The Quarterly Journal of Design #10 Spring 2016
This issue includes: Jasper Morrison’s memories of Tsukiji fish market; 13 ghosts of Milan’s past; the fictitious femmes of Erdem; Jane Thompson on mid-century design journalism; Felipe Ribon’s necro-functionalism; Sanaa and the utopia of transparency; OMA in conversation about the perils of preservation; and Pritzker Prize-winner Alejandro Aravena explaining the theme of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale.
p.97 Reflections on Transparency
p.145 The Spectre of Milan
UK £8 US $19 p.113 19th-century Modern
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D E S I G N PO R T R A I T.
B&B Italia 50th anniversary B&B Italia / The perfect density - Exhibition at Triennale di Milano Palazzo dellâ€™Arte - April 2nd/17th 2016
Charles, seat system designed by Antonio Citterio. www.bebitalia.com B&B Italia Stores: London - Milano - Paris - MĂźnchen - New York - Washington DC - Los Angeles - Miami - Sao Paulo - Tokyo Milan Design Week: April 12th/17th 2016 - B&B Italia Store Via Durini, 14 Milano
It began with a sparkâ€Ś it has burned for 333 years.
The difference is Gaggenau. In 1683, from the depths of the Black Forest, a flame sprang to life and the age of the industrial craftsmanship began. From the same process that saw a forge emerge, the invention of the Badenia bicycle and the introduction of the combisteam oven to the private kitchen, we have always imagined what could be. Then built it. 333 years of working with metal is an achievement only few can claim. It exposes a success that has crossed time, distance and cultures. Gaggenau is not just a kitchen appliance; it is the soul of a home and it is this passion that has been 333 years in the making. For more information, please visit www.gaggenau.com.
Home at last.
LARIO SECTIONAL SOFA design by Antonio Citterio
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Five Years, Ten Issues Words Johanna Agerman Ross
One of the first people to ask me if Disegno was going quarterly was Tyler Brûlé. It was live on air on Monocle’s weekly magazine programme The Stack. Slightly taken aback, I answered no. “Disegno was conceived as a biannual and will remain a biannual.” Those are words that I now have to take back. After five years and ten issues, it feels natural to announce Disegno as The Quarterly Journal of Design. The team has expanded and we have found a unique voice in the maelstrom of new and independent media. We want to reflect and comment on contemporary design in all its forms, and we want to engage with news as it breaks. A quarterly pace is a logical development of our intentions for the magazine. As a result of going quarterly we have added new sections to the magazine. Enter reviews, comments, a new and innovative index, and long-form interviews, all of which sit alongside our existing reports, roundtables, photoessays and profiles. A new approach to publishing requires a new approach to form. Therefore, the biggest difference in this issue is our new design, courtesy of Florian Böhm and Annahita Kamali of Studio AKFB. When Annahita Introduction
and Florian were appointed as our new creative directors, their first observation was that Disegno is “a magazine for reading”. It’s an idea that is at the forefront of their redesign. As a result you will notice more generous use of fonts and a hierarchy that at times favours text over image. But reading is not only about stimulating people cerebrally. Reading, at least in the case of Disegno, is a physical experience. The feel of the paper in your hand, its tone, and the way it sets off the graceful curve of a black letter: these are things that will impact your experience of reading. For the last few months, every detail on every page in this volume has been scrutinised. The intricacies of leading, type size, and the weight, texture and flickability of the paper have all been the focus of debate at one time or another. It’s an attention to detail that culminated in one member of the team spontaneously erupting, “God I enjoy what this font does!” Despite the stimulating process behind making the magazine, we hope that you won’t take too much notice. After all, we are a magazine for reading. Go! Read!
lift by konstantin grcic
Content 13 Intro The new Disegno 21 Masthead The people behind Disegno
60 Observation Arch by Arthur Arbesser for Hem A New Zealand wool throw with a geometric pattern
23 Timeline September 2015 to March 2016 in review
63 Review Philodendron The design heritage of South American flora unfurled in a Miami exhibition
28 Photoessay The Memory of Place Jasper Morrison reflects on the last days of Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market
67 Comment The Flatness of Unmade.com Online design retail’s sensory limitations
35 Observation Ruban by Inga Sempé for Hay A mirror hung from a ribbon
68 Travelogue Porto’s Textile Awakening The emerging fashion community of industrial Porto
36 Observation Escubac Bottle by Felix de Pass and Andreas Neophytou for Sweetdram An amber bottle for a graphics‑focused apéritif 38 Profile Ghosts and Other Functionalities Felipe Ribon’s necromantic methods for reframing design 47 Comment New Martian Concrete is Old News Conflicting schemes for building in space 48 Comment The Squeezed Middle The design world’s lack of interest in levulinic acid 50 Interview Small Margins In conversation with the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Alejandro Aravena 59 Observation Super 8 by Fuseproject for Kodak Yves Béhar’s resurrected analogue video camera
77 Comment At the Precipice Virtual reality’s uncertain future 78 Comment Designed in a Bubble Retrograde hijabs from Dolce and Gabbana 80 Profile Fictitious Narratives Myths of the feminine in the garments of Erdem Moralıoğlu 89 Report The Death of the Author How computer-generated forms transform the role of the designer 97 Project Reflections on Transparency Sanaa’s utopian Grace Farms complex in New Canaan 113 Gallery 19th-century Modern The enduring innovation of jacquard fabrics 129 Gallery Bahraini Vernacular An insight into the archipelago nation that Dutch architect Anne Holtrop calls home
136 Profile Realities of the Possible Anne Holtrop’s theory of possible architecture explained by way of the Hollandic Waterline 145 Special Project The Spectre of Milan Oral histories, anecdotes and photographs from the world’s design capital 161 Review The Witness Video games as landscapes in an island puzzler 165 History Towards a Critical Mass Revisiting the legacy of Jane Thompson, founding editor of ID magazine 177 Process A Modern Material Naoto Fukasawa’s paper products 185 Review Star Wars: The Force Awakens A return to the familiar in the object design of Star Wars 189 Roundtable Preserve, Erase, Destruct OMA’s partners debate the contradictions of preserving architecture 204 Index Short stories from the creation of this issue
Contributors Matthew Allen’s essay ‘The Screenshot Aesthetic’ is featured in MOS: Selected Works, a new monograph on the architects MOS published by Princeton Architectural Press. Shumi Bose is co-curating the British Pavilion at the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale and launching The Real Review, a new magazine. Daniel Brown and his father Paul Brown were the subject of the 2015 exhibition Brown & Son: Art That Makes Itself at the Watermans Arts Centre in London. Fabian Frinzel will spend this summer shooting in Istanbul. He also has plans to exhibit his documentary photography of beaches around the world. Albrecht Fuchs is currently photographing a series of portraits of international artists. Ilona Gaynor received funding from the Wellcome Trust to develop a film that uses sleep science and cinema to construct an aesthetic framework for insomniacs. Julia Grassi has published photography in Another, Champ, Kinfolk, GQ and The Gourmand. Owen Hatherley’s most recent book, The Ministry of Nostalgia, was published by Verso in December 2015. Dean Kaufman had collaborated with Sanaa twice before photographing Grace Farms. He now has a 10-year relationship with the practice.
Takamasa Kikuchi has been published by Kinfolk, Inventory and The Gourmand.
Riya Patel launched her fourth show as curator of The Aram Gallery, Unread Messages, in March 2016.
Aileen Kwun is the co-author of Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on a Lifetime in Architecture and Design, out in April 2016 from Princeton Architectural Press.
Bas Princen has photographed Anne Holtrop’s work for an upcoming issue of 2G, a monographic architecture magazine.
Tiffany Lambert received a 2015 grant from the Graham Foundation for a book she is working on about the work and legacy of the Japanese designer Sori Yanagi. Magnus Larsson and his architecture practice Ordinary contributed two scientific chapters on ISRU-based architectural schemes for the Moon and Venus to recent publications from Springer Verlag. Siska Lyssens was one of the contributors to The Belgians: An Unexpected Fashion Story, a book that won the 2016 Grand Prix du Livre de Mode, an award founded by the University of Lyon. Leila Karin A. Österlind’s PhD thesis is titled ‘Provocative clothing. Harem pants, kaftans and shawls’ and examines the intersection between migration and clothing. Jasper Morrison writes ‘Objectoriented’, a monthly column about food-related objects for The Japan Times. Cristóbal Palma photographs architectural projects in south America for magazines such as Monocle, Wire, The New York Times, Domus and Architectural Digest.
Leonhard Rothmoser is part of the artist duo Leo and Björn, whose exhibition will be shown in Munich’s Galerie Heitsch from 14 April. Sølve Sundsbø shot the 10 gelatin prints that appear in the Erdem X monograph, which is printed and produced by Smythson. Guido Vitti is working on an edit for a new book, as well as preparing to fly to Nashville to shoot the next instalment of his Neighbors Project. Ian Volner’s first book, This is Frank Lloyd Wright, will be published by Chronicle Books and Laurence King Publishing in August 2016. Will Wiles is working on his third novel, Plume, which will be published by Fourth Estate. Sidney Williams appears in Oliver Peoples’s 2016 campaign film, Dreaming of Ojai. Alex Wiltshire is part of the team behind Fabulous Beasts, a hybrid board-cum-video game that will launch in November 2016.
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The Quarterly Journal of Design #10 Editor-in-chief, Publisher Johanna Agerman Ross firstname.lastname@example.org Deputy editor Oli Stratford email@example.com Editorial assistant Anya Lawrence firstname.lastname@example.org Staff writer Joe Lloyd email@example.com Subeditor Ann Morgan Creative directors Florian Böhm Annahita Kamali akfb.com Designer Anna Holden firstname.lastname@example.org Commercial director Chris Jones email@example.com Junior sales executive Farnaz Ari firstname.lastname@example.org Creative services manager Nina Akbari email@example.com Project coordinator Elizabeth Jones firstname.lastname@example.org Circulation manager Stuart White email@example.com
Words by Johanna Agerman Ross, Matthew Allen, Shumi Bose, Ilona Gaynor, Owen Hatherley, Takamasa Kikuchi, Aileen Kwun, Tiffany Lambert, Magnus Larsson, Anya Lawrence, Joe Lloyd, Siska Lyssens, Jasper Morrison, Leila Karin A. Österlind, Riya Patel, Lemma Shehadi, Oli Stratford, Jane Thompson, Ian Volner, Will Wiles and Alex Wiltshire. Images by AKFB, Florian Böhm, Daniel Brown, Fabian Frinzel, Albrecht Fuchs, Julia Grassi, Dean Kaufman, Jasper Morrison, Cristóbal Palma, Bas Princen, Leonhard Rothmoser, Sølve Sundsbø and Guido Vitti. Colour management Terry Smith Complete Creative Services completeltd.com Paper and print This issue of Disegno is printed by Park Communications on Arcoprint Milk White 100gsm and Symbol Freelife Gloss 115 gsm. The cover is printed on Arcoprint Extra White 250gsm. Fonts Disegno uses Tiempos and National from Klim Type Foundry, and Aperçu from Colophon Type Foundry. klim.co.nz colophon-foundry.org Contact us Disegno, Tack Press Limited 7 Ability Plaza, Arbutus Street London E8 4DT +44 20 7249 1155 disegnodaily.com
Thanks Thank you to all our contributors to ‘The Spectre of Milan’ for their wonderful anecdotes; Jasper Morrison for his diligence in early-hours documentation of Tsukiji fish market; Fabrizia Vecchione and Jeremy Higginbotham for making the OMA roundtable possible; Monika Brandmeier for letting us shoot in her studio; Siska Diddens for helping with the jacquard shoot; Anne Holtrop for showing us around Bahrain twice; Aileen Kwun for making so many trips to Cooper Hewitt to unearth old IDs; Atelier Clerici in Milan for being so welcoming; FW Media for letting us republish six of Jane Thompson’s editor’s letters; and Florian Böhm, Annahita Kamali and the AKFB team for their incredible work in redesigning the magazine. We are very grateful to our contributors and everybody who has helped make Disegno No.10 happen. Not least Chris Tang, the unsung hero of Tack Press, and Huxley, the great dane with the sensitive stomach who kindly visited us in our office. Finally, we would like to thank Colin Christie for his peerless work as Disegno’s art director for the past nine issues. We miss him and wish him luck with his new projects as part of Plumplum Books, Ten to 10 and Christiechristie. Content copyright The content of this magazine belongs to Tack Press Limited and to the authors and artists. If you are tempted to reproduce any of it, please ask first. Tack Press Limited Disegno is part of Tack Press, along with men’s fashion magazine Jocks&Nerds and creative agency Tack Studio. tack-press.com tack-studio.com
Distribution Comag Specialist comagspecialist.co.uk
crowdsourcing reached its zenith:
crowdsourced national identity. Yet
Design Interactions suspended
for a nation whose current flag is
Adidas campaigns to redesign racist mascots
A leaked internal email from Paul
tied to a colonial past long since
Adidas’s plan to offer design
Thompson, the rector of the Royal
shaken off, it seems somehow fitting
resources to any US high school
College of Art (RCA), revealed the
to go to the people in determining
wanting to redesign a logo or
school’s decision to suspend its
mascot featuring offensive Native
influential Design Interactions
American imagery (think “redskins”)
course after it failed to replace its resigning programme leader and
is a no-brainer. It’s a good cause,
cleverly gets round the lack of state
founder, Anthony Dunne, and supporting
laws prohibiting such imagery, and
tutors in time for the 2015/16
Julia Peyton-Jones steps down from
serves as good PR for Adidas to boot.
academic year. The decision leaves
You can but hope that professional
one of the RCA’s most prestigious
So long to one of architecture’s
sports teams such as the Washington
courses in limbo; a situation that
great champions. When Julia
Redskins and Chicago Blackhawks
sounds increasingly familiar at
Peyton‑Jones announced her plans
– the latter of which, somewhat
an institution shedding high-profile
to step down as co-director of
embarrassingly, Adidas provides the
staff at an alarming rate.
London’s Serpentine gallery, the
kits for – will rapidly follow suit.
architecture world was left to grapple with what her departure would mean for the Serpentine’s pavilion project,
Farrell submits 76 Fenchurch Street
a scheme that Peyton-Jones launched
in 2000 and which remains one of the
There is something mildly
discipline’s best public outreach
uncomfortable about Terry Farrell’s
programmes. This year’s pavilion,
ongoing campaigns to have his 76
designed by Bjarke Ingels, has its
Fenchurch Street and Comyn Ching
work cut out to serve as the tribute
Triangle buildings listed to preserve
them from redevelopment: a certain self-regard that more modest
Left to right: courtesy of Tuur Van Balen; courtesy of RSHP; courtesy of Serpentine Galleries; courtesy of Farrells
temperaments will balk at. Yet
RSHP straddles the wealth gap
Farrell is in an impossible situation.
