Design Fugitives Has Seen The Light


Story: Urban Milwaukee | Eyes on Milwaukee


Hidden in Walker’s Point, Design Fugitives is cooking up large-scale art installations at the intersection of architecture, technology and design. Led by by the trio of Paul Mattek, Justin White and Tuan Tran, the firm’s website proudly boasts “ordinary is unacceptable,” and the company’s approach is certainly unique.


The three partners all earned master degrees in architecture from the UW-Milwaukee and graduated during the Great Recession when traditional architecture jobs were essentially unavailable. That led them, and four other recent graduates, to start what Mattek jokingly describes as phase one of Design Fugitives, where seven un- or under-employed recent graduates began to explore the intersection of product design and architecture.


In 2012, as some of the original partners “left for greener pastures” the firm began to focus on large hanging or sculptural work. Today Design Fugitives employs seven full-time employees, including the partners, and three part-time employees. Mattek, who leads the firm’s business development efforts, told Urban Milwaukee during an interview that “everything Design Fugitives does is sculpting light in some way.”


The notion of sculpting light is perhaps most easily understood by the firm’s most visible work to-date, a massive installation in the four-story lobby of the 833 East office tower. Commissioned by Irgens, the hanging installation is made of 300 copper tubes that are internally lit with LED strips. The tubes intersect at countless angles, creating a large sculpture that is calming to passersby and yet overwhelming to study in detail. The building’s all-glass facade and location at the base of the T-shaped intersection of E. Michigan St. and N. Cass St. combine to make the sculpture clearly visible from a block away on Milwaukee’s main street E. Wisconsin Ave.


While Mattek gives me a tour of the firm’s 8,500 square-foot space at 160 S. 2nd St., I’m struck by how much it feels like touring three businesses at once, a tech startup, a machine shop and an art studio. The setup immediately lets you sense what makes Design Fugitives unique; as Mattek says, “people get it when they come here and see what we do.”


To read the full article, visit Urban Milwaukee.