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Posts Tagged ‘architecture

“Less, but better”*…

 

Lange-Dieter-Rams_01

Dieter Rams is a giant among modern industrial designers; his clean, “functionalist” work inspired legions of modern designers– perhaps most visibly his work for Braun, which clearly shaped the thinking of Steve Jobs, Jony Ive (and before him, the folks at Frog Design)– perhaps most noticeably in the design of the iPod…

rams ipod

Rams’ 1958 portable radio for Braun, alongside the iPod

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But have we, in fact, learned the lessons that Rams worked so hard to teach?

Is it perfect timing or merely perverse to release a documentary promoting the design philosophy “Less, but better” during the holiday season? The opening moments of Gary Hustwit’s “Rams,” about Dieter Rams, is more likely to have you revising your gift list than tossing it out. As the camera pauses on the details of the eighty-six-year-old design legend’s single-story home, built in 1971 in Kronberg, Germany, you may find yourself wondering if you, too, need to buy a wall-mounted stereo (the Audio 2/3, designed by Rams for Braun, in 1962-1963) or a boxy leather swivel chair (the 620 armchair, designed by Rams for Vitsoe, in 1962), or to take up the art of bonsai, which Rams practices in his compact, Japanese-inspired garden.

After this montage, the sound of birds chirping is replaced by the sound of typing, and we see Rams seated in front of the rare object in his home that’s not of his own design: the red Valentine typewriter, designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King for Olivetti, in 1968. (Rams doesn’t own a computer.)

If you listen to Rams… rather than just look at the elements of his edited world, you will appreciate how his aesthetic and his ethic align. “Less, but better,” the title of his 1995 book, is, Rams says, “not a constraint, it is an advantage which allows us more space for our real life.”…

Ive has always acknowledged his debt to Rams (he contributed a foreword to Sophie Lovell’s book “Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible”) but, as the Philadelphia exhibition text suggests, Ive, embedded within Apple’s upgrade cycle, may have missed the point: “the rapid obsolescence and environmental impact of these devices sits uneasily against Rams’s advocacy of long-lasting, durable design.”

The minute design twitches of each year’s Apple launch are a far cry from the revolutionary change that the click wheel ushered in. Newfangled ports, rose-gold backs, the elimination of the home button—these don’t change our relationships to our phones, except to annoy…

The provocative story in full: “What we learned from Dieter Rams, and what we’ve ignored.”

Rams’ “Ten Principles of Design.”

* Dieter Rams

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As we savor simplicity, we might send well-designed birthday greetings to Walter Dorwin Teague; he was born on this date in 1883.  An  industrial designer, architect, illustrator, graphic designer, writer, and entrepreneur, he is often called the “Dean of Industrial Design,” a field that he pioneered as a profession in the US, along with Norman Bel Geddes, Raymond Loewy, and Henry Dreyfuss.  He is widely known for his exhibition designs during the 1939-40 New York World’s Fair (including the Ford Building), and for his iconic product and package designs, from Eastman Kodak’s Bantam Special to the steel-legged Steinway piano.

Walter_Dorwin_Teague source

 

 

Written by LW

December 18, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears”*…

 

city of the future

Concept for Babel IID. The line drawing to the left shows the Empire State building for scale. Arcology, Paolo Soleri, 1969.

 

For centuries, architects and urban planners have mixed the mundane with the fantastical as they imagined the cities of the future. While some ideas toyed with the building blocks, others reflected a desire to fundamentally reshape urban life — and to solve some of society’s most pressing problems. Their plans were a mix of ambition, realism, fantasy, and folly — but were the resulting ideas visionary, or just dreams of worlds that could never feasibly be built?…

From Christopher Wren and his plan for London after the Great Fire of 1666 to Buckminster Fuller and Paolo Soleri, a consideration of visionary urban planning: could fantastical plans for the cities of tomorrow solve the real problems of urban life? Consider the case at “Architects of the Future.”

For a treatment of urban history from a different perspective, see “The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live.” See also “Science Fiction Cities: How our future visions influence the cities we build.”

