Renowned Chicago design studio, Thirst, ends 31-year practice. New studio, Span, opens January 1.
Thirst founder Rick Valicenti will begin again outside the current office with a network of local and global collaborators, while his former partners, John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker, create a new design practice Span.
CHICAGO (December 30, 2019) – Chicago-based design firm Thirst is announcing it is closing on December 31, 2019. Thirst is a communication practice providing design and immersive environments for high-profile clients in the architectural, performing arts and education communities.
Effective January 1, 2020, Valicenti, recipient of the 2011 White House Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt, National Design Award for Communication Design, will evolve his practice as a new consultancy under the name Rick Valicenti, to engage in more challenging collaborative opportunities and widen his creative output by producing and directing more independent projects.
Also effective January 1, 2020, John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker, trusted partners and collaborators, will continue the energy of Thirst as co-founders and design directors of a new studio called Span. They will be advancing their well-honed approach to design, typography, and technology within the same Thirst location with most of the same creative team. The two partners confirmed that their current client relationships will continue with the transition to Span.
The decision by the three partners was in the name of each evolving their design focus forward. “As a design practice, Thirst has fulfilled its ultimate goals, and by stopping work under the moniker Thirst, its moment in time can be captured… a recognition of lightning in a jar,” said Valicenti. “New opportunities exist for each of us that could not exist under the business model of Thirst.”
Pobojewski and Rodecker commented, “The Span business model will be familiar to clients and fans of Thirst … we will be leading projects that continue to have a focus on design, the pursuit of big ideas and projects that are experimental in nature. We’re looking forward to building a new reputation for our team that reflects the incredible talent in this studio. We’re excited to take this great collection of some of Chicago’s best emerging designers to create the work of tomorrow.”
Thirst will mark this significant moment by archiving its 30-year legacy of award-winning work at prestigious, national arts and research institutions. Among them, The Newberry Library (Chicago); The Ryerson and Burnham Libraries, The Art Institute of Chicago (Chicago); The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Library (New York City); The Herb Lubalin Study Center, The Cooper Union (New York City); and Letterform Archive (San Francisco). Valicenti notes, “The curators of these archives recognize the importance of Thirst in the history of graphic design … a studio that traversed the analog to the digital. Thirst has been an integral part of the international design discourse—contributing work on five continents.”
Rick Valicenti founded Thirst in 1988 to better define the essence of what was emerging as a forward-leaning design practice called R. Valicenti Design. As Thirst, Valicenti, along with over 100 collaborators, served highly visible clientele in the design, civic, and cultural communities. Valicenti invited Pobojewski and Rodecker to the firm in 2004 and 2008, respectively. While at Thirst, Pobojewski and Rodecker designed visible projects in collaboration with Valicenti for clients including Studio Gang, IIT College of Architecture, SOM and the Chicago Symphony. Over the years, Thirst received virtually every international design award recognition, and Valicenti accepted the AIGA Medal (2006) and the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award (2011).
Valicenti will have a presence in the Span studio through 2020, and the three former partners see the potential for future collaborations. After 39 years of practice inside a studio setting, Valicenti said, “I am looking forward to maximizing my creative independence towards the more challenging projects and curiosities ideally suited to my approach and vision.” Valicenti plans to make a more dramatic announcement defining the scope of his new practice on April 1, 2020, a date that marks the 40-year anniversary of opening his first design firm.
About Thirst/Rick Valicenti
Rick Valicenti was most recently former founder and design director of Thirst, a communication design practice providing design and immersive environments for high-profile clients in the architectural, performing arts and education communities. His work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and resides in permanent collections of the Newberry Library, Columbia University Rare Books Library, Denver Art Museum and the Art Institute of Chicago, and has been published in The New York Times along with a mid-career Monacelli Press monograph. The White House honored Valicenti in 2011 with the Smithsonian Cooper Hewitt National Design Award for Communication Design. In 2006, he received the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Medal, the highest honor of the graphic design profession, for his sustained contribution to design excellence and the development of the profession. Valicenti is a former president of the STA (The Society of Typographic Arts) and is a member of the AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale) since being invited to join in 1996. In 2004, he was recognized as a Fellow of the AIGA Chicago. From 2011 through 2015, Valicenti served on the Art Institute of Chicago Architecture and Design Society under curator Zoe Ryan. In 2014, Valicenti curated CHGO DSGN for DCASE at the Chicago Cultural Center, the first exhibition of recent graphic and object design. For the past two years, Valicenti has been an adjunct professor at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. In 2017, he was appointed Artist-in-Residence at Loyola University of Chicago. Annually, he conducts design initiative thesis critiques at the Rhode Island Institute of Design, Bowling Green State University, and in previous years, Cranbrook Academy, California Institute of the Arts, University of Illinois/Urbana-Champaign, Northern Illinois University; in addition, he led a two-year Moving Design initiative at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology on the lack of fresh air, Deep Breath in 2014-2015. Valicenti has publicly presented his work through lectures, workshops and critiques on the design industry to more than 100 professional and college audiences on five continents including the Chicago Humanities Festival.
