Case Study: "Bridges - Build - Burn"

Every so often Empirical Designs will release a piece of artwork inspired by a randomly selected prompt from a special deck of cards called the "Oblique Strategies". The purpose of trying a method like this is to serve as a tool that assists us to push the boundaries of the designs we create, by forcing ourselves to think outside the box for solutions and inspiration. The “Oblique Strategies” is a deck of cards, created by musician Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt. The first edition was published back in 1975. Each card contains a phrase or cryptic remark which can be used to break a deadlock or dilemma situation. Some are specific to music composition; others are more general. Examples include “Use an old idea”, “State the problem in words as clearly as possible”, and "Only one element of each kind".

According to Gregory Taylor, founder of the introduction to the cards cryptically reads “These cards evolved from our separate observations on the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition), sometimes they were identified as they were happening, sometimes they were formulated. They can be used as a pack (a set of possibilities being continuously reviewed in the mind) or by drawing a single card from the shuffled pack when a dilemma occurs in a working situation. In this case, the card is trusted even if its appropriateness is quite unclear. They are not final, as new ideas will present themselves, and others will become self-evident.”

“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences” - Brian Eno

“Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences” - Brian Eno

I first became aware of the deck of cards in November 2016. I was listening to NPR’s Planet Money, a podcast about economics which I highly recommend. The episode was about the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics, and how this year's winner was particularly out of the ordinary. Winners Oliver Hart and Bengt Holmström contributions to the field of economics deals with rationality, creativity, disorganization and improvisation as it relates to “contract theory”. You can listen to the episode here.

After researching the history of Oblique Strategies and obtaining the prompts from all four series, I decided to give this method a try. The first card I drew was “Bridges - Build - Burn”.


Less than a mile from my home stands an overworked steel Cantilever Bridge, which connects my hometown of Staten Island, NY and Perth Amboy, NJ. To put it mildly, the Outerbridge Crossing is an eye-sore. Despite the constant commuter traffic and the $15 toll just to get into New York, the bridge is run down and in desperate need of expansion and repair. Bridges and tunnels are often a contentious topic in New York City. Year after year, tolls and fares go up with seemingly no revenue reinvested into upgrading or maintaining infrastructure. Compounding the problem, Staten Island is often regarded as the forgotten borough. So I took it upon myself to make the forgotten bridge, in the forgotten borough the focus of my first piece in the series.

Over a weeks time, I took 5 trips to a small dirt path that lead from the main road to the concrete base beneath the bridge. I made it through some unpleasant weather and the smell of low tide.

I even managed to find a Car Boot someone seems to have "misplaced”.

I even managed to find a Car Boot someone seems to have "misplaced”.

I went through several iterations of editing the photos, with the goal of turning them into a functional apparel design. I took some antique film textures, and tried to mimic the look of an old black and white picture being ripped up and pieced back together. I didn't want to use the gimmick of the thick white polaroid border and bland text you see on so many pieces of album artwork lately. I tried to create a more unique layout, one that tied into the imagery of the bridge and the structural beauty fighting through the bleakness of the landscape. I wanted the design to encompass what I felt taking those photos and researching the subject. I used my own handwriting for the title, which I ripped up and distorted with a copier and scanner, trying to steer myself away from the never ending cycle of using widely available handwritten fonts.

Handwritten text, before editing.

Handwritten text, before editing.

In creating this piece I realized that I personally take infrastructure for granted. Without roads, we have limited connection to our neighbors. Even in the information age, without bridges and highways, our society would slip deeper into isolation. My grandparents moved to Staten Island before there were any bridges connecting Staten Island to the other boroughs, back when you had to take a ferry from Brooklyn and most of the Island was still farmland. It was a starkly different time. Back in 1964, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge opened connecting Staten Island with the greater New York City area. It took 12,000 men, 5 years to construct the bridge. Three men died from falling while building the bridge, as they worked without safety nets. I had never once considered that people gave their lives to connect others.

I live on an island that’s only 7 miles wide and 13 miles long, yet every time I crossover a bridge it seems so mundane and routine. But after working on “OS01: Bridges - Build - Burn”, I won’t ever look at bridges the same way again.

OS01: Bridges - Build - Burn  “A bridge, in its ultimate form, is a work of art” - Gay Talese

OS01: Bridges - Build - Burn

“A bridge, in its ultimate form, is a work of art” - Gay Talese

The “OS” Series designs are handcrafted, one-of-a-kind works, and will be available for purchase on a first come, first serve basis. For pricing and more information, contact us here.