Architecture Design Published

Restoring Wright

June 28, 2017

Metropolis Magazine

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA)’s new exhibition, Frank Lloyd Wright at 150: Unpacking the Archive (on view through October 1, 2017), explores lesser-known chapters from Wright’s 70-year-long career. Reviewers have understandably dwelled on his little-known projects for an experimental farm and a series of rural school buildings in the segregated South. Few, however, have focused on the prominent—and fascinating—role given to Wright’s architectural models in the show itself. “For him, they were presentation pieces meant to seduce the clients or put them at ease, especially if the designs were avant-garde or difficult to picture on paper,” says MoMA conservator Ellen Moody. And when the models failed to woo the clients, Wright, ever the showman, recycled the objects and enlisted them to promote his practice as part of touring exhibits.

Wright continuously tinkered with his models, forcing them to undergo extensive modifications. With the help of archival materials, MoMA’s curators have used the models to analyze Wright’s thought process and the evolution of his ideas. This process also revealed the alterations performed by other stakeholders, including clients and conservators. A model of an early iteration of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1943–59)—distinguished from the built version by a series of small, domed skylights and extensive interior landscaping—arrived at the MoMA in almost pristine condition. Yet, Moody’s research pointed out a series of telling transformations. A cross-sectional analysis of the exterior paint revealed an under-layer of warm ocher paint, clearly different from the cool white found in MoMA’s model. The discrepancy reveals a history of disagreements between Wright and his clients—and how Wright’s preference for a darker color was subsequently undermined, both in the model and in reality. (In alternative renditions, he even depicted the museum in pink.)

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Design Published

The Argument for Original Design

May 23, 2017

Metropolis Magazine

The elevation of an object to the category of design classic is hardly ever linear, nor predictable. When Verner Panton devised the concept for his Panton chair in 1959, most manufacturers dismissed his idea, failing to see a viable means of mass-producing a chair made out of a single piece of cantilevered plastic. Finally, in 1965, Panton found a partner in the Swiss manufacturer Vitra and, over the next few years, the designer and manufacturer developed the idea of a hard foam plastic chair that was as aesthetically striking as it was technologically sound. Once released, the Panton chair was quick to become a design hallmark—but this did not stop the team from continuing to innovate in the following decades.

As late as 1999, Vitra engineered a method to replace hard foam with polypropylene and began treating the chair with a special UV-ray protective additive, making it suitable for outdoor use. For Vitra, this story highlights “the importance of a manufacturer’s investment in a designer, both in terms of time and resources,” says Vitra’s Head of Marketing and Events, North America, Adrian Parra. “For us, this is something that we value and we cherish.” Today, the Panton chair is an almost ubiquitous presence in both residential and commercial spaces. However, all too often the original version, still manufactured by Vitra, is substituted by cheaper copies—ones that reduce a chair laden with historical and cultural meaning into a mere visual cue.

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Architecture Design

Villa Beer

March 7, 2017
Josef Frank Haus Beer Vienna

Today, Josef Frank is perhaps primarily known for the colorful textiles and furniture of his later years, and his substantial impact on design in Sweden, where he emigrated in 1933. But Frank’s work in Vienna, and particularly Villa Beer, which is currently facing substantial alterations to its interior, deserves more than just a cursory glance.

Designed in 1927, Frank envisioned Villa Beer as a collection of interior sequences, layered to produce dynamic spatial effects, as visitors enter through a red door hidden under a large central oriel and proceed through a small anteroom into a spacious two-story hall. The hall, which centers around a dramatic spiraling staircase, reveals the home’s different levels, while floating platforms project outward like branches, providing dramatic views of the space.

The Beers of Villa Beer are Julius and Margarete Beer, owners of a successful shoe factory and fervent music lovers who were eager to make the experience of music the focal point of the home. Frank responded to their requests by housing a grand piano in a floating mezzanine which allows the sounds of music to be carried throughout the house.

Josef Frank Haus Beer ViennaDespite what the almost-modern open plan of the central hall and the stark white paint of the rooms might imply, Frank found inspiration for the Villa in English homes of the second half of the 19th century, with their rambling layouts, winding stairs, and cozy inglenooks. Frank also turned to the fabric of historical urban spaces, believing that “a well-organized house should be laid out like a city, with streets and alleys that lead inevitably to places that are cut off from traffic, so that one can rest there.” His interiors offer the visitor a variety of possibilities, providing seemingly natural pathways that lead to nooks and outlooks offering a variety of vantage points from which to experience the space. “The shortest path is not the most comfortable one, and the straight stairway is not always the best—indeed almost never,” Frank wrote.

Josef Frank Haus Beer ViennaFrank designed the complex spatial configuration of Villa Beer in the service of producing psychological impressions on the visitor. Much like his contemporary, Adolph Loos, Frank designed his homes from the outside in, believing architecture should provoke a strong emotional response with its complex interrelationship between the spaces, varied room levels and heights, and sensuously articulated interiors where soft and rich materials contrast with the relative harshness of the architecture.

Please take a minute and sign the petition to preserve the original interiors of Villa Beer.

Some additional photos of the beautiful Villa Beer after the cut.

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Art Design Published

Talent Pool

November 16, 2016
merchandise mart

When the Mart, the organizer of NeoCon in Chicago, initiated a program to support emerging talents as part of the 2016 edition of the fair, it invited Metropolis to curate an exhibition that would feature designers on the cusp of entering the marketplace. “It’s important for NeoCon to offer a platform for what’s new—I think the community welcomes the freshness,” says the Mart’s vice president of marketing, Lisa Simonian.

In developing the project, Metropolis held to its guiding principle of featuring design at all scales, showcasing diverse pieces ranging from small glass bowls to the booth itself, which was developed by Chicago-based architecture studio Design With Company. “The studio’s serious but playful approach to architecture and design is in sync with the magazine’s editorial mission,” says Metropolis’s editorial and brand director, Paul Makovsky. “They gave us several imaginative scenarios to choose from. It was hard to select one.” The structure, which took the form of a kidney-shaped podium, its bottom half projecting outward into the space and its top flattened against the wall, was dubbed the Talent Pool; the witty wordplay— along with the designers’ experiments with Wilsonart’s Raspberry Cream laminate—gave a subtle nod to Postmodern irreverence.

“We wanted to create something that drew attention to the space but didn’t take any attention away from the products,” Design With Company cofounder Stewart Hicks says. “At the same time, the booth made a statement.” To achieve this delicate balance between attracting crowds and diverting their attention to the objects themselves, the designers fashioned a Polished Natural Aluminum laminate platform that reflected the products on its surface. The material continued on the vertical section of the booth—this time in the Matte Natural version to animate the design but prevent distracting reflections of viewers gathered around the display. “I liked that Design With Company worked with our sponsorship partners,” says Makovsky. In addition to Wilsonart’s Decorative Metals line and new Spectrum collection, the designers specified Milliken’s Woven Threads pattern from its Suitable 2.0 collection in an unconventional black-and-white colorway. The end result inspired the fair’s audiences to engage with the space. “Even people who hadn’t planned on stopping by the booth couldn’t help but stare at the giant pool while in line for the elevators,” Metropolis’s director of brand strategy, Grace Ehlers, adds. “It was a moment of unexpected joy.”

In choosing designers to feature as part of the project, Metropolis’s editors developed an open-ended set of criteria. The focus was on young designers who hadn’t yet established relationships with large retailers or manufacturers. Metropolis has followed the careers of some of the featured designers, including Florida-based lighting design studio DAMM and Chicago’s Assembly, while others, like textile designer Dee Clements and Steven Haulenbeek, were new finds.

The New Talent installation complements a shift observed across NeoCon, as the industry increasingly sees emerging designers as an energizing force. “NeoCon has a reputation for featuring innovation at a mass industry level, but they are now reaching out to younger designers who are trying to make statements but don’t necessarily know how to implement their ideas on a large scale,” Hicks says. “I think our pieces fit really well into that narrative.” Ehlers adds: “At our champagne toast, manufacturers were asking to be introduced to the designers, as opposed to the other way around. This can mark a really significant shift in how products get made.”

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Challenging Abstraction

June 29, 2016
abstract art dale appleman

My interview with abstract artist Dale Appleman for A Women’s Thing’s Wild issue is now up on the AWT website.