Monday, November 26, 2012

Palladio-Crystal Palace-Yamasaki (26 November - 2 December)

on this date in design…

Andrea Palladio, Italian architect, birthday 30 November 1508
Crystal Palace, Hyde Park/Penge Common, London, England, destroyed by fire 30 November 1936
Minoru Yamasaki, American architect, birthday 1 December 1912

To the general public, the name Palladio usually refers to a Palladian style window: an arched top window flanked by matching rectangular ones.  But to the architecture community the image of the nearly perfectly symmetrical Villa Almerico-Capra (a.k.a. Villa Rotunda) comes to mind.  Palladio’s life long search desire to achieve symmetry was influenced by classical architecture after being exposed to Vitruvius’ Seven Books on Architecture and inspired him to write four more of his own.  In the Renaissance, artists were searching antiquity to regain the symbolic knowledge lost during the Dark Ages.  Palladio used classical Roman hierarchies to create a new building type, the agricultural villa, but used inexpensive building materials such as stucco covered brick. 
The Venetian aristocracy of the time ate it up.  These imposing structures lorded over their sites creating a sense of superiority.  This would later influence the American plantation designers where the main house used neoclassical designs and plantation owners attempted to establish their dominance as a new aristocracy. 

At the height of the Victorian Period and the Industrial Revolution, Great Britain sought to hold the world’s first international exhibition.  To accompany the effort, the committee organizers called for designers to submit plans for an exhibition building that was cheap, easy to construct and temporary.  Nearly 250 were submitted but none fulfilled the requirements.  One of the committee members sought out the head gardener at Chatsworth House, Joseph Paxton.  
He had been experimenting with greenhouse designs and the new, inexpensive and strong manufactured cast plate glass.  Paxton’s idea of using the manufacturer’s off-the-shelf materials as the basis of the building unit-scale and construction not only saved money, it saved time.  The subsequent design was not only larger than any of the other submissions; it was way under budget and on time. 
The enormous 1,851 foot long structure enclosed over 19 acres of parkland and was adapted to save existing trees to be chopped down (a point of contention to those opposed to the entire production).  This enormous “erector” set was easily dismantled after the Great Exhibition of 1851 and relocated to a park elsewhere in the city.  Unfortunately, little was known about fire safety at that time.  When a small fire started in the women’s coat room it quickly spread to the entire edifice and turned the night sky red visible for eight counties. 

Minoru Yamasaki’s polite quiet demeanor was at odds with the brutal “New Formalism” buildings he designed.  Although, it is for the controversial design of the Twin Towers in New York City Yamasaki is most remembered, it was the Pacific Science Center in the shadow of the Seattle Space Needle that first gained him international praise and the cover of Time magazine in 1963.   The metal lace of the PSC’s gothic pointed vaults was carried over to the purely decorative base of the WTC.   Yamasaki was on the forefront of the postmodernist movement which made his designs an easy target for criticism.
Many referred to the Twin Towers as giant metal file cabinets (and I agree).  However, with their collapse and all the lives taken with them, it is hard not to look at the New York skyline and be reminded of their absence.  This undoubtedly placed them in a more loving corner of the general population’s hearts.  After all the controversy, Yamasaki went on to design the similar Rainier Tower in Seattle which seemed to put the “file cabinet” on a pedestal.  Perhaps this was a figurative thumbing his nose at the critics.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Klein-Bicycle-Lapidus (19-25 November)

on this date in Design...

Calvin Klein, American fashion designer, birthday 19 November 1942, CBS bans CK commercial from air 19 November 1980
Bicycle, patented by Pierre Lallemont, awarded 20 November 1866; Tour de France founded 20 November 1902
Morris Lapidus, American architect, birthday 25 November 1902

An interesting present CBS gave to Calvin Klein on his 38th birthday was to ban the airing of his infamous commercial with an under-aged Brook Shields implying she was “going commando” under her Calvin Klein jeans.  With all the controversy sighting the over-sexualization of the young female, it ultimately heightened public recognition and firmly set the image of the designer as one of youthful exuberance and liberation.  This was not the first time Klein ventured to put to fashion the needs of a changing demographic.  When he started his fashion house in 1968, Klein’s dress designs were unusually streamlined which made them perfect for the emerging housewife into the business sector.  The clothes had a sophisticated style with a minimal aesthetic that function without hindrance either picking up the kids or commanding a board room.    Klein further appealed to his devoted followers throughout the 1970s when he refused to succumb to the polyester tidal wave and stuck to natural, breathable fibers. 
Calvin Klein is now owned by the Philips Van Heusen Corp which purchased the company in 2002 for an enormous sum of $400 million plus stock.  Mr. Klein is no doubt resting comfortably in his Miami Beach home with the secure knowledge his designs and vision continue to facilitate modern life and style.    

