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Dru McKeown

Dru McKeown is an architect by day, but his experimental work, often seen in pockets of Cleveland and specifically in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood, showcase his meticulous practice with his sense of play and experimentation. He is self-described as an “architect who lives, works, eats and makes stuff in Cleveland - playing with the built environment since 2000.” One only has to look at the life-sized pink “Bonoceros” on Detroit Avenue to begin the intrigue into the work of McKeown.

“[The Binoceros] was a cool project. I actually wanted to do a Giraffe, but we would’ve had to knock out the second floor window for the head. So I was sitting with Adam Rosekelly, who was the architect for the building, and we were thinking ‘what are we gonna put on this thing?’ We had all these weird patterns, so we were looking for something ridiculously incongruous with the neighborhood. At the same time we were thinking about all these children’s books where there is somebody in the wild and then it ends up that they’re really at the kitchen table. It’s like stepping out of your own world and into your pretend world… So if you are really honest with it, you see that [the rhino] is something that really doesn’t make any sense, and we’re doing it because we’re asking ‘why are constrained by making sense of this.’”

The Binoceros got some great attention, and like much of Dru’s work, was informed by his own Cleveland residence. He is driven by the archeological of the “now.” As we know with our work on From Rustbelt to Artist Belt and Creative Compass, Cleveland neighborhoods are often trying to get to the root of some very serious issues, much of which was caused by urban flight some 50 years ago. But Dru makes a great point, that “if I told you that you could get a 3 bedroom house that’s 5 minutes from the highway, 5 minutes the museums, 5 minutes from downtown, from the zoo, there’s 3 universities, 3 hospitals, and you can get it for $20,000, you’d say it doesn’t exist! But it does and there’s actually a strong community there.”

So naturally, as a designer, Dru’s work is driven by problem solving. While it can sometimes feel overwhelming with such large issues, Dru focuses solving little digestible problems that he knows are pretty easy to solve, which helps get started in solving the larger questions. His idea to help slow the drainage of the overflow to the lake is a great example. He created a design to slow and absorb the water flowing into the sewer systems using soil. The use of the material may provide yet another community opportunity as he tests the soil for the possibility of growing edible plants, and building a community garden.

This way of thinking may come in part from years of upbringing by his father, a carpenter. “I think I picked up his love for meticulous order.” After his father passed away, he was going through his paperwork and sketches. Dru found that he spent more time making contraptions to see how things fit together than he did actually making the finished product. “I know I picked up that aspect. When I was beginning architecture school, I would make these jigs and make sure they were perfectly aligned before I glued them. You have to have an efficiency and ability to measure in carpentry,” a trait that seems to have translated well into Dru’s work.

As a former teacher at Kent State University, Dru noted that often when teaching design, there is a fear of failure among students. But he was always quick to reinforce the real lesson that the only way you learn anything is almost through failing and then understanding what was the cause of the undesired result. A student may have solved the problem, but he would rarely ask questions to find ways that would resolve the problem completely or address other matters along the way.

McKeown founded TOIstudio design collaborative in 2002 with the goal of attempting to create a multi-disciplinary dialogue between designers who were interested in sharing knowledge and expertise as well as a provide a safe haven in which to have animated disagreements. Today TOIstudio operates as an Architecture, Design Research and Fabrication studio as well as an artistic outlet and playground for the development of ideas and techniques, free from the corporate restraints of making any semblance of profit and has grown into a network of strong friendships between artists scattered across the country.

Learn more about Dru McKeown and TOIstudio at