Grand Central station is a marriage between architecture, art, and design that is not only functional, but tells the story of New York as a global gateway to America. Since our ancestors lived in caves, humans have been marking their surroundings as their own. Richard Poulin, principal at Poulin & Morris and adjunct professor at […]

Grand Central station is a marriage between architecture, art, and design that is not only functional, but tells the story of New York as a global gateway to America.

Since our ancestors lived in caves, humans have been marking their surroundings as their own.

Richard Poulin, principal at Poulin & Morris and adjunct professor at the School of Visual Arts, began a recent lecture with a photo of one of the oldest known cave drawings — the lecture ended with shots of the Las Vegas strip and recent Olympic venues. What do they all have in common? Poulin argues that design and architecture have historically “spoken” to and worked with one another to tell compelling stories. He argues that relationship has strengthened over the centuries and must continue to do so to meet the challenges of the future.
Poulin’s work at his New York agency has challenged him to collaborate with architects to forge stories with raw materials and graphics, recently working on NPR’s headquarters and the Newseum. On a book tour for “Graphic Design and Architecture: A 21st Century History,” he spoke at the University of Washington in conjunction with the AIGA and SEGD — the Society for Experiential Graphic Design — and gave a Reader’s-Digest-style rundown of his newest release. He framed his lecture (and book) on two premises: (1) As the fields of design and architecture have evolved, so their relationship with one another has evolved, especially in the twentieth century, and (2) As their relationship has evolved, so has their skill at storytelling through the vehicle of built environments.

Poulin grew up in New York City, and some of the places he visited as a child make an appearance in the book. Those places still inspire and inform his work.

“Grand Central Station still gives me chills,” he said.

Which spaces give you chills? Why do you think that is? Poulin argues that it isn’t architecture or design alone that leave people with a lasting impression, but the overall experience the space provides does. In Grand Central, that means the architecture, commissioned art, and design (such as the design of the largest Tiffany clock) all worked in harmony to tell a story about New York’s history as the world’s gateway to America.

So how can design in architecture inform the kind of work we do at Vectorform?

If we simplify Poulin’s ideas into a formula of design-plus-architecture-equals-story, we could easily substitute technology for architecture in this equation, and the takeaway still stands: When beauty meets with an innovative delivery mechanism to tell a cohesive story, magic happens. The beauty here could be art, design, or media, and the delivery could be any building, container, or even a device or type of code. Any of these things could probably tell a story on their own, but the potential for true innovation, surprise, and delight are found where they intersect.

“Graphic Design and Architecture” doesn’t just examine the past. Poulin argues that technological advancement has served to push the experience-focused disciplines closer together, and that union will be necessary in telling the kinds of stories humans will have to share in the future. To use Poulin’s words: “Our stories are more complex, so design and architecture will have a more complex story to tell.”


See Richard Poulin’s work here.

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