Pierre Lallemont started off designing baby carriages and children’s riding toys which eventually lead to the development of a new form of transportation: the rotary crank mechanical bicycle.  There is some debate as to exactly whose design was first in France seen as all the prototypes of the era were being experimented with by the same circle of inventors.  Lallement himself actually worked briefly with one of them, Ernest Michaux.  Feeling the pressure from competition, he made his way across the Atlantic to file the earliest & only American patent for a pedal bicycle with James Carroll from Connecticut.  However, failing to find a manufacturer in the states, Lallement returned to France.  By then, European enthusiasm for cycling was in full swing thanks to Michaux’s version.  Dejected and depressed, Lallement returned to the states where he died in relative obscurity. 
It was over a century later that the International Cycling History Conference gave credit to him for the idea of putting crank pedals on the child’s toy which paved the way for further innovation.  Coincidentally, on the same date his patent was awarded, 36 years later in 1902 the Tour de France was established.  With all controversies surrounding the sport in recent times, perhaps a bit of lighthearted perspective should be taken with a device that started out as child’s play.

Morris Lapidus started out as a retail architect for 20 years before venturing into hotels on Miami Beach.  Known for his Neo-Baroque Miami Modern style, Lapidus’ list of hotels along the strip is so long he almost single handedly designed the entire district.  The Fontainebleau Hotel is one of his most notable masterpieces.   
The bow-tie inlayed marble floor in the lobby was the height of sophisticated modern elegance matched with the exotic monkey cage behind a circular bar.  This was the grand stage Lapidus conceived for guests to “play their part” of over-indulged, fabulously wealthy on vacation.  Today, the monkeys are gone but you can still find the players still revising their rolls.  The ‘Bleau was so popular that he was commissioned to do the Eden Roc next door the following year.  
Later, he was asked to design the numerous follies along Lincoln Road after it was closed to vehicular traffic.  This open-air pedestrian mall was inspired by la Rambla in Barcelona and is so successful, city planners across the world have been attempting to mimic it ever since.  It also happens to be the site of my very first internship after college with HR Design above the Van Dyke Café.  (My, was I a lucky girl?!)  The weather is beautiful right now.  It would be a perfect time to stroll along for a little window shopping et café.  


Calvin Klein, Inc.  
The Calvin Klein Online Store  
Calvin Klein on Facebook  
Vanity Fair profile on Calvin Klein 

The Pierre Lallement Bike Path, Jamiaca Plain, Massachusetts 
International Cycling History Conference 
U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame 
Le Tour de France  
Live Strong Cancer Foundation 

The Fontainebleau, Miami Beach, Florida  
The Eden Roc, Miami Beach, Florida 
Lincoln Road Mall, Miami Beach, Florida 
Amics de la Rambla, Barcelona, Spain  
The Van Dyke Café, Miami Beach, Florida    

Monday, November 12, 2012

Rodin-WWW-Mouse (12-18 November)

on this date in design…

Auguste Rodin, French sculptor, birthday 12 November 1840, death 17 November 1917
World Wide Web, formally proposed as a hypertext project, 12 November 1990
Computer Mouse, patented by Douglas Engelbart, awarded 17 November 1970

When most people think of Rodin, most people think “Thinker”.  However this is just a small portion of his amazing artistic career.  Reject three times from the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Rodin refused to ignore the negative aspects of human emotion in his work.  Often his subjects are depicted in great distress in the midst of moral weakness.  Sometimes it is this overwhelming passion that makes the work so compellingly beautiful.  Critics doubted he sculpted the molds for bronzes instead of casting a live model due to the exquisite realistic detail. 
It could be argued that the subject matter of moral dilemma spouted from Rodin’s personal life which was rife with complicated family obligations and multiple love affairs.  Eventually, he would marry the mother of his only child, Rose Beuret over 50 years after they met.  Two weeks later she died and Rodin later that same year.  Rodin willed his entire studio and casts to the French state with the intention they would continue to reproduce his work; his final gift to the country that embraced his unconventional talent.

