Bojána Bányász and Donatella Cusmá are practicing architects who are contributing to the human-made environment as much by drawing and building as by photographing, stitching, teaching, cooking and curating. They collaborate in the firm, Claret-Cup and are licensed to provide architectural services in California and in Italy.
Although from different corners of Europe, our paths crossed in Los Angeles, a city that we both fell in love with at different times for different reasons. Our collaboration in Claret-Cup is strongly defined by this connection to the city.
What do architects do? is a question that – if asked earnestly – most of us are dying to answer. The cliché of an architect is a multi-talented cameleon: at once a bespectacled nerd in front of a computer, a white-haired professional sketching designs on a paper-napkin, a suit with a hard-hat knit-picking a detail at a construction site, and a wine-glass holding fashionista at a dinner party chatting with celebrities. But an architect, simply put, is someone who cannot help seeing how things could be, and half-way knows how to make those things happen. The other half depends on communication and collaboration.
As architects and project managers on a variety of building projects for neary two decades in Los Angeles, and in collaboration on community-based and teaching projects since 2008, we take on and conceive of projects with a potential to create or affect a physical, experiential environment.
Expanding the bounds of what might be called an architectural practice, we seek zones of experimentation where architecture is personal, emotional and appropriate. Claret-Cup is an attempt at finding opportunities for design by considering alternatives to the usual job description of the architect as simply a procurer of fine edifices.
Sometime in the 1990s, Donatella graduated from hand-painting T-shirts at Sicilian street-fairs to organizing “Shalarte: Containers for Young Artists”, an art-walk before the concept existed in Sicily. She paired shop owners of a neighborhood in Messina with poets, sculptors, fashion designers, painters and musicians for a temporary exhibition involving about young 30 artists. From then on, she was hooked on workshops: creating in collaboration with others while simultaneously learning and teaching about a place, an art form or a specific creative process. During/after her university studies, she began work with the Research Institute for Experimental Architecture (R.I.E.A), an international organization that promotes architectural design through workshops, symposia and printed publications often dealing with areas of conflict and borders. This work has taken her from Sicily to other countries for adventures like exploring cross-border culverts between the United States and Mexico.
As a resident of Los Angeles, she continues to look at architecture through all of her senses. In particular, Donatella has a passion for cooking and entertaining. In her culture the ritual of eating with family and friends constitutes the basis of social interaction. Claret-Cup’s FORK is Donatella’s brainchild. She honed her passion and skill for food-design at Speranza, an architect-owned restaurant, where she occasionally joins the cooks and prepares her favorite dishes for friends and guests of the restaurant.
In a parallel world, Bojána left Hungary and landed in the US on a full scholarship to Claremont College in 1995. Her love of travel has run through her way of experiencing everyday life and creative priorities. She has explored the LA metropolitan area on her motorcycle (1999-2002), her bicycle (2002-2005), on public transportation (2006-2007) in order to see the city unfold at different speeds than originally intended. In collaboration with classmates, she walked the entire lengths of Figueroa, Wilshire and Sunset Boulevards in 2003 and documented the length of 3rd street from East Los Angeles to Beverly Hills in an attempt to capture unique moments created by the changing social landscape. Bojána hitch-hiked across the United States as well as Europe in 1997. In 1998, she also spent 3 months as a photographer in India for the Hindu, the largest-circulation English newspaper in the country.
Now Bojána lives and works as a licensed architect in Los Angeles. She is interested in creating work that enhances the purity of the here and now experience by ensuring total comfort of the person in space and by using techniques that reveal hidden information about a specific location. Her commitment and passion for architecture was fomented during her years with the award-winning Silver Lake design firm, Escher GuneWardena Architecture, where she was Project Architect on a variety of projects from single-family, sustainable homes, through art gallery projects such as Blum & Poe, to the study and restoration of the historic Eames House (Case Study House #8) in collaboration with the Getty Conservation Institute.