Clip from "Storm's-eye View" by Kyna Leski
Kyna Leski is an Architect, Designer, Author, and Educator.
Kyna Leski click for pronunciation has invested her life in navigating the creative process. She has done this through her teaching as a Professor of Architecture at The Rhode Island School of Design, through her design work as a founding principal of 3six0 Architecture and her practices as an artist, aspiring/practicing actor and writer.
She has spoken about the creative process throughout the U.S. and abroad and gave a Main stage presentation at PopTech in 2009. She recently finished writing and illustrating a book, called The Storm of Creativity published by MIT Press. She is an avid rower who can be found most mornings before dawn on the Seekonk River and Narragansett Bay in Providence.
Statement by Kyna Leski:
“I explore, witness, and practice the creative process through my work and my teaching. As a child, I was reprimanded for “getting bored easily,” and now I see that weakness, like all “weaknesses,” as a strength. (Getting bored keeps me moving ahead.) I live in a city whose name, (“pro-videre”) signifies what creativity is: a process of “seeing ahead.” We "see ahead" when we make designs that are materialized in the future, when we write problems that anticipate solutions, when we link one step to another in navigating our lives and the way through anything, especially the empty page, writer’s block, confusion, chaos, needs, and questions. The creative process is the story of this passage and speaks for the author, to the user, the reader, inhabitant, audience or viewer.
I have listened and observed these workings as a teacher, a student, a maker, a writer and an architect myself. As an educator I am dedicated to embodied learning, to the precision of mind that comes from measured making and to the clarity of abstraction. As a student, an aspiring/practicing actor and witness I seek to learn something, to be surprised by the author’s soul voice and to find coherence where there wasn’t any. As a maker of things, designer, and writer, I dwell in uncertainty, follow poetry as a process, reason with material, construct, deconstruct and reconstruct—conceptual clarity appearing as a guide. I watch the sunrise almost everyday from a rowing shell, am moved to tears by honesty, and take dreams very seriously.”
Recently Published by MIT Press
Although each instance of creativity is singular and specific, Kyna Leski tells us, the creative process is universal. Artists, architects, poets, inventors, scientists, and others all navigate the same stages of the process in order to discover something that does not yet exist. All of us must work our way through the empty page, the blank screen, writer’s block, confusion, chaos, and doubt. In this book, Leski draws from her observations and experiences as a teacher, student, maker, writer, and architect to describe the workings of the creative process.
Leski sees the creative process as being like a storm; it slowly begins to gather and take form until it overtakes us—if we are willing to let it. It is dynamic, continually in motion; it starts, stops, rages and abates, ebbs and flows. In illustrations that accompany each chapter, she maps the arc of the creative process by tracing the path of water droplets traveling the stages of a storm.
Leski describes unlearning, ridding ourselves of preconceptions; only when we realize what we don’t know can we pose the problem that we need to solve. We gather evidence—with notebook jottings, research, the collection of objects—propelling the process. We perceive and conceive; we look ahead without knowing where we are going; we make connections. We pause, retreat, and stop, only to start again. To illustrate these stages of the process, Leski draws on examples of creative practice that range from Paul Klee to Steve Jobs, from the discovery of continental drift to the design of Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia.
Creativity, Leski tells us, is a path with no beginning or end; it is ongoing. This revelatory view of the creative process will be an essential guide for anyone engaged in creative discovery.
“A definitive guide to swimming through creative chaos, The Storm of Creativity shows us how to flow effortlessly through the process of birthing new, original ideas into the world.”
—Joe Gebbia, Cofounder and Chief Product Officer, Airbnb
“We spiral through our lives trying to do our work, and Kyna Leski understands the elusive complexity of it all. I love the air and light in the book. Thank God she has written a how-not-to book that helps us understand how to do it. And not do it.”
—Maira Kalman, author of The Principles of Uncertainty
“This is a book about the thoughtful journey of creativity. Life is about going from not knowing to knowing. This blank, this zero from which I start every project is understood by Kyna Leski. Going from not knowing to knowing is my time of peace, and it is the time of creativity. This theme, threaded throughout the book, is a source of confidence and terror all at once. It is how we give up comfort and preconception to discover the essence of design. You will enjoy reading Kyna Leski's illuminating account of the creative process.”
—Richard Saul Wurman
“I have always believed that a true creative process begins with a state of ambiguity because true creativity happens when it deviates, and your judgment can rely only on your level of impulse. In The Storm of Creativity, Kyna Leski vividly describes with precision and in a few words how such initial ambiguous emotion and imagination can become, from beginning to finish, a form of clarity.”