Then, for an alternative to the top-down, utopian approach to urban planning, read Jane Jacobs.

* Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

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As we contemplate community, we might spare a thought for Hendrik Petrus Berlage; he died on this date in 1934. The “Father of Modern architecture” in the Netherlands, Berage was deeply influenced by the work of Frank Lloyd Wright.  But he was probably most impactful in his influence on most Dutch architectural groups of the 1920s, including the Traditionaliststhe Amsterdam SchoolDe Stijl and the New Objectivists.

220px-Berlage source

 

Written by LW

August 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I love to talk about nothing. It’s the only thing I know anything about.”*…

 

zero

The computer you’re reading this article on right now runs on a binary — strings of zeros and ones. Without zero, modern electronics wouldn’t exist. Without zero, there’s no calculus, which means no modern engineering or automation. Without zero, much of our modern world literally falls apart.

Humanity’s discovery of zero was “a total game changer … equivalent to us learning language,” says Andreas Nieder, a cognitive scientist at the University of Tübingen in Germany.

But for the vast majority of our history, humans didn’t understand the number zero. It’s not innate in us. We had to invent it. And we have to keep teaching it to the next generation.

Other animals, like monkeys, have evolved to understand the rudimentary concept of nothing. And scientists just reported that even tiny bee brains can compute zero. But it’s only humans that have seized zero and forged it into a tool.

So let’s not take zero for granted. Nothing is fascinating. Here’s why…

It is indeed fascinating, as you’ll see at “The mind-bendy weirdness of the number zero, explained.”

Pair with: “Is a hole a real thing, or just a place where something isn’t?” and with The Ministry of Ideas’ podcast “Nothing Matters.”

* Oscar Wilde

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As we obsess about absence, we might box a dome-shaped birthday cake for inventor, educator, author, philosopher, engineer, and architect R(ichard) Buckminster Fuller; he was born on this date in 1895.  “Bucky” most famously developed the geodesic dome, the only large dome that can be set directly on the ground as a complete structure, and the only practical kind of building that has no limiting dimensions (i.e., beyond which the structural strength must be insufficient).  But while he never got around to frankfurters, he was sufficiently prolific to have scored over 2,000 patents.

“Fullerenes” (molecules composed entirely of carbon, in the form of a hollow spheres, ellipsoids, or tubes), key components in many nanotechnology applications, were named for Fuller, as their structure mimes that of the geodesic dome.  Spherical fullerenes (resembling soccer balls) are also called “buckyballs”; cylindrical ones, carbon nanotubes or “buckytubes.”

I have to say, I think that we are in some kind of final examination as to whether human beings now, with this capability to acquire information and to communicate, whether we’re really qualified to take on the responsibility we’re designed to be entrusted with. And this is not a matter of an examination of the types of governments, nothing to do with politics, nothing to do with economic systems. It has to do with the individual. Does the individual have the courageto really go along with the truth?

God, to me, it seems
is a verb,
not a noun,
proper or improper.

For more, see “And that’s a lot.”

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Written by LW

July 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Successful design is not the achievement of perfection but the minimization and accommodation of imperfection”*…

 

click here for larger version

From legendary designer Raymond Loewy [see here], a chart published in 1934 that shows the evolution in design of items such as cars, telephones, stemware, railcars, clocks, and women’s apparel. Loewy was known was “The Father of Streamlining” and these drawings very much reflect his design style. (via @michaelbierut)

Explore at: “Raymond Loewy’s 1934 chart of the evolution in design.”

Then check out MacRae Linton’s conversion of Loewy’s chart into a proper timeline.

* Henry Petroski

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As we contemplate craft, we might recall that it was on this date in 1942 that music industry insiders Johnny MercerBuddy DeSylva, and Glenn E. Wallichs founded Capitol Records.  By 1946, Capitol had sold 42 million records by artists including (Peggy Lee, Nat King Cole, and Kay Starr) and was established as one of the “Big Six” record labels.

In 1955, Capitol became a subsidiary of British label EMI and began construction on a new headquarters building designed by Lou Naidorf.  Known as “the House the Nat Built” (as Nat King Cole was the label’s steady sales leader), it was the first circular office building in the world.