There's something of Jekyll and Hyde
A master of postmodernism – a style
about RSHP, the practice of architect
long out of fashion – Farrell has
Richard Rogers. While social housing
already seen his TV-am building
activists protested the inclusion
renovated into obscurity and now
of RSHP's Neo Bankside on the Stirling
faces the further obliteration of his
Prize shortlist – a Southwark-based,
legacy. When few others are prepared
non-dom, steel-braced apartment-block
to fight for postmodernism, perhaps
paean to wealth – the practice was
Raf Simons leaves Dior and Alber Elbaz
proudly opening its £45,000 Y:Cube
modular homes for the homeless further
After Raf Simons left Dior and Alber
south in Merton. Variety, they say,
Elbaz departed Lanvin in short order
is the spice of life.
– the former seemingly exhausted, the latter threatening legal action – a common factor seemed apparent: an industry rapidly fracturing into designers on the one hand and upper management on the other. Industry‑wide, the two camps seem in perpetual tension over commercial pressures and the relentlessness of show schedules, suggesting that Simons and Elbaz will not be the last designers to be chewed up in corporate fashion’s structural grind.
New Zealand public designs flag When New Zealand revealed a shortlist of publicly submitted designs for a new national flag, the vogue of
it falls to its creators to do so.
financier Eiesha Bharti Pasricha.
suits launched in January: sleek
In December, following consultation
and black – nipped and tucked – they
Assemble receives the Turner Prize
with Bharti Pasricha, Saunders closed
were developed by Y-3, the Adidas
The architects collective Assemble
the brand citing “personal problems”.
sportswear range from designer Yohji
created disciplinary confusion
Saunders had always received positive
Yamamoto. Alongside the flight-suits,
when it won the Turner Prize for
notices from the press but, as many
Y-3 is contracted to supply the
Granby Four Streets, a renovation
other young designers do, he struggled
uniforms for Virgin Galactic’s
of a Liverpool terrace that blends
to translate these reviews into sales.
operations, maintenance and hosting
social housing with craft. While
The decision to close the brand
staff. This is space exploration
it is problematic that artists should
is a reflection of the unforgiving
as branding. How time flies.
miss out on an award specifically
realities of a discipline that demands
intended to fund and publicise art,
both creativity and commerce.
Assemble is a fine exemplar of the interdisciplinary way in which many young creative studios now work, with
the victory reflecting the growing intersections on the Venn diagram
Farewell to David Bowie
of art, architecture and design.
It was remarkable to see quite how many disciplines sought to position David Bowie as their own following his unexpected death in January, with rival claims emerging from music, film, fashion and design. Yet such
Richard Sapper dies
a plurality of interpretations is
The death of Richard Sapper is a sad
not surprising when you consider
day for industrial design. Through
that Bowie’s central appeal always
his work with brands such as IBM,
was his indefinability. The chameleonic
Artemide and Knoll, Sapper became
Starman, better than most, showed
one of 20th-century design’s genuine
that all creative disciplines can
heavyweights: a designer whose
profitably draw from the same pool
products revelled in their aesthetic
of blissful, elegant technicality. As noted by critic Justin McGuirk, Sapper may have had a tendency to design black boxes, but a Richard
Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown win the
Sapper-designed black box was near
AIA Gold Medal
guaranteed to be more beautiful
Different prizes, different rules.
and better executed than one created
While the Pritzker Prize continues
by anyone else. His input to the
to ignore Denise Scott Brown’s
field will be sorely missed.
Robert Venturi (the 1991 Pritzker laureate), the AIA Gold Medal took the
Lego releases a minifigure with a disability
common-sense decision of awarding its
The success of Lego is built upon
2016 prize to the pair in concert. By
the idea of letting children create
contrast, the Pritzker’s justification
whatever they might please, making
that “a later jury cannot re-open,
it one of our foremost world-building
or second guess the work of an earlier
systems. So what does it say about
jury” seems bizarre: why pigheadedly
Y-3 develops designs on space
our society that it was only in
fetishise protocol in favour of
The original Apollo spacesuits were
January – 67 years after Lego's first
correcting a decision that justifies
developed over the course of five
automatic-binding brick was created
the ongoing marginalisation of women
years by ILC Dover, a manufacturer
– that this system saw fit to include
in Delaware devoted to highly
a minifigure with a disability:
engineered products. The suits,
a man in a wheelchair. Lego allows
delivered in 1966, were technical,
children to build ideal worlds and
Jonathan Saunders announces the closure
modular constructions that were bulky
it is high time that we recognise
of his brand
and white. By contrast, the Virgin
those with disabilities as having
In January 2015 the fashion designer
Galactic spaceflight company has
a role to play in those worlds.
Jonathan Saunders announced fresh
more use for flight-suits than such
investment in his brand from the
scientific constructions. The Virgin
Left to right: Courtesy of Assemble; TotalBlamBlam@DavidBowie.com; courtesy of Adidas
contribution to her partnership with
February for a cost of 251 rupees,
world presents no shortage of problems
the equivalent of £2.60. The benefits
for it to get to grips with.
Zaha Hadid talks back
of this are obvious and flagged by
Zaha Hadid, this year’s RIBA Gold
the phone’s name – the freedom for
Medalist, has a somewhat toxic
almost anybody to own a smartphone
Demna Gvasalia refreshes Balenciaga
relationship with the press, with
– but the price is nonetheless so
When Balenciaga appointed Demna
her name having become a byword for
staggeringly low that the mention
Gvasalia as its new artistic director
starchitect arrogance and self-regard.
of “highly affordable prices” on
in October 2015, it must have hoped
Yet it is possible to feel a degree
the Ringing Bells website seems like
for the cleansing effect of a new
of sympathy for Hadid, who lamented
understatement run amok: the Freedom
broom. For a house sometimes too
the framework against which her work
251 is roughly the same price as
in thrall to its past, Balenciaga
is judged when appearing on Radio
a regular cappuccino from Starbucks.
likely saw Gvasalia as a much-needed
4’s long-running Desert Island Discs:
Yet such a move seems part of a wider
moderniser: a designer whose focus
“It’s a triple whammy: I’m a woman,
trend in technology, with Raspberry
on high-quality construction was made
which is a problem to many people;
Pi launching its Pi Zero computer in
manifest in an inaugural collection
I’m a foreigner, another problem;
November 2015 for £4. In fact, that
that launched in March. While rooted
and I do work which is not normative,
£4 was the Pi Zero at the higher end
in wearability, the collection
which is not what they expect.”
of its price range: it was also given
nonetheless offered structural and
Whether Hadid is correct or not,
away as a free gift in Raspberry Pi’s
tailoring innovation in its garments
alleviating the poison built up
monthly MagPi magazine.
cut to be worn off the shoulder.
around discussion of her work would
All hail a fresh start.
be no bad thing.
MARCH BP ends its sponsorship of the Tate What do you do when you get what you want? When the oil giant BP ended its 27-year sponsorship of the Tate, it also brought to a close the long-running public opposition to the partnership. The news is good for climate-change activists and quagmire, but it undoubtedly leaves
Dominic Wilcox achieves televisual success
economic problems. The BP deal was
The moment Dominic Wilcox – he of
worth an average of £224,000 a year
the stained-glass cars and Jaffa
to the Tate, a guaranteed income not
Cake Stonehenges – appeared on CNN
Brands announce consumer schedule shakeup
tied to exhibition programming. With
International in March, following
Burberry, Tom Ford and Tommy Hilfiger
the gallery soon to open its vast
up on a September 2015 appearance
rung in the changes when all three
Herzog and de Meuron-designed
on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,
brands revealed plans to abandon the
extension to the Tate Modern, how
he became arguably the most famous
traditional catwalk calendar in favour
much will it miss the old oil money,
designer in the world. CNN reportedly
of aligning their work with the retail
however tainted it may have been?
has an online audience of 1.7 billion
cycle. “The current way of showing
viewers, Colbert more than 3 million,
a collection four months before it
making Wilcox a poster boy for the
is available to consumers is an
Architecture for Humanity returns
discipline. He may be an unorthodox
antiquated idea and one that could no
The announcement of the bankruptcy of
figurehead, but he is wonderful
longer makes sense,” said Ford. It’s
Architecture for Humanity in January
nonetheless: a designer who embodies
a common-sense idea, albeit one to
2015 was disappointing. The charity
the creative potential of a field that
which fashion’s old guard have reacted
worked on architectural solutions for
is broadening by the day.
sniffily: Francois-Henri Pinault, CEO
disaster zones, but struggled to
of Kering, insisting that the change
attract sufficient funding for its
“negates the dream” of luxury.
rapidly expanding operations. So the decision to now reform and rebrand the charity as the Open Architecture
The Freedom smartphone launches for £2.60
Collaborative is surprising. The new
The Freedom 251, a new smartphone
charity will face the same problems
from the little-known Indian company
as its predecessor, but the news is
Ringing Bells, launched in India in
extremely welcome nonetheless. The
Left to right: ©Mary McCartney; Photograph by Willy Vanderperre; courtesy of Dominic Wilcox
pulls the Tate out of the ethical
design Ludovica + Roberto Palomba â€” ad: ps+a â€” ph: Max Zambelli
The Memory of Place Words and photographs Jasper Morrison
View towards the outer curve of the halls, on the left a typical Tsukiji business.
Why do we miss certain buildings and places when they get redeveloped? Could it be something to do with our attachment to the physical and atmospheric patina that places acquire with time and use? Or part of the grieving process which a separation from the familiar usually triggers? In November this year, the Tsukiji fish market will move from the central Tokyo site that it has occupied for more than 80 years, and relocate to a new space in Toyosu, an area of reclaimed land further out from the city centre. The old market, through which more than 2,000 tonnes of seafood pass each day, will be
bulldozed and redeveloped. The value of the land, on the banks of the Sumida river, made this inevitable. A small part of the old market will be retained, but the business will be gone and it will probably be more for tourists than trade. In truth, there is nothing of beauty in the existing structures. What draws the crowds is the well-endowed authenticity and raw nature of the Japanese fish trade, combined with the resulting bustle of the market. Tuna are auctioned for big money in the middle of the night, and by 8am they have been filleted with the world's sharpest knives and the best
Small tuna steaks freshly cut and ready to be sushied, sashimied or seared.
cuts sold to sushi chefs who are already back in their bars preparing for lunch. But that is not the whole story. There are endless other supplies to be found by the discerning shopper. The market stalls are arranged in halls that curve around a 90° angle of the site, a feature which allowed for speedy and efficient unloading of the freight trains that used to pull up at midnight, six nights a week, with the national haul. These days it all arrives by truck to the centre of the curve. Yet the Tsukiji market is not the first iteration of the fish market. When the former version, which spread out along
the river near Nihonbashi bridge in the centre of old Tokyo, was destroyed by the great Tokyo earthquake of 1923, it was no doubt much missed. Perhaps someone wrote a similar article about it then. And when the new one was finally built in 1935, it was probably considered characterless and ugly. The question is whether in 50 years or so from now, when the new market gets replaced by an even more sanitised facility, anyone will bother to write about it.
Boxes of the addictively scented
A box of small octopuses on ice.
smoke-dried and shaved tuna normally served on tofu.
A mysterious Tsukiji office or
Detail of the polystyrene mountain
residence backing onto the market.
which grows each morning at the end of the market's curve.
An arrangement of boxes on the typical
A small tuna box resting on an
low counter stools used in restaurants
old-style market cart, still in use.
and coffee shops around the market.
The longways and crossways knives
An exterior shop display
used to fillet and slice tuna.
of weighing scales.
In support of
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Inga Sempé for Hay What makes a mirror worth designing? You either place a mirror on a piece of furniture or you hang it, so for me the hanging part became the interesting point. The ribbon surrounding Ruban acts as a frame, but it also serves as a loop so that it can hang from a peg on the wall. It’s a functional decoration. I assume that attaching a ribbon to a mirror and letting it hang from that wasn’t as easy as it looks. A mirror is made of glass, making it a very hard object to drill into it. So we were looking for solutions to create the hook with the ribbon and still make it stick to the mirror without the ribbon coming undone. So how did you resolve it? We put a backing on the mirror in wood veneer, which allowed us to attach the ribbon with little pegs that fix to the veneer rather than the glass. Why did you want to design a mirror? I never wanted to design a mirror. Why did Hay ask you to then? Because it’s a very lovely object. It’s not only an object to see yourself in, but also to reflect the light. A mirror gives a sort of rhythm to a place; it’s a very cheap object to enhance a house.
Felix de Pass and Andreas Neophytou for Sweetdram Product designers have a strong understanding of proportion, weight, depth – spatial qualities that you don’t find in many other professions. I’ve worked with other designers who specialise in creating alcohol bottles and they seem to approach it with so many conventions in mind. They are already in the industry, so they know what works on the shelf. I knew that Felix had never done this type of project before and I loved his simple but intelligent approach to furniture design. I thought it would be amazing if he could transfer that to a bottle: no gimmicks, no novelties, just a beautiful piece. The design is very simple but Felix went through so many iterations to get to that point. I knew that he would be concerned with the micro details, even if the end result still feels very simple. Andreas Neophytou, graphic designer I was actually looking at some liquor bottles earlier today and it’s a funny world. They have this traditional language that often just evolves out of itself; they constantly go around in circles doing similar things. With Sweetdram, Andreas was creating a whole new brand from scratch, so why go to a designer who would just think about the bottle in the same way as all other liquor bottles? The brand identity was hugely influential on my design. Andreas had laid down the foundations of what it would look like on paper and I suppose it was my job to take the roots of that thinking and turn it into a 3D product that works. That is a key part in the translation: you don’t want to lose the identity, but you also need to introduce the functionality, ergonomics and production requirements that a product like this has to fulfil. Felix de Pass, product designer
Dornbracht Culturing Life Private Spa
Ghosts and Other Functionalities Words Oli Stratford Photographs Albrecht Fuchs
An exhibition of tools to aid communication with ghosts at Bordeaux’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design was the starting point for a series of conversations about form and function in contemporary design with its creators, designer Felipe Ribon and curator Constance Rubini. 38
Felipe Ribon at home in his apartment‑cum‑studio in Paris, surrounded by models.