—Wang Shu, Dean, School of Architecture, China Academy of Art; 2012 Pritzker Prize winner
"There is perhaps no intellectual who is as in tune with the vulnerability of the creative process and the uncertainty from which innovation emerges as Kyna Leski. On the one hand, her focus on ‘unlearning’ takes us back to our most elemental moments of learning as a child, but also, on the other hand, to our most corrupted ideological predispositions. In her thinking, she develops critical mechanisms that braid the arts, sciences, and humanities to bring the various disciplines into conversation as part of the process of discovering. In this book, Leski brings the best of Cooper culture, as a school of thought, to a broader audience."
—Nader Tehrani, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture, The Cooper Union
May 27, 2017
Do Creative Minds Matter? by Louis Postel | May 26, 2017 | Ask Louis, Graphisoft
In this comprehensive post, architectural writer Louis Postel questions the generous permission needed for creative discovery during times of crisis. An excerpt:
“That said, there are any number of cultural dikes and levees warding off such storms of creativity. Leski feels such storms make the difference between ‘mindless production’ in architecture and ‘something new and meaningful, open to that bolt of lightning.’ In her view, creative solutions to increasingly complex problems can hardly be taken for granted in 2017.
So, what specifically, in my view, are some of the dikes and levees that prevent us from welcoming the creative storm into our studios?”
March 10, 2017
“Field Guided” Talk at The Cooper Union
Returning to my Alma Mater Tuesday, March 21, 2017, to give a talk called, “Field Guided” 12:00pm – 2:00pm. I am reflecting on the 35 years since I completed the project which the image above is of. The Dean of The Cooper Union School of Architecture, John Heduk, pointed to this project and told me that this is what I should pursue for the rest of my life. This leads me to my current preoccupation of the “field” which each of us elicits, in a work, or over a life time. I have found that my “field” extends as time goes on, out into the world, but has the tensile properties of getting tighter as it does.
March 10, 2017
2017 Misher Visiting Professor
Every year the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia, (which contains the oldest school of Pharmacology in the U.S. established in 1821), holds a week long, “Misher Festival of Fine Art.” This year I am the Visiting Misher Professor. I am excited to participate in the spectrum of disciplines which this school offers. This year’s Misher Festival is themed:
The Architecture of Creativity
What can physical structures, from sculpture to skyscrapers, teach us about the creative process? And, conversely, how do the creative arts—whether jazz compositions or short stories—reflect intensive knowledge of form and function?
The Misher Festival of Fine Arts & Humanities celebrates former University President Allen Misher’s vision of an undergraduate education that embraces history, music, and literature alongside biology, chemistry, and more. Join us as this year’s Misher Festival explores The Architecture of Creativity—all events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, March 23, 2017
- Misher Festival Book Club: The Storm of Creativity by Kyna Leski
11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. in Wilson 205-208
- 2017 Misher Visiting Professor of Humanities Lecture
Kyna Leski, Professor of Architecture
1 p.m. in McNeil Science and Technology Center, AstraZeneca Auditorium
February 18, 2017
China Academy of Art Book: “Finding Your Way”
This beautiful publication by the China Academy of Art just came out on the workshop which I taught there in 2011. The Architecture School is run by the Pritzker Prize winning architect, Wang Shu of Amateur Architects, a firm which he runs with his wife and partner, Lu Wenyu. The stunning campus is a master work by their firm.
This publication contains the essays: “The Poetry of Substance,” by Wang Shu, “Finding Your Way,” by Kyna Leski, and “Where to go,” by Jiang Weihua. Jiang Weihua and Jeremiah Watson were teaching assistants who really co-taught the workshop with me. It was a moving experience. Most of the communication was made through a drawn glossary on the blackboard and with materials like rope, pipe, springs, and wood in our hands. What follows is an excerpt from my essay:
“Thirteen point eight billion hands are at work today. The spiraling combinations of mother and father genes, descended from ancestors, back to the mutant gene that gave origin to the thumb and then finger joints that spirally rotate, endowing the hand and the human mind an ability to grasp. Our hand has traveled a million-million combinations, twists and turns.
The hand extends the mind into the world. Articulated gesturing, enacting and making. The lines of one’s hand shape and are shaped by the past, present and future. Material in hand, ideas are made and not stuck in thought. Material doesn’t always do what you want it to. It gets in the way, or goes between the pre-conceived idea and the revealed idea of a process.”
November 3, 2016
Talk at Texas Tech!
September 29, 2016
“Dear Carl,” Article written on the work of Architect, Carl-Viggo Hølmebakk
The wall of the Mortuary at Asker Crematorium swelled to give space for a sitting area and cherry tree, the bricks separated to let the outside in and the inside out; the raised walkway at the Sohlbergplassen Viewpoint, Stor-Elvdal undulated around the pine trees reiterating the path of the first visitor, as the rooms dodged the existing surveyed trees in the Summer House Ryssdal. All of these architectural boundaries were defined with a ruler and a compass. Your work of the last 15 years has more complex lines that follow more data points: the steel fence and viewing platform of Vøringsfossen Waterfall Area held flush to the facets of a cliff, the foot bridge follows the erratic topography, projecting between cliffs where the topography falls off. The line between nature and man-made becomes blurred, shared, articulated in the generous bends of steel forming shelves for snow. Like an artist’s smudge of charcoal on a page marks a shadow, the page becomes a receptor of light.
