Jonathan Adler, American potter & designer, birthday 11 August 1966
Jean Nouvel, French architect, birthday 12 August 1945
This week we discuss three individuals whose tenacity for design was a hard-fought battle at times.
The first is Eileen Gray. As a woman in a male-dominated medium of architecture in the turn of the 20th century it was a struggle to be recognized as the legitimate formidable force she was without the benefit of support networks or a powerful mentor. To add to the up-hill battle for Gray was where she was working. Paris at the time was alive with the Art Nouveau and her geometric forms were more in line with the International Style.
However, it is to that style put in motion by the Bauhaus that Gray provided opulent luxury to the mostly cold industrially produced materials. Some of these successes were the Bibedum Chair and the E-1027 table designed to indulge her sister’s love of eating breakfast in bed (who doesn’t). Originally a lacquer artist she was lauded outside of Paris for the interior design for an apartment on Rue de Lota. Unfortunately, as time wore on and the French critics were relentless she became increasingly reclusive. Gray isolated herself at the house she designed for her and lover to share on the French Rivera.
There they were constantly harassed by le Corbusier who would “vandalize” the house with murals he would paint uninvited and in the buff. Nearly 30 years later there was a resurgence of interest in her work that included some of her pieces being brought back into production. It is said that Joe Colombo’s Boby Trolley (see last week’s entry) was inspired by a double sided chest she designed for the house.
Jonathan Adler’s exuberance for design was evident at an early age. As a teenager he begged his parents for a potter’s wheel where spent most of his time. Dejected by criticism from a college professor, he gets a “real job” in New York but after three years of misery and having being fired from every job he ever held Adler ventures again into his passion, much to the chagrin of his parents. Fortunately, buyers for the department store Barney’s recognized the same whimsical optimism Adler professes in persona translated directly into his work and gave him his first large commission. Since then his empire has expanded into all realms of home furnishings including a commission from Mattel for Barbie’s “real” Dream House in honor of her 50th anniversary. In addition to inspiring people to unabashedly embrace the smile within he is an advocate for artisans around the world extoling the belief “If your heirs won’t fight over it, we won’t make it.”
To say that architecture was always a struggle for Jean Nouvel would be untrue. However, like Jonathan Adler his parents weren’t convinced that a career in art would be a reliable occupation. They originally urged him to become a teacher like themselves or to go into engineering. The compromise was architecture and Nouvel has been teaching the world about site-based responsive design ever since.
The ground-breaking introduction for Nouvel onto the world stage was his commission for the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris. On the south side of the building are thousands of mechanical lenses that contract and expand automatically by photoelectric cells for the regulation of light within the building. The building is alive and breathing. This not only alleviates the mechanical systems but it also is reminiscent of Arabic latticework which in of itself is a passive cooling system in an arid climate. This is the perfect adaptation of one culture’s vernacular transformed into a foreign local. A second success in Paris is the Foundation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain which is a nearly invisible glass structure that hovers among the trees and between buildings; an unusual sight in the middle of the city. More examples of Nouvel’s work are scattered around the globe and earned him a Pritzker Prize in 2008.