In late 2020, Jesslyn Guntur started seeing crafts everywhere. People around the world were stuck inside and had discovered or rediscovered the childhood joy of handiwork—from sewing and needlepoint to painting and bread baking. It was an explosion of amateur crafting, shared widely on social media.
Amid that wave of crafts, Guntur noticed a subset that stood out. Architects were sharing designs for objects and artwork that were far more intricate than a simple lanyard. “They were making these things and posting them on Instagram, but a lot of them were not for sale,” she says. “Either they didn’t think they could be sold or that people would be interested in them. But I thought it was incredible work, and there was a lot of opportunity there.”
Guntur, who studied architecture and previously did public relations for architecture firms, contacted a few of the craft-making architects in her network in London and put up a website called Gubns, featuring some of their works for sale. (“Gubns” is British slang for random paraphernalia; “the American equivalent is hodgepodge,” explains Guntur.) “I hit publish without knowing where it would go,” she says. Within a few months, she was getting unsolicited submissions from other architects wanting to have their own crafted objects added to the site.
Now, Gubns has grown into a highly curated network of about 50 objects made by what Guntur calls architect-makers from around the world. Gubns recently had its first physical pop-up shop as part of the London Festival of Architecture.
In contrast to non-designers who may have picked up knitting or other handiwork while enduring lockdowns, the 30 or so people in Guntur’s group are producing objects with a foundation in design training. “These are objects that would be very difficult for a non-architect to try to pursue on their own,” Guntur says.
Objects on offer at Gubns include 3D printed shoes, a vest that can be turned into a tote bag, and a silk cape combined with upcycled bike tubes. Prices range from the low double digits for ceramics to more than $1,000 for a dress. Most of the items are bespoke. “They’re not your average crafting object that anyone can pull off,” Guntur says. “You can see there is a lot of intense work and process and experimentation that went into these slow-made, handmade objects.”
The site also includes some unexpected items. One is a finely machined metal hand planer for smoothing wood. Another is a small table intended to be used by birds. “I wanted Gubns to be this weird place, a place for strange objects,” Guntur says. “In my head, at least, I see it as a cave where you walk in, and there are all these weird treasures inside.”
But it’s not just a folly. Guntur is also trying to create a community for young designers disaffected by an industry known for long hours and low pay. The architect-makers selected to display their works on Gubns are also added to a private WhatsApp group to share ideas and resources. Guntur has hosted a few pub meetups for these designers, and she hopes to use the growing network to expand knowledge and resource sharing, and hopefully partner with organizations that have the tools and fabrication facilities where these objects can be created. “For me, quantity isn’t the goal in terms of objects and sales. I think the community aspect is really significant,” she says.
And as the pandemic drags on, and designers reevaluate their place in the industry, Guntur says that more are likely to find new ways of using their architectural skills outside of the traditional architecture industry. “There is a surplus of talent,” she says. “If the built-environment industry doesn’t keep up with other industries that are constantly refining their benefits, their offerings, their work environments, there’s no reason that architects, with their skills, can’t turn to other disciplines.”