Capitol, which had an output deal with its UK parent, built on their early 60s success with the Beach Boys by acquiring the Beatles record rights in the U.S. (though they passed on other EMI acts like the Dave Clark Five, Gerry & the Pacemakers, the Hollies, the Swinging Blue Jeans, The Yardbirds, and Manfred Mann).

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Written by LW

June 4, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Yesterday and tomorrow cross and mix on the skyline”*…

 

Artist’s impression of medieval Bologna [source]

During the 12th and 13th centuries, for reasons that are still not entirely clear, an incredible number of towers [over 100] were built throughout Bologna, making for a urban skyline that almost resembles modern-day Manhattan. Today, only 22 remain…

More at: “Towers of Bologna.”

* Carl Sandburg

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As we reach for the sky, we might recall that it was on this date in 1826 that 20 year old Joseph Paxton arrived to begin work as Head gardener to William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, possessor of one of England’s premier gardens on his estate, Chatsworth.

Paxton settled into his job and became the Duke’s right-hand man for projects on the estate.  Paxton noticed the need of a conservatory, so designed and built one: The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth– at the time the largest glass in England.  It was lit with twelve thousand lamps when Queen Victoria was driven through it in 1842, and she noted in her diary: “It is the most stupendous and extraordinary creation imaginable.”

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So, when Prince Albert hatched plans for The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations– or the Great Exhibition, as it was more familiarly known– to be held in 1851, Paxton was recruited to design its central building: The Crystal Palace.

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Paxton was knighted, and went on to cultivate the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world, and to serve as a Member of Parliament.

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Written by LW

May 9, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Nobody owns life, but anyone who can pick up a frying pan owns death”*…

 

The kitchen is well equipped and stocked. There’s a stove, a refrigerator full of food, a table with a rolling pin and a bowl, and a sink with Ivory soap. The wall calendar, featuring with a sailing ship, says it’s April 1944. But there’s something else: Every item is miniature, hand-crafted, and a doll lies on the floor, apparently dead, cause unknown.

This is one of Frances Glessner Lee’s Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, a series of 1/12-scale dioramas based on real-life criminal investigation cases. They were used—and continue to be studied even today—to train investigators in the art of evidence gathering, meticulous documentation, and keen observation. And they were created by one of the most unlikely and influential figures in crime scene forensics…

From “The Grim Crime-Scene Dollhouses Made by the ‘Mother of Forensics’,” which prompts a look back at (R)D’s earlier visit with Ms. Glessner:

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Frances Glessner Lee (1878-1962) was a millionaire heiress and Chicago society dame with a very unusual hobby for a woman raised according to the strictest standards of nineteenth century domestic life: investigating murder. And she did this through a most unexpected medium: dollhouse-like dioramas. Glessner Lee grew up home-schooled and well-protected in the fortress-like Glessner House, designed by renown American architect H.H. Richardson, but she was introduced to the fields of homicide investigation and forensic science by her brother’s friend, George Magrath, who later became a medical examiner and professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School. Instantly captivated by the nascent pursuit, she became one of its most influential advocates. In 1936, she endowed the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard and made subsequent gifts to establish chaired professorships and seminars in homicide investigation. But that’s not all…

Glessner Lee, rather than using her well cultivated domestic skills to throw lavish parties for debutantes, tycoons, and other society types, subverted the notions typically enforced upon a woman of her standing by hosting elaborate dinners for investigators who would share with her, in sometimes gory detail, the intricacies of their profession. Glessner Lee oversaw every detail of these dinners herself, down to the menu and floral arrangements. She could probably tell you which wine goes best with discussion about a strangled corpse found in a bathroom. But the matronly Glessner Lee — who may have been the inspiration for Angela Lansbury’s character in “Murder She Wrote”– wanted to do more to help train investigators. She wanted to create a new tool for them…

In her conversations with police officers, scholars and scientists, she came to understand that through careful observation and evaluation of a crime scene, evidence can reveal what transpired within that space. The physical traces of a crime, the clues, the vestiges of a transgressive moment, have a limited lifespan, however, and can be lost or accidentally corrupted. If a crime scene were properly studied, the truth would ultimately be revealed.

