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.     


Monday, October 22, 2012

Earth-Picasso-IRT (22-28 October)

On this date in design…

Earth, first seen from outer space 24 October 1946
Pablo Picasso, Spanish painter & artist, co-founder of Cubist movement, birthday 25 October 1881
Interborough Rapid Transit, New York City, first subway system, opens 27 October 1904

When Felix Baumgartner stepped out of his balloon hoisted capsule and plummeted to back to terra firma last week, the image of the curvature of the Earth was relegated to a backdrop.  However, less than 70 years ago that image had never been seen by man until a V-2 rocket launched from White Sands, New Mexico brought back a few grainy black & white photos.   
The knowledge that the Earth is in fact round is something that we as a species may take for granted today.  In Columbus’ time, it was not so certain and something for which he was willing to risk his life.  Baumgartner didn’t come close to the height of the V-2 rocket but it was high enough not only to appreciate how tiny our planet is but to also break the sound barrier on the way down.  This may all seem a frivolous exercise of a thrill seeker and a pop-drink's marketing department but innovations in the suit’s design will benefit future space exploration as man creeps farther and farther away from our tiny blue marble and into the vast expanses of space. 

“Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth,” Pablo Picasso once said and no truer words regarding art could have been stated.  Along with Georges Braque, he founded the Cubist movement introduced to the world with “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (1907) where the female nudes were abstracted and morphed with seemingly grotesque tribal images.  It could be argued this painting epitomized Picasso’s chauvinistic attitude toward woman as either “goddesses or doormats”.  

He was a notorious womanizer but as an artist, no painter before him had such a massive audience nor was as famous in his own lifetime.   He used this influence to bring the world’s attention to the Spanish Civil War with the masterpiece “Guernica” (1937) after the German’s callous bombing of that town.  No longer was war commemorated in glorious battle scenes.  Picasso’s stark black-white-gray image was reminiscent of a newspaper photo and the collateral damage inflicted on the civilian population was made aware to the public as the enormous mural-sized piece was toured world-wide.  It was perhaps the world’s first sociopolitical artistic statement and one that worked. 

The thought of riding in a train in a tunnel underground once was relegated to the fantastic ideas of Jules Verne.  However, in the early years of the 20th century, the Interborough Rapid Transit Company sought to alleviate above-ground traffic by expanding their existing elevated train network with the world’s first subway system.  The firm operated as a privately held entity until 1940 when it was acquired by the City of New York.  To assist passengers orient themselves in a dark underground world, no two stations were designed the same.  This provided an opportunity to expand the metropolitan landscape and offered designers new inspiration.   
Today, no major city in the world is without an effective subterranean rail service alleviating congestion and hastening not only travel time but also the pace of commerce as well. 


Article from "Air & Space" about the V-2 #13 launch 
Redbull's site dedicated to Baumgartner's jump 
Reenactment of Baumgartner's jump with Legos 

The Picasso Administration 
Resource for Picasso art 
Pablo Picasso website 
"Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" at MoMA, New York City 
"Guernica" at the Museu Nacional Centro de Reina Sofia, Madrid, Spain 

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City  
The New York Subway Organization 
Slideshow of vintage NYC subway images from Life Magazine 

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.   


Monday, October 8, 2012

Miles-Meier-Frankl (8-14 October)

On this date in design…

Alexander Miles, American inventor, patented an electric elevator 11 October 1887
Richard Meier, American architect, birthday 12 October 1934
Paul T. Frankl, Austrian-born furniture designer, painter & architect, birthday 14 October 1886

Although Alexander Miles did not invent the elevator, nor even the electric elevator, the innovation in his 1887 patent improved the overall safety of the contraption that still was not entirely comfortable with the general population.  With U.S. Patent #371207, Miles improve the method by which the doors opened and closed so as to protect passengers from falling into the elevator shaft, which was still a real danger at the time.  His mechanism automatically closed access to the shaft when the car was not properly aligned with the desired floor.  As buildings climbed higher and higher, this advancement helped the public adapt to the ever-growing cityscape.  Imagine falling from the top floor of the Burj Khalifa because someone forgot to close the elevator door all the way.  