Corps Subtils. Elevator pitch (version one) “Hello Constance. I’m working on talking to the spirits.” How to sum up Corps Subtils? It’s an exhibition of tools for talking to the dead; a display of modern-arcane devices created by Felipe Ribon, a Franco-Colombian designer who is leading the discipline into a realm of Ouija, seance and ectoplasm. Commissioned by Constance Rubini, director of Bordeaux’s Musée des Arts Décoratifs et du Design (MADD), the project is a meditation on death and the hereafter, watched over by the level gaze of the iridescent evil eye. It’s Corps Subtils! A necropolitan plunge into objects adrift in the afterlife! Or that’s one interpretation. “What’s going on after death? Is it life? Can you communicate?” asks Ribon. “Design is the most accurate discipline for asking how objects can help us create a link between worlds.” Let’s begin at the beginning: Corps Subtils is about the nature of objects. Fittingly, MADD is something of a haunted house. It’s based in l'hôtel de Lalande, an 18th-century, central Bordeaux mansion with white stone walls, arched arcades, and peaked roofs à la française, set around a crescent-moon courtyard. The original owners met with untimely ends. Chevalier Pierre de Raymond de Lalande, its first resident, died a few years after the house’s 1779 construction and his son Jean was guillotined during the Terror. After 1880 it became the headquarters for the police, with a prison added later. The mansion, reformed as an arts museum in 1955, is now a depository for objects connected to the deposed House of Bourbon; a paper encrusted with the blood of Louis XVI, dripped from the guillotine, is among the showpieces. “It would have been quite different,” Ribon ponders, “to have held the exhibition in a white-cube gallery.” Corps Subtils’ nominal subject is spiritism, a 19th-century doctrine devised by Hypolite Léon Denizard Rivail, pen name Allan Kardec, that claimed to study incursions of spirits into the physical world. It’s a hokum theory, but one that Ribon and Rubini insist profitably engages with contemporary design. “When I look at the field of young designers, I think Felipe is one of the most interesting,” says Rubini from her office at the top of the museum. “He’s actually bringing the subject somewhere. Of course I said yes to spiritism.” So why aren’t more young designers trying to speak to the dead? “Because people are frightened,” says Rubini, grinning. Frightened? Of what? Ribon doesn’t seem frightened; in fact, he doesn’t even believe in ghosts: “Either you believe or you don’t,” he says. “But that’s not really the point.” A graduate of Paris’s ENSCI design school, Ribon is a longterm protégé and collaborator of the Bouroullec brothers, for whom he oversaw all exhibition design between 2008 and 2012, and with whom he continues to work on a freelance basis. He’s also a multiple prizewinner. Ribon won the 2012 Audi Talent Award, the Grand prix du public at Design Parade 4, and Fondation Bettencourt’s prix pour l’intelligence de la main. So why play around with spiritism? And, to add to the charge sheet, Ribon isn’t simply playing: his devices actually work. At least, they do after a fashion. Ribon’s Ghostbusters detectors are nested constructions of glass Ouija tumblers that ping and trill in response to atmospheric changes, while his 40
Osmos perfume diffuser, silver, 2015.
Osmos was produced by the Parisian silversmith Nicolas Marischael, who determines when the silver is in its correct shape through subtle variations in sound audible when he strikes the metal with his hammer.
Per-mutation mirrors use Narima glass to create stereoscopic reflections. “If the spirit appears as a manifestation of light, these mirrors will open your senses,” says Ribon. “They help you see the manifestation.” As we tour MADD, its rooms preserved in the fashion of its 18th-century owners, the mystery deepens. Ghostbusters hang above the sumptuous silk beds and peep from the drawers of bureaus; seance tables are set out, waiting for resonances of electric spectral communication; automatic writers are poised on the credenzas, pert and quivering. For a man who doesn’t believe in ghosts, Ribon does a good line in suggesting he wants to catch one. But post-tour in the courtyard, he’s in the mood to demystify. “There are some levels in the exhibition that I didn’t explain well,” he says. “I never said it before, but this project is really about function. Talking with the dead? I mean, come on.” Corps Subtils. Elevator pitch (version two) “It’s about a non-functional function that we don’t know if it’s functioning.” Ghostbuster, ectoplasm detector,
When I next see Ribon it’s at his home near the Bastille, a Parisian apartment-cum-studio above a lighting showroom. It’s small, neat and very white, with a daybed for a bed and no sign of curtains or other concessions to homeliness. “I’m all about emptiness and whiteness,” he says, busily preparing biscuits and coffee (it may not be homely, but Ribon is faultlessly hospitable). “I can’t live with things, so I’m always cleaning and taking things out. Some of the objects here I put in just for today.” Which is surprising, because Ribon is fascinated by objects in use. His graduation project from ENSCI was Another Bathroom (2008), a plan to recalibrate porcelain basins and baths as metal frames, around which nano-technic fabrics could be stretched to form waterproof, bacteria-free receptacles. His most recent creation is Osmos, a silver perfume diffuser hammered into a shape so complex as to be impossible to helpfully describe. (It’s a super-ellipsoid that undergoes a 90° lateral twist about its central point. This, admittedly, does not paint a picture.) In between came S.OS – a proposal to create products using cow bones from slaughterhouses – and Mind the Gap, a series of objects to facilitate hypnosis. A seriousness of intent unites these projects. “Creating an object is always about making a statement,” he says. “But a lot of statements are empty. I’m nervous about saying this, but much of what is produced by the design world is empty. I don’t necessarily know what it’s empty of; it just feels empty.” What Ribon may be getting at is a response to Louis Sullivan’s 1896 dictum “form ever follows function”, a proto-modernist slogan memorably described by Paola Antonelli of MoMA as being “responsible for a great deal of soulless and lobotomised design”. Sullivan’s idea was that style ought to reflect purpose – which proved productive for much of the 20th century – but it’s a vision of design that is now under threat from the functional complexity of contemporary objects. What does form follows function mean in the case of technologies where use is defined by digital interfaces rather than physical appearance? And what would it mean, in any deep sense, for the form of an iPhone to follow function when the entire point of an iPhone is that it clusters functions to create a pool Profile
blown glass, electromagnetic sensor, mirror, stainless steel, 2015.
It’s Corps Subtils! A necropolitan plunge into objects adrift in the afterlife!
of customisable uses? As The New York Times critic Alice Rawsthorn noted of an iPod Shuffle, “How could you be expected to guess what that tiny metal box does by looking at it?” Ribon is not designing at the digital interface, but he also has reservations about Sullivan’s functionalism, albeit of a different kind. Whereas Rawsthorn spoke of a recent “dislocation of form and function”, Ribon’s practice is predicated on the idea that form and function were never particularly located in the first place, especially if function is conceived of as a specific, well-defined use for which a product is designed. “To create meaningful objects is the goal of every designer,” he says. “But many modern objects are moot, partly because the industrial process tries and tends to drain them of the details and layers of meaning that were so important in the 18th, 19th and early-20th centuries.” He draws my attention to a photograph of Æther, a pyramid box created for Corps Subtils that opens to reveal an inlay of intricate walnut marquetry, a design feature with no purpose other than to be delightful. “Objects should be like this,” he says. “Always a nice detail or surprise to make it lovable.” Æther is a neat demonstration of a wider phenomenon. Away from the world of theory, how many objects do we treat as pure tools? Objects usually have a function, but they almost always have an emotional or symbolic or otherwise ephemeral value too – considerations that sit outside function, but which nevertheless determine how we interact with a design, even the most functionalist of which usually have hidden depths. A person who tried to explain why Dieter Rams’s 606 shelving is a good design by listing ways in which it is well adapted to holding books, CDs, sugar canisters ad infinitum would be missing the point. There are more things in Rams’s shelves than are dreamt of in functionalism’s philosophy. Ribon has another example. He created the Osmos diffuser with Nicolas Marischael, a Parisian silversmith who inherited his tools from his father. Marischael’s most treasured possession is an old hammer which, to the untrained eye, looks broken. The handle is splitting at the bottom, while its head is covered in worn wrappings of vellum and green baize. “His whole family lives out of this hammer,” says Ribon. “It is the most valuable piece he has in the whole world and when I took it away to take some pictures, he told me ‘If you lose it, I stop working.’ All of his gestures and movements which he’s learned over the last 40 years are completely blended with this tool. If you gave him another, he wouldn’t be able to work.” Which isn’t to deny that the hammer’s function is important, but rather to say that other things matter too. In fact, Marischael’s emotional attachment to and familiarity with his hammer supplements its function. The two cannot be meaningfully separated. How does a designer fit into this, particularly given that these interactions typically evolve organically and haphazardly? Ribon argues that a good designer is one who is able to generate enough hooks in a design to make such bonds easier to form over time: a beautiful detail, an arresting material choice, a surprising visual reference. Anything that might become meaningful. It’s not a guaranteed process, but nor is it one in which the designer is completely powerless. “Why is one shape better than another?” says Ribon. “Functionality and technicality – blah, blah, 42
Eye mirror, talisman, ceramic, dichroic mirror, 2015.
“I never said it before, but this project is really about function. Talking with the dead? I mean, come on.” —Felipe Ribon
blah – may make a difference, but any appreciation of shape itself is ultimately subjective. What you can do as a designer, however, is hone your intuition like a tool, such that it gets sharper each time. Good designers like the Bouroullecs are nearly always right in their decisions because their intuition is so precise. You can talk about these things as part of function, but then you need to accept that function can be non-functional.” Corps Subtils is about coming to terms with this expanded notion of function. Ribon doesn’t necessarily dispute “form ever follows function”, at least not to me, but he does insist on greater flexibility in what we mean by “function”. So catching ghosts – although impossible – remains a function of a kind, just as Marischael’s hammer is about more than a brute ability to strike metal. “I wanted to show that a function could be a kind of non-function even though it’s still a function,” says Ribon. “Corps Subtils was about making a statement. It was all about a non-functional function that we don’t know if it’s functioning.” Corps Subtils. Elevator pitch (version three) “Here’s a big bowl of cauliflower. Eat it.”
Designs from Ribon’s Mind the Gap series of hypnotic objects, on display at MADD in Bordeaux.
Why pick something as esoteric as ghosts to make this point? In part, it’s simply the kind of topic that appeals to Ribon. He left Colombia for France when he was 20 – “My mother’s family is French. France felt part of me” – and studied environmental engineering in Nantes. “But I was the worst engineer,” he says. “I was more interested in a creative process, so I took a year out in Paris to understand what was going on in art, architecture and design.” He briefly attended both design classes at ENSCI and art classes at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-arts, before ultimately committing to the former: “Art felt more selfish. More about finding yourself in the work, whereas design is about connecting with others.” Something of this dilettantish inquisitiveness has remained with Ribon. His projects are research heavy – picking magpie-like from whatever happens to catch his eye – and grow spontaneously, one out of another. The spiritist objects were a development of his Mind the Gap hypnosis project; aspects of Corps Subtils are now being shaped into an exhibition about superstition’s relationship to industrial objects. “I can work with superstition and I can also do a very functional industrial project,” he says. “I’m a designer: any project that’s meaningful, I’m happy to do.” This notion of meaningfulness – moving beyond the veil of pure function – is crucial. Back at MADD, Constance Rubini remembers one of the challenges of Corps Subtils. “At the opening I had to do a TV interview in which I was asked to say what kind of designer Felipe is in two words,” she says. “That was very difficult.” I suggest that he’s a conceptual designer, but Rubini has doubts. “But he’s not a conceptual designer,” she replies, “because he’s actually making objects. If you look at conceptual designers, they’re not creating working objects: they’re extrapolating the contemporary situation instead. Sure, Felipe’s objects are not going to be industrialised tomorrow, but they’re still objects to be used.” The outcomes reached by contemporary designers are expanding rapidly. Conceptual designers such as Dunne and Raby subjugate objects Profile
Soliculus planchette, copper, 2015.
to the concepts they express, such that a Dunne and Raby object like the Huggable Atomic Mushroom cushion might be better described as a model or prop. Elsewhere, the expansion is even broader: Yuri Suzuki has pioneered sound design, Ilona Gaynor a practice in which film plays the predominant role, and Folkform recently launched Now You Are at the Beginning Again, a book of closing lines from classic novels. All these studios identify with design, but none restrict themselves to objects. If a project is better served by a different medium, they happily adopt it. Ribon is different. Every piece of research he undertakes is materialised, even when doing so makes life difficult (there is a reason why ghost stories and horror films remain common in contemporary society, but spiritist objects do not). “For me, objects are the things that really strike us,” he says. “There is a special level of intimacy because you actually use them and they’re something you need. You can’t escape objects, but a good object has power to say things and diffuse ideas in a more indirect and gentler way than, for instance, a novel. That’s true of Corps Subtils. These objects are designed to be like feeding children. You’re hiding the vegetables inside a piece of pie. You’re not lying to them, you’re just presenting it in another way. Not, ‘Here’s a big bowl of cauliflower. Eat it.’ I mean, it’s in the title: these are supposed to be subtle links.” The cauliflower in the Corps Subtils objects – trussed up in irresistible trappings of the supernatural – is, Rubini suggests, a desire for society to discuss bereavement. “We have no place for death anymore,” she says. “It’s completely taboo. If a guy in your office has lost his daughter, you don’t dare ask about it. But that’s crazy, because if you have life, then you have death. For me, that’s the exhibition: how do you deal with a souvenir of the people you loved who are not there any more? These objects may not help – you can’t talk with the dead – but they confront you with death and make you deal with it. Felipe Ribon is not just some guy who thinks it’s funny to speak to ghosts. Death is the most quotidian thing there is.” Rubini’s idea captures the cosmic joke behind Corps Subtils: at heart, it’s a realist exhibition; at heart, Ribon is a realist designer. He’s not concerned with everyday objects, but he is concerned with everyday interaction with objects. “The bonds that exist between these objects and their owners are complex, and formed over time through use and contemplation… [they are] an affirmation of the potential of an object to reflect and nurture the human spirit.” This could be the mission statement for Corps Subtils, but its actually from Source Material by designers Jonathan Olivares, Marco Velardi and Jasper Morrison (design’s reigning king of the quotidian), a book of 54 everyday objects that have inspired leading designers, architects and artists. Morrison, you suspect, would not go in for spiritism, but the basic impulse remains the same: take objects seriously, think honestly about what they mean. “Death is universal and we all have to deal with questions about it at some point in our lives,” says Ribon. “I hate it when people say that my projects are speculative, because connecting with ghosts and death is for today. It’s not for the past, or for 10 or 20 years in the future. Objects have always been things that let you communicate with what is bigger and more abstract than you. The designer’s work is to enable that.” E N D 44
‘How to hypnotize a chicken,’
Cours Knowles: Hypnotisme Telepathie, The Psychology Foundation, 1926.
