Monday, April 30, 2012

da Vinci-Mollino (30 April - 6 May)

Leonardo da Vinci, Italian Artist & Inventor, death 2 May 1519
Carlo Mollino, Italian Architect & Designer, birthday 6 May 1905
Speaking of the Louvre, which houses what most consider da Vinci’s masterpiece, the Mona Lisa...  We’ve all seen enough images of the enigmatic smile that I don’t believe it necessary to try to push past the hordes of tourist lined up in front of it to see it in person.  The building is stuffed full of work including many other examples of Leo’s.  Let’s not forget that in addition to painting, he was also a sculptor, architect, engineer, musician, scientist, mathematician, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer and literal “Renaissance Man”. Sure, there are some serious design flaws in his helicopter and parachute, but who wouldn’t have a few duds in a lifetime of work spanning over 13,000 pages of journals. Why focus on the negative when we can marvel at what this bastard son of a peasant girl was able to accomplish (and, please, no comments about any fictitious “code”).

Viva Italia!  Not all things Italian are great (i.e. the mafia, the Ponzi scheme, the kids from the Jersey Shore) but a lot of great designers are.  As an architect Carlo Mollino had few buildings realized but he worked up until his death in 1973, a goal I hope to achieve.  One great architectural success was the rebuilding of the Teatro Regio in Turin after a 1939 fire.  While maintaining the original fa├žade, the interior is a striking contemporary wonder.  The inaugural concert on 10 April 1973 was a production of Verdi's I Vespri Siciliani directed by Maria Callas (the Greek opera singer Aristotle Onassis left for Jackie Kennedy) and Giuseppe Di Stefano.  A table he designed in 1949 set a record price for 20th century furniture when it sold at auction in 2005 for nearly $4 million.  He also had a propensity for photographing naked women for which the thought of sitting in one of Mollino’s chairs makes me slightly uncomfortable.  Even looking at his coat hook makes me blush.  If that was the intended effect: bravo, Carlo, bravo.



Monday, April 23, 2012

Pei-Olmsted-Geddes (23 - 29 April)

I.M. Pei, Chinese-American Architect, birthday 26 April 1917
Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr., American Landscape Architect,  birthday 26 April 1822
Norman Bel Geddes, American Industrial Designer, birthday 27 April 1893

I.M. Pei is thought by many to be one of the greatest masters of modern architecture.  One can't help but be awed by his striking structures; your eye is drawn to them when gazing at a city's horizon line.  His monolithic, deceptively simple designs intrigue you.  One fine example would be, of course, the Pyramid at the Louvre which, as a preservationist at heart, I applaud the thoughtfulness of not inserting the entrance onto the classic facade (as most architects might be tempted) but by creating a new space and dynamic experience.  Other hightlights: Dallas City Hall, Dallas, TX 1977, Bank of America Tower at International Place, Miami, FL 1986

The Romantic landscapes Pei's designs seem to work against were, in fact, a similar reaction the designers of the day had toward the Industrial Revolution.  These amazing monoliths would be lost if not for the gentle backgrounds such as New York's Central Park by Olmsted.  As agrarian society shifted to the urban, a need developed for the human psyche to escape this new, overcrowded concrete jungle.  Olmsted is another deceiver to the eye; landscapes that appear "natural" are in fact intricately laid out to frame vistas and follies. 

As Olmsted enjoyed the opposition to the manufactured, Geddes lead the movement embracing the future with the advent of the Streamline style which formed out of the Art Deco Period.  The new occupation of "Industrial Designer" sought to perfect human experience with objects meant to enhance everyday life and utilize the new machine of industrialization to make it accessible to all.  Geddes envisioned the new efficiencies for the modern city in "Futurama" that became the launching pad of the Streamlined Age at the 1939 New York World's Fair. 

Whatever the intention, the goal in achieved by strict adherence to the end product.  Whether it be a reaction to or the embrace of new technologies, design moves forward and back much in the same way history is cyclical.

I.M. Pei's Biography from "Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, Architects LLP"
PCF&P List of Projects
Frederick Law Olmsted's "New York Central Park" homepage
Norman Bel Geddes "Futurama"
List of Geddess objects at the Wolfsonian
List of Collections at the Harry Ransom Center, UT at Austin
to learn more about the images shown here