Monday, October 15, 2012

Alexandrina-Newson-Cement (15-21 October)

On this date in design…

Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria, Egypt, inaugurated 16 October 2002
Marc Newson, Australian-born industrial designer, birthday 20 October 1963
Ordinary Portland Cement, Joseph Aspdin, patent 21 October 1824

The original Royal Library of Alexandria was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World but was a victim of collateral damage as a result of Julius Caesar setting fire to his own ships in the harbor in 48 B.C.E.  Today, the only remaining Wonder are the Great Pyramids of Giza which are also in Egypt.  So, in commemoration and near the original site, the Egyptian government along with the support of UNESCO and contributions from the majority of surrounding Arab states, Snøhetta Arkitektur Landskap AS, from Oslo, Norway won the design competition in 1988 for a new library.  Snøhetta has become renowned around the world for major civic projects
including the September 11 Memorial Museum Pavilion in New York City.  Their company philosophy strives to intricately incorporate landscape & public art installations with building design in addition to adhering to environmentally responsible design.  This new library can hold over 8 million books but its true purpose (as in antiquity) is to act as a hub “for the production & dissemination of knowledge, and to be a place of dialogue and understanding between cultures & peoples.”  The campus includes multiple art galleries, conference center, planetarium & manuscript restoration laboratory.  Snøhetta’s design incorporates a monumental granite wall covered with letters from all the world’s alphabets and the entire building mimics an enormous sundial on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.   
The light-filled reading room also harkens back to Wright’s Johnson Wax Building interior.  In light of what has become known as “The Arab Spring” with so many citizens, including Egyptian, taking control of their future, let us hope this spirit of learning, collaboration, dialogue, understanding and tolerance will be forever rooted in its walls. 

Marc Newson’s premier exhibition funded by a grant from the Australian Crafts Council brought us the sumptuous Lockheed Lounge (1986) which has set three consecutive auction records for final sale price.  However, it wasn’t until he designed the creepy Embryo Chair (1988) that he developed a signature style.  As a native of Australia it seems only natural Newson would become the creative director for Quantas and earn a place on the faculty of his alma mater, the Sydney College of the Arts.  In addition to his furniture pieces which consistently sell out in record times, his work stretches into
vast markets from manufacturing & technologies to transportation & fashion which has earned Newson a place on Time magazine’s list of the top 100 Most Influential People in the World.  Today, he operates out of his London office continuing to offer clients retail successes with his designs.  His work is collected and displayed in major museums around the world.  So compelling are is pieces that every time I come within a few feet of the Lockheed it takes all the will power I can muster not to take a seat. 

Despite the actions of one Roman in Alexandria, the empire was able to contribute tremendous innovations to the world, one of which was the concept of cement.  Unbelievably, this great achievement was lost to antiquity until the 19th century when it was rediscovered and Joseph Aspdin patented in Britain his version of “Roman Cement”, what would be known as Ordinary Portland Cement (OCP).  Made up primarily of limestone, it is the basic ingredient of concrete, mortar, stucco & grout.  OCP, when combined with structural steel reinforcing virtually illuminated the need for enormous blocks of stone to be quarried, transported and lifted into place, drastically reducing building costs & time of construction.  Basic building materials from ancient times of granite and marble were relegated to decorative applications; luxuries that were no longer necessary but still prized.  This led the way for man to build stronger, safer & higher than ever before ushering in the expansion of the modern metropolis that the industrial revolution spurred and challenged classic principles of design that brought about the modern design era.   


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