“Felipe Ribon is not just some guy who thinks it’s funny to speak to ghosts. Death is the most quotidian thing there is.” —Constance Rubini
A R E VO LU T I O N A RY C E R A M I C M AT E R I A L .
SaphirKeramik, a high-tech material driving innovative design. With its precise, thin-walled forms and tight-edge radii, Laufen brings a new language to bathrooms. Collection VAL, design by Konstantin Grcic.
W WW.B ENE.C O M
New Martian Concrete is Old News Words Magnus Larsson Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
“Is there life on Mars?” David Bowie’s stellar question might soon get stripped of its astronomical significance. China, Russia, and the US have all announced plans to launch manned missions to the Red Planet. Mars One, a Dutch non-profit, is working to establish an operational outpost on Mars in less than 10 years. But to live on Mars, we need houses, and to build houses we need something to build them with. In space, this is no trivial matter. Excessive costs – roughly $4,500 for every kilogram put into low Earth orbit – make the shipping of building materials from our planet rather unappealing. A cement truck weighs between 9 and 14 tonnes when empty and carries perhaps 18 tonnes of concrete; buying it a lavish ticket to Mars would involve a truly astronomical expense. This has led space engineers and architects to consider the use of local raw materials, a strategy known in the field as ISRU, in-situ resource utilisation. ISRU‑produced lunar concrete, for instance, is a popular research topic, including the creation of sulphur-based “waterless concrete” structures on the moon. A team at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, recently proposed a similar method for Martian sulphur concrete in a paper that attracted much attention from the likes of Dezeen, Inhabitat, and The Atlantic. Yet strangely the paper doesn’t mention astrobiologist David McKay and geochemist Carlton Allen’s Martian concrete proposal from 20 years ago, which declared concrete production on Mars “entirely feasible”, partly because water can be easily obtained there. The Northwestern team holds the opposite view: due to “the dry environment” on the planet, sulphur concrete is “a superior choice” for Martian structures. Life aside, there is certainly ice on Mars. More than five million square kilometers near the surface, with more likely to exist in the subsurface. For those working to create a permanent human presence on Mars, the simple question might be “Sulphur or ice?”
The Squeezed Middle Words Oli Stratford Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
Do you know that the ecological problems of petroleum-based plastic have perhaps been solved? Unless you happen to follow football, you probably don’t. Mathieu Flamini is a midfielder for Arsenal. Yet in November 2015, Flamini announced that he has spent the past seven years and millions of euros secretly funding GF Biochemicals, an Italian company he co-founded that had just discovered the world’s first method for mass producing levulinic acid. It is a significant – albeit bizarre – achievement. Levulinic acid is a complex carbon molecule that is difficult to industrialise. Produced from waste biomass, the acid may be able to replace petroleum (viz, oil) in all its forms: pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, fuels and plastics included. Much remains uncertain about levulinic acid, but it represents potential sea change. If the molecule proves as versatile as hoped, it will play a key role in forging the decarbonised world that the effects of climate change demand. What price the chemical that might end the extraction of more than 35bn barrels of oil from the earth each year? Helpfully, Flamini put a figure on it: “it’s a market potentially worth £20bn.” GF Biochemicals’ announcement should have accrued considerable media attention. Yet the design press was silent about the news. In fact, the only substantial media coverage came from the sports pages. Unsurprisingly, the stories that emerged were about Flamini breaking out of midfield and into business, with little coverage of levulinic acid and its applications. “Mathieu Flamini's no fuel” snickered The Sun. This media silence was predictable, but nonetheless disquieting. A handful of exceptions aside, the design press does not have a reputation for hard‑hitting reporting. At one extreme, we design journalists glut on product releases and trend reports; at the other, there are those who lionise the application of high cultural theory. What can go uncharted is a middle ground: a space for practical investigation of the applications and implications of design in the real world. GF Biochemicals experiments with levulinic acid might be a damp squib, or they might herald a brave carbon-free future. Who knows? The point is that someone ought to be trying to find out. And that someone shouldn’t be the football press.
MIAMI BEACH / MAY 10-13, 2016 MIAMI BEACH CONVENTION CENTER
BRINGING TOGETHER THE INTERIOR DESIGN COMMUNITY IN THE AMERICAS
GASTON.ISOLDI@SAFISALONS.FR SAFI AMERICAS LLC ORGANISATION, A COMPANY BELONGING TO SAFI SALONS FRANÇAIS ET INTERNATIONAUX. SAFI, A SUBSIDIARY OF ATELIERS D’ART DE FRANCE AND REED EXPOSITIONS FRANCE / DESIGN © BE-POLES - IMAGE © ADAM SHERBEL
Alejandro Aravena, founder of Elemental, in his studio in Santiago, Chile.
Small Margins Introduction Owen Hatherley Portrait Cristobal Palma
In the last few years Alejandro Aravena, this year’s Pritzker Prize laureate and the director of the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale, has become a figurehead for a new kind of social architecture. Beginning with the 2004 Quinta Monroy housing project in Iquique, in Aravena's native Chile, his firm Elemental has managed to sidestep dichotomies about low‑income housing – top‑down versus bottom‑up, to use the common clichés – and create a synthesis that quickly became a popular potential solution.
In Quinta Monroy, Elemental – whether because limited by a minuscule budget or through a commitment to the possibilities of informal housing – laid out the shell of the houses, their basic structure and street pattern, and let residents do the rest. The resulting photographs, showing the architect‑designed, raw, grey concrete halves of the houses filled out with the colourful, ad hoc additions built by their inhabitants, have been widely circulated (very wildly circulated if you consider that this is a relatively recent social housing project). From there, Aravena and Elemental went on to create similar schemes in Santa Catarina, Mexico, and the Villa Verde housing in Constitución, again in Chile. What was interesting about these later schemes was that they were relatively middle class, unlike in Iquique, suggesting that Aravena considered the adaptability, incremental design, and room for growth and mutation common in informal self-built slum housing to have applications beyond the swift provision of emergency housing. Although Aravena has built several more normal – namely, fixed and unadaptable – buildings for universities, private homes and the like, the announcement that came with the awarding of the Pritzker Prize to Aravena in January made it clear that the award was being given on the basis of his housing work and all that such projects suggested. That is, that it is still possible to do social architecture in a neoliberal world, and that it could be lighter, more adaptable, more participatory and less bureaucratic than the classic welfare-state architecture of the modernist era; and, most simply of all, that he proved that, in Tom Pritzker’s words, “architecture at its best can improve people's lives”. On the other hand, for critics such as Patrik Schumacher, the senior designer at Zaha Hadid Architects, the award represented “the PC takeover of architecture”, praising designers on the basis of sociology and activism, not on architectural form. I met Aravena in the Italian Cultural Institute in London, where he was working on his curation of the Venice Architecture Biennale. With its theme of Reporting from the Front, Aravena’s biennale is widely expected to present the sort of architecture that Schumacher hates – self-effacing, socially engaged, rough and collaged. Yet however much he may seem like a PC-gone-mad leftwinger to his opponents, I found Aravena to be extremely polite and diplomatic; albeit exceptionally hard to pin down.
Owen Hatherley The title of your biennale is Reporting from the Front, which is a very military metaphor. What is the front as you conceive it? Alejandro Aravena It could be understood both literally and metaphorically and those things need to be adjoined. I avoided the word “war”, even though we do mention battles. Our idea is that producing a quality built environment is tough and as soon as you try and go beyond business as usual, you encounter a lot of friction and resistance. So in that sense, architecture is a battle, or at least a struggle. What is important to understand is that the different logics and forces are pulling in different directions and not tending towards a common good. So from that point of view there are some conditions and circumstances under which the “front” is very literal: scarcity of means, lack of institutions, political and social instability. These all threaten and fight against the possibility of a quality built environment. So in that sense the title is talking about concrete, pragmatic issues: the toughness of the circumstances that prevent a built environment from being achieved. At the more metaphorical end, it’s the idea that if architecture is anything, it’s the act of giving form to the places in which we live. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but it’s also simpler too. Life always happens in a place; this conversation, for instance, is qualified by the place we’re in and it may be better or worse depending on how we gave form to that place. Life ranges from ordinary activities like having a conversation, through to civilisation where life is brought to its highest point. It goes from taking care of the individual to taking care of the common good. It goes from very concrete basic needs – the shelter and physical demands of the body – through to more intangible dimensions of the human condition. Lack of quality of life not only means basic needs not being guaranteed, but also these more intangible dimensions not being developed: the mediocrity and the banality of the built environment, for instance. But the impatience of the capital forces at play and the mediocrity of bureaucracy mean that there’s little interest in going beyond the status quo. That’s another kind of frontline that I would like acknowledged as belonging to any attempt to improve quality of life.
Elemental’s Villa Verde in Constitución, Chile, 2013.
The Villa Verde project was developed
Owen I’ll come back to bureaucracy, but the short statement you’ve put out about the biennale uses the phrase “success stories[...] where architecture did, is and will make a difference.” What do you mean by success? Alejandro Consider some very difficult, complex issues: segregation, inequalities, race, pollution, traffic. These are things that all of us experience and which are easy to understand, but they’re also very difficult to solve. So our challenges lie in areas where success is relative and not absolute, but we architects tend to operate in protected environments where we can control all the entry points so that the purity and integrity of the result – in terms of its form and artistic qualities – can be guaranteed. Under that conception, it mainly depends on your skill and talent to be able to produce something successful. But as soon as you move to realms that are more political, economical, social or environmental, you lose control over the constraints. And given that these areas are more relative, the successes you can have there tend to
as “incremental” housing, where only part of the house is completed, leaving it free to be added to over time.
be relative too. If we win one of those battles, then that’s still something. I prefer to go into a field where even a 1mm gain would justify the risk of making a proposal, than being 100 per cent successful in an issue that nobody cares about. Owen There’s something that you talked about a minute ago: that on the one hand you have the greed and impatience of capital, and on the other hand the single-mindedness and contemptuousness of bureaucracy. But those are the powers that build. Apart from bureaucracy and capital, who actually builds? In terms of clients, 99.9 per cent are one of these two things. So how do you build beyond that? Alejandro You have to understand what other logics there are so that an efficiency can be found and a redefinition of the notion of gain can be produced to channel those forces. When the 2010 tsunami and earthquake hit Chile, 80 per cent of the population in a city in the southern part of the country, Constitución, was made homeless. We were asked if we could come up with a masterplan for it and to create designs that could channel its reconstruction. When you have that kind of tabula rasa, in spite of the cliché, it’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss. There are things in Constitución that need changing and this is the moment to do it, because under normal circumstances it could never have happened. The first thing about that project was actually understanding who we were reporting to. If it was the state – bureaucracy, let’s say – then the way in which public investment happens is that the state will only fund operations that correct a certain deficit. So if you lack housing, you create the amount of housing that is missing, but what you cannot do is put money into creating something that moves beyond breaking even, which is the best-case scenario. But when you’re so far behind, as Constitución is, then that’s a missed opportunity. If you want to improve the quality of public space, you don’t want to just work towards the minimum standard. But when you ask people in the city they say, “This is the moment where we should finally jump to the next level of development. We want a city that we like, not just one that doesn’t create problems for us. We want a city that creates a benefit.” The state cannot invest in that, but at least it is there to work towards the public good. On the other hand you have the private sector, which is also investing money in the reconstruction. The private sector does have the aim of producing some gain and organises its operations to produce those gains, so from that point of view it’s the right kind of force to bring to the table in a case like Constitución where people are asking for advances. The problem, however, is that the private sector is not there to guarantee the common good. And then the third aspect of this client was the people themselves. I mean, who better than the people to tell you what the question you need to respond to is? There’s nothing worse than answering the wrong question. Owen This is something I was trying to get at. In what way do the people have input?
Elemental’s plan for the post-tsunami reconstruction for Constitución.
The reconstruction plan includes a forest and access to the Maule river.
“If architecture is anything, it’s the act of giving form to the places in which we live. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but it’s also simpler too.”
Alejandro In the case of Constitución, the state was saying, “Look, if you open up a participatory process, this entire thing will slow down and it will cost more.” But as soon as you involve people, you’re able to channel their capacity; they’re bringing another resource to the table and have knowledge that you need to coordinate and use. When you’re working with scarce resources – and in this case that scarcity was one of time as well as money – you’re in an emergency. You don’t have time to do everything, so you need to establish priorities. And who better than the community to tell you what those priorities should be? Look at it like a supermarket list: make sure you have what’s at the top of the list and then, given the available time and money, see what has to be cut from it. The people in Constitución were instrumental in identifying the project’s questions and its priorities. Let me give you a very specific example of how this worked. The state and the private sector – which in principle is what you see normally today: public-private partnerships – would have come into Constitución and tried to respond to one single question: how do you protect the city against future tsunamis? In answer to that question there were two initial alternatives: forbidding building on the destroyed land, or building heavy infrastructure on that land to resist any future wave. We offered a third alternative: creating a forest on that land to help dissipate instead of resist the energy of nature and to act as a space between the ocean and the city. If it’s a geographical threat, let’s come up with a geographical answer. From one point of view, we should have lost that battle because the first alternative cost $30m, the second cost $42m and the third, $48m. It was the most expensive proposal, so you expect not to do it. But when we asked the people they said, “Look, the next tsunami is probably not going to happen for 20 to 30 years. So whatever you do, make sure you’re also solving the problem that the city floods every single winter because of the rain. In addition to that, our public space sucks. Do something about it.” We took some measurements and they were right. In Constitución there was only 2.2m2 of public space per person, whereas the World Health Organization recommends 9m2 of green space per head and London has 44m2. The government was concerned about the identity of the city, because for the government Constitución's identity was the old buildings that were destroyed in the disaster. But the people thought differently. They said that the identity of the city was not actually based in its architecture, but rather in its connection to nature. The origins of the city are tied to the Maule river, but the Maule’s shores are now privately owned. The people said that whatever we did, we had to make sure they had access to the river. This third solution, if it was trying to answer the original question of how to protect Constitución against tsunamis, was undeniably the most expensive. But that initial question was actually the wrong one because when we spoke to people we realised that there were a huge number of issues that needed addressing and which would have cost up to $52m as individual projects. So by integrating these projects into the single operation of the forest we actually saved $4m. We were able to move very quickly because we understood that people’s real concern
After the 2010 earthquake and subsequent tsunami, Elemental was consulted on the redvelopment of Constitución.
