Since studying together at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design (GSD), Ryan Bollom and DK Osseo-Asare, cofounders of Low Design Office (LOWDO), have forged an unconventional practice guided by the question “What does it mean to make good design accessible to everyday people?”
Their time in Harvard’s heady intellectual environment helped them develop a confident architectural stance. “We took the position that the only way to be radical was to build,” said Osseo-Asare, who now lives in State College, Pennsylvania, and teaches at Pennsylvania State University. “Even if ideas can be radical and transformative, we felt like if you really wanted to fight for just and equitable spaces, you had to realize them in the physical world.”
After graduate school, that philosophy took them in different directions. Bollom’s path led him to Hawaii, where he waited tables while designing local homes, and Osseo-Asare moved to Ghana on a Fulbright Scholarship, which led to his becoming involved with plans for Anam, a new city in Nigeria. “Since the GSD, we’ve never been in the same location for an extended period,” Bollom said. Despite the distance, the duo kept collaborating, and now, over a decade later, they have a portfolio of work spanning two continents and a variety of typologies, from small-scale installation to urban plan.
In Texas, where Bollom now lives, LOWDO has completed a handful of houses carefully attuned to local climates. The Dakota Mountain home in the sunny Texas Hill Country is shaded by a canopylike roof that also collects rainwater, and a house along the Guadalupe River is elevated to accommodate 100-year floods. The firm’s work in Nigeria and Ghana uses the same sensitivity to context but to different ends. A collaboration with the Agbogbloshie Makerspace Platform collective led to a pavilion where people working in the Agbogbloshie scrapyard in Accra, Ghana, can access tools and equipment for small-scale projects. The structure’s open-source design is meant to be, and has been, adapted to new contexts by other parties. Other projects include bamboo robot prototypes, a study of West African kiosk culture, and a country home in upstate New York.
What ties this work together is Osseo-Asare’s understatedly optimistic assertion that “we can advance opportunities for design to make the world less stressful for people living together on Earth.”