September 3, 2016
Drawing/delving into storm as a metaphor for creativity, “Storm’s-eye View” is an animated drawing of water in its turbulent (and generative) journey through a storm: a small disturbance of colliding molecules in a warm ocean, rising as vapor, condensing as cloud, releasing energy and fueling propulsion, giving way to gravity, and seeping into the ground.
Animated Drawing: Kyna Leski
Music: Forrest Larson
August 4, 2016
Creative Takers and Makers Panel The Strand Book Store New York City
“Featuring, from left to right, Peter Ahlberg, Kyna Leski, Steve Heller, and moderator Debbie Millman
This panel of takers and makers will walk the audience through the process of being a creative: what it means for each of them, and how those measures and mechanisms can be applied for those of us willing to learn. Panelists include:
Steve Heller (author of the forthcoming Graphic Design Idea Book and many others, co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author Department, Special Consultant to the President of SVA for New Programs, and Visuals columnist for the New York Times Book Review)
Peter Ahlberg (author of the forthcoming Please Make This Look Nice, principal designer at AHL&CO, and professor of graphic design at SVA)
Kyna Leski (Professor of Architecture at RISD, founding principal of 3six0 Architecture, artist, actor, and author of The Storm of Creativity)
The conversation is moderated by Debbie Millman, President Emeritus of AIGA, author, and host of Design Matters, an award-winning program of interviews with eminent designers. “
July 16, 2016
Interview by Dr. Jerry Schubel, The Aquarium of the Pacific
This spring, Dr. Jerry Schubel, oceanographer, president and CEO of the Aquarium of the Pacific, invited me out to The Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach California to give a talk on creativity. Just before my talk, Dr. Schubel interviewed me, which is now posted here. Thank you for a great experience.
May 29, 2016
Final Degree Project Reviews at RISD
Architecture Graduate Student, Dongyue (Sunny) Zhang presents her project to critics: Noah Klersfeld (architect, digital artist), Anthony Mastromatteo (painter), Kyna Leski (advisor), Scott Abrahams (architect), out of view: Judyth vanAmringe (multi-media artist), Stuart Blazer (poet) & Nicholas Evans-Cato (painter)
photo by Yu Cao
May 16, 2016
The Genesis of the Metropolitan Opera Chandeliers by Kyna Leski
Origins are critical in establishing authorship. But like any beginning, the origin of a work of art or invention is not crystal clear. A story I wrote about the genesis of the design for the chandeliers of the Metropolitan Opera: an accident suspended like a drop of paint above a page.
April 11, 2016
Strand Bookstore Event
DISCOVERING DESIGN: Taking & Making – Creativity and the Design Process
May 17: 7:00PM – 8:15PM
This panel of takers and makers will walk the audience through the process of being a creative: what it means for each of them, and how those measures and mechanisms can be applied for those of us willing to learn.
- Steve Heller (2nd from left) (author of the forthcoming Graphic Design Idea Book and many others, co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author Department, Special Consultant to the President of SVA for New Programs, and Visuals columnist for the New York Times Book Review)
- Peter Ahlberg (left) (author of the forthcoming Please Make This Look Nice, principal designer at AHL&CO, and professor of graphic design at SVA)
- Kyna Leski (right) (Professor of Architecture at RISD, founding principal of 3six0 Architecture, artist, actor, and author of The Storm of Creativity)
The conversation will be moderated by Debbie Millman, (second from right) President Emeritus of AIGA, author, and host of Design Matters, an award-winning program of interviews with eminent designers.
February 24, 2016
Review in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Janine Utell, Professor of English at Widener University in Pennsylvania, writes in a ProfHacker post at The Chronicle:
“Using The Storm of Creativity as a tool for meditation, for mind-opening, rather than as an instruction manual for creativity, I was able to pause and think differently about my own work.”
February 4, 2016
Reviews from the UK
Three reviews of The Storm of Creativity from the UK:
Leonardo Journal Online, Review by Rob Harle: “This book is a refreshing, and I believe, unique approach to understanding creativity. Leski refers to creativity in its broadest scope – architects, poets, dancers, scientists, engineers, chefs – anyone who brings to fruition an original creation that did not exist prior to their efforts.” February 1, 2016
Times Higher Education, Review by Flora Samuel: “an architect’s thought-provoking examination of the design process” January 28, 2016
The Enlightened Economist, Review by Diane Coyle: “Thinking outside the ???” January 5, 2016