1. Review | Plain or Fancy? at the Met

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    A recent review I wrote for Disegno magazine’s website. Check it out!

    http://disegnodaily.com/opinion/plain-or-fancy-at-the-met

    (Image courtesy of the Met)

  2. Technology Will Save Us

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    Inspiring duo pushes the notion of accessibility in design and technology. For more information, visit their site @

    http://technologywillsaveus.org

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    (Images courtesy of Technology Will Save Us)

  3. Dumpsters for Living?

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    Featured on Designboom today are dumspters turned into abodes for the homeless. They were created by German designer Philipp Stingl. I can’t help but wonder if a person could actually lay down in these small containers…

    Interesting proposition nonetheless.

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    (Images courtesy of Designboom)

  4. Takeaways from Apartamento 10

    When I cracked open the newest issue of Apartamento, I was floored by three things:

    1. The discovery that artist Tauba Auberbach designed one of the best looking spines I’ve seen on Apartamento, or any magazine for that matter (shout out to Arcs, Circles, & Grids!).

    2. Jasper Morrison’s tape collection:

    And…

    3. To see a discussion with Greek filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos. His 2009 film Dogtooth was awarded at the Cannes film festival and nominated for an Oscar. 

    Here, I revisit an essay I wrote about the objects and use of design in the film:

    Winner of the Un Certain Regard prize at the Cannes Film Festival, Dogtooth (2009) could be read as an unmerciful work of psychological realism.  The film aims to analyze and redefine accepted social parameters, a comment on the strangeness of what society insists is the benchmark of normality: the family unit, with its own theological system and secrets.  Writer and director Yorgos Lanthimos juxtaposes our reality with his characters.  By forging surrealistic associations between objects and their meanings, and using simple, muted design elements, the people and objects themselves echo through the screen, forcing the audience into a perplexing black-comic narrative of dysfunction and violence. 

    Set somewhere in the Greek countryside, a well-off businessman owns a beautiful estate with a large swimming pool and a tidy lawn trimmed to perfection.  He appears to be happily married to a quiet, unassertive woman, with whom he has three good-looking children in their 20s: one son and two daughters.  Despite the outward suburban utopia conveyed by palm tree-lined grounds, the Mercedes parked in the driveway, paintings of flowers on living room walls, balloons after dinnertime, and light pink semi-sheer curtains hung in bathroom windows, something is chillingly wrong.  It gradually becomes clear that the parents of this bizarre five-member family, for reasons untold, keep their three children imprisoned on their compound into adulthood.  They are infantilized, trained in dog-like obedience as they woof and leap about on all fours and play wild games holding anesthetic-drenched cloths over their faces until unconsciousness takes hold.

    A complex trial of parental oppression can no doubt lead to dark, disturbing actions.  But through the narrative’s visual presentation (everything is shot with a coolly observational deadpan), striking behaviors seem normalized, reinforcing the mockery the film makes of familial perfection.  An emphasis on simplicity pervades the film’s aesthetic through color and cinematographic choices.  Every designed element, from the furniture to clothing, interiors, and objects, are contemporary yet placeless in muted, monochromatic colors.  Creams and beiges wash over the living room loveseat, carpets, and walls.  Whites cover cotton bedspreads in the bedrooms and creep onto tiled floors, tub, and pedestal sink in the family’s shared bathroom.  Toothbrushes are faded, nondescript grays and greens.  Clothing is un-patterned in solid whites, slates, and navy tones, rendering them inexpressive.

    The detachment moves fluidly from colors and set to the film’s subdued shooting style, which is intentionally skewed with singular torsos often filling the screen, imbuing the confined character’s neuroses.  Such distillation and use of conventional upper middle-class signifiers adds to the film’s efficacy: the contrast between our expectations and what actually unfolds on-screen, sexual perversion and physical violence, blurs and jumbles orthodox ideologies.

    The film also employs a surrealist technique to further push boundaries bordering on the absurdist, and to achieve a fear-induced mythology of the parents devising, to which the siblings adhere.  In an opening sequence, the mother’s tape recorded voice dispenses daily vocabulary lessons in which odd substitutions for words are taught; telephone means “saltshaker,” zombies are “small, yellow flowers,” and a keyboard stands for “female genitalia.”  Even linguistic perception is deformed through extreme parental control, as words signifying communication devices (telephone), objects of popular culture (zombies), and those suggesting sexuality (female genitalia) gain connotation with a less threatening context.  While these permutations seem harmless and are often comical to us as viewers, they are used to further instill anxiety towards the outside world, and are the constraining elements that keep the shut-in offspring perpetually captive. 

