Monday, December 17, 2012

Chauvet-De Wolfe-Olbrich (17-23 December)

on this date in Design…

Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave, Ardèche, France, discovered 18 December 1994
Elsie De Wolfe, American actress & interior decorator, birthday 20 December 1865
Joseph Olbrich, Austrian architect and co-founder of the Vienna Secession, birthday 22 December 1867

With as small as the world seems today, it may be unbelievable that in the modern era there are still prehistoric discoveries which amaze and challenge the collective knowledge.  As recently as 1994, the immense cave of Chauvet with its perfectly preserved paintings dating over 30,000 years was discovered, isolated by an ancient landslide. 
What makes these images different than those found at Lascaux?  Not only are these images over twice as old, but they show similar and in some cases more advanced techniques.  The artist(s) prepared the surfaces by scraping away debris and sometimes older paintings.  There are images that have been carved into the surface not just applied with paint.  There are full “scenes” of action, not just encyclopedic representations of animals.  In one scene there is a dominance struggle between two rhinoceroses.  Of course there are rudimentary acknowledgments of perspective and action as with Lascaux    
However, the level of shading detail here evoke a sense of three-dimensionality.  With every new discovery the understanding of the prehistoric human mind becomes richer.  The more complex these findings are offers the opportunity to re-examine what it truly means to be human and the need to express one’s self artistically. 
Most people will tell you that Elsie De Wolfe is “The First Lady of Interior Decoration”.  However, that moniker barely begins to describe what a force she was.  De Wolfe almost single-handedly created the separate and distinct profession of the interior decorator.  After a career on the stage, at the age of 40, she was commissioned to complete the interiors of the Colony Club, one of the first women’s clubs in New York.  De Wolfe figuratively “threw open” the dark velvet drapery of the Victorian era and using inspiration from 18th century France created light, bright and airy feminine spaces.  It could be said that her design sensibilities manifested themselves as a child when she threw a kicking and screaming temper tantrum in response to her parents redecorating the drawing room. 
Even in her acting career she was more known for her creative costuming (which she designed) than her thespian abilities.  De Wolfe’s design successes should be credited to her knack for self-promotion and connections as a socialite in both the American and European circles.  Her business was bolstered by such clientele as Morgan, Astor & Whitney in addition to inviting Vogue to cover her parties.  The descriptions of her hostess abilities in the magazine brought her name and style to housewives around the country and perhaps even influenced the likes of Martha Stewart.  De Wolfe’s book “The House in Good Taste” became equally an influential beginning the trend of faux finishes and animal print upholstery; only in Elsie’s case, the animal print was more likely to be real.   

Joseph Olbrich along with Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffmann & Koloman Moser established the Vienna Secession movement in 1897 but Olbrich gave the group what would become its figurehead: the Secession Hall.  The movement sought to break from the prevailing traditional conservatism of the Vienna Künstlerhaus which focused on historicism.  Instead, Olbrich wanted to bring “purer” geometric forms to buildings.  This can be seen in the Secession Hall with the iconic orb atop the structure contained by four rectangular pillars.  The building surface is then decorated with linear ornament which would come to be called “whiplash” or “eel” style. 
These ideas would give way to the Art Nouveau movement which eventually formed a theoretical break in the Secession members.  However, Olbrich maintained the original ideal of the group and found extended success in the States.  After participating in the Louisiana Exhibition in St. Louis, he was appointed corresponding member of the AIA, most likely at the behest of Frank Lloyd Wright.  It is a small wonder as the two shared similar theories on architecture and ornamentation.

