Monday, May 28, 2012

Voysey-Nelson-Hagia Sophia (28 May - 3 June)

Charles Voysey, English architect and furniture & textile designer, birthday 28 May 1857
George Nelson, American industrial designer, birthday 29 May 1908
Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey, religious building, converted to mosque 29 May 1453

Charles Voysey is another extremely influential individual in the Arts & Crafts era leading to modern architecture and design.  There are clear influences of the Charles Rene Mackintosh and William Morris in his rejection of academic tradition and relying on the vernacular to influence design instead.  Therefore, his designs were a comfortable transition for the nouveau-riche emerging middle class as a result of the industrial revolution, a group for which his designs were highly sought after.  Before becoming the “superstar” designer of his time, he wasn’t exactly the star pupil in college and so he went to work with the architect George Dewey but when business slowed, Voysey opened his own firm.  A.H. Mackmurdo suggested he experiment with domestic goods design of wallpaper and fabrics to supplement his income.  A smart idea as it wasn’t until ten years later that he found success as an architect with the completion of the tower house at Bedford Park.           

After serendipitously ducking into the architecture building on the Yale campus during a rainstorm, George Nelson’s career as an architect and icon of modernist furniture began.  As a writer for the magazine “Pencil Points”, Nelson interviewed and was introduced to the work of the most prolific architects of the time which formulated his passion for modernist design and became one of the movement’s ardent defenders.  When the chairman of Herman Miller Furniture read Nelson and Henry Wright’s book Tomorrow’s House he offered Nelson a job as director of design despite having no experience designing furniture.  In the book, the revolutionary concepts of the “family room” and “storage wall” were introduced; two ideas that are commonplace in this day. 
In his time at Herman Miller he fostered some of the most iconic furniture designers of the 20th century including the Eames’, Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi.  Unfortunately, both Bertoia and Noguchi expressed regret for their time at Herman Miller and it has come to light that some of the pieces for which he is most known were in fact designed by others employed at his studio.  Regardless of the controversies, Nelson created an environment that pushed the boundaries of what modern life was evolving into and nurtured those around him to adapt with it as well.  This is the quintessential tenant of modern architecture and design.      

The history of Hagia Sophia (Greek for “Holy Wisdom”) is complicated: it started off as the Greek Patriarchal Cathedral of Constantinople and has been converted to a Roman Catholic Church, Imperial Mosque and today it has been secularize as a museum.  To make matters even more complicated, this building is actually the third building on the site, two others had been destroyed by rioters.  As an excellent example of Byzantine architecture commissioned by Emperor Justinian it then became the model for many other Ottoman mosques under Sultan Mehmed II when he ordered it to be converted into a mosque in an act to establish domination over the vanquished population, a common practice for any invading conqueror.  Due to Islamic traditions on art, most of the mosaics were plastered over but are today in the process of being restored.  This is a fine example of a building’s ability to survive centuries by adaptive reuse.          

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