APRIL 28, 2015
Samantha Wittchen, or Sam as she is called, is, among many things, a designer, a mechanical engineer, and a professional harpist. Sam first came to DM+D back in 2013 through Alex Gilliam, the director of Public Workshop.
While working on a project for GRID Magazine, Sam had interviewed Alex, who told her about a new place opening up called the Department of Making + Doing. When Sam went to DM+D’s open house, it turns out that she had been waiting for a space like it to open up. That summer, Sam got more involved with Public Workshop and began helping to build an adventure playground as part of GreenBuild’s Legacy Project. Sam primarily works with Public Workshop’s Building Heroes on various building projects around the city. When she is not building or designing, she can be found teaching harp at the University of Pennsylvania, teaching an Intro to Sewing class at DM+D or just hanging out around the space working on crazy collaborations with eggbots, harps and openFrameworks.
5 QUESTIONS FOR SAMANTHA WITTCHEN
1. WHAT ARE YOU WORKING ON NOW?
Max and I have been working on Sammy’s Jammy for Philly Tech Week’s Signature event. We’re trying to hook up the harp to electronics so that the music coming from the harp syncs with the visualizations produced in the computer. I’ve also been working on designing a letter organizer for the Building Heroes Etsy shop and a sleeve for my harp students.
2. HOW DOES YOUR TIME AT DM+D INSPIRE YOU?
I would say the people there inspire me. It’s cool to be surrounded by others who are interested in working on their own projects. The DM+D community is always so positive about what they’re doing, and I haven’t had that since music school. Everybody at the DM+D inspires me, especially Max because he has the intellectual curiosity and the time to do it. Every time I talk to him, he’s like “Hey check out this new thing that I did.” Alex Gilliam is also a champion to everybody here on what they want to do.
I went to school for a mechanical engineering degree, but I do design work professionally as well. DM+D allows me to have those two things link together. I knew when I came out of school that I didn’t want to sit in a cubicle and design parts. The nice part about coming to DM+D and working through the Building Heroes is that it enables me to use mechanical engineering and design together.
Not only that, being surrounded by other people who are tinkering, trying things out and not knowing what the outcomes are really helped me. I’m a planner – I like to see how things are going to end, but here things are more fluid. People start projects not knowing what the end product will be, and that helped me to be more comfortable with uncertainty, which is good for my personal growth.
3. WHAT’S ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS YOU REMEMBER MAKING ON YOUR OWN?
I was really into Ghostbusters when I was a kid, and I remember asking my mom to buy me one of those PKE meters —Psycho Kenetic Energy, for those of you who are wondering— that they have to measure paranormal activity. But Mom said ‘No more toys’, so I made my own PKE meter out of cardboard and I would go around the house and measure the paranormal activities of various things. I used to also make swords a lot and I remember how my mom would help me make it.
4. WHICH MAKERS HAVE HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU?
I would say that the people who has the most influence on me are the people that I work with on a daily basis. For example, the Building Heroes. I was impressed by Coby Unger because he would have clever ideas to solve everyday problems and he would go and do it. Usually, not everyone can follow through with their ideas. But when Coby has a problem he wants to solve, he goes and work on it.
Other than that, my grandmother taught me how to sew when I was little. She was constantly making things that solved problems instead of buying it. One of the first things I made with her was a pair of shorts. Nylon soccer shorts were popular in middle school at the time, so we decided to make a similar pair instead of buying it. Overall, those people that have that DIY, ‘I’m gonna solve problems by myself’ attitude have the most influence on me.
5. WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS?
There are two parts I like. One is brainstorming and the other is that stage where, after you go through the sucky part of brainstorming and you come out the other end of that, everything suddenly makes sense. For instance, the other day I was working on designing something for a theater company that I’m a Chair member of, and I was trying to figure out the connections between the two plays of the season. Usually when I do the materials for the season there was a common thread to link them together, but there was no common thread here. I was at that awful stage of not knowing how the two plays were connected, so I let go a little bit and began sketching. Suddenly, something came to me and I figured out the connection between the two plays. When everything becomes clear, it’s almost like the project tells you what’s going to happen.