doing at Drawn and in this new building is storytelling. It is a makerspace where we can ideate, design, fabricate, shoot, film, and post to the world hundreds of little stories for clients nearby and around the world. That is the ultimate vision for a place like this, capable of bringing all of those parts together to, in a sense, act as modern-day bards in a digital and brand-centric world.

The problems we solve here at the Bard are sometimes simple and sometimes complex, but they all have creative answers. Whether designing, or architect-ing, or creating an event, an interface, or an ongoing digital conversation — every problem holds the promise of a creative way out, and we hope that we’ve built a space to aptly facilitate that creative problem-solving process.

When we embarked on a mission to find a new Drawn workspace, we knew that we were leaving behind a place (at the 5th Street Public Market) full of character, old stories, and a culture that has evolved with time. The Market was once a factory that has been turned into a communal gathering space for restaurants, retail, and a few of us small businesses. But we were no longer as small as we once were and we wanted to find a new place that either possessed the same type of building quirks or, at the very least, was able to have some character built in.

545 Monroe Street used to be the home of Bourland Printing, and before that, a feed store built during the height of World War II. Being 75 years old, the building had character and quirks, but they were shrouded in layers of sheetrock and dropped ceilings. 

It is a long, narrow building that squeezed in a partial second floor built for people without claustrophobia: 6-foot-2-inch ceilings upstairs and only slightly taller ones downstairs. Commemorative printed pieces were glued to the wall at random, showcasing the printer’s “Best of:” posters, brochures, business cards, decals, and flyers. Wires ran everywhere, plumbing was shoehorned in, and creative use of duct tape was on display. But underneath the four decades of added materials was a building with good bones.

"Wires ran everywhere, plumbing was shoehorned in, and creative use of duct tape was on display. But underneath the four decades of added materials was a building with good bones."

Six weeks of ripping out the past opened the door to a future for Drawn; a foundation upon which to build the character and particularities that we desired in our new office. To put our own fingerprints on the beginning of an evolved Drawn culture, ready to start the next chapter.

We returned the building to its original vision: Open once again at the front, ceilings now exposed again and boasting their age with beauty, and tight-grained fir proudly representing an era that saw such wood available in lumber yards. The building had been stripped of its seven-plus decades of thoughtless additions and was ready to be given a new life that honored the heritage with which it was first built.

One of the first accents chosen at Drawn was the front door handle. It was a brass push bar salvaged from a theater that was also built in 1942, during World War II. The handle fit — its design, material, size, and story. But there weren’t any other brass elements in the building, so we set out to find ways to carry the material through the space. We found lighting fixtures salvaged from ships, made of brass and copper, to fill the front of house. We created brass finials that incorporated geodetic survey markers. We bought copper pans for the kitchen and splurged on a copper and brass Elektra espresso maker.

Ninety percent of the materials used in the Bard’s construction were salvaged from other forgotten stories: steps from a former school’s gymnasium bleachers, metal desks left by the former printer, RLM lights collected from remodeled warehouses, lockers discarded by an Oregon high school, one sink from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, and another from BRING Recycling, couches from St. Vincent de Paul, seating built from wood that was abandoned at a lumberyard, a wall saved before a restaurant remodel, and doors that were moved, rebuilt, and redistributed after the former printer’s use. 

Left on the walls are decades of history in the form of random notes: lots of math, doodles of heads, hearts with couples’ initials, declarations of fame, written accusations, and pricing for wholesale sacks of Kellogg’s cereal products. And we left it all, hopefully to live on in posterity for another 75 years. With all of these salvaged notes and materials have come the cultivated character that we so earnestly sought in our new workspace.

"Ninety percent of the materials used in the Bard’s construction were salvaged from other forgotten stories."

Our environmental design philosophy (aka, how we approach built spaces) at Drawn is to design a space 60 percent of the way, let the construction process determine another 20 percent, and then let the use of the space itself dictate the final 20 percent. We designed the building with enough detail to estimate budget and direct contractors, but not so much that there was no room for that which was yet to be revealed. That is the building’s share to contribute.

Every morning for five months, I arrived at the jobsite to help our contractor-artists talk through how to build out the next 20 percent. We faced the creative challenges that always come with an aged building going through such a process. We designed on the fly, adapted to surprises, and continued to move the building toward the final shape that we hoped it to take.