To help her investigator friends learn to assess evidence and apply deductive reasoning,  to help them “find the truth in a nutshell,” Frances Glessner Lee created what she called “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,”  a series of lovingly crafted dioramas at the scale of one inch to one foot, each one a fully furnished picturesque scene of domesticity with one glaringly subversive element: a dead body…

These miniature crime scenes were representations of actual cases, assembled through police reports and court records to depict the crime as it happened and the scene as it was discovered. They were pure objective recreations. The design of each dollhouse, however, was Glessner Lee’s own invention and revealed her own predilections and biases formed while growing up in a palatial, meticulously appointed home. She makes certain assumptions about taste and lifestyle of low-income families, and her dioramas of their apartments are garishly decorated with, as Miller notes, “nostalgic,” and “often tawdry” furnishings.

Investigators had to learn how to search a room and identify important evidence to construct speculative narratives that would explain the crime and identify the criminal.  Glessner Lee’s models helped them develop and practice specific methods –geometric search patterns or zones, for example– to complete an analysis of a crime scene. “The forensic investigator,” Miller writes, “takes on the tedious task of sorting through the detritus of domestic life gone awry….the investigator claims a specific identity and an agenda: to interrogate a space and its objects through meticulous visual analysis”…

Read the full story at “How a Chicago Heiress Trained Homicide Detectives With an Unusual Tool: Dollhouses.”

* William S. Burroughs

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As we re-enact the crime, we might send elegantly-designed birthday greetings to Sir Christopher Wren; he was born in this date (O.S.) in 1632.  One of the most highly acclaimed English architects in history, he was given responsibility for rebuilding 52 churches in the City of London after the Great Fire in 1666, including what is regarded as his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral, on Ludgate Hill, completed in 1710; his other works include the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, and the south front of Hampton Court Palace, and the Wren Building, the main building at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Educated in Latin and Aristotelian physics at Oxford, Wren was also a notable anatomist, astronomer, geometer, and mathematician-physicist. He was a founder of the Royal Society (and its president 1680–82).

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Written by LW

October 20, 2017 at 1:01 am

“With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed”*…

 

The Transect

In 2012, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association. an exhibition, “Grand Reductions: Ten diagrams that changed urban planning.”

The exhibition’s title – Grand Reductions – suggests the simple illustration’s power to encapsulate complex ideas. And for that reason the medium has always been suited to the city, an intricate organism that has been re-imagined (with satellite towns! in rural grids! in megaregions!) by generations of architects, planners and idealists. In the urban context, diagrams can be powerful precisely because they make weighty questions of land use and design digestible in a single sweep of the eye. But… they can also seductively oversimplify the problems of cities…

“The diagram can cut both ways: It can either be a distillation in the best sense of really taking a very complex set of issues and providing us with a very elegant communication of the solution,” [curator Benjamin] Grant says. “Or it can artificially simplify something that actually needs to be complex.”…

The high concepts that have informed the design of cities over the last century: “The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams.”

See also: “The cities and mansions that people dream of are those in which they finally live”*… and of course, Jane Jacob’s The Death and Life of Great American Cities and Christopher Alexander’s A New Theory of Urban Design.

* Italo Calvino

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As we muse on metropoles, we might send exploratory birthday greeting to Eugene Fodor; he was born on this date in 1905.  Noting that travel guides of his time were boring, he wrote a guide to Europe, On the Continent—The Entertaining Travel Annual, which was published in 1936– and became the cornerstone of a travel publishing empire– the Fodor’s Guides.  He was elected to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) World Travel Congress Hall of Fame, the only travel editor ever to be so honored.

In 1974, it was revealed that Fodor, a Hungarian-American who had joined the U.S. Army during World War II, had transferred to the Office of Strategic Services (the forerunner of the CIA) and served as a spy behind Nazi lines in occupied Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland.

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Written by LW

October 14, 2017 at 1:01 am

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