Visual Culture

11 of the World’s Most Inspiring Design Residencies

Alexandra Alexa
Aug 3, 2017 12:00PM

Design moves forward through conversation, and residency programs tailored to design and craft-based disciplines play an instrumental role in nurturing that dialogue.

Not only do these programs give participants the luxury of time and space to work away from their day-to-day lives, they also bring together creatives working in various disciplines from all over the world, creating an environment where each individual is pushed to expand their own practice in a relatively short amount of time.

For those working in design, especially, having access to large studios and uncommon material processes offers a rare opportunity to refine their skills or even pursue new ones. Below, we gathered 11 leading residency programs that put design center stage.


Lessac, France

Techstyle-Haus in the Architectural Park at Boisbuchet. Photo by Julia Hasse, courtesy of Boisbuchet.  


Located on a 15th-century estate in the southwest of France, Domaine de Boisbuchet is an “architectural park” that has been hosting design-themed workshops for the past 25 years. Founded by Alexander von Vegesack (who also was the founding director at the Vitra Design Museum in Germany), the program has always focused on the creative process, rather than finished products.

Each summer, renowned designers, architects and artists (including Shigeru Ban, Max Lamb, Konstantin Grcic, Jaime Hayon, and the Campana brothers, just to name a few) flock to Boisbuchet to lead short, experimental workshops on the grounds and centered around the year’s loosely defined, overarching theme (this year’s theme, for example, is “Grow the Future Now”).

Brazilian artist Renato Hofer, who attended a workshop in 2016, describes Boisbuchet as a “kind of sci-fi” experience. “In a way we are quite isolated geographically, it’s a kind of design wonderland,” Hofer explains. He adds that the communal, democratic nature of the facilities makes for fruitful exchanges among residents, and fosters the development of new ideas.

Architecture Omi Residency Program

Ghent, New York

Courtesy of the Architecture Omi Residency.

Launched earlier this year, the Architecture Omi Residency at OMI International Arts Center provides 10 architects each year with the opportunity to work on site for two weeks, each developing a project alongside a resident Architecture Critic.

“The mission of the Architecture Residency is twofold: to provide early- and mid-career architects the time and the space to work on a project of their own without external pressures or concerns and to create a diverse community of architecture-educated individuals from all over the world to discuss and challenge urgent issues of our time,” explains program director Warren James. Participants are encouraged to explore the intersection of art, architecture, and landscape and draw on OMI’s Architecture Fields—a 300-acre hybrid parkland that melds the natural landscape with temporary constructions and installations.

Arts/Industry Program, John Michael Kohler Arts Center

Sheboygan, Wisconsin

Washington artist David Franklin in the Kohler Co. Pottery during his 2015 Arts/Industry Residency. Courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center.

In 1974, the John Michael Kohler Arts Center’s experimental Arts/Industry program was born on the campus of Kohler Co. (a leading manufacturer of plumbing and specialty products since 1873), to teach artists about the creative possibilities in industrial materials and processes. Alongside workshops and other programming, the primary component of Arts/Industry is a year-round residency in the industrial pottery and foundry areas of Kohler Co., where artists work side by side with factory associates.

“The specialized knowledge that the associates have is incredible. Receiving their technical advice, getting to know them and their work, was a big part of my time there,” notes artist Susie Ganch, who completed the program in 2016. “It was incredible to have the opportunity to see Kohler’s products being manufactured at every stage from beginning to end, I changed directions midway through my residency in order to explore what was being made there.

“Every day I walked around the pottery collecting greenware (still wet) pieces that weren’t going to make it to the next phase of production,” Ganch continues. “In my current studio practice I focus on trash and am interested in the life-cycle of the materials I use to make my work. Tying this idea to my time at Kohler was vital.”

MAK Schindler Residency

Los Angeles, California

Mackey Apartments, courtesy of MAK Schindler Residency.

If you’ve ever wanted to understand modernist architecture better by living in it, this residency may very well be for you. The L.A.-based Mackey Apartments, designed by Austrian architect Rudolph Schindler in 1939, are opened up to two artists and one architect for six-month long residencies twice each year. Participants are invited to draw inspiration from their new inhabitation—which is flooded with natural light, incorporates space-saving built-in furniture, has variable ceiling heights, and a series of private outdoor gardens and playful mini-balconies—as well as the surrounding urban environment of Los Angeles.

Artist duo Alvaro Urbano and Petrit Halilaj found ways of bridging their existing interests with the particularities of the residency. “We both are very attached to nature and its intersections, dialogues and negotiations with urban life,” Urbano and Halilaj say. While living in Los Angeles, the pair were taken by the city’s wildlife—opossums, skunks and raccoons. “During a residency you can observe, try to understand and adapt yourself into a new context, without abandoning your interests,” they add. “We created detailed raccoon costumes and performed a story of two raccoons coming from the city and sneaking inside the house through the garden. It ended up being a perfect way to make a portrait of the Schindler house and reflect on our mutual interests also around animality, fiction, and architecture.”

Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts

Newcastle, Maine

Image courtesy of Watershed Center for the Ceramic Arts.

Watershed offers many types of immersive residency options during the fall and summer, ranging from one- to four-week stays in their “open-concept” ceramic studio. Often, these sessions are organized by artists who propose a theme related to clay and recruit other artists to join based on their interest in the topic. This fosters an environment based on experimentation and collaboration, as Summer Zickefoose found when she first participated in the program in 2011.