We left the final 20 percent for the space itself to determine. We moved in without any cabinetry, decoration, or furniture. We moved in using random chairs and borrowed folding tables, and we watched how the space became used. Then we designed furniture that would fit our team’s needs, but also fit with how we found everyone to be using the space. We are still in that process of building out the space, patiently allowing the space and our team’s flow dictate the final build-out.

In all likelihood, the Bard will never be a project completely finished. It is at the beginning of a constant evolution; it is a workshop serving an ever-shifting collection of needs. And I’d have it no other way.

The Bard Building is a blank canvas. The walls are now simple, white concrete and bare plywood; the floors are raw concrete and decades-old fir. We purposefully left the building unpolished, unperfect, and “unprofessional.” Too many buildings are built to be perfectly comfortable and leave nothing to keep pushing for, to refine, to inspire, to expand.

Our idea was to build something in response to the fact that the world is changing fast, and particularly, how much change can be seen in the ways in which people engage, communicate, influence, purchase, and support brands. And since we live in such a fast-changing, engagement-centric world, it seems appropriate to build a space that accommodates changes and facilitates more elastic engagements.

The Bard Loft is an open perch filled with nooks, crannies, and cubbies for productivity. Up here, we strategize, plan, design, program, monitor, report, and communicate with clients near and far. We have nine north-facing windows, three of which open, and all of which look out at a tall oak in the neighbor’s yard. With headphones on and heads down, a lot of solo progress is accomplished in this space, shoulder to shoulder but all quietly shaded by the equally quiet oak.

"Too many buildings are built to be perfectly comfortable and leave nothing to keep pushing for, to refine, to inspire, to expand."

In the back of house is a complete wood shop, full of tools and routers and laser cutters to prototype, problem-solve, and construct ideas; to share and adorn our client’s products. In addition to building all of the furniture on which these ideas are conceived, we also build tap handles for a brewery; POP displays for clients, featuring brochures and offers; and displays for use at tradeshows and mobile pop-up events. We also build and photograph little pieces to expand our clients’ social reach — much more of that is to come. With ideation upstairs and a shop mere steps away, saws, laser cutters, and all kinds of creativity wait to turn ideas into beautifully tangible objects ready to be shot and promoted.

The Bard’s main deck is comprised of various meeting spaces. We greet friends in a waiting area that doubles as bike parking, just inside the front door. We meet as a team in the “laboratory,” lit with lights from a naval ship’s lab and divided from the main deck. At the opposite end of  the building, the small kitchen is flanked with tables for conversing around food, and the gathering stairs (a wide staircase joined with bleacher seating) form a gathering space between the lab and kitchen in which to share presentations, talk in groups, or pop some popcorn and watch a film. The main deck also includes a photography studio, white-walled and ready to light, showcase, and shoot products, illustrations, models, and people. 

The “submarine” is our dug-down conference room, built half underground, where we come together and collaborate, present, or push ideas that are in need of team refinement. The walls are covered in birch plywood but coated with a dry erase surface to receive our ideas. We video conference with team members and clients who aren’t locally available, and we eat lunch together every Monday during our Weekly 90, an hour and a half-long stretch of catching up and brainstorming any opportunity ready for a creative solution.

The Bard is, at its essence, a makerspace — a workshop designed to ideate, make, shoot, post, and engage with the world on behalf of our clients and, sometimes, ourselves. We create social posts and tap handles and photograph bottle labels for ColdFire, all envisioned, designed, built, and shared with the world from inside the walls of the Bard. We create watercolor imagery and advertising campaigns for Coconut Bliss. We dreamt and designed and developed Opus Grows, the best soil in the world. 

"Our idea was to build something in response to the fact that the world is changing fast, and particularly, how much change can be seen in the ways in which people engage, communicate, influence, purchase, and support brands."

Every morning, we walk into an office that can simply act like a traditional advertising agency, if it wants to. Or, it can act like a makerspace. It is ready for this emerging world that’s hungry for quick and constant engagement to ideate, make, shoot, post, and interact with the world. And that is what makes every day at the Bard an invigorating experience.