Two local architects depict seasonality through food,
flowers, and whale migrations
By Rachel Trachten
It was the summer of 2011 when architect Brian Friel walked over to the South Berkeley Farmers’ Market expecting to find citrus. He didn’t. In fact, several of the items on his shopping list were also out of season, prompting Friel to realize he didn’t have a good understanding of local seasonality.
He raised the issue with Meghan Dorrian, his friend and business partner in the architecture firm Young America Creative (YAC), which they cofounded in 2010. Dorrian was similarly puzzled about the citrus and distressed by her own lack of knowledge about seasonality, especially as someone raised in an agricultural area near strawberry and artichoke fields. “How can you not know when citrus is in season when you’re 30 years old and you grew up in Watsonville?” she says. “We thought citrus was in season when it’s sunny out in the summer.”
The duo searched for online resources on the subject, and in the process became intrigued with how they might design their own visual representation of local seasonality. Their first attempt, a 12-month flip calendar printed on an inkjet printer with a seasonal drawing for each month, was a hit with friends and architecture clients who received the calendars for 2012 and 2013 as holiday gifts. But in spite of the clamor for a new version each year, Dorrian and Friel turned the project in a new, creative, and perennial direction with an artistic poster listing seasonal items by month. They simultaneously became intrigued with wider questions of how seasonality is expressed throughout the natural world.
Rooted in Design and Research
Friel and Dorrian first crossed paths in elementary school, and both attended Aptos High School. But their friendship became cemented while they were both studying architecture at Cal Poly and signed up for the same study-abroad program in Copenhagen. “We were emboldened by that experience,” says Dorrian. “In Scandinavia, you learn a skill set that carries you into whichever field of design you pursue, unlike in the U.S., where you’re very compartmentalized from day one. When we first started thinking about the posters, we didn’t see them as a different entity from our architecture business; they were part of an umbrella of how we’re interested in communicating design.”
The two architects work in a collaborative back-and-forth process, primarily in Adobe Illustrator. Prior to the pandemic, they had their posters printed at the Ligature in Berkeley, a 100-year-old press, using a pressed foil method requiring no ink. “It’s a super-delicate technical process,” says Dorrian. “We were intrigued and wanted to learn and understand it.”
Dorrian and Friel expanded their poster topics beyond fruits and vegetables and have carefully researched each subject area. They turned to a farmer friend at Free Spirit Farm in Winters for information on local produce and to scientists at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program for advice on fish and seafood. The poster on local wildflowers evolved with help from botanists at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden. Staff at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provided expertise on whales. “Each project is a perfect one for us as architects,” says Dorrian, “because it’s rooted in both design and research.”
Friel hopes the fruit and vegetable poster encourages people to make a seasonal meal or go to the farmers’ market. “Things in season are more likely to be local,” he says of what he has learned through the project. “Berries out of season are probably not from your local farmer. There’s an inherent sustainability to purchasing local, and that’s something we knew but started to understand better.”
That understanding of seasonality progressed to seafood: “The fish are always out there, but when they’re not in season, they don’t come from your local fishers,” says Friel. Dorrian adds that the seafood posters have been a useful tool for teaching about when certain fish are plentiful in the Bay Area and how to diversify a seafood diet. “People ask us all the time,” she says, “what do you mean there are seasons for fish?”
Looking into whale migration was another natural step for this duo, who are interested in the environment as a whole. “We grew up near Santa Cruz and are drawn to the ocean, connected to it,” says Dorrian. Their initial plan was to focus on shark migration, but the data wasn’t clear enough. Even whale migrations proved difficult to pin down. Interviews with scientists at NOAA revealed that although eight whale species make an annual journey from their northern waters down to Mexico and back, specific data about when each species passes through the Bay Area either doesn’t exist or is not consistent enough. In the end, Friel and Dorrian decided to show the primary whales seen in the Pacific and to include little-known facts to help people appreciate them.
Response to the posters has been enthusiastic, with sales in shops nationwide as well as at craft fairs in California, Chicago, and on the East Coast. The architects receive frequent suggestions for new poster topics ranging from mushrooms to migratory birds to types of meat, but plans for the next poster are on hold, as the pandemic has dramatically slowed retail poster sales. Still, Dorrian and Friel are thinking ahead. Although the Ligature was sold several months ago, the duo is optimistic about working with a printer in West Oakland. The big question is, what will the next poster depict? There’s no answer yet, but the top contenders—clouds, monarch butterflies, or the migration and varieties of salmon—are all sure to delight and inspire. ♦