Inspired by this experience, Zickefoose got together with fellow residents and established the Brick Factory, a ceramics and performance collective, who worked on several projects together in the years after and returned to Watershed this summer to develop their latest work. “The founding members of the collaborative and I live in different places and this was an opportunity to make work together again and meet other artists, writers and curators who shared interest in collaborative works, performance and social practice with ceramics,” says Zickefoose. “The structure, community environment and location of the Watershed residency provides the perfect framework to support this kind of work.”

Arts Letters & Numbers

Averill Park, New York

Courtesy of Arts Letters & Numbers.

With its headquarters in an old textile storehouse—referred to lovingly as “the Mill”—that was in operation from 1829 to 1966, Arts Letters & Numbers was founded in 2011. The first floor of the Mill contains an expansive shop with various tools for working metal and wood, while the second floor is an open area that is meant to be shaped according to the needs of each resident. The adjacent Barn building has housed painting installations, poetry readings, an opera, lectures, and many community dinners, reflecting the residency program’s premise as a place for open conversation.

Arts Letters & Numbers emerged out of a desire to “bring into proximity and interaction a great diversity of ways of knowing, and create an atmosphere where radically different ways of knowing are actually in conversation with each other is crucial,” explains founding director David Gersten. “This allows space for both our individual imaginations and constructing connective tissues between us—that is where the project of Arts Letters & Numbers begins.”

Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts

Helena, Montana

Michelle Summers, long term resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation. Courtesy of the Archie Bray Foundation.

Nestled in the mountains and beside a historic brick factory, the Bray brings together a diverse community of artists each year, sharing in common their dedication to the ceramic arts. Founded in 1951 by brickmaker Archie Bray, the foundation has seen more than 600 artists graduate from its residency program, which offers both short- and long-term (up to two years) residencies.

While each artist comes to the program with a different set of skills and goals in mind, the emphasis of the residency is to learn by doing, and from one another. Each group of residents is carefully selected to represent a wide range of experience levels, so that a college student with a basic understanding of clay processes might have the opportunity to rub elbows with a seasoned ceramicist in the studio.


Brooklyn, New York

Among several opportunities available at UrbanGlass, the Visiting Artist Fellowship Program, started in the 1980s and including notable alumni such as Tauba Auerbach, is a unique opportunity open to artists working in any medium to expand their practice and create a body of work in glass—even if it’s their first time working with the material.

In 2014, Shari Mendelson, who usually works with plastics, created a series of vessels inspired by Greek and Roman art. “I have admired and been inspired by ancient glass for many years but before this residency I had never worked with glass,” she explains. “Everything about working with glass is the opposite of how I usually approach my studio practice.” The medium led her to make quick decisions, embrace spontaneity, and work alongside and in collaboration with fellow artists.

“One must learn to not become too attached to the piece as it could shatter at any moment,” she adds. “The color, texture, surface quality, and form of these pieces are helping to move my non-glass work in new directions.”

Pilchuck Glass School

Stanwood, Washington

Lodge Precession at Pilchuck Glass School, courtesy of Pilchuck Glass School.

The Pilchuck Glass School was originally conceived as a one-summer-long glassblowing workshop founded by glass artist Dale Chihuly and patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauberg. But it ended up growing into a leading center for glass art and design.

Pilchuck’s robust residency program offers multiple avenues for artists and designers to pursue. The Emerging Artist in Residence Program is designed to support artists who are making a transition in their professional lives, whether that means they are just establishing a studio practice or choosing to take up glass as a new medium. Meanwhile, the John H. Hauberg Fellowship focuses on works of a collaborative nature, by providing support for groups of up to six artists to develop a specific project.


Bolzano, Italy

Installation view of works on display at Thun. Courtesy of Thun Ceramics Residency.

Leopold Thun has been around ceramics his entire life. His father, Matteo Thun, was a designer who frequently worked with ceramics, and his uncle Otmar founded Thun Ceramics, a small studio begun in the Alps that became a major distributor of Italian ceramics worldwide. After outsourcing much of the production work to China, Leopold found himself in their Bolzano, Italy studio with plenty of space, unused kilns, and a desire to support emerging ceramic artists looking to hone their craft. The Thun Ceramics Residency emerged.

“Being a young artist, it was really valuable having all of the time and space available to produce work,” says John Henshaw, who participated in the program in 2016. “Living in Bolzano whilst working was ideal. Surprisingly, I found how sensitive I am to my surroundings and I ended up making a lot of works about the architecture of Bolzano.” He created pieces inspired by the buildings he saw while cycling around town. “Like the buildings in Bolzano, I wanted them to stoop and bend like they were swaying in the heat—like the buildings were alive.”

Haystack Mountain School of Crafts

Deer Isle, Maine

A dedication to craft has always been central to Haystack, which was founded as a research and studio program in 1950, with the first classes focused on ceramics, block printing, weaving, and woodworking. In 2013, the Open Studio Residency was inaugurated. The two-week, fully funded residency is held each June for approximately 50 artists to work in any of Haystack’s six specialized studios, dedicated to ceramics, fiber, graphics, iron, metals, and wood.

“More than anything I [appreciated] the re-exposure to craft,” says 2014 resident Harry Allen. “My design education taught me to start with an idea and figure out how it will get made after.…But ‘making’ is more than a style, it is an integral part of the fabric of our society—honest and human and satisfying—and I want to make sure that my work stays grounded in humanity even as it moves into the digital age.”


A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that the John Michael Kohler Arts Center was founded in 1974 on Kohler Co.’s campus, when it was actually established in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, in 1967. The article has been updated to clarify that it was the Arts/Industry residency program that was founded on Kohler Co.’s campus in 1974.

Alexandra Alexa