So you have all this information you want to share with the world.  What do you do?  Tim Berners-Lee (TimBL to his friends) knew exactly what to do.  While working at CERN, TimBL with Robert Cailliau proposed to their bosses to take all the existing hypertext (digital information) and make it available on demand on the growing interconnected global computer system—essentially making a website.  It is hard to imagine today what it was like before you could type a few letters (not even an entire word) into a search engine and have a wealth of information at your fingertips.  The Web and the internet may seem like interchangeable terms.  The difference lies in that the Web (the hypertext documents) is a service that runs on the internet (the interconnected computer system). Both have forever changed society. 
How it interacts. How it learns. How it functions. 
By June of this year over one third of the planet’s 7 billion people have had at least one service provided by the internet and Web.  With all technologies & innovations there is always a learning curve.  We are still trying to negotiate what this new virtual world means to us as individuals and as humans.  The internet has saved some businesses and eliminated others.  Small specialized craftsmen can now make their products available globally without much overhead while the postal service struggles to compete with email and online bill pay.  To me, it is the greater opportunity to learn that is the most exciting (and I think this site is testament to that).  Don’t get me wrong; I still visit my local public library on a weekly basis…but I browse the card catalogue from my computer at home. 

To navigate the computer and subsequently the Web, Douglas Engelbart came up with a device to locate the cursor on the screen.  Or what Englebart called it: “X-Y Position Indicator for a Display System”.  Before the days of touch screen tablets, communicating with our computers was a complicated process.  Few remember typing “DOS” commands onto a black and green screen.  What made Englebart’s invention special was the rollerball, not the wheel on the top of the mouse but an actual ball located on the underside of the mouse.  The ball transferred the user’s motion onto an X-Y coordinate system the computer could understand.  Think of “Etch-a-Sketch” knobs.  Today’s optical mice have eliminated the rollerball and WiFi has eliminated the namesake wire tale connected to the computer.  Further developments with touch pads and touch screens may eliminate the device all together.  However, this tool was essential to making computers more accessible to the public and ushered in the Computer Age TimBL and the WWW started.  Today, the Doug Engelbart Institute continues his vision by addressing complex human problems in the rapidly advancing world.   


Monday, November 5, 2012

MoMA-Fornasetti-Telescope (5-11 November)

On this date in design…

Museum of Modern Art, New York City, opens to the public 7 November 1929 
Piero Fornasetti, Italian painter, sculptor, interior decorator and engraver, birthday 10 November 1913 
Telescope, patented by Alvan Clark, 11 November 1851

“The Daring Ladies”: Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, Lillie P. Bliss & Mary Quinn Sullivan opened the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan nine days after the Great Crash of Wall Street.  One might say that due to the enormous fortunes of their husbands that event had little effect on their ambitions.  However, from a quite modest rented space on corner of 5th & 57th they brought to the American public European Modernism.   Today, it continues to display some of the most significant modernist paintings including “Les Demoiselles d’Avigonon” & “The Starry Night”.   
Architect Philip Johnson was initially asked to design a sculpture garden in honor of Abby by her sons and as a result he arguably became the museum’s most important contributor, board member and defender of “The Ladies’” vision into the future. 

One of the most photographed stars of her era, operatic soprano Lina Cavaleri was often referred to as the most beautiful woman in the world.  It is only natural that Piero Fornasetti would come across an image of her and be forever inspired.  Fornasetti’s signature style not only centered around her enigmatic face & near perfect hourglass figure but was also influenced by Neo-Classicism & Surrealism.  Often his legendary accessories for the home and fashion would combine illusionism, architectural perspectives and motifs such as stylized fish or flowers.  There are over 300 pieces Fornasetti originally designed.  Today his son now continues to design in his father’s tradition, maintaining the studio.  Before Fornasetti’s “Teme e Variazioni” series was so popular, he was kicked out of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Milan for insubordination.  Continuing to paint, it was one of his inspired painted scarves that caught the attention of Gio Ponti.  Thus began their lengthy collaboration in design.  Not only did the two combine their design efforts in physical form but Ponti regularly utilized Fornasetti’s paintings for the cover of Domus.

Alvan Clark originally made his living as a portrait painter & engraver but it was his eldest son, George, who exposed him to telescope making while a student at Andover.  As a result, Clark went on to a second career manufacturing some of the world’s largest and most successful refracting telescopes.  Currently, the world’s largest still in operation is one of Clark’s at the Yerkes Observatory, the University of Chicago.   
At 40” it was amazingly produced in what several observers referred to as crude and inferior practices in comparison to what was being manufactured in Europe.  It was Clark’s skill & supervision of the entire process which is attributed to the overwhelming success of his pieces.  Such precision lead to his younger son, Alvan Graham Clark, to discover the dim companion to Sirus (the “dog” star, not the satellite radio company).  The contribution Clark offered the world is honored by two separate extraterrestrial sites: craters bearing his name on both the Moon and Mars.