Monday, October 29, 2012

Pen-Hadid-Sistine (29 October - 4 November)

On this date in design…

Ballpoint Pen, first sold in US, 29 October 1945; patented by John Loud, 30 October 1888 
Zaha Hadid, Iraqi-born British architect, birthday 31 October 1950
Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Michelangelo’s paintings inaugurated, 1 November 1512

When the Reynolds Rocket ballpoint pen went on sale for the first time at Gimbals Department Store in NYC, it was a copy of an invention seen in Buenos Aires.  But even the Argentinian piece wasn’t the first in existence.  The ability to write without a separate ink well wasn’t even the initial catalyst.  In 1888, a leather tanner named John Loud simply wanted the ability to write on his leather products and the traditional fountain pen would not work.  It was nearly 60 years later that a viable ballpoint pen would come to market. 
Several factors contributed to the delay including a few useful innovations to the fountain pen and quick-drying ink.  Today, the leader in the cheap writing implement is without a doubt BIC pens.  But before you cast off the device as insignificant (especially in light of the computer age), consider the work of a Portuguese lawyer Samuel Silva.  Silva creates amazing photorealistic drawings using none other than eight colors BIC provides. 

Zaha Hadid can only be described as a momentous force in the architecture community today.  In addition to be a strikingly glamorous figure, she one any aspiring female architect dreams to emulate.  In a profession dominated by over-bearing male egos, Hadid offers it back in kind maintaining a significant hold on modern design.  Not only is she the first female to be awarded the Pritzker Prize (2004), she is also the first Muslim, being born in Bagdad to professional intellectual parents.  Hadid’s neo-modernist style seeks to communicate the chaotic fluidity of modern society which makes it surprisingly human and tactile.   
Originally lumped into the Deconstructivist movement, Hadid’s designs are rooted in the Islamic tradition where architecture is open to nature.  Her tenacity and uncompromising attitude is essential to finding success as an architect but also proved difficult to find willing clients early in her career.  Most notably is the commission Hadid won for the Cardiff Bay Opera House in 1994.  Unfortunately, due to vocal pushback from the local population, the project was never completed.  However, England’s loss is China’s gain.  Early in 2011, Hadid’s firm completed an opera house in Guangzhou that was based on the Cardiff design but applied to the new site.   
The building evokes fragmented geometries of tumbling pebbles and her signature multiple perspective points.  No wonder her early renderings were abstract paintings rather than conventional drafted drawings. 

It was more than appropriate that Pope Julius II official inaugurated the frescoes of the Sistine Chapel on the feast day of All Saints.  This awe-inspiring work is arguably Michelangelo’s finest work and draws hundreds of thousands to crane their necks each year.  Although it has been much satirized and over-exposed, it would be a mistake to dismiss its significance.  Let us remember that before literacy was as wide spread as it is today, these types of works were the biblical “picture books” to the masses.  Please reserve your opinion of the Catholic Church and Christianity in general.  Every culture on the planet has sought to communicate with one another in pictorial form.  Think of prehistoric cave painting such as Lasceaux.  The true meaning may be lost in the modern era but to the community to which it belonged it is certain they were essential to its existence.  Think also that even in this technologically advanced age we as a species still have difficulty communicating across cultures, languages and beliefs.  Often times it is with a single image that a message is best delivered.     


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