The tsunami left 80 per cent of the city’s population homeless. Constitución’s residents were closely involved with Elemental’s development plans.
“I wouldn’t for a second give any value or poetic worth to informality and poverty. They’re a disaster that we need to get rid of as soon and as much as possible.”
was about gaining democratic access to the riverside. This entire operation saved money, time and was not obvious at all. Owen One thing I’ve noticed in architectural discourse, and which I think some of your social housing has a slight allegiance to, is a question of increased interest in informality and participation in architecture. I find the very different contexts in which it gets used strange. I was recently at an architectural conference in Vienna and all of the architects seemed obsessed with informality: obsessed with the idea that we don’t have enough of it, and that our system is incredibly fixed and monolithic. And I thought that, well, you don’t need informality, because you’ve already solved your housing crisis. It was solved decades ago because that city has some of the highest standard housing in Europe, so why do they need informality? There seemed to be an idea that there is something exciting happening in more informal cities which they wanted a part of. But they were seeing it not so much as informality as a solution to a problem, but informality as a solution to their city being boring. Is there a point when the question of necessity and the question of aesthetics spill into one another? Alejandro Well, first of all, I wouldn’t for a second give any value or poetic worth to informality and poverty. They’re a disaster that we need to get rid of as soon and as much as possible. To establish a basic fact, there should be no kind of aestheticisation of informality or poverty at all. I couldn’t care less about things being more controlled or less controlled, or more articulated and organic or more abstract, or following a notion of order that is irregular as any kind of formal consideration. The drama of informality is really about property. There’s a book by a Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital, in which he says that if you want to buy a property in a favela in Brazil, it will cost $50,000, the same cost as buying a formal apartment. The difference is not the cost, but rather the tragedy of the favela lies in the fact that you cannot prove ownership over it. When you go to the bank and say that you have a property that cost you $50,000 and can they loan you some money to start a small business, or to pay for the education of your children, or to buy a car to run as a taxi, you don’t enter their system because your asset cannot be proved to be yours. That asset cannot have a parallel life as capital. If we have an alternative to capitalism, then fine, we can go with that. But the rules of the game are that we’re living in a capitalist environment, so let’s apply it for everyone and not just for a few. Informality, if it’s about anything, is about clarity in the ownership of property and land such that whatever you build on top of that – in addition to providing the place where you live – becomes an economic tool that allows for social dynamics to take place. That’s what we’re trying to do with housing. The historical criticism of housing is that in order to deal with scarcity of means and to achieve big numbers, you have to create standardised repetitive solutions. That not only creates a monotonous environment – which may depend on taste, and some people have more problems than others with that – but that monotony is also incapable of reacting to the
Constitución’s cultural centre was completed in 2015.
The seaside promenade in Constitución consists of a series of viewing platforms that look out over the sea (2014).
social diversity that needs to be accommodated in housing. People may have many children, or want to keep animals, or want to have a business at home – “Well, sorry, the solution that you get is this one”. To react to diversity is very costly, but that problem of costliness actually became the solution in our Quinta Monroy project. In that case, we didn’t have enough money to provide a whole housing solution, so we identified what was difficult to achieve for an individual and responded to scarcity with incrementalism. We created an open system of liveable but half-finished houses that someone else – an institution, NGOs, or the families themselves – could then fill in over time according to their own needs and financial situation. Given that we cannot do everything, let’s focus on what can guarantee the common good and quality of that environment in the future. The proportion between what is initially coordinated and what is left open to be completed and regulated and corrected by itself is crucial. In fact, in our case it’s 1:1, which is why the first half of our buildings was so monotonous. If you tried to be as articulated in the first half as in the second half that you know they will become, then what you would create is chaos. The important thing is that it’s a careful dose: the difference between a poison and a medicine is the dose. So the second half, if built with very specific rhythms, can perform as a process of customisation, not as a deterioration of the public space. An open system gives room not just for individual taste, but also for individual needs, preferences and the capacity to change your mind. It’s a system that is able to correct itself. We’re proud to ignite a process that has a life of its own. The best thing that can happen to a building is that you start with something that will then take care of itself afterwards. Owen I’m sure you’ve read, although it wasn’t terribly sophisticated, Patrik Schumacher’s critique of you after you won the Pritzker Prize. It seems to hinge on his belief that what you are doing isn’t really architecture, but activism and politics instead. That it is sort of illegitimate to be considered as architecture. To what degree is there an architectural autonomy? One thing you mentioned earlier is the question of architects having control over their work and being obsessed that. And of course here, particularly via the public-private partnerships that we have for public buildings, architects have remarkably little control. An architect comes up with a design and frequently then has to make sure that it can’t be ruined by the contractor, keeping the details as simple as possible so they don’t bugger it up. That sort of architectural control in the majority of buildings – and then a few ridiculously prestigious buildings by the likes of Schumacher – is a very peculiar point for architecture to be in. What is the architectural rather than social element to your practice? Alejandro We don’t have control, but I prefer to lose control to people rather than to a developer or the state. In the case of Quinta Monroy, by definition, we’re happy not to control the final product. But in any case, I agree with Patrik Schumacher in that there is a need for autonomy in the discipline. In terms of our practice, when we enter fields that are governed by economics, politics, social or environmental desires or constraints, we’re not going in as economists, we’re going in as designers.
The Quinta Monroy housing project in Iquique in Chile was completed in 2004.
And the way that we do that comes from the autonomy of the discipline. The advancement of the discipline is not a goal in itself, but the means through which we improve people’s quality of life. Ultimately, and going back to your first question, what we do is build the places where people live. Life has very intangible, sophisticated dimensions – the mystery of the human condition – which are captured by art and which fall on the artistic end of the spectrum. That area is already a part of architecture, so there’s no need to keep insisting on that: it’s already in place. Where I differ with Schumacher is on the idea that architecture can only happen at that end of the spectrum because, again, it depends on how you define it. If you believe that architecture is about giving form to the places where we live and that it also has a more concrete, practical, down-to-earth problem-solving dimension – that basic needs and rights being guaranteed are also part of the type of life we believe in – then form has to respond to that end of the spectrum as well. The way we approach social housing and the design of cities is through design tools. The forces that are at play there, in the end, need to be translated into form. And I guess there’s enough room and enough space in the world for different definitions of architecture. But we shouldn’t ignore the goal of trying to provide discernible homes for people, which is a need faced by two billion people. There’s enough room there such that we could bring every architect on earth and we still wouldn’t be able to take care of such a huge demand. It comes down to the freedom of each practice, but I do agree with Schumacher that the tools need to be developed with a certain autonomy. That’s the power of our profession: we’re just trying to engage in a broader conversation. It’s a non-specific conversation with the specific knowledge of architecture. Owen I get the impression from your texts for the biennale that there’s an argument for optimism. That hitherto these things have been too negative and your biennale will have positive examples – stories of optimism. Are there particular reasons to be optimistic about cities and architecture? Alejandro I wouldn’t consider ourselves optimists necessarily. I would describe it as somewhere in between reasonable scepticism and rigorous eroticism or desire for architecture. If you’re too far down the route of scepticism, then you’re a nihilist or a pessimist or a cynic and we’re not interested in being defeated. But we do believe that you don’t need to be naive in order to go into the built environment where the forces at play are not necessarily amicable. So a certain toughness and scepticism is needed. We’re not even close to the kind of hyper romanticism that would be the other end of the spectrum, which is where I would also put optimism. But somewhere – not quite at that end of the romantic, the hippyish, or the nostalgic – I would put the desire to do things differently. What we have been experiencing between these two – scepticism and the desire to do things differently – is that things can be done. We have proven that if you understand the constraints and swallow the kicks and the hits that you get, you will eventually be able to do some good. But we’re prepared for the fact that our success is relative and not absolute. And we’re fine to live with that. E N D
Models in Elemental’s studio in Santiago.
The team at work in Elemental’s studio.
“The best thing that can happen to a building is that you start with something that will then take care of itself afterwards.”
Alejandro Aravena receives the Pritzker Architecture Prize on 4 April in the United Nations Headquarters in New York and opens the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale on 28 May.
osprey & shug www.jamesburleigh.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org t +4420 8965 3966
Super 8 Camera
Fuseproject for Kodak
To be honest, I wasn’t sure how people would receive the return of Super 8 film, so I was amazed at how much enthusiasm and excitement there was for it. But I didn’t want to make this a retro exercise. We put the camera into a contemporary context by giving people additional tools and capabilities with digital features, such as a microphone, an LCD screen and a digital copy of the film once it’s developed. It’s bringing an important craft back to consumers and it really sits at the intersection between digital and analogue. We wanted the camera to have a sense of robustness and strength, so we used bent-sheet metal, which is durable and strong. There were many great designs for Super 8 cameras in the past, but I didn’t look at them for direct inspiration. The design and shape is really influenced by the functions and the internal mechanical parts, which make it bigger than your typical digital camera. In many ways, I think the excitement around Super 8 comes from a genuine interest in making, whether it’s producing objects or learning a craft. Although it seemed for a while that people were more interested in digital stimulations, there is now a real appreciation for things that involve learning and patience, which results in beautifully made objects. We’re coming to a place where there is more balance between the immediacy of digital tools and the beauty of a maker’s craft. Yves Béhar, founder of Fuseproject
Arthur Arbesser for Hem As a fashion designer, why did you decide to move into the field of interior design? One of the women who works at Hem in Stockholm used to be here in Milan at Patricia Urquiola’s studio, so she knew my work and where I come from in terms of aesthetic. She got in touch and asked whether I would be interested in doing some fabric-based objects for Hem. How did you decide on making throws? Well, obviously I couldn’t do chairs or tables. So I just sent some stuff over to them and they loved it. They asked me to send some more and it all went very smoothly. What was the process like? I provided patterns, colours and made very detailed drawings. Then we went through the different options of fabrication methods and they sent me a massive pack of different textile weights and textures. It was very easy. When I went to visit them in Stockholm I had to ask myself, “Are we working? Or are we just munching lovely Swedish things?” How about finding yourself in the design sphere? Does that feel interesting? It felt like a luxury that I could get a taste of that world with the Hem project. It was really nice and I think we’ll do some other things. But it also felt intelligent on the part of the company. Introducing different people into their world makes the range of products more interesting and varied.
Modular by design VOLA commitment to sculptural modularity is epitomised by the T39 Towel Rail. The system features minimalist cantilevered bars which can be configured in any quantity and spaced to suit any bathroom design. T39 is the perfect accompaniment to VOLA award-winning range.
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Launching at Clerkenwell Design Week 2016 www.humanscale.com
Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern Words Ian Volner An exhibition about a plant starts a train of thought that makes stop-offs at Deleuze and Guattari, material culture studies, a restaurant in Upper Manhattan, and the lush gardens of Miami Beach.
Josef von Sternberg House, Los Angeles, 1947,
Courtesy of J. Paul Getty Trust.
designed by Richard Neutra, photographed by JuliusÂ Shulman.
theory has transformed from a radical epistemological roadmap into a handy academic trope. The problem is even more vexing when the focus of inquiry turns to plants themselves. Material culture studies, a genre that’s become a favourite of popular historians in recent years, has given us the definitive account of the zipper (viz, Robert Friedel’s 1996 book, subtitled An Exploration in Novelty), salt (Mark Kurlansky, 2002) and even cod
Native Man Posing with Wild Aroids in Tobago, 1932, photographed by David Fairchild.
to the hierarchical or “tree-like” analytical approaches of the past. In the decades since, countless scholars have heeded Deleuze and Guattari’s call, applying their botanical rubric to topics as diverse as gender identity and the internet. This has not necessarily been for the best. “The primary difficulty,” writes Jeffrey Nealon in Plant Theory: Biopower and Vegetable Life, is that “plant-based rhizomatics has in the present scholarly context become a metaphor for everything and anything – or, more precisely, a metaphor for how everything is connected in an underground way”. No one, as Nealon points out, would be more alarmed by this development than its progenitors. Deleuze and Guattari were dead against metaphors as such, and would have been galled to see how their rhizomatic
(the same author’s A Biography of the Fish that Changed the World, 1997). But if you propose to write the tale of, say, 1,000 years of gouda, aiming to reveal how a modest Dutch cheese went on to alter the course of human events forever, you do not generally have to worry that methodology, subject and object will all start to converge in a messy conceptual pile-up – that the course of human events will suddenly come to resemble the maturation of acidified milk curds. Shrubs and trees, already rich in Deleuzoguattarian implications and by their very nature anterior to human culture, are a little trickier to deal with. This is just one of the issues that beset Philodendron, the current exhibition at Miami’s Wolfsonian-Florida International University. Focusing on the titular genus of the Aroideae subfamily, the show
features a sumptuous array of drawings, paintings, haute‑couture garments and video, all demonstrating how the famed creeper has wound its way into art, architecture and design, grafting itself onto our image of the global South and putting down deep roots into the shared soil of our cultural subconscious. And don’t get sick of this now, because we’re just getting started. To be clear: the show’s curator Christian A. Larsen mostly avoids such verbal flourishes – including that one – in both his ably written catalogue and helpful-if-sometimes-oddly-placed wall texts. (There is, in the former, one fleeting reference to “cross-cultural pollination”.) The idea for the show began as a chapter in Larsen’s dissertation and it is very much to his credit that it does not feel like this. Rather, it seems like a pleasant romp through an obscure corner of the archive, with exquisite renderings by long-dead English botanists and vintage photographs of mid-century Los Angeles houses brought together in improbable proximity to reveal the amazing ubiquity of the leafy tropical plant. Larsen’s treatment, as he writes, “follows the ‘cultural biography’ and ‘social lives’ of philodendrons, with an occasional nod to other species, from out of the jungle and into the home”; his roughly chronological exhibition, beginning with indigenous artefacts and colonial documents and proceeding through 21st-century multimedia, is straightforward in scope and execution. It has the added advantage of being, like its subject, surpassingly beautiful. Nowhere does Larsen even namecheck Deleuze, Guattari, or the rhizome. The problem, rather, is that even without adding an explicit theoretical framework, the poor philodendron is freighted with symbolic and historical value that it cannot always bear. Once you start looking for philodendra, you find them pretty much everywhere: the author of this article broke for lunch not 20 minutes ago and found them in the restaurant across the street, where he had never noticed them before, despite the fact that he can see inside the restaurant from his bedroom window. This might signify that the philodendron is indeed, as the show contends, the premier horticultural ambassador of Latin America, deserving of a show at
Courtesy of Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden Archives, 07055-001.
