Contributor: Michael Caton

Creative Discipline(s): Architecture, Interactive Design, Photography

Geographic Location: New York, New York


Twitter: @insertDRG


Thomas Edison once said, “Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.” This holds true today as it did during the turn of the 20th century. Edison’s contributions to the future of communication and illumination undoubtedly transformed the way we live. An interesting thought would be to forget the fact that Edison even brought to us the incandescent light bulb or the phonograph and focus on his perspiration. Rigor was the true marvel, for this set up the trajectory and momentum within Edison’s body of work. Michael Caton has not yet invented his incandescent light bulb, but hey, perhaps that will come in his mid-twenties. Check out the conversation between organicMobb and Michael Caton:

[ exterior detail, Shams Arena, for: Atelier D'Architecture Andreas Durr ]

organicMobb: Something I would like to start with is understanding where your assertiveness comes from. You are obviously a driven individual; where do you find your inspiration?

[ photo, Dubai, from the series: Constructing Paradise]

M. Caton: I allow everyday life and design to influence my life. The design of things that are both contemporary as well as a bit older begin to overlap and to really influence the different areas that I work within. For example if I’m reading a book as I am now- this one happens to have a lot to do with religion and what I find interesting is that the author raises questions and conflicts that exist within religion itself. For me I ask myself, what would it be like in a different context? I raise questions. A good example would be if I were working on a project that was graphically based. I begin to ask myself questions such as: what if this were a building? ; or perhaps even something else like a website? I keep myself going  by asking  similar questions but in different contexts.

organicMobb: It’s not a specific person or even an area of design that inspires you. It seems that it is at the core of how you interact with people and handle situations-

[ Side Streets, photograph, Dharavi, Bombay, from the series: 1000 Gods]

M.Caton:  Right, it seems that we are talking about a “thing” but it is like you said; the way I approach things – for me it can be equated to a melting pot. What ever happens throughout my day, and especially something like what you are doing with organicMobb and a lot of other things that are going on for me, I allow them to boil down and effect the other areas of my life and inspire me. I like traveling and reading as well as coming across things that friends are doing. I really love that these experiences and encounters can begin to bleed into each other. I guess it’s my life style that begins to create my inspiration.

organicMobb: You’ve been out of school for a bit now and have seen the working world. An international working world at that. How has this began to augment your idea of architecture?

M.Caton:  [ laughs ]

organicMobb: It’s a huge question- I know!

[ interior rendering, Shams Arena, for: Atelier D'Architecture Andreas Durr ]

M.Caton: Going through school you are continuously asked what is architecture? I feel as you go beyond the academic experience and begin to work, and travel in my case, the definition of architecture is continuously expanding. You become much more aware of the influences on architecture. Architecture is essentially space and the experience. That is of course incredibly open-ended and to say architecture; space and the experience, which can be in the form of an installation, which can be in the form of a room,  or can be in the form of a bridge;  can take on many different forms- and that is what is really beautiful about architecture.

Now to add onto that and the question of what is architecture with space and experience.  Architecture, after my traveling experiences, is incredibly local. This question is particularly important in a contemporary context with architectural practice being so global. You can sit at a desk in Ohio or San Francisco that will ultimately affect people in Indonesia or Tokyo. This is how architecture is being practiced right now, however the reality of it is once you are traveling and you have your foot down in a place, you realize the local context and the way that people live. You begin to see their daily rituals and routines, their cultural habits and the way in which these elements shape the architecture and experiences created.

One example was when I had first moved to Dubai after graduating in 2008. I had started working on the concept design of a tower. Now here I am coming from New York and I wanted to design this big, open, fluid apartment tower. The architects that I  reported to were consistently making changes to the overall ideas I had and at the onset they weren’t explaining to me why. They would simply say, ‘no you can’t do that.’ And in turn  I would ask ‘why?’ Finally after two or three times of making seemingly the same mistake, they would then say, ‘ No you can’t do that because of ‘x’, ‘y’ and ‘z’ cultural reasons… and our culture here can not be exposed in this way.”  It was then that I began to realize that the cultural dimension completely changes the way that I as an architect shape space and experience.

[ massing concepts, Dubai, Architect not disclosed ]

organicMobb: Where do you position your work with insert ‘d-r-a-g’ [ insertDRG ]?

M.Caton: I never thought anyone would interpret that in that way. I’m referring to the literal word you just used, ‘drag’. It’s quite interesting-

organicMobb: I suppose I was trying to sound out the letters, not really thinking about the acronym DRG meaning: Design Research Group. The ‘D’ the ‘R’ and the ‘G’ are placed in a way that I always sounded them out. [ laughs ]

M.Caton: No, it’s fine- I just find it interesting especially with the question that you just asked me about where I position myself and you then bring up the term ‘drag’. I suppose that is the biggest risk. I do operate in many different areas, I mean not that different but primarily over the last couple of years I’ve been really focused on architecture; that is space and experience, interactive design and photography. These are the main things that I do. Also I dj, but that is much more of a hobby.

Now the big danger in this is wearing yourself too thin or moving in too many directions simultaneously where you are not really moving anywhere. When you said ‘drag’, it makes me think that I may want to be moving in ‘x’ direction but there are too many things happening in ‘y’ direction and there begins to be too much ‘drag’ and therefore it produces an inability to move forward. So that is the danger, however it is a conscious goal for me to be an interdisciplinary designer because that is what makes me tick: a melting pot of experiences caused by being very observant. This idea is key to how I work as a creative individual.

organicMobb: I see too many overlaps within your work for you to not have this approach; do you see insertDRG as a short term project or a longterm endeavor and can your interests ever coalesce into a single project?

M.Caton: Absolutely – It is a long term goal of mine to integrate all aspects of my work and to find ways in which, firstly to make a living doing this [ laughs ] but at the same time allowing who ever I am working with to see the value in this overlap. It is important to be able to convince a potential client in terms of what I do with architecture, interactive design and photography that these elements together can take the project to a whole new level. An example that we see today is the mountain housing project by BIG [ Bjarke Ingels Group ] where, aside from being architecturally interesting- the collaboration with a photographer to produce a massive three – story tall  image of a mountain begins to add another dimension to the project.

[ spore gamma tank, interactive animation ]

[ mountain dwellings, BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) ]

organicMobb: All of what you just spoke about affects space. I would argue that it is all architecture-

M.Caton: Absolutely. I mean what is really interesting is the question itself; What is architecture?; particularly in this day and age. We can begin to think of architecture in the classical sense, that is columns and beams with literal space- but we are living through a time of such technological innovation where there are new conditions. Conditions in fact that didn’t even exist however many years ago. Take this conversation for instance [ conducted via Skype ] . I am talking about things that were literally not possible a short time ago. And in turn there are new roles born. Take for instance the Interactive Designer- that as a profession did not exist ‘x’ number of years ago. These innovations that are taking place expand the role of the architect. The group of disciplines that produce space and experience has grown. In turn the [ architectural ] profession or any group in flux for that matter must then react. This then gets into the invention of the internet and the way in which we live our lives- that is perhaps the largest example. Any catalyst in the system is going to cause some degree of feedback. So I suppose it is with that mentality that I approach everything.

[ Untitled, photograph, Dharavi, Bombay, from the series: 1000 Gods]

organicMobb: I wanted to thank you for this interview, this conversation has been inspiring-

M.Caton: I am equally as inspired with your initiative with organicMobb, it’s a two-way street.

organicMobb: Thanks Michael

For more of Michael Caton’s work visit


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