The Open Atelier: “I was told he was a designer and a poet…”
This quote is an excerpt of what Giuseppe Zambonini had to say about Michael Kalil in a 1979 New York Times feature about The Open Atelier of Design and Architecture.
The Open Atelier of Design and Architecture (OADA) was a non-accredited design school founded by Guiseppe Zambonini in 1978. At the time, Zambonini was the Dean of the New York School of Interior Design (NYSID), but felt that the students were not receiving enough practical teaching in relation to the abundance of theory and design courses. His goal in establishing OADA was to cover a full cycle of design study from theory to practice. Zambonini likely knew Kalil through NYSID where Kalil taught seminars in architectural history. Judging by a promotional brochure in Kalil’s papers, by 1978 Zambonini had invited Kalil to be a part of his OADA faculty. Other faculty members included Christian Hubert, George Ranalli and Michael Monsky. Guest speakers included the conceptual artist Donald Judd, architectural theorists Raimund Abraham and Lauretta Vinciarelli, and also design luminaries including Ward Bennett, Norman Diekman, Joe D’Urso, James Wines, Michael Webb and Gamal El Zoghby.
The school was originally housed on 11 Worth Street, in a 100-year old warehouse in TriBeCa (the downtown extension of SoHo at the time).
It occupied roughly 2200 square feet in a fifth floor loft that was internally unbuilt and without utilities. Zambonini saw this as a golden opportunity to design a space that would not only house the activities of OADA, but also serve as a space that could “teach by example.”
OADA offered both day and evening classes, lecture series, and opportunities to do professional design work, and it was equipped with a working wood and model shop. Most of the furniture used as drafting tables and work surfaces were designed and built on premises in a joint effort between faculty and students. Although the school did not award degrees, Zambonini ensured that every student left with a portfolio of real-world residential and commercial projects that the school contracted as class assignments.
Within Kalil’s papers, there is no tangible evidence regarding this part of his career aside from a couple of articles and a few promotional brochures published by OADA. Kalil’s relationship with OADA and Zambonini may have been relatively brief, but it does illustrate that during the 1970s, he was already active as a design educator, and very interested in creating alternative kinds of learning experiences for design students.
Interestingly, I recently ran some Google searches for “Open Atelier of Design and Architecture”, and variations that used both Zambonini’s and Kalil’s names, and I came across a number of results that took me to the websites of working architects and designers where OADA was cited in their CVs. If you are one of those individuals, please feel free to contact me via this blog- I would be interested to hear about your educational experience at OADA, particularly if you took one of Kalil’s courses!