The Chauvet Cave, Ardèche, France
"Cave of Forgotten Dreams", flim by Werner Herzog
The Bradshaw Foundation for ancient rock art

article on Elsie De Wolfe, Architectural Digest
"The House in Good Taste", by Elsie De Wolfe, University of Wisconsin Digital Collections

The Secession Hall, Vienna, Austria
archINFORM for the Secession Hall
archINFORM for Hochzeitsturm, Darmstadt, Germany

Monday, December 3, 2012

Folding Chair-Royal Opera House-Freud (3-9 December)

on this date in Design…

Folding Theater Chair, American inventor Aaron Allen, patented 5 December 1854
Royal Opera House, London, United Kingdom, opens 7 December 1732
Lucian Freud, German-born British painter, birthday 8 December 1922


A folding chair seems like such a simple concept and in fact it is.  After all there have been multiple versions of portable chairs dating back from nomadic tribes.  However, it appears as though it took millennia to reach the theater.  In Shakespearean times, those in the audience stood for the duration of the performance.  It is no wonder they might turn into harsh critics if the play not worth their tired feet.  Only those privileged enough to afford a balcony might find a space on a wooden bench.  Finally, in the mid-19th century Aaron Allen found a solution where a theater owner might appease the masses and retain maximum profits. 
With the folding theater seat, precious space was used efficiently as the aisle between rows could be narrowed.  The seats were still wooden but at least they were seats.  Today, theater owners continue to cater to their patrons as their seats have become larger, sumptuously upholstered and come with a cup holder (just like your car).  They know that if they keep the rabble happy they will be less likely to throw their popcorn at the screen.  But in reality, as “home theaters” become more and more sumptuous as well, the likelihood one might venture out to a theater has declined.  It is unlikely theater will die out completely which makes the overall viewer experience all the more important. 


By the time the first Royal Opera House at Covent Garden was built, Allen’s invention was more than a century away.  As can be seen in the image here, those on the floor are standing.  There have been a total of three theaters built on this site, the first being destroyed by fire in 1808.  That building designed by Edward Shepherd added to the religious complex begun by who can be described as the first significant British architect of the modern era: Inigo Jones. 
Interestingly, Jones started out as a theatrical designer before he reached notoriety as an architect.  The Royal Opera not only housed the company managed by John Rich, it also was the venue by which George Frideric Handel became one of the most significant composers of the era as musical director.  A large portion of his work was composed specifically for the venue. Unfortunately, Handel’s “Messiah” which debuted in Dublin in 1742 to great applause and adulation was harshly criticized when it was presented at the Royal Opera a year later.
The critics thought it too exalted a piece to be performed in a theater by singers in secular garb rather than in a cathedral.  It has of course become his most celebrated and most performed work of all time.  It is assured it will be heard at least once this Christmas season at some point. 


If Sigmund Freud made you uncomfortable with the subconscious thoughts you might be harboring about your mother, then his grandson Lucian makes you even more so as you are compelled to stare into the exposed souls of his subjects.  Among those who have willingly and wholeheartedly bore their souls to him include a pregnant Kate Moss and the Queen of England. 
The nudes who sat for Lucian Freud are not only free of clothes but seem to let lose all their emotions and thoughts to the canvas.  Flesh tones highlight what appear to be the most unattractive portions of the figure which in turn make them compelling, captivating and beautiful.  A few years ago, a U.S. television show did a piece on an exposition of his only to receive a mountain of angry letters from viewers. 
The most upsetting thing to them was producers had chosen to film the work with strategically placed visitors in front what might be argued as offensive anatomy to act as natural censor bars.  It appears that even over the television screen, Lucian Freud’s work begs to be seen completely exposed. 


Globe Theater, London, U.K. 
iPic Movie Theaters 
IMAX Movie Theaters 

Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London, U.K.
Annotated full façade of the Royal Opera House
Royal Opera House Collections online
Biography of Inigo Jones from the Royal Insitute of British Architects
Handel House, London, U.K.
Handel's Messiah Hallelujah Chorus

Article on Lucian Freud, CBS Sunday Morning
Slideshow of Lucian Freud work, CBS Sunday Morning
Lucian Freud work on artnet
Lucian Freud work at MoMA, NYC
Interview with Lucian Freud, 1988 
Obituary for Lucian Freud, the Daily Mail

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.  

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.