Speaking of the Burj, the legendary firm that designed the tower, S.O.M. has fostered a fair share of burgeoning architects including a brief stent in 1959 by Richard Meier who would become one of the famed New York Five.  He would also go on to work under Marcel Breuer, no doubt encouraged by his fascination with the work of Le Corbusier.  It has been argued that Meier perfected Corbu’s own theories of architecture more so than the master himself. 
Known as the “White Architect”, he espouses that white is in fact the rainbow of all colors in that it reflects the hues of the environment in which it resides.  One look at Meier’s Douglas House nestled among the green hillside and you understand his three essential concepts: Light, Color & Place.  Meier, like Hejduk, experiments with plain geometry and at the same time allows light & shadow to become part of the comprehension of the total space.  It is as if he has fully embraced the fourth dimension, time, to complete the spacial composition.  Other buildings by Meier include the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California (1997), the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, Spain (1995) and the controversial Arca Pacis in Rome, Italy (2006) where recently a compromise has been made to reduce the site wall to improve the view to the river. 

Inspired by the soaring heights buildings were reaching thanks to the invention of the elevator, Paul Frankl ventured into furniture design which became known as “Skyscraper Furniture”.  When he emigrated to New York City in 1914 after studying at the Berlin Polytechnic (as did Alfred Stiglitz), he embraced new materials with his furniture such as cork veneers and metal, shaping what would become known as the American modern aesthetic.  After moving to the west coast, Frankl’s work trended more toward biomorphic shapes which were reflective of clothing fashions of the time.  Until his death in 1958, Frankl was a vocal proponent of the modern design movement in numerous writings helping to validate these emerging designs into popular culture.   



Monday, October 1, 2012

Lin-Jobs-Magistretti (1-7 October)

On this date in design…

Maya Lin, Chinese-American architectural designer & landscape artist, birthday 5 October 1959
Steve Jobs, American inventor, designer & businessman, death 5 October 2011
Vico Magistretti, Italian industrial designer & architect, birthday 6 October 1920

Imagine being a 21-year-old architecture student at Yale University and having your design selected out of over 1400 entries for one of the most significant and controversial war memorial projects in Washington, D.C.  Maya Lin’s simple and elegant design for the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial on the National Mall is poignant and emotionally provoking.  Many objectors complained that it was a grotesque scar on the landscape, evoking images of a grave and the deep black granite selected for inscription too depressing.  But it is perfect.  All complaints once throw in its direction are now the features which are those most praised. 
Today, it is one of the most visited monuments on the mall and the design is so moving it prompted a replica to be erected in Pensacola, Florida after the traveling “Moving Wall” made a stop there in 1987.  This project was just the beginning of a masterful career for Lin who has gone on to complete numerous installations around the country.  Her analysis of a site in both the macro and micro view leads her design to explore how one experiences a particular place and challenges the viewer to respond to the environment in compelling ways.  Recently Lin has collaborated with the Confluence Project along the Columbia River which strives to evoke the region’s history to impress upon the landscape.  

It may be still settling in to our collective conscious that Steve Jobs is no longer with us.  Now a year’s passing we can take what he introduced the world to utilize and learn from it to make the future better.  Those who camped out in line for the latest iPhone recently may have reflected on this a bit more than others.  Love him or hate him, Jobs did more for the design industry in popular culture than he is usually credited. 
One notable event is when the original iMac design was complete in 1998 he asked those individuals who collaborated to sign it on the interior; Jobs recognized the importance of the designer to the success of the machine.  Yes, the “out-of-the-box” experience for the consumer (no complicated set-up requiring a tech-savvy neighbor to help you plug it in) was essential to reaching a broad-based consumer market.  However, that brightly colored egg shape made it less intimidating and more like a piece of art you placed on your desk that just so happened to connect you with the world.  Jobs wanted us to embrace technology, use it, everyday and in the most effective way possible.  He strove to make technological advances approachable and simple.  It is this child-like exuberance about the future which will be his most enduring legacy.  

Vico Magistretti came from a long line of Italian architects.  Fortunately, he avoided becoming a cog in the Nazi war machine in 1943 by moving to Switzerland to study.  After the war, he thrived in the vacuum of destruction left in its wake by collaborating on multiple rebuilding projects in his hometown of Milan.  To complement Magistretti’s architectural career, he ventured into industrial and furniture design.  His entries to the Milan Triennial during the 1950s won him numerous awards.   
For the next 50 years designed pieces for a variety of manufactures.  Many of these companies still produce his designs as part of their “classic” collections.  Without a doubt, Vico Magistretti wasn’t just in the right place at the right time; he was a powerful force whose impression still ripples in the design pond. 


Maya Lin Studio website 
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
The Wall South, Pensacola, Florida
The Confluence Project

Remembering Steve Jobs, on the Apple website
Forbes List of Richest Persons, 2011
TED Talk, Steve Jobs: "How to Live Before You Die"

The Vico Magistretti Foundation
Vico Magistretti Pieces at De Padova
Vico Magistretti's "Selene" chair at Heller