Span is a studio crossing the boundaries of communication design in all mediums. Its practice is focused on challenging expectations with wit, logic, and a playful spirit. Span believes in the bold pursuit of exploration, thinking beyond expectations through imagination and visual experimentation. Blending typographic discipline with fearless expression, their mission is to elevate the role of the visual message in both culture and community. Span takes the long view—in every gesture and every project. Co-founders John Pobojewski and Bud Rodecker have 25 years’ shared experience at Thirst shaping brand strategy and award-winning design for high-profile clients in the design, cultural, and civic communities. Pobojewski focuses on intermedia and the blending of brand, interactive, sound motion and environments. Rodecker, an adjunct professor at DePaul University, explores the space between logical constraints and formal play, balancing form with meaning. He is interested in systems and processes with the potential to create design. The Span co-founders are joined by a team of uniquely talented designers, photographers, 3D animators, illustrators, programmers, musicians, typographers, and educators. In addition to client projects, Span prioritizes the cultivation of new ideas through self-initiated, conceptual work that bridges different ways of thinking and challenges expectations about the role of design.
Stanley offered us so much more than we offered him. His countless stories always entertained us. His challenge to stay "restless" always inspired us. His infamously sharp tongue always challenged us. We are grateful to have shared his gift of time and creative energy. Chicago will simply never be the same.
Photo shown is a portrait of Stanley Tigerman by renown Chicago artist Roger Brown, taken by Rick Valicenti during his last visit with Stanley.
Macbeth and Thirst’s John Pobojewski were recently featured in reviews by both the Chicago Tribune and See Chicago Dance for Chicago Repertory Ballet’s production. Both reviews were positive, calling the ballet "infused with heart, curiosity and fearless ambition" and "freakin’ great"! See Chicago Dance’s Joanna Furnans described Thirst’s digital projections as providing "the essential macabre tension in the work..." and "excellent... effectively relentless." Check out more in the reviews! Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Thirst’s John Pobojewski and our digital projections for the Chicago Repertory Ballet’s Macbeth were featured in Communication Arts. The ballet was recently on stage last weekend at Chicago’s Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview. Check out the article to learn a little bit more about the thinking behind the piece!
For the first time ever, Newcity's Design 50 list includes a Hall of Fame — "the cornerstones of the Chicago design scene who’ve already made this list year in and year out, and without whom it could not stand." We are excited to announce that our Rick Valicenti is honored and with good company.
Chicago Repertory Ballet's original production of Macbeth returns to Chicago at the Athenaeum Theatre beginning March 29th! Thirst's John Pobojewski will be adapting the digital projections from the 2016 production for a new stage and a new era. See our work that the Chicago Tribune called "especially potent". The Athenaeum Theatre March 29 & 30 at 7:30pm | March 31 at 2:00pm Get Tickets
Congratulations to Bud Rodecker for being recognized by his alma mater for his achievements in design. Each year the School of Fine Arts at the University of Minnesota Duluth honors accomplished alumni and friends with the Society of Prometheans award.
In Greek mythology, Prometheus was a Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humankind to promote innovation and creativity. The Society of Prometheans award honors alumni and friends who have demonstrated the passion, commitment, and talent to achieve excellence in their art and profession, and benefactors who have enabled the School of Fine Arts to achieve new levels of excellence in programs
We are pleased to announce Satoru Nihei as our 2018 Artist in Residence.
Through the 3st Artist in Residence (AiR) program, we create four quarterly projects in collaboration with an emerging Chicago artist/designer. We place great value in the works of the artists in our community who delight our imaginations and open our minds. During the year we indulge ourselves with the creative stretch that these collaborations bring to our studio.
