Koi inspires cross-national team

Melody Giang and Emily Huser under the main body of their installation,  The Koinobori.| Photo by Melody Giang .

Melody Giang and Emily Huser under the main body of their installation,
The Koinobori.| Photo by Melody Giang .

The Powell Street Festival celebrates its 40th anniversary on July 30th and 31st with festivities honoring Japanese-Canadian heritage. In collaboration with design students in Germany, a BCIT undergrad trio draws inspiration from Japanese carp-shaped windsocks for their winning structure, The Koinobori.

This year, Bing Thom Architects (BTA) presented students of design and architecture with a contest to build an interactive public space to be unveiled at the festival.

“In Japanese culture, the carp symbolizes strength and courage because of its ability to swim upstream and against the current of a waterfall,” says team member Melody Giang. “In a way, we felt that it fit well with the festival because it is all about bringing the Japanese community together, celebrating their culture and keeping that tradition strong.”

Hatching the idea

The project arose from the collaboration between five undergraduate students of design. The Canadian trio at BCIT consists of Melody Giang, a student of interior design, and Emily Huser and Steven Schmidt, both in their 3rd year of the architectural program. German students Kai Kattge and Sebastian Saure joined the team through the exchange relationship that exists between BCIT and Hawk University in Hildeshiem, Germany.

“Before the competition, we had been communicating with them through email and Skype, sending ideas back and forth,” says Huser.

Between the five of them, the concept didn’t take long to materialize.

“Just a few days,” laughs Schmidt.

When asked if they expected The Koinobori to win, the students remain humble.

“All of our classmates did really good work, so it was hard to tell in advance,” says Huser.

The interactive installation resembles the body and tail of a carp, with a rubberwood skeleton and cloth scales.

“We were confident in our design, whether that meant we would win or not,” says Schmidt.

Festival goers are invited inside the structure, where they will be able to socialize on wooden seats and relax underneath the shade of the scales.

Swimming into problems

This experience was the first of its kind for the team.

“The project has changed quite a bit since initial conception, but the idea is still the same,” says Giang.

Schmidt, the team’s construction whiz, names structural issues as the main obstacle during the building process of The Koinobori.

“It was hard to find the right material, but also connections were a problem – we needed strong enough connections, while maintaining the elegance of the structure,” says Schmidt.

Although Giang has previously participated in design competitions, The Koinobori is her first large project. Schmidt says in addition to formal education, summertime employment in the construction field helped him develop a strong base in the practical concepts of architecture.

The big reveal

The jury panel’s decision regarding The Koinobori was unanimous.

“Even though our presentation wasn’t as refined as some others, it was the idea itself, the concept, that actually won,” says Schmidt.

During the festival, the scales will be temporarily taken down and members of the community will be welcomed to share their stories by writing or drawing on the cloth.

The Koinobori design team was given a production budget, awarded a $1000 cash prize and will receive mentorship from Bing Thom Architects and Abaton Projects. The trio from BCIT has plans to attend the grand unveiling of The Koinobori at Oppenheimer Park at 11 a.m. on July 30th.

The jury team consisted of James Brown and Shinobu Homma from BTA, Gary Smith from Abaton Projects, Jeff Cutler of space2place Design Inc, Kelty McKinnon of PFS Studio, and Emiko Morita, executive director of the Powell Street Festival.