Wyn Bielaska is a phenom of the architectural world. Starting his career at the studio of the legendary Arthur Erickson, Wyn went on to blaze a creative career defined by creating whimsy, surprise, and innovation in performing arts spaces, museums, and deeply experiential retail. I’ve had the extreme pleasure of working with Wyn, and there is nothing, nothing, like the moment in the meeting when Wyn leaps to his feet with an idea that blows everybody’s minds and sets a fresh direction for something that seemed intractable. Wyn is also a sculptor, a photographer, and a multimedia artist.
This conversation was a preamble to Wyn appearing in Vegas in my EXPERIENTIAL sessions at LDI2017, The Experiential Marketplace: Art and Science. Allow me to plug: As if Vegas isn’t a good enough reason, as if seeing the latest in interactive, media, lighting, scenic, audio, and production isn’t a good enough reason, then perhaps visiting with a legendary assembly of creatives and producers for a focused day of real nitty gritty knowledge may tip the scales for you. If not, there’s always breakfast at The Peppermill…Come to LDI and find out!
Bob Bonniol: What was the beginning like? Read to me from chapter one.
Wyn Bielaska: I feel very lucky that my first job after college was with a most inspiring mentor, Arthur Erickson who was a world famous architect in Canada. Working with Arthur and his teams felt like an extension of the design studios at college where we were free to offer ideas and experiment. Erickson's offices were more like ateliers, where we could explore ideas freely and not be afraid or shy about personal design process, much like an artist. I won a national competition soon after starting work, which helped give my sometimes very naive ideas credibility....but then sometimes naivety is very welcome in a crowded field of professional colleagues.
BB: As an architect, how do you think about the design of space as a location for the inhabitants, lives, experiences, and stories?
WB: While I was in college, I learned to articulate the language of spatial thinking and conceptual ideation from environmental artists and sculptors, such as Mary Miss and Alice Aycock, Richard Serra, Robert Smithson, and even Picasso. My best friends were former Fine Arts grads. I always integrated music/sound/lights/visual storytelling into my design studio presentations. In my final years at college, the room would be filled with students from the whole faculty to witness my presentations. It was a lot of theater-like production to help represent mood and feeling about place....and place making.
BB: What is your superpower as a creative?
WB: I think that my energy and ability to inspire others because of my passion for architecture is my superpower as a creative. Architecture requires many abilities such as visual, audio, touch, scent, all of our senses. Being super sensitive to all of our senses and sensitive to others' feelings and perceptions of place helps me to shape space and atmosphere of place. Music is my first love. I try to communicate and represent place whenever an opportunity allows me to express myself through music and composition of light.
BB: What are some of the current implications of design in today's culture that are on your mind?
WB: Technology and the speed of the evolution of technology enabling building and building systems to evolve and expand the possibilities of visual expression. Technology is affecting how we see, collect, and experience light and form and space. It is very exciting—a whole new frontier that keeps shifting.
BB: Looking back, can you describe a moment where you had some profound impact through creative work?
WB: Yes....upon completion of the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, I was touring people around the outside of the building which was populated with outdoor art installations around dusk. The sunset was reflecting in a multiplicity of reds and oranges off of a Buster Simpson shifting glass plate installation. It completely transformed the sense of place at that moment, and I felt completely buoyant. We had designed a roof structure that was like a giant lantern to light the roof plaza adjacent to the Buster Simpson installation, so the journey over the roof surface of the building was very cinematic.
BB: Looking ahead, where do you see the design thought of public shared spaces going?
WB: Immersive "3D" experiences that engage "all of the senses" is where I see it going. We're in an incredible time of visual culture fastened to a 2D screen—cell phones, TV screens, monitors. I want to hear sound and music from all directions that moves me to turn and look and discover. That excites me, and it's all about storytelling. We all love to hear stories embedded in our psyche since childhood!
BB: Where are you finding your biggest inspiration these days?
WB: I love talking to my students where I teach at the University of Washington because they bring life to new ideas. The exchange is always very rich and explorative. If I can inspire them, the return is far greater what I hear from them or where they take me into their worlds of what inspires them, how they "sense" the world around them—all of their senses!
Bob Bonniol is a director and production designer known for his implementation of extensive media and interactive features in his productions. Currently, he is the creative director for the massive renovation of The Core at General Motors' World Headquarters in Detroit. The installation features the largest permanent interactively driven LED screen array on earth. In 2016, he was production designer for the Star Wars Celebration segment of ABC’s Disneyland 60th Anniversary Special, working closely with Lucasfilm, Disney Music Group, and director Amy Tinkham.
Other clients have included Marvel Studios, The Walt Disney Company, Live Nation, AEG, Feld Entertainment, Chrysler Corporation, Activision/Blizzard, America's Got Talent, X-Factor, American Idol, Blue Man Group, Microsoft, Nokia as well as countless recording artists, Broadway producers, opera companies, theme parks, cruise lines, dance companies, and architects.