    In this freakish, homemade micro culture, the three young adults are subjected to a contrived reality where repressed emotional strain compounds. What ultimately emerges is a volatile study of the human hunger for experience.  So desperate becomes the eldest daughter in her readiness to leave the family home, the surmounting tension leads to a grotesque climax played out on-screen in the form of self-inflicted violence with the aid of a dumbbell.  The film enduringly explores fundamental characteristics of humanity so deeply, and with a lurking sense of humor, that it begins to gnaw at our very definitions of family and society.  Even after the credits roll, the images haunt like a phantom blade, and we are reminded that these imperfect systems are themselves social constructions.

  5. From the Design Criticism website:

    The ghettoization of Art and Design that permeates our cultural institutions, commercial galleries and auction houses, eliminates the possibility of a tertium quid (third thing) which might be greater than the sum of its individual parts. Through Moss and now through Moss Bureau, design retailer and gallerist Murray Moss has dedicated his career to blurring distinctions between genres in an attempt to dismantle such departmental thinking. In conversation with Alice Twemlow, Murray will expound on his “apples to oranges” approach to curation through which, by pairing certain disparate works, he asks his audience to search, with fresh eyes, for new conclusions.

    Murray Moss is the founder of the internationally renowned Moss design gallery, a museum-like store, located in New York’s SoHo district, that displayed and sold cutting-edge products and furniture between 1994 and 2012. During that time, Murray conceived and curated over 100 highly influential exhibitions at Moss as well as other venues. In February of 2012, Murray and his partner Franklin Getchell closed their Greene Street store, and inaugurated Moss Bureau, a design consultancy providing a multiplicity of services to manufacturers, design studios, and architectural firms, as well as offering curatorial and interior design services.

  6. Before the End of the World

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    In 1971, the radical architectural group Superstudio had something urgent to say. Questioning the very necessity of architecture and design, the provocateurs ’s projects communicated a radical vision of a world devoid of design altogether. Their critical alternatives to the cultural, economic, and social system in which we live are trenchant even today -over 40 years after the collective first formed.

    As we spiral towards December 21, 2012, I re-examine a sampling of projects highlighted in A Life Without Objects, a compilation of works first published in Italian in 2003.

    It is the designer who must attempt to re-evaluate his role in the nightmare he has helped to conceive -Torelado di Francia (1969)

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    (All images courtesy Superstudio)

  7. Design and Its Affects

    In a recent article published in the New York Times, design historian Alice Rawsthorn explores the role of affect in design and architecture:

    (Farshid Moussavi’s ‘‘Architecture and Affects’’ installation at the Venice Architecture Biennale.)

    "If asked to describe what you think of a chair or a phone, you might begin by explaining what it looks like, what it does, and if it has any special qualities. But one of the most important factors in determining how you feel will be your instinctive response when you encounter the object, an experience that is similar to what philosophers call an “affect.”

    That word is becoming rather popular in design circles. Not that it is new. On the contrary, the concept dates back to Aristotle’s writing in ancient Greece. Nor is it new for designers and design theorists to discuss how design impacts the senses. But doing so can be complicated, not least because the language to describe it is often imprecise, sometimes confusingly so. Some people refer to the fuzzy bundle of sensations that design can provoke as a change of mood or atmosphere, and others talk about a new tone or spirit. 

    Affect could prove to be a more accurate term, which would be helpful. After all, the clearer we are in identifying the different ways that design influences us, the better equipped we will be to understand it, and to ensure that its power is used intelligently.

    The concept of affect may be rooted in ancient Greece, but the word hails from ancient Rome and the Latin noun affectus. It was introduced to the English language in the 1300s to describe the rush of emotions experienced when someone falls in love or is overcome by joy or sorrow. In the 17th century, the philosophers René Descartes and Baruch Spinoza distinguished affect from emotion by emphasizing its transformative nature. It was redefined again in the 20th century by philosophers like Henri Bergson and Gilles Deleuze, who applied it to aesthetics, literature and technology.

    Affect is now being used in architecture, notably by the Iranian-born, London-based architect Farshid Moussavi, who devoted her contribution to this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale, which ended here Nov. 25, to “Architecture and Affects.” By projecting giant images of different architectural styles and structures, she illustrated how architects can define the way we relate to buildings by creating different affects through their choice of scale, materials, shapes, decorative elements and methods of construction.

    Similar principles apply to the design of other things, whether they are objects, like chairs and phones, or images. I know that my response to them is as likely to be determined by the seemingly random assortment of memories and associations they provoke as it is by fact.

    An obvious example is a typeface, like the one you are reading now. Simply by looking at the shapes of the letters you will know instinctively how its designer wanted you to interpret it. You don’t need to be a typographic historian to realize that the simplicity of a font with no decorative details, like Helvetica, used in the logos of American Airlines and American Apparel, is intended to evoke efficiency, speed and clarity. And you should be able to guess that the more elaborately shaped and ornately decorated the letters are, the likelier they will be to appear on the cover of a trashy novel or in the opening titles of a sappy movie. We know intuitively that, unlike ascetic Helvetica, a typeface with those affects is not intended to be taken entirely seriously.

    Or consider a familiar object: the Thonet Model No. 14, a wooden dining chair designed by the German industrialist Michael Thonet during the mid-1800s. It was introduced in 1859 as the first mass-manufactured chair to be sold at an affordable price and has since seated more people than any other chair.

    Anyone who is familiar with its history will know how radical the No. 14 would have seemed in the 1800s, when it was one of the first pieces of furniture, which was as likely to be bought by a teacher as a prince. They will also know that Thonet devoted years of research and testing to its development, and rejected numerous early versions until he found one that satisfied him. He then continued to refine the chair’s design and by 1867 had worked out how to make it from just six pieces of wood, ten screws and two nuts.

    But even without that knowledge, you can still sense what sort of chair Thonet wanted to make, whether or not you realize that you are doing so, by instinctively decoding the affects of his design. What do they tell us about the No. 14? That it will be useful, robust and, somehow, both bold and reassuring.

    We can see that Thonet planned to produce a practical chair from its structure. Why else would he have designed it from so few components: each of which is compact, simple in shape, and clearly designated to fulfill a specific function? The fact that nothing is surplus to requirements suggests that the No. 14 was designed, not only with a certain bravura and a refusal to compromise, but with considerable care, which is bound to feel reassuring.

    The same qualities are embedded in its stylistic elements. There is nothing fussy about the chair, signaling that it was intended to be useful and durable. But there is a tension between its gleaming wood and gentle curves, which remind us of the rustic coziness of traditional hand-crafted furniture, and the precision of those curves: clues that they must have been made by machine, not by hand.

    Back in 1859, the first No. 14s promised to combine the reliability of industrial production with the emotional warmth of wood. Over 150 years later, we still find that combination reassuring, while sensing that there is something unexpected about it, bold even. Each of us will interpret the affects of Thonet’s chair slightly differently, but the impression they produce is very powerful, which is why understanding that sensation is not just important to designers but to us too.”

  8. Transparent Tools

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    A family of household appliances that presents a future scenario in which users are actively involved in producing, repairing, and modifying their own products. By using 3D printed, CNC manufactured, and standard components, the resulting machines can be reproduced one-at-a-time rather than on the scale of mass production. The family of appliances consists of a toaster, a motorized grinder, a vacuum cleaner, and an electric kettle. 

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    Components of the original family of machines are changed and expanded to create a vacuum built around a plastic thermos, an industrial-size toaster, and to transform a machine created to mix ceramic glaze pigments into a kitchen mixer.

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    For each of the four main appliances, a single page manual provides building instructions, links to download the 3D printed and CNC milled components, and sources for the necessary salvaged or recycled parts. In combination with the set of tools available at Fab Labs though out the world, the manuals allow the appliances to be reproduced by nearly anyone, from nearly anywhere.

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    (Descriptions and images courtesy Jess Howard)

  9. 100 Years of Readymade

    Mousse#36 out now!

    Mousse celebrates the centenary of the birth of the readymade with a symphony of authoritative voices which bring to light some crucial issues concerning the mechanisms that govern the relationships between use value and exchange value. Today as yesterday.

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    (Courtesy moussemagazine.it)

  10. Designers for Sandy Relief

    Two dozen designers have banded together to host a silent auction that will benefit those afflicted by Hurricane Sandy. Designs include lighting, chairs, tables, and other art objects using reclaimed materials from the storm. The group, ReclaimNY, was started by writers Jennifer Krichels Gorsche and Jean Lin, and designer Brad Ascalon. 

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    From their facebook page:

    As the city works to recover from Hurricane Sandy, we would like to reach out to the design community with an opportunity to help those who have suffered terrible losses during the storm. We are calling upon designers to use debris and refuse materials from the storm to create pieces of furniture and art that will be auctioned for charity.

    We hope our fallen trees and storm-damaged building materials can be reborn as objects that represent the city’s recovery.If you or a designer you know is interested in participating in this event, please contact us for more information. We would love your help in making this an event that New York’s design industry can be proud of.

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    All proceeds will go to the American Red Cross in Greater New York. The auction takes place 19 December from 7:00 to 9:00 PM at Ligne Roset’s SoHo showroom, located at 155 Wooster Street.