The word “modern,” according to Webster’s means “of, related to, or characteristic of the present or immediate past.” And yet the modern architecture and design for which Columbus, Indiana is justly famous, was inaugurated by Eliel Saarinen at the First Christian Church in 1942! (Visitors will know the building from its gridded façade and 166 foot, geometric tower.) Other modern buildings in Columbus include the glass-framed Irwin Union Bank (now Irwin Conference Center) by Eero Saarinen (64 years old), and the red brick and concrete Cleo Roger Memorial Library by I.M. Pei (49 years old). The designer Paul Rand’s iconic, dancing C’s logo for the Columbus Visitor’s Center from 1974 just turned 44!
Are these buildings and designs still modern, or should they be called old, or middle-aged?
Modern architecture began in Europe during the first decades of the 20th Century. It was called modern because it served new needs, was up-to-date in engineering, and didn’t resemble anything that came before. This was intended to be a style-less architecture that responded only to purpose or need. Some of the key names associated with it are the Swiss Le Corbusier and the Germans Walter Gropius and Mies van der Rohe. The latter’s famous catchphrase “less is more” (actually first used by Mies’ teacher, Peter Behrens) summarizes the belief of the modernists that the best architect is the one who designs least, and who permits function to dictate form.
In the United States, modern architecture and design wasn’t fully embraced until after the second world war, when a new, national confidence permitted a broad jettisoning of historical forms and traditions. From 1945 to 1973, the U.S. economy grew at a rate of about 4% per year, and economic gains were spread across all income levels, but especially to the lower and middle classes. During that generation, modern architecture in America came of age. Here is how one designer in 1946, who specialized in single-family homes, defined the new approach to building: “The plan…should be determined by need; the plan should [also] determine the exterior…which in turn should express the plan for all to see; aesthetic effects should be obtained by direct, efficient, and economical use of modern, technologically advanced, construction methods and materials. Order, fitness and simplicity should govern all phases of the work. (J. R. Davidson, Arts and Architecture, July 1946).
In practice, this litany meant that buildings – especially office buildings but also many homes – would be made of glass, steel and aluminum, materials newly available in great abundance due to the ramp-up of industrial capacity during World War II. In addition, it ensured that the structure of the building, including its gridded core of steel members, and its plan, would be visible from the outside through curtains of glass. That’s especially apparent in the Irwin Union Bank Building by Saarinen. And in the domain of graphic design, modern principles required restraint and concision, while still maintaining animation and eye appeal. Paul Rand’s design for the Columbus Visitors Center consisted of nothing but the letter C, in many colors, sizes and rotations. It was modern because it’s efficient, simple and direct. Once seen however, it is unforgettable, even though you can’t ever quite fix those dancing C’s in your mind! That why Thirst recently decided to make it the basis for lots of other Columbus area design, including street signs, transport infrastructure, architectural markers, flags, logos and other branding.
So, if Columbus started to become modern in the 1940s with the First Christian Church, remained modern in the 1950s and 1960s with Eero Saarinen’s Bank and Pei’s Library, and received a modern boost with Rand’s dancing C’s in the 70s; and if the city is still being modern today with Thirst’s reuse and reimagining of Rand’s original logo, what does modern even mean? Can you be both traditional and modern, old and new at the same time?
The answer is yes, provided that the values that underlie the first modern buildings and designs – openness, directness, and fitness to purpose – continue to be embraced and even expanded in the present. Openness for example, means more than simply exposing the plan of the building. It means being cosmopolitan, democratic, and welcoming to all. Directness means revealing the purpose of a building or a design without any subterfuge, so that it can be judged by the community as a whole. Fitness to purpose doesn’t mean ruthless efficiency. It means meeting the needs of users and not wasting limited resources (human and natural) on superfluities that are of benefit only to a few. If the people of Columbus, and its future architects and designers embrace those values, they will pay homage to the great modern architecture of their past -- and they will still themselves be modern.
Written by Stephen Wiseman, Professor of Art History at Northwestern and co-founder of the environmental non-profit, Anthropocene Alliance.
Thirst's Bud Rodecker, Rick Valicenti, and John Pobojewski(L to R) are honored to be part of Newcity’s Design50 — Chicago's annual survey of design leaders who shape our city. We are thrilled to share this year's list with all fifty luminaries, especially our collaborators Jeanne Gang, Iker Gil, Matthew Hoffman, Tim Parsons & Jessica Charlesworth, John Ronan, Alberto Vélez, and Tanner Woodford.