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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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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.”

Full Article Here

Design Published

New Talent 2015

November 20, 2015

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

margrethe odgaard design
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.”

Brynjar Sigurðarson

Brynjar Sigurðarson Design
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.”

Sylvain Willenz

Sylvain Willenz design
“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

Sean Baker design
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

Architecture Design Published

A Decade after Katrina, Tulane Expands Its Social Innovation Agenda

October 20, 2015

Tulane University’s URBANbuild initiative was founded in 2005, not long before Hurricane Katrina ravaged much of the surrounding area. And if its mission had been important before, it became even more pressing in the storm’s aftermath.

As Tulane’s School of Architecture’s design-build program, URBANbuild sets out to give students firsthand experience of the work that goes into building an energy-efficient home, combining academic with technical knowledge. Over the course of the semester students participate in every aspect of the building process, from researching and developing proposals to communicating with material providers and working directly with subcontractors.

Following Hurricane Katrina, URBANbuild turned its focus toward designing for the immediate community as it dealt with the consequences of the natural disaster. “We had an opportunity and a responsibility to help the communities in a much greater way,” Byron Mouton, director of URBANbuild, says. “Helping people who decided to return to understand that they had access to greater options.” Since its inception, the program has spearheaded the design and execution of 10 projects, including affordable housing in underserved areas and even a pop-up community market—all have had a small-scale but deeply-felt impact on the urban fabric of New Orleans.

Now, with the ten-year anniversary of Katrina, many are revisiting the extent of Katrina’s impact on the area and reassessing how the disaster has shaped how designers can deal with catastrophe and hardship on a broader scale. In these discussions, Tulane has stepped up to the plate once more, with its Tulane City Center projects (the community outreach arm of the Tulane School of Architecture) and its newly founded Phyllis M. Taylor Center for Social Innovation and Design Thinking.

As a university-wide initiative, the Taylor Center is committed to becoming the area’s hub for social innovation and design thinking. Through a wide array of programs and activities—including lectures, workshops, and fellowship opportunities—Taylor is seeking to blur the lines between the academic environment and the larger community, by acting as a resource to both. Its Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship minor creates an academic framework for understanding and enacting social change, with student organizations and speaker series helping to spread the ideas of the program. Additionally, the Changemaker Institute Accelerator helps turn these pursuits into potential careers.

Apart from its programs, Taylor also offers several funding opportunities, including the New Day Challenge, which supports student-led projects that address social challenges affecting New Orleans. The development of the city and the surrounding area remains one of Tulane’s main concerns, as its programs seek to not only confront immediate issues but integrate community engagement as part of the curriculum. “At Taylor, URBANbuild, and Tulane City Center, engagement and social innovation are at the very core of everything we do,” Taylor’s founding director Kenneth Schwartz says. “Adding these programs up, it’s a remarkable confluence of social innovation for this university-wide enterprise.”

Full article here.

Architecture Design Published

Spatial Reasoning: Gender, History, and Minimalist Spaces

September 22, 2015
Frances F Denny

Article for the Minimalism issue of A Women’s Thing magazine.

“Penny Sparke begins her book on the relationship between gender politics and design, As Long as It’s Pink, by recounting a segment from the cult 1990s BBC television series Signs of the Times. The show, which set out to document the personal tastes of British homeowners, featured a woman “married to an architect for whom white walls and minimal décor were de rigueur. The woman explained how she sometimes went into the children’s bedroom—the only room in which curtains were permitted—and softly wept.” What could be so unsettling about the design of a room that it would drive a woman to tears? And more generally, what is it about minimalist spaces, those mainstays of architectural history classes and interior design magazines, that makes them seem cold and alienating to people who actually spend time in them?”

Full article (+beautiful layout) here
Photography: Frances F. Denny