“Follow the plants…” In Capitalism and Schizophrenia, and again in A Thousand Plateaus (whence the quote), philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari elaborated a now-famous model for cultural research, embracing multiplicity, indeterminacy and connectivity. They took their cue from the rhizome – a vegetal structure that spreads itself in a nebulous mass across the landscape through its root system. This they placed as an “image of thought”, in opposition
a major American design museum; or it could simply mean that it is resilient and cheap, and frequently sold at hardware stores in Upper Manhattan; or it might be a little of each. Whichever way, the stakes would be very low indeed in
Bottom: courtesy of Francisco Brennand; top: courtesy of Conde Nast/Karl Lagerfeld for German Vogue.
The poor philodendron is freighted with symbolic and historical value that it cannot always bear. Philodendron, except that the rhizomatic operation by which Larsen and his team find the plant popping up in seemingly disparate but deeply interrelated contexts comes in tandem with a different – and still more contentious – element of discourse. That is, the discourse of appropriation, which has become a very hot topic indeed. The philodendron – as we learn in the first room of the Wolfsonian’s modestly sized show, occupying six symmetrical spaces plus a small hallway appendix – was first described by late-17th-century travellers to the Caribbean, most prominently the Franciscan monk and vegetarian Charles Plumier. Plumier’s research was followed in the mid-18th century by that of the Austrian naturalist Nikolaus Joseph von Jacquin, who was tasked with collecting specimens for Emperor Francis Joseph I’s gardens at Schönbrunn (“only those species of flowers that are beautiful or have a pleasant scent”); some 75 years later, the director of the Schönbrunn collections, Heinrich Wilhelm Schott, became the first true expert on Aroideae, writing a treatise on the subject that listed some 587 species new to science. This, in addition to the arresting images of the pioneering 19th-century British botanical artist Margaret Mee, makes for spectacular viewing, as do treasures like a tiny Amazonian feathered headdress from the Karajá people wound with philodendron fibres. From the section ‘Representing the Self’, in which the philodendron appears as a symbol of regional pride – as in an 1883 photograph of the Emperor of Brazil, surrounded by the signature foliage – the viewer proceeds into ‘Representing the Other’, where the plant makes the leap to a signifier of exotic luxury. There it is on the cover of an American pulp novel from
1950, Tropical Passions: The Stories of Five Unfaithful Women, acting as a backdrop to a white woman with dangerous décolleté being grasped by a swarthy male companion. It turns up again in the floor motifs of the emperor’s personal metro station in Vienna, radiating outwards in a pattern designed by famed turn-of-the-century architect Otto Wagner, and once more in patterns that decorate the faintly Grecian rafters of the Miami Biltmore Hotel of 1926. The high point of philodendronism in North America begins after the Second World War, when a tropicália craze seized the US. Clips from Walt Disney animated shorts (along with the justly forgotten Carmen Miranda and Groucho Marx vehicle Copacabana) find the philodendron as a set piece in a romantic Anglo vision of America’s balmy neighbours. Interior decorator Dorothy Draper’s famed Brazilliance wallpaper, in deep, hyper-saturated green, takes up a whole wall of its own. In the room beyond, the projects of assorted mid‑century architects – most revealingly Miami’s own Bacardi headquarters of 1963, with fantastic vegetal mosaics by
Desenho Mural Bacardí II [Bacardí Mural Design II], 1962, by Francisco Brennand.
Michele Oka Doner with a philodendron, 1999, photographed by Karl Lagerfeld.
the Brazilian artist Francisco Brennand – bear testament to the ways that the philodendron came to stand for a certain kind of sophistication in the stateside domestic environment. The show’s final room and quasi-corridor highlight the work of artists and designers who have either remade the image of tropical plants through technology (a sheet of plastic photovoltaic foliage from New York-based design collective SMIT) or subverted it by representing it in unfamiliar forms (Relic, Future Tense, a weathered metal philodendron leaf by artist Michele Oka Doner). These latter exhibition spaces are plainly intended to feel, to some extent, like a movement out of the benighted past into a more enlightened present, the philodendron becoming less a fetishistic curio and more a subject of critical inquiry. And this is where the show’s political implications become most manifest, and most uncertain: How much was the philodendron truly part of pernicious cultural appropriation? How much do more recent uses of it represent a break from the past? And what, most importantly, does it all add up to? The show’s main strength in this regard is also its primary weakness. Larsen and his team are subtle enough to recognise that not all of the artefacts of the 20th century and earlier present the philodendron as merely an object of prurient colonial fascination; sometimes, as in its use by Brazilian landscape designer Roberto Burle Marx, its appropriative quality is shown to be highly equivocal, with the plant used as a kind of visual-marketing tool that
Collins Avenue. As a draw to lure in locals, one could hardly choose a better subject. And while philodendra have long been popular here they are enjoying a particular vogue right now. A number of major new developments in town are set to feature lush, verdant designs by the city’s hottest landscape architect of the moment, a devotee of Burle Marx whose new book, The Cultivated Wild, gives ample evidence of his particular affinity for philodendra. His name, unbelievably, is Raymond Jungles. Philodendron: From Pan-Latin Exotic to American Modern was shown at the Wolfsonian-FIU, Miami, 16 October 2015 to 28 February 2016.
Still Life with Philodendron I, 1943, by Roberto Burle Marx.
Look 3, spring/summer collection, 2015, by Erdem.
Bottom: courtesy of Erdem; top: courtesy of Paula and Jones Bergamin Collection.
asserts the value of Brazilian culture at the same time as it exploits it. Elsewhere, for instance in the images of Southern Californian modern homes by Richard Neutra and others, the appearance of the philodendron as an ornamental feature seems incidental, a simple aesthetic choice. Sometimes, the curators suggest, a tropical plant is just a tropical plant, sometimes it’s more than that, and sometimes it’s somewhere in between. The show, then, arrives at last at the very horizon of appropriation as an informative category in visual and material culture studies. All representation carries the germ of objectification: the 21st-century dresses of fashion designer Erdem MoralIoğlu, no less than the murals for a 20th-century ocean liner by Sir Frank Brangwyn, are both rhetorical gestures that simultaneously celebrate and otherise non-western European culture. The philodendron, by its very ubiquity, is a particularly uncertain index of cultural attitudes. The fact that it can be found almost everywhere – weaving its way through cultures north and south, sprouting up in the most unlikely environments – may simply be, as the mathematicians say, true but uninteresting. That the cultural logic of the philodendron can be described rhizomatically should surprise exactly no one: the philodendron is a rhizome. (It is important to note, as a scientific matter, that only certain varieties of philodendron are technically classified as rhizomes. Usually the plant does not put its roots under the earth, but creeps along the jungle floor until it finds a larger plant to hug onto: thus its Greek name, “tree lover”. In a sense that only makes it more suited to the analytical metaphor: culture as a virus, etc.) Philodendron does succeed on the more modest grounds of showing the remarkable journey of a remarkable plant through a series of remarkably different contexts. That’s not too thin a premise by itself, but it does point to another rationale for the exhibition that it never quite articulates – an omission that seems somewhat curious. The reason to stage a show on philodendra in Miami Beach becomes obvious the moment you step outside the Wolfsonian: there is no city on earth more in love with the plant. Here, it adorns nearly every private garden, solarium and hotel lobby on
The Flatness of Unmade.com Words Riya Patel Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
If you have come across the new fashion brand Unmade, chances are it will have been a two‑dimensional acquaintance: through its uncanny online retail site. It makes sense, as this sustainable fashion venture from Royal College of Art graduates Ben-Alun Jones, Kirsty Emery and Hal Watts converts digital patterns to physical knitwear via computer‑programmed industrial knitting machines. Through a touchscreen-friendly website, you are invited to drag and distort pre‑existing patterns into your desired configuration. By producing garments to order and involving the end consumer in the design process, the creators hope that buyers will treasure their purchases – and be far less likely to consign them to landfill. It’s a brilliant and hopeful post-consumerist idea. But there’s something unsettling about what the vision forecasts. Like other media that attempt to traverse the real/virtual divide, Unmade.com hovers somewhere between, looking as if it belongs to neither. We neither see a photograph of our intended purchase, nor experience it in real life. We see a collage, into which we are asked to mentally project images of ourselves – a practice that seems to fit with lives lived increasingly on screens and the careful staging of our online appearances. Unmade.com asks the user to engage in the design process, yet constrains it to two dimensions and a palette of patterns. The selection is graphical, colourful, illustrative… loud. This is pattern in the absence of materiality. There are infinite possibilities to manipulate surface, but only three sizing options and two types of wool. Knowledge of how material drapes, ages, fits and feels is assumed. In this skin-deep near-future, where apps mean that you can hold a tablet up to a wall to virtually imagine how your new shelving might look, we’re encouraged to construct our environments as if in a game, rather than make purchases based on material qualities or quirks. Like the unerringly smooth, almost non-materiality of 3D-printed objects – a technology that inspired the Unmade team – this potential portal for retailing looks likely to spur a new shift in aesthetic value. And it’s alarmingly one-dimensional.
Porto’s Textile Awakening Words Siska Lyssens Photographs Florian Böhm
In Porto, design and technology have been playing catch-up with production. Portugal’s second city is more than 2,000 years old – reason enough for UNESCO to declare the town’s centre a World Heritage Site. Yet its recent history has been marked by a rise in its textile industry. And the city’s nascent fashion sector is now waking up to it too.
A statue in the middle of Jardim da Rotunda da Boavista, Porto.
When the Eurozone crisis took hold in 2008, Portugal was one of the countries worst affected. In 2011, it secured a €78bn bailout in an attempt to stabilise its public finances, yet the country’s monetary and social problems continued. Unemployment was at 12.2 per cent in the last quarter of 2015 and economic growth remains moribund. When the centre-right, pro‑austerity government was ousted in November 2015, only 11 days after it had assumed power, the message seemed clear. “Millions of Portuguese people will breathe a sigh of relief at the end of a government which for four years has made their lives hell,” announced Jerónimo de Sousa, the general secretary of the Portuguese Communist party. Yet in the face of such pessimism, the country’s garment manufacturing industry has become a rare symbol of optimism. Prior to the debt crisis, textile manufacturing in Portugal had fallen sharply, shedding jobs as well as reducing output. Yet post-bailout, the trend began to reverse and in 2011 Reuters began to speak of a nation aiming to “weave [its] way out of crisis”. The prediction certainly had some truth to it because 2014 was the best year in more than a decade for Portugal’s textile and clothing manufacturers, with exports up 8 per cent at €4.6bn, according to the industry association Associação Têxtil e Vestuário de Portugal (ATP). While Portugal’s fashion production still falls behind countries such as Italy, France and Germany, it benefits from being highly specialised. Between 2006 and 2013, for instance, the country’s exports of leather shoes rose by 213 per cent – from 36.5m to 114.4m pairs – and its leather-shoe and accessories industry now represents 3.8 per cent of the global leather-goods trade. Much of the fashion sector’s growth is centred around Porto, one of the nation’s manufacturing hubs. The list of companies hailing from the area is impressive. Corticeira Amorim, the largest cork manufacturer in the world, was founded almost 150 years ago and is based just outside the city, as is
The view down from the Dom Luís I bridge.
Conservas Ramirez, the world’s oldest canned-food producer. Textiles have always been one of the major elements of this manufacturing base – the historian David Birmingham noting the “particular success” of the city’s 19th-century linen, spinning and weaving industries – but the growth of this area is now accelerating. João Rafael Koehler, the president of both ANJE (Portugal’s National Association of Young Entrepreneurs) and the fashion week Portugal Fashion, sees this as part of a historical continuum. “Portugal’s textile and clothing industry benefits from a long industrial tradition in garment manufacture, allied with a new creative and technological impetus,” he says. “That combination means that the qualityprice-proximity ratio is hard to beat, not only in Europe, but anywhere in the world.” Porto is a slow-paced city. Blue-and-white-tiled churches alternate with traditional snack bars that seem to be continually populated with young and old eating Franceshinas (rich cheese and meat toasties
To discover the undercurrent of growing creativity here is surprising at first sight, but not hard to fathom.
