To a designer, getting a picture of Saarinen’s Tulip line is the junkmail equivalent of hearing Abbey Road on the train because someone’s ipod is cranked too loud. What am I supposed to do? Tell them to stop? I love it! But then again, why am I being forced to fetishize this? Saarinen is one of my heros; as a child, I made my first wages in nickels cleaning my father’s white Tulip chair with Fantastic. Still, I cannot praise Saarinen tonight. I must resist temptation and vanity. But it’s so beautiful, my precious….
Seriously though, let’s talk about waste and wasted opportunities. Today, Saarinen’s TWA terminal at JFK lies abandoned except to wilding hippies who manage to throw elite parties there. (At least that’s the most recent activity of which I’ve heard. I wasn’t invited.)
We can blame the tragedy of this wasted gem of modern architecture on the failed business practices of TWA, OR we can blame its vacancy of the inability of its design to remain a viable transit hub for a new airline in today’s traffic of air travel. Yes, yes, it’s my favorite building in New York, second only to… but its flaws must be reckoned with, and Eero’s shortsightedness along with them. I suggest we take a look at some triumphs of long term vision in New York design.
We begin in 1832. A Cholera epidemic has erupted in London, the result of contaminated drinking water from the Broad Street Pump. Similar outbreaks occur in New York City. In 1835, the Great Fire of New York wipes out large parts of the city, burning to the ground the newly framed wooden homes of the city’s immigrant poor. Insufficient water supply was blamed for the failure to extinguish the inferno. In 1837, in response to mounting concerns about disease and fire, Municipal Engineers in NYC damn the Croton River to create the Croton Resevoir, and dig an elaborate water distribution system to supply water to the growing population of the city. These were thinkers of enormous imagination. They pushed for a scale of construction and innovation unthinkable at the time. (Look at the little dude in the huge tunnel!)
Let’s flash-forward to 1930 when a New York urban planner, without a driver’s license mind you, envisioned our city consumed by automobiles— the mass transportation means of the future. Robert Moses gave us inner-city transit ways like the BQE, Henry Hudson Parkway, Belt Parkway, and the Triborough Bridge among others.
Thank god he was stopped before unleashing his dream of a freeway across Canal St. (I reveal my elitist attitudes…. He left us Soho. Errr. I have second thoughts…) Moses is often hated for ripping through working class neighborhoods to provide leisurely paths of driving for those with cars. Of course he saw it as leisurely— he never drove himself. His roads remain with us, but alongside are countless poor neighborhoods, often attributed to his developments, which are slowly returning from generations of urban blight. So here’s my Colbert “Tip of the Hat” to Moses for creating roadways that continue to be used and wanted, and “Wag of the Finger” for roadways that continue to bypass, alienate, and waste working people needed for our city’s growth. To boot, his visions encouraged decades of oil and auto lobby interests, resulting in our current air quality and climate dilemma.
But then there’s Mies. Pretty, utopian, fascist Mies and his Seagram Building, all too overlooked for its role in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.
Long story short, in 1958 Ludwig Mies van der Rohe convinced a rich and greedy tycoon to forfeit almost one half of his Park Avenue lot to public space. Unconscionable! From my measly perspective, the only blindspot in his foresight is that he would be less thoughtfully imitated. Park Avenue is now lined with ugly step-back boxes of glass pushed up against the sidewalk. There is no public space except for that left by Mies in ’56.
How wonderful was his foresight though, that our crowded mid-town has an oasis of flowing Croton water for the pleasure of those who drive upon and sleep beneath the roads of Moses. For the cost of height, Mies gave open space. The Seagram Building is an enduring success of municipal design. It houses the man and hosts the working stiff. No municipal or technological revolution, nor increase in corporate trading has rendered its generous space out of date.
We return to DWR and poor Eero, whose airline terminal was lyrical, but insufficient over time. Perhaps he was too concerned with his own gestures— his planes and curves, his organic twistings within. Perhaps he was not yet related to air travel and its customers. So to DWR, learn from Saarinen and Moses; some designs of the future are fated to fail and others to succeed while they fail others. Let’s look to Croton and Mies for the foresight to provide infrastructure and design to all who need it. And when we take a little here for one party, lets give a little back to the other.
Please tell me in your next junkmail how you are working to support public education of design history while disseminating consumer suggestions for sustainable living.
My friend Maxo took a look at last week’s post about the smokestack humidifier and was like, “wait, is that the Amadana humidifier?!” Huh? “Amadana’s this great Japanese home appliance company,” he continued. “I’ve been trying to find their stuff in the states, but only see it in Japan.” Well, I can’t corroborate any of that, but he did some snooping and directed my attention to the disclaimer at the bottom of this page on the Amadana website:
Earlier today, the lead article on nytimes.com announced that rapid prototyping printers may be appearing in the home within the next two years. Those of us in the field of industrial design are familiar with available technologies for rapid prototyping, Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM), Stereolithography (SLA), etc. Basically, these technologies allow a product which has been modeled in the computer to be spat out in solid form by a machine. So for example, I drew this:
I removed the support material (the plastic is hot when it’s printed— imagine crossing a hotglue gun and an ink jet printer— so it needs additional material to ensure the prototype doesn’t sag while cooling) and got this:
So you see, rapid prototyping is very cool, and also very useful for ironing out kinks like scale and connections, before you go and produce 100,000 pieces of more junk. But there’s been a lot of talk in the ID community about the ramifications of everyone being able to design and print there own stuff at home. As core77.com editor Allan Chochinov laments, desktop publishing gear like inkjet printers has made everyone having a tag sale into a graphic designer. And now the trees along country lanes are littered with bad signage. So what will become of product design? Forget that, what will become of our landfills when every Tom, Dick, and Harry is busy turning his macintosh into an industrial production line of one offs? These neato gadgets and technologies can have tremendous consequences that need to be considered. Fortunately, the Times article included some encouraging pictures:
Yesterday I was out doing anthropological research, but Paul Smith’s 16th St. store didn’t have any in my size so K and I went to Barneys. Truth be told, we were in the area for drinks at the Grolier Club, where we met the fine gentleman who will engrave our wedding invitations. He was absolutely charming— the very image of gin at noon over Newport harbor. I’d share his contact, save he’s ours— and such perfect cuffs! But enough of that, I am a man of the people, so on with the show….
So we’re at Barneys and I come across these:
Admittedly, the Industrial Circus is not the first to present this act. Trovata’s canvas and patent leather bag was presented in September of 2006 as a part of their Spring collection. Alas I missed it. Sorry I was busy at Marc Jacobs that night. But a quick search of ye olde goegle reveals that whatshaute.com gave this review along with the following image:
“September 23, 2006
Trovata’s Spring ’07 runway show showed off their breezy nautical inspired collection accessorized with unpretentious duffle bags. Based on an old carpenter’s bag, the styles are unisex and were designed in collaboration with bag guru Reed Krakoff, Creative Director and President of Coach.
Trovata’s debut accessories collection has the simple and unembellished feel of traditional Coach bags. The canvas body is highlighted by a metal frame, polished leather and patent leather trims. The large tote is unfussy, chic, versatile, and highly practical. The unisex styling makes it appropriate for both men and women to carry.
The handbag collection is set to debut in January of 2007, exclusively at Barney’s New York.”
Nice. Score one for the master. But even more disturbing may be the discovery that a similar bag, albeit ignorantly referenced and retold, is on the market for chic yogis. This bag from Crescent Moon offers all the feigned disdain of one’s proletarian roots, without all the sweaty yoga mat holding:
Here’s the math: $50 for the Klein Tools bag, $595 for the Trovata bag, and $130 for the Crescent Moon bag. Step right up, and pick your poison. But wait! It gets better. Do you know the Coleman brand?
If you don’t know Coleman, you’re a ponce who’s been raised in splintered tower’s of ivory, all adrip with hemlock. But more power to you now that Barneys is selling Coleman and “Thermos like products” clad in the finest of leathers, like this cooler for $600:
There’s a new trend in town. But’s it’s not new at all, only unpublished to my eyes and ears. Well, I guess it falls under David Brooks’ “Bobo” concept. People are desperately dressing down. Casual fridays ain’t enough anymore. New sources are necesary, and the stuff of the working class is here to lend its hand again and again. Tool bags with sophisticated colors and materials; roto-molded thermal maintenance camping stuff clad in calf’s leather. Please don’t set your drink directly upon my cooler.
As for the input of whatshaute.com, somehow I missed how carrying a tool bag decorated with patent leather became unpretentious. I guess pretense only works in an upward direction. Of course! What carpenter could ever club with us and foil our casual plot?
There are many bikes in Brooklyn. But there’s only one of these. This guy’s on a mission against the street cavity creeps. Remember? “We make holes in teeth! We make holes in teeth!”
It was a design revolution like any other— born of necesity. Basically what happened was that in giddy anticipation of sleeptime and cuddles, the kitty crapped the bed, ripping from our shivering claws the trusty duvet. K reached for anything she could find to keep herself warm— a Design House Stockholm blanket and two oversized, quilted pillowcases. Hours and dreams later, as she sat up and opened her eyes to the morning sun, my darling K looked down at the bed and uttered her first word of the new day, “Eggblanket.” How I do love her….
Last weekend’s cherry blossom festival was a beautiful occasion to see the colorful birth of Spring in our own Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. The Japanase gardens were beautifully tended, with just the right amount of wabi-sabi.
It’s official. A corporate lifestyle-tech conglomerate is taking over the American class system. Apple has audaciously assumed the position of bouncer in the world of who’s whom. For $99 dollars, you can now unabashedly cut in front of any schmuck waiting for service at the Genius Bar. How good does that feel? Of course it feels good. You deserve it. Because as they’ve already made clear, you’re a PRO! Banks used to honor business checking lines in a presumed effort to boost local economies and boost business. Now Apple is catching on to the game, except this time, no free toaster is required, only the purchase of a $3000 PRO MAC. Now that you’ve put your money where your profession was and have mastered the art of elite computing, why wait?
In fact, it’s a perfectly reasonable money-making ploy for Apple. But the whole “PRO/Priority” thing is vulgar. See more:
All that aside, who can’t wait to be the first one on the block to have one of these glistening badboys?
This company makes me nervous. Initially I took their name to mean they were going to make it easier for people to afford beautiful things. You know, like they were gonna knock off everything and get away with it. It looked like a cheap strategy to me, but everything was so expensive! I saw no reason to further seduce America with trophies of classes past, and I saw it as a marketing degradation of classic product designs. But then my lady smacked me on the head and said, “not everyone has access to a designer who can buy these straight from the manufacturer!” Oh. I get it. I feel better about DWR now, but not healed.
DWR is sending me unsolicited emails about Zaha Hadid’s newest bathrooms and suites on some hotel floor in Madrid where “each of its 12 floors are designed by a different architect at a lavish expense.” HOLD UP! Do we need this? Is this within reach? Are our design heroes designing for the future of humanity or for the future of their AMEX bills? The blog goes on to explain that, “it also happens to be an exceptionally good value (rooms begin at under 200 euro), which helps keep the spirit surprisingly unpretentious.” Huh?! DWR is including me in an overtly exclusive email /blog based on my prior purchases. I am now part of a DWR consumer elite. What could be more pretentious? After all of my initial doubt and subsequent benefit of the doubt, I think DWR’s up to some yucky stuff. They need to really consider their objectives if they want to continue positively in this generation. May I suggest,
I was just driving home and heard World Champion chess player Gary Kasparov talking to Tom Ashbrook on “On Point,” the radio show from WBUR. You may remember that in 1996 Kasparov represented the human struggle against computer intelligence and lost— in chess. Kasparov’s a fascinating guy— warm, concerned, fiercely intelligent, speaks beautiful English— and he’s leading a grass roots movement to challenge the upper-most constituency of Putin in a possible run for president in Russia’s next election. Before I lapse into irony, let me say that I was in awe as I listened. You could hear the concise political logic and strategy that only the world’s greatest living chess player could bring to the table. He had every possible corner of the Kremlin’s aging bureaucracy in sight, as well as every action the Kremlin could take in vain defense over the next few decades. Though the man was recently arrested and jailed for political dissent after leading protests for the “other half,” he remains commited to his cause. Bear in mind, he mentioned that the 100 wealthiest Russians hold assets totaling one third more than the entire Russian federal budget. So he’s a man of a lot of the people. I like him. He’s a fighter.
But I can’t escape the irony of his situation. Yeltsin’s market revolution provided a political choice after his presidency: the money or the people. Putin has gone for the money, chasing western economic and industrial growth. And now Kasparov’s going in for the people. He want’s to raise the power of Russia’s people to challenge the power of Russia’s interminable oligarchy. Okay, wait, rewind, deja vu. Wait, oh yeah. But I’m a designer fixated on the social power of industry, and Kasparov’s last major political opponent was who again?