Olson Kundig Architects has been using a vacant Pioneer Square storefront to stage social experiments. Principal architect and project co-director Alan Maskin talks about the current installation, Hardware Store, and its revelation that utility is in the eye of the beholder.

We found out early on, when talking to people about this idea, that the term “hardware” has a million different interpretations. It’s one of these very subjectively defined terms. All of us use hardware to a certain degree and we all use different hardware, from dentists to cake decorators to sculptors.

So, for part of the Hardware Store installation, we reached out to people that we know in the design community—not necessarily architecture, but design in general—and asked them to loan us their favorite piece of hardware. We wanted to see what would come back. It ran the gamut. Michael Hebb, who started the One Pot dining series, lent us his original pot, which is cracked. Spike Lee and Gloria Steinem and a whole host of people have eaten out of this pot. It’s his hardware. Robin Held, formerly of the Frye Museum and now with Reel Grrls, her favorite tool is a stiletto tango shoe. It has a 360-degree turning radius and an incredible pound-per-square-inch lateral load. We also have a saddle here, because this space was a saddle shop a hundred years ago. In a way it was a hardware store of its own type in its original incarnation.

We started this storefront space as an experiment, and each of the seven installations we have staged have had very different aims. For this one, we’re trying to make people look more closely at the world by using the lens of hardware. We’re asking them to look at the parts and pieces of the design world that are the small details—the tools, the hinges, the doorknobs. We’re doing that, in part, by exhibiting some of the formidable people in Seattle who actually are pretty impressive in relation to hardware.

We’re also showing how we designed our own hardware line, consisting of about 25 pieces. We wanted to share with other designers how you go from a sketch of an idea to a global sales platform. We’re sharing who we partnered with, why we partnered with them and how we actually made it happen. We’ve never created a hardware line before, so this is completely experimental. We want to share the experiment.

But we want to be careful that this isn’t a showroom for our firm. For us this is a social practice; we can use this space to explore ideas. What we’re trying to do in the bigger picture is create new types of cultural contexts. We’re creating different ways that people can come together in a sort of community living room.  AS TOLD TO MARK BAUMGARTEN