The Capela das Almas on the Rua Santa Catarina.
with a beer-based sauce) or drinking vinho verde. To discover the undercurrent of growing creativity here is surprising at first sight, but not hard to fathom: rents are cheap, as is dining out. This opens up time and financial space for creativity. Some 55 designers are listed as participating in Portugal Fashion, and the vast majority work with Portuguese manufacturers based mainly in the north of the country, outside Porto. Rather than travelling to far-flung production sites in places such as India or China, these designers produce locally. This cuts their costs, while also letting them keep a close eye on the quality of the fabrics. “I came to Porto to study fashion design in 1992 and, as the north of Portugal is strong in the textile sector, it made sense to me to stay and find work in the area,” says Catarina Sequeira, the designer behind Portobased label Say My Name. “Porto has a strong manufacturing industry and the quality and price is quite attractive. All that is inherent in this area, which makes my job easier.” Hugo Costa is a menswear designer based in the city’s outskirts at the Oliva Creative Factory, a culture and artist space. Like Sequeira, Costa trained in Portugal and chose to remain in the country rather than moving to a fashion capital like Paris or London, citing Porto’s proximity to production and the quantity of available materials, as well as the quality of the manufacturing process. “We want to stay close to what we produce,” he says, a strategy echoed by designer Mafalda Fonseca. “Being based in Porto is important to our brand because of the proximity of the textile industry,” she says. “We choose to keep our production here because Portuguese industry is really strong in fabrics, leathers and textile manufacturing. We can afford high-quality products here.” International fashion companies have also taken notice of these factors. Many now look toward Porto for production. In addition to affordable manufacture, high-quality materials and detailed finishings, Porto’s location on the coast of Western Europe facilitates easy inter- and intra-continental connections. For many European brands, the prospect of working with manufacturers within their home continent is an opportunity to keep ecological footprints down. One such textile manufacturer is Flor da Moda, located just north of Porto. A vast roster of international brands such as Paul Smith, Karl Lagerfeld and Victoria Beckham rely on Flor da Moda’s production capacity, which has risen to 4,000 pieces
Catarina Sequeira holding a dress by her label Say My Name, in front of Galerias Lumiére.
a day since the firm was established in 1981. The company has invested heavily in technology – a zigzag machine for intricate decorative details is a new addition, as is a rotating thermal binding machine for dyeing fabrics – enabling it to develop innovative products. Thanks to such investments, Flor da Moda is able to produce trousers with memory adjustment, jeans that moisturise the legs through a bioactive finish of shea-butter oil, and aromatherapy fabrics that release scent through microcapsules. Although the demand for such singular textiles is debatable, their production is nonetheless a display of the technical skill of Porto’s industry, as well as its willingness to respond and adapt to buyers’ demands. Nuno Sousa, the chief executive of Flor da Moda, credits the industrial base of Porto as a major factor in the region’s regeneration and recent economical strides in the fashion and design industries. “With the worldwide crisis, brands had to change their
production concept and our industry took advantage,” he says. “Our designers are focused on providing a variety of models and options to customers.” This package is an attractive one, and ably summed up by the designer Alexander Wang’s recent decision to move a proportion of his brand’s manufacture from Asia to Europe, with one hub based in Portugal. “We’re always looking to improve our product,” said Wang in an interview with Business of Fashion. “When we push design, with design comes the resources to manufacture it – whether it’s innovative technologies in cutting materials or gluing.” Aeance, a new German athletic-wear company, is another example of an international company that has turned to Portugal – and Porto in particular. Aeance collaborates with Swiss, Italian and New Zealand companies on its synthetic textile blends, but produces its collections in a factory close to Porto. Nadine-Isabelle Baier, the brand’s co-founder, is clear about the value of the “made in Portugal” label. “It has always been important to us to produce within Europe,” she says, “and we researched extensively to find a factory that has longstanding expertise in both high-fashion and premium sports apparel. We finally identified Portugal as the optimal manufacturing location since the production perfectly meets our needs and has in addition a strong commitment to cut CO2 emissions.” Yet Porto’s creative community is based on more than manufacturing. Miguel Flor is the creative director of Bloom, a young designers’ platform that is part of Portugal Fashion. Flor works with emerging designers to establish their brands and argues that Porto’s background as a producer has held back proper appreciation of its creative industries. “Portugal also deserves recognition for the talent of its designers,” he says, pointing to a new generation that is developing experimental creative processes and working with small-scale manufacture to address social, economic and environmental challenges. A good example of this shift is Klar, a casualwear brand founded in the city by fashion designers Alexandre Marrafeiro and Andreia Oliveira, in conjunction with graphic designer Tiago Carneiro. “Portugal is no longer living in old glory and traditions,” says the studio. “It has a good niche of creatives and musicians, which we feel is a big part of our youth culture.” Klar develops its own vegan textiles and favours tech fabrics in its designs, which
Casa da Música by OMA, 2005.
are all made in Portugal. The brand exemplifies the change transforming the industry, in which production remains important but is increasingly influenced by the technical innovation needed to speak to an audience that demands, in Klar’s case, sustainability and, on a bigger scale, creative solutions. It is a point also made by Rui Moreira, the current mayor of Porto. Moreira points out that although Porto’s factories remain, its industry is shifting from production to design. “Today we produce less with our hands and more with our intelligence – our capacity to create, our creativity,” he said in an interview with Le Fashion Post during Portugal Fashion in March 2014. “Nowadays cities are the centres of creativity and we want Porto to become that too. Be it textile or fashion, furniture design, etc. Porto is a laboratory for experiments.” Moreira and his policies are often said to be a driving force behind Porto’s ascent. Elected in 2013, he is officially an independent, but he receives support 72
As well as benefitting from the city, fashion entrepreneurs have now begun to shape it.
Estelita Mendonça, photographed in front of Casa da Música, shows as part of Portugal Fashion.
Portoâ€™s background as a producer has held back appreciation of its creative industries.
Wrong Weather is a store and gallery showcasing Portuguese and international fashion in the centre of Porto.
from the Socialist People’s party (CDS). Moreira has focused on policies designed to alleviate post-crisis austerity measures. In a New York Times article from November 2013, he noted that while these measures had been partly necessary given the crisis, “what has happened in Portugal has been an overdose.” In the centre of Porto, Moreira tackled the Morro de Sá and Mouzinho-Flores areas, where he built new apartment complexes, university dorms, a tourist hostel, a retirement community and various public spaces. But the city’s regeneration is equally obvious in instances of ambitious pre-crisis contemporary architecture, which introduce a sense of innovation to an otherwise antiquated cityscape. OMA’s tilting Casa da Música (2005) draws admirers for more than just its musical programmes, while Álvaro Siza’s steel-and-concrete Serralves Museum (part of a foundation that also features an art deco villa and landscaped modernist gardens) has become a symbol of a city moving towards renewal and recognising the need to participate on the international scene. “The last five years represented a metamorphosis for Porto,” says Costa. “All the developments in the city centre and downtown were non-existent previously and the city was not as lively. Porto has changed a lot, especially with the new policies of the current township. Porto is approaching the cosmopolitan vision of a city with a good infrastructure.” A major part of this infrastructure, at least in terms of fashion, is Portugal Fashion. The fashion week celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2015, with its October edition splitting its time between one day in Lisbon and three in Porto. Most of the designers and labels on the schedule are names unfamiliar to those outside Portugal, but the ethos and network behind the week is significant. “With the support of Portugal Fashion some designers have found partners capable of taking their collections to the global clothing market,” says Koehler. “It has given designers the incentive to add a business strategy to their activity, without affecting the aesthetic component of fashion.” Porto’s role in helping its resident designers develop their brands is crucial. Flor’s work with Bloom places him in direct contact with emerging designers and he believes that growing a brand is easier in a smaller, less pressured environment such as Porto than in a metropolis like London or New York. “I tell them to be more organised and focused in their projects and their individuality and identity,” he says.
The fashion collective Klar are based in a municipal building outside of the city centre.
The Guimarães office of fashion e-commerce firm Farfetch.
“Porto is quieter and cheaper than other cities; it has nice weather; it’s near the sea; it has good taste in music and a clubbing scene; and it’s close to the textile manufacturers.” “I think it’s easier to do my work here,” adds Costa. “It's not an easy time for Portugal economy-wise, but being here is not a handicap. It's all about what you do, about your collection. Being here allows me to be in touch with all the procedures of production, while globalisation and the transit network let me be anywhere in a matter of a click or a quick flight.” As well as benefitting from the city, fashion entrepreneurs have now begun to shape it. João Pedro Vasconcelos owns Wrong Weather, a fashion boutique that is unique in Porto, but which would remain remarkable even in a creative metropolis. Vasconcelos opened Wrong Weather in 2010, with the store stocking directional brands such as Raf Simons, Rick Owens DRKSHDW, and Juun J. They’re the sort of high-fashion labels that have traditionally been a hard sell in Porto, a city that Vasconcelos describes as having “a strong sensitivity for fashion, but which is also very conservative.” In addition, Wrong Weather carries emerging Portuguese designers, such as Klar and Nair Xavier, and exhibits art in an adjacent gallery space, transforming the store into a platform to support Porto’s wider creative community. “The scene is getting bigger, and [people are] more educated about trends and fashion,” says Vasconcelos. “We are very proud of our city and if we want the city to be even better, we have to work together. We are a community above all.” One of the strongest vindications of this community is the presence in the city of Farfetch, the global fashion e-commerce company. Farfetch was founded in London in 2008 by José Neves, an entrepreneur who hails from Portugal, and now has additional offices in New York, Los Angeles and São Paulo. Yet alongside its London headquarters, Farfetch’s only other European office is based in Guimarães, a town just outside Porto. This office employs around 500 people, with the figure set to rise to 700 in 2017. Around 125,000 garments and accessories pass through its doors every season. Luis Teixeira, Farfetch’s vice president of operations and general manager of the Guimarães office, moved to Porto in 2004 and has seen it change first-hand. Teixeira, like others, credits the regeneration policies of Moreira – but also those of his
The studio of Hugo Costa, based in the Oliva Creative Factory.
predecessor Rui Rio – for driving Porto’s cultural and economic development in these last 10 to 20 years. “The people in charge attracted tourism and created improved infrastructure,” he says, “which helped a cluster of alternative culture in design and arts to arise. We’ve been able to retain young talented people locally, while attracting international investment.” It’s a summation of Porto’s wider regeneration as a whole. Young creatives have found reason to stay in the city, swelling its cultural offering, while international brands have begun to catch on to the potential of its industrial backbone. Teixeira sums up the change well: “It used to be a place where no one wanted to live. Now it’s a city that has a lot to offer.” E N D
At the Precipice Words Tiffany Lambert Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
You look down beyond the edge of a building’s ledge to an illuminated stretch of street below, lined with stores, and dotted with people and cars. You’re asked to step off the ledge and, even though you are aware this is just a simulation, somehow you can’t move. This reaction is not unusual; many people become paralysed when faced with the dilemma. This July, Oculus VR will release Rift, an immersive virtual reality headset that promises “you’ll feel like you’re really there.” When in 2013, Palmer Luckey, Oculus’s founder, took his homegrown Oculus Rift from his Long Beach, California garage to Kickstarter, his crowdfunding campaign generated $2.4m for “The first truly immersive virtual reality headset for video games.” In 2014, Facebook purchased Oculus VR for $2bn. As virtual reality goes mainstream, a host of visions and fascinations, doubts and fears rush in. From Silicon Valley comes word that we will soon attend virtual classes with avatars all over the world or take virtual vacations to far-flung locations. The technology is already being trialled as a therapy for war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Nasa uses it to recreate the environment of Mars to test its habitability. The New York Times took a step into virtual reality by creating rich, immersive, in-depth reporting as part of its NYT VR app. And, of course, video games have been a major part of the equation since the beginning. The Facebook-era Oculus wants virtual reality to “be the social platform of the future”. In all of this, there is a nagging question: what are the implications? This is a time of curiosity about the nature of these virtual experiences, but the harder work is figuring out what their place is. What do we do in these virtual worlds and will we want to inhabit them? Weaving together past intrigues and present emotions – for now at least – the release of a viable consumer virtual-reality headset keeps us guessing as to what will be.
Designed in a Bubble? Words Leila Karin A. Österlind Illustration Leonhard Rothmoser
In January, Dolce and Gabbana (D&G) launched a hijab and abaya collection. If the range was meant as a publicity stunt, it worked. The move quickly accrued widespread praise, with the few critical voices drowned out in a sea of rapturous applause for the brand’s inclusivity. But whom is D&G actually targeting with this collection? The answer is not as obvious as many journalists have made it sound – namely rich, fashionable, abayawearing women, preferably from Gulf countries. Abayas are already available en masse, from luxurious high-end versions to fast‑fashion ones. French fashion houses have made abayas for the wealthiest for decades. As for hijabs, there is no lack of luxurious scarves on the market. Islamic fashion is a fast-growing field, with enough economic potential to make it a central theme at the recent Global Islamic Economy Summit in Dubai. Yet handin-hand with this goes the fact that Islamic fashion is already an established field. The problem with the D&G collection is that it looks as if it were designed in a bubble, with scant regard for what is currently happening in global abaya design or what has happened in the past. Many Muslim women are fashion conscious and therefore an important consumer segment, but this has been true for quite some time. Islamic fashion changes quickly and, while it is entwined with global fashion, it has its own trend logic. So the D&G abayas are predominantly monochrome and make heavy use of lace, but black and white have not been popular in Islamic fashion for around 10 years. What's more, since the late 1990s lace has only been worn on hijabs by very young girls. Creating a collection of visibly Muslim garments out of context makes D&G’s attempt at Islamic fashion unfashionable. It seems as superficial a way of reaching out to the Muslim community as D&G’s attempts to appeal to the gay community by putting cartoon same-sex parent families on handbags, having previously stated “No chemical offsprings and rented uterus.”
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A new table system that offers a fresh approach to meeting, working and dining.
Erdem MoralÄąoglu shot backstage at the catwalk show for his autumn/ winter 2016 collection, which took place at the Old Selfridges Hotel in London in February 2016.
Fictitious Narratives Words Johanna Agerman Ross Photographs Sølve Sundsbø
The mannequins in the window of fashion label Erdem’s new Mayfair store look out onto one of South Audley Street’s oldest institutions: Thomas Goode and Co – a china, glass and silverware merchant. Although the two stores sit within different trades, they are both strategically placed to cater to a well-heeled clientele, Goode since 1875 and Erdem since autumn 2015. The store’s launch marks a shift for Erdem and although the dummies faces are blank, there is a certain anticipation in their poses; perhaps it’s the gentle tilt of their heads. Profile
Accompanying this article are reproductions of a series of gelatin prints shot by the photographer Sølve Sundsbø for the new book Erdem X. Sundsbø’s prints show the model Guinevere van Seenus wearing 10 years’ worth of Erdem dresses.
The proprietor of Erdem is Erdem Moralıoğlu, a 38-year-old Canadian womenswear designer who started his own brand 10 years ago. His studio is across town, in the less genteel surroundings of Brick Lane, in a building whose corridors smell of popcorn: an unexpected outcome of working above a cinema. While the Mayfair store has bespoke brass and glass chandeliers and walls painted in a custom‑mixed, light-blue emulsion, the Brick Lane studio is fluorescently lit and painted bright white. Moralıoğlu sits at his desk with a cup of tea, carefully mulling over his answers. “Wait a minute…” Midway through the interview, the bespectacled and casually dressed Moralıoğlu disappears into the main space of his studio where members of his team are laughing about something. He reappears a few seconds later and silence is restored. “You know, it’s so funny because the studio is usually so quiet whenever I’m here working and then the moment I do an interview or something it’s suddenly…” The corner of his mouth twitches a little. It’s clear that he takes this seriously. The differences between Erdem’s offices and store are startling, but they perfectly reflect an observation made by the sociologist Joanne Entwistle in her book The Fashioned Body: “In a world saturated with images, the image of a fashion house or label has to be carefully manufactured across a number of economic and cultural sites – advertising, marketing, magazines, shop design.” It is the new store, rather than the studio, that has become the embodiment of Erdem’s carefully curated brand image, one cemented in the pleasantly retro-looking surrounds of one of Mayfair’s finest addresses. “The approach was kind of residential,” says Moralıoğlu. “Everything was made to a level of being someone’s home and we often get people saying, ‘Oh, I’d quite like to live here.’ Women tend to spend a long time in there.” The store was created with the help of Moralıoğlu’s partner, the architect Philip Joseph, and features a chequered marble floor from Belgium, brass hand rails and custom-built furniture, all mixed in with mid-century vintage. There are trinkets and books on the tables and sideboards, a collage of photographs by David Hockney on the wall, a large painting by Axel Geis, and potted plants and a small fern garden that work together to create an informal atmosphere. It’s a luxury retail space for the Wes Anderson generation: “I like the idea that culturally you’re not stepping into
a gallery space. You’re stepping into a lovely, quiet world where you can really take your time.” Moralıoğlu is a master of visual narrative, both in his research, design process and the catwalk shows that accompany his collections. His creative process is akin to story writing, where an idea for a character and a plot develops over time. For example, his spring/summer 2015 collection took the Victorian biologist and botanical artist Marianne North as a starting point, but evolved into something otherworldly – a character that slowly metamorphosed into the very plants that she depicted, with dresses made up of guipure lace in the shape of large leaves, petals and plant tendrils that envelop the wearer’s body. Now that same exploration of narrative extends to the store as well. “What I found so interesting is that objects – inane objects, like a desk or a notepad or a chair, stacks of books or magazines – can have a narrative. They can imply something,” says Moralıoğlu. But if all these things can be read as stories, what exactly does Erdem’s own narrative imply? Brought up in Montreal, Canada, Moralıoğlu attended a fashion BA course at Ryerson University in Toronto. He came to London in 2000 to study an MA at the Royal College of Art (RCA). “The reason why I chose the RCA over Central Saint Martins was because I loved Ossie Clark,” says Moralıoğlu. It’s hardly surprising. Clark, a British fashion designer who studied at the RCA, used flowers as a recurring motif in his overtly feminine designs from the 1960s – just as Moralıoğlu has come to focus on femininity, although more on that later. After graduating in 2003, Moralıoğlu worked at Diane von Furstenberg in New York for a year, but returned to London to set up Erdem in 2005. He won first prize in the second Fashion Fringe competition for young designers in 2005: a free studio space and business mentoring from the Centre for Fashion Enterprise. “It was a great thing and it was also quite difficult because a lot of people were like, ‘Who’s this guy?’” says Moralıoğlu. “I remember when I first got my studio, I had one pattern-cutting table, a sewing machine, a computer and I shared a communal fax. That was it. I had one intern. That’s where I did my first collection. I stayed for over three years.” The brand has grown organically since then and while its east London studio is modest, it doesn’t speak of Erdem’s commercial success. The brand
is owned by Erdem Moralıoğlu Limited, of which Moralıoğlu himself is the only shareholder. In 2015, it filed an operating profit of more than £1m and a turnover close to £8m. These are big numbers for an independent fashion label and a quick search of the records at Companies House reveals that the majority of Erdem’s London contemporaries have far from as clean a shareholding structure or profits that come even close to Moralıoğlu’s. “Each season we grew incrementally, just like we do now. We continue to grow incrementally in a very controlled way,” says Moralıoğlu of the success. “We make sure that the distribution is controlled and make sure the production is done beautifully. So much of what we produce is made here in the UK and that has always been very important. In the beginning it was a necessity, because there was no way I could look at all of those dresses and turn them inside out to make sure they were all perfect.”
with cotton lace trims, organzas, jacquards and silk crêpes) exudes luxury and care, both for the wearer and the garment. The sheerness of a dress need never worry the customer because there is always a comforting lining or a helpful opaque fabric strategically placed beneath. Erdem’s garments offer modesty without ever becoming prim, wearability without slipping into being boring. This quality is reflected in the price, with tags neatly hidden in the folds of the clothes revealing four-figure sums, often upward of £2,000. But such pricing seems not to be prohibitive to sales. Julie Gilhart, fashion director of the department store Barneys in the US, was one of the first buyers to pick up on Erdem’s sensibility back in 2006 and the label now has 165 wholesalers in 34 countries. Meanwhile, magazine editors rally around him. In Erdem X, a limited edition portfolio that Moralıoğlu produced to mark the first decade of the brand, there are loose sheets of 10 gelatin prints from the photographer Sølve Sundsbø showing model Guinevere van Seenus wearing 10 years’ worth of dresses (some of which are reproduced in this article). These are accompanied by 10 texts from the likes of Anna Wintour of American Vogue, fashion historian Colin McDowell, and fashion writers Tim Blanks and Suzy Menkes. “Of all the students I have worked with over many years, he alone was creatively fully formed,” writes McDowell of Moralıoğlu in the volume. “Not only did he have his own uniquely developed fashion personality, he had a fiery ambition. How could he fail?” What is it about Erdem’s clothes that make them such a resounding commercial and critical success? Moralıoğlu thinks it’s to do with timing. “I was doing something different to what was happening here in London when I started out. Robert Cary-Williams, for example, was very dark and moody, which was the opposite of anything that felt couture or romantic. Not to define my work as that, but my point of view was different.” But while you can set Moralıoğlu apart from the London fashion scene at the time that he started, it’s also possible to include him as part of a new London narrative that arose at the same time; a group that included Mary Katrantzou and Simone Rocha amongst its number and which moved away from the conceptuality of earlier London designers such as Ann-Sofie Back or Hussein Chalayan. Instead, these designers embraced a more commercial
“I like the idea that you’re not stepping into a gallery space. You’re stepping into a lovely, quiet world where you can really take your time.” When Moralıoğlu works, sketches are always the starting point. These sketches are then developed in conjunction with a pattern-cutter – there are seven in the Erdem studio at the moment – and the silhouette begins to take shape. Moralıoğlu draws each collection by hand, piece by piece: “At every stage I look at the stand, the drape, the silhouette, the shape. Then you go into fittings and you’ll see the garment four, five times, or sometimes only once, and it’ll be perfect.” It’s product development on an artisanal scale, where the multiples of the same garment are made in almost exactly the same way. The quality of the garments is palpable when I visit Erdem’s store. There they hang: dresses, skirts and blouses, all in neat lines awaiting their wearer. The beautiful and flattering cuts, the richness of the fabrics (fil coupé
approach in which darts flatter the silhouette, and fabrics enhance rather than challenge the overall design. It is a movement that ties to the larger context of UK fashion and the support that the government now gives to homegrown talent. In 2008 the British Fashion Council (BFC) launched the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund. It made Erdem the inaugural recipient of its £200,000 annual bursary in 2010, aimed at assisting “talented British designers with the potential for commercial growth to make the transition to a global fashion brand”, as the BFC’s website states. For Erdem, it meant immediate expansion of the team from five to fifteen. Alongside this increased focus on building viable businesses, the new wave of London-based womenswear designers has also brought an increased focus on femininity in fashion. Katrantzou explores how print affects and enhances the female silhouette, while Rocha experiments with the trappings of femininity and expressions of the feminine in collections that embrace pearls, lace and nylon stocking fabrics in innovative ways. For Moralıoğlu, femininity has become a modus operandi, his brand’s website summing up the connection thusly: “Erdem has come to be synonymous with versatile yet powerful femininity.” Yet speaking of femininity in this way seems somewhat incongruous with the world at large, where attempts are gradually being made to erode traditional notions of gender. Even within fashion, an arena largely built upon gender, there have been tentative steps towards erasing such binaries, as evidenced by UK department store Selfridges’ Agender, a project aimed at offering gender-neutral clothing within retail departments that aren’t split into straightforward men’s and women’s. But Erdem and these other contemporary fashion brands’ focus on femininity places them outside this tendency. Moralıoğlu’s use of narrative creates rich tableaus in which he constructs his collections to clever and seductive effect– nimbly drawing on literature, photography, history and film – but it’s a process that does little to challenge fashion’s largely cookie-cutter view of femininity. Many women now dress like Erdem himself – slim-cut black jeans, Stan Smiths and a V-neck – but the Erdem look is largely focused on dresses, intensely decorative in their application of floral motifs and with silhouettes structured to embrace the body, picking out clearly female qualities
such as narrow shoulders, waistlines and emphasised hips. That so much research and thinking goes into building the narrative behind Erdem’s collections emphasises the feeling that his is a practice that bypasses how gender identity plays out in everyday life. Instead, the femininity being touted is something unreal, something constructed – a costume to be worn. Doesn’t it bother him? When I tell him that I am sometimes uncomfortable with fashion’s fetishisation of femininity in this way, he answers calmly: “I definitely don’t think that my work has ever been about the fetishisation of women. I think it’s been about my proximity to women and my love, if anything. I don’t think it’s ever been an isolated relationship where I cruelly nip in the waist and lift things and press things and flatten things. It’s always been a controlled vision. ‘Controlled’ isn’t the right word. It’s always been a vision that’s been about a love, but then I think that sounds very soft. But it’s also always been about something respectful. I don’t know quite how to articulate it.” To demonstrate what he means, he pulls out a sketch from a pile on the floor, put there to clear the desk for my arrival. “Here is a sketch for example,” says Moralıoğlu, pointing to a beautiful pencil drawing of a woman in a dress. “I slowly unravel who she is, what’s going to happen to her. I like figuring out who she is, almost forensically. Where she’s going to go and what she’s doing, what makes her happy, what makes her unhappy, all of those things…” It’s clear that Moralıoğlu considers femininity and what is considered feminine a continuous source of inspiration, and given the commercial success of the brand it’s also clear that this is a vision that resonates with a large number of people. Yet Moralıoğlu sees femininity as more of a design aid and a prompt, than as something to be sold to the end-consumer. “I think that the human side of this is so interesting,” he says. “Things that work in our lives, whether it’s a chair or a photograph or a building – things that work that we go back to again and again – usually have some aspect that feels very deeply human. I’ve always felt that idea of a story in my collections is that. But again, whether that story is relevant or not doesn’t matter. Of course, the client is looking at the fit. She’s understanding whether it’s flattering, she’s understanding the fabric, she’s understanding how it falls. How she moves in it, how she sits in it, how she lives in it. All of those things seem totally relevant,
Have Not, stills from All About Eve, and even a photograph of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia. The show’s staging was designed by the artist Robin Brown and its evocative, moody lighting creates the impression of visiting a film set after‑hours. Chandeliers covered with silk, a stuffed polar bear poised to attack (also covered by a piece of pink silk), an overturned piano: it’s either an abandoned film set or the scene of something much more disturbing. The models don’t hint at which as they walk pale and emotionless through the room. “As much as my work has always been about the feminine, I’ve always loved the idea of creating something that felt cinematic, where something is about to happen or something has just happened,” Moralıoğlu tells me back in December. “What is interesting about designing a collection is that you don’t necessarily read what that story is. You’re presenting your thesis of the season and you’re kind of getting your point across.” It’s an interesting analogy, and one where Erdem’s collections can be interpreted as a form of wearable art. Certainly the detail and richness of the garments in the autumn/winter 2016 represented some of Erdem’s best and most intricate work to date and Moralıoğlu himself prefers not to look at his collections as reflections of seasons or trends, but rather as pieces of design that can be returned to again and again. They are fragments of a much bigger oeuvre that you sense may eventually have an outlet in some sort of stagecraft. More immediately, the new Mayfair store has let Moralıoğlu develop a sort of real-life Erdem test-lab, albeit in a homely atmosphere. “I get a report every day of who’s been in and what they’ve bought and where they’re from. It’s absolutely fascinating,” he says. The Mayfair store has prompted Erdem to consider expansion in the States and more specifically in New York. According to Companies House, Erdem split the company’s shares from 1 to 10,000 last year, potentially hinting at further investment and expansion. So would he consider a move to New York, I ask? “No. no,” he answers. “But I think, she could definitely live there.” There she is again, the fictitious female. E N D
but for me to get to that place I need to go through that process of narrative.” Moralıoğlu’s role therefore becomes something akin to that of an author, one with a speciality in feminine fiction. But considering the complicated threads of the narratives he weaves, it’s surprising to find out that his garments mostly go straight into stores. “It’s never like – that’s my runway collection and that’s the commercial collection,” says Moralıoğlu. Even if the fiction of the show or the fiction behind the collection is obvious, the garment itself is always “real”. When I push him on whether a collection could be inspired by everyday life rather than such fictions, Moralıoğlu is keen not to divide too sharply. “Let’s go back to the theoretical idea as to why my work has
“I definitely don’t think that my work has ever been about the fetishisation of women.” to be propelled by something that’s not, for example: ‘My sister going to work’ or ‘My production manager who has curly hair and lives in east London and is 36 and who wears jeans to work and on Fridays she might wear a dress’. That’s a totally different approach to research, but I don’t think that there’s any real difference between my production manager and Marianne North. They are both women who are interesting and strong: interesting women who have interesting points of view. I think it depends on your definition of reality and real.” Two months after Moralıoğlu and my first meeting in December, the echoing sound of high heels walking down an empty street, overlaid with snippets of conversations from film noirs, provides the sparse opening soundtrack to Erdem’s latest catwalk show, autumn/winter 2016. It seems an unnerving decision for a fashion designer who has made the exploration of femininity the starting point of all of his work. We all know what happens next: for all her cockiness and panache, the femme fatale in these films almost always gets her comeuppance. The mood board that sits backstage hints at some of the dramatic endings. There are head shots of Lauren Bacall in To Have and
The Death of the Author Words Alex Wiltshire Art Daniel Brown
All pictures from the ongoing series Travelling by Numbers by Daniel Brown.
Google's Deepmind AI program has beaten human champions of the fiendish strategy game Go. Twitter bots flood timelines with often strange – sometimes plausible – posts that are read as closely as those of real friends. Computers are choosing to buy and sell financial stock, giving military drones targets to attack and fooling dating-service subscribers that they’re prospective partners.
We’ve entered a world in which the divide between the digital and the physical is diminishing, where computers are an integral part of life and what they do is becoming hard to distinguish from what humans do. They’re also designing things – buildings, art and video game worlds, all assembled from lines of code, sets of rules and mathematical functions. Design is being generated, not by human imagination and experience, but by central processing units. “The generated results are outside the norms of beauty and aesthetics,” says Matias del Campo, a Viennese architect who creates buildings and structures by generating digital, seemingly organic systems. “It’s a new aesthetic.” “It’s incredibly exciting,” agrees Daniel Brown, a digital artist and designer whose beautiful computer-generated forms accompany this article. “It can make things that humans have never made before.” This practice comes under many names. In the world of video games it’s known as procedural generation; in architecture it’s often computational design. Visual creators, such as Brown, might refer to it as generative art. Computational design is perhaps the best catch-all term, however, since it works in a similar way across all these disciplines. Applying mathematical rules to design problems creates buildings and shapes (often evoking organic processes) