This past summer, I joined a group of authors in writing short histories of the world’s most famous chairs for Phaidon Press—Chair: 500 Designs That Matter, coming out on April 6, 2018.
This past summer, I joined a group of authors in writing short histories of the world’s most famous chairs for Phaidon Press—Chair: 500 Designs That Matter, coming out on April 6, 2018.
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.)
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.
Essay on interior design and the idea of women’s work for A Women’s Thing.
Profile of lighting designers at Kugler Ning, full article here.
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.
Despite 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.
Frank 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.
A couple of months ago I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of very inspiring designers and artists for the October issue of Metropolis magazine.
Margrethe Odgaard’s interest in pattern could hardly be called superficial. The Danish designer has not only been utilizing pattern as a decorative element but also recognizing it as a force that guides most of our everyday experiences. Sometimes her work seeks to illustrate patterns already existing in our lives. At other times it even dictates how we use objects, like her tablecloth for Georg Jensen Damask—which gives guidelines on how to set the table and fold napkins—or her Divan daybed, which subtly directs where to lie on its surface.
A graduate of the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts who also studied “I’m looking to create design that not only replies to human behavior but also interacts with it and creates some kind of difference.” at the Rhode Island School of Design, Odgaard praises the role of apprenticeship in design education. “It teaches you to identify a problem where it’s not about your own artistic expression,” she says. “It’s more about how you can find a solution to a problem with the skills you have.”
Odgaard believes designers are ready to develop their own voices once they have sufficiently honed their skills. For her, this meant fostering a dialogue with other creative voices, from furniture designer Christina Liljenberg Halstrøm to chef Jakob Mielcke. “In that dialogue you refine your work and there’s a greater chance that it becomes relevant,” Odgaard says. “For me, collaborations are another kind of communication that makes me sharper to what my own identity is as a designer.”
The long process of gestation helps explain the impressive quantity and quality of work Odgaard has produced since officially launching her independent studio in 2012. What instantly comes across in her designs is a keen understanding of color and pattern, which nevertheless remain tightly bound to function. Particularly striking is her ongoing Fold Unfold project, where, uninspired by the idea of designing a tablecloth with a floral pattern that is disrupted by folding creases, Odgaard created a design in which color seems to be bleeding through the folds, the pattern both highlighting and camouflaging the creases.
While her work to date has spanned textile, graphic, and product design, Odgaard is now moving on to designing within the larger scale of architecture. Her first project: outfitting and color-setting the Danish Architects’ Association’s new headquarters, which is slated to open in December. “The way we move and what we feel in a room are both very interesting to me,” Odgaard says. “For each room, I have notes from the association where they tell me what activities will be going on, and my goal is to use pattern and decoration to emphasize that energy.”
But no matter the medium of expression, Odgaard’s work remains firmly grounded in a social context, illustrated by her project Colour Cup—lightbulbs encased in elegant beadwork, mimicking the technique of African basket weaving. Created in collaboration with women from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, the light bulbs were designed to give the group an opportunity to expand their market and export their products. Since then, the Colour Cup has been acquired by both Muji and the Conran Shop. “I’m trying to engage with society in a different way and to take social responsibility,” Odgaard says. “I’m looking to create design that not only replies to human behavior but also interacts with it and creates some kind of difference.”
The roots of most of Brynjar Sigurðarson’s art and design work can be traced to the traditions of Iceland, but the 29-year-old artist and designer developed his fascination with his native country only upon moving to Switzerland to study at ECAL (École cantonale d’art de Lausanne). “I experienced a whole new perspective on the culture I come from,” Sigurðarson says. “Before, I didn’t know anything else.” He credits the move with cultivating his interest in the anthropology and geology of the region. “If geology is about the production methods of nature, for designers there is much to learn from that,” he says. These interests account for much of his work, from his Glacier Project candles and Spectrum vases—resembling waves crashing on Icelandic shores—to his Study Boards, which are visual repositories that bring together drawings, photographs, and collected objects from Icelandic villages.
Sigurðarson’s own design process, much like nature’s, is often mysterious. “Most of my work follows a feeling. I try to shape what comes to me,” the designer says. “I don’t really see myself as a conductor, but rather the performer.” Not surprisingly, his practice spans many mediums and is almost impossible to pin down. The one constant of Sigurðarson’s work—which encompasses drawing, design, theater, and video (a short documentary detailing hermit Borgþór Sveinsson’s search for the legendary bull-fish was recently acquired by MAK, the Museum of Applied Arts, in Vienna)—is his preference for examining materials and narratives rather than producing discrete functional objects.
His exploration of Icelandic traditions began with a one-month stay in Vopnafjörður, a remote fishing village in northeast Iceland. Part field study, part art project, the experience left an indelible mark on Sigurðarson’s practice. The turning point was meeting a 75-year-old shark hunter and fisherman, whose workshop Sigurðarson spent a week in, learning how to use netting needles to make fishing nets. The designer translated this technique into his 2013 Silent Village collection for Galerie Kreo in Paris. The exhibition showcased a selection of 11 furniture pieces embellished with various found objects and decorative details, including brightly colored rope and nylon fishing wire, in a reference to the binding technique. “I think decoration tends to be highly underestimated,” Sigurðarson says. “The decorative parts speak a language, in this case the language of the fishing village.”
Now splitting his time between Lausanne and Berlin, where he recently founded a studio with Veronika Seldmair, Sigurðarson continues working on what he dubs “exercises”—process-heavy pieces that oscillate between anthropology and design. “In my work I try to bring up a picture of the ambiguous environment and speak of my experience,” he says. “Things such as atmosphere and personal experiences tend to get overly complicated when put into words, so maybe it is not so far off to translate them in the shape of objects.”
“Simple” is not a dirty word for Sylvain Willenz. “There’s no point in designing something purely for the sake of being wild,” he says. “A designer doesn’t need to prove something through the object. What is essential is that the user finds it functional and friendly.” His belief that a simple form can still challenge a material is clearly visible in many of his projects, from the clean lines of his injection-molded plastic buckets to the sensuous beveled curves of marble and wood in the Alaka collection, developed in 2015 for the French manufacturer Retegui. This flexible approach and pared-down aesthetic has helped the Brussels-born Royal College of Art graduate amass a body of work that runs the gamut from furniture and lighting to textile design.
This prospect of variety is what appeals to Willenz and his small team as they work on projects varying from external hard drives to printed textile ranges. “I think for everyone in the studio it’s nice to be able to work on products that have different types of energy,” he says. “One day we’ll be working on something that will involve a lot of engineering, working with 0.01 millimeters, and then jump back to a textile where we’re talking about centimeters.” His rug collections for companies such as Ligne Roset and Menu fall into the second category, where Willenz abandons technical specificity for a painterly quality that lies somewhere between op art and colorfield painting. “I think the first rug we did was probably the hardest project to start,” he admits. “But then once we got started we just couldn’t stop—we had all these ideas. For me personally it was the perfect medium to express my interest in drawing and graphics.”
Connecting all of this diverse work is an immediately appealing aesthetic that projects softness and warmth. “I’m not about aggressive corners and angles,” Willenz says. “I like the idea that objects give you a reassuring feeling, that they have a sense of friendliness.” But he is also careful not to let familiarity veer into the realm of the formulaic. This can easily be seen in his 2015 Moor Club Seater, designed for the Belgian manufacturer Durlet. The concept evokes the long tradition of plump armchair design and imbues it with a cartoonish quality drawn from the Belgian heritage of illustration, all the while playfully subverting both influences. “You have this feeling that you’ve seen it, but you actually haven’t,” Willenz says. “It’s almost like déjà vu.” It’s this quality of design that seems at once old and new, present from some of his earliest works (he singles out the Torch lamp as a good example), that has carved out room for Willenz, deservedly setting him apart in the saturated field of design fairs and exhibitions.
Sean Baker believes a key aspect of design strategy is being aware of the discipline’s potential pitfalls. “One of the biggest worries I have with the spread of design thinking is the idea of a packaged set of tools that can just be copied and pasted into any situation,” he says.
For Baker, design is more about careful navigation between disciplines, being cognizant of constraints and comfortable with complexity. “Human beings are not prone to being at ease with ambiguity or taking risks,” Baker says, “especially when you tackle really complex issues like disaster management or response.” His background, which spans biological sciences, anthropology, and sculpture, plus a graduate degree in transdisciplinary design from Parsons the New School for Design, has more than set Baker up for this task. “I think one of the main things that designers in my position can bring to the table is questioning people’s preconceived notions of the problem, or the framing of the problem.”
This line of thinking has informed all of his undertakings, from the Newburgh Project, which helped local entrepreneurs envision businesses that could thrive in the still-struggling postindustrial city of Newburgh, New York, to Fuse: Next Generation, which guided a group of experts in developing extracurricular science and math programs.
Perhaps even more nuanced was Project Fogg, which brought together a highly diverse team of experts—from the federal government to members of grassroots organizations—in an effort to provide a platform that would address the lack of information that follows in the first 10 hours after a major natural disaster. Led by Baker, the stakeholders turned a theoretical project around community resilience into a material toolkit, producing a weather balloon outfitted with a camera and transmitter. These kits are set to increase the capabilities of disaster management by making response times and resource allocation faster and more accurate, bridging the gap between a community’s needs and institutional response.
It is this sensitivity to different perspectives and experiences, both expert and community-led, that has aided Baker in his transition from design consulting in New York to his current position as lead designer for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management’s Innovation Lab in Washington, D.C. There, he has taken on the revamp of USA Jobs, the federal hiring platform used by more than two million people, with the goal of adapting the search engine from a job seeker’s perspective. He is also helping the lab with the development of a design curriculum that could be applied across federal agencies. Once again, the project is not so much about providing a rigid framework for design thinking. “A lot of it is about changing the ethos of federal agencies,” Baker says. “It’s about getting them to see value in their personal expertise but understanding that syncing that expertise up with other disciplines is very enabling. And design strategy is this wonderful discipline that actually provides people with the tools that they need to navigate the complexity of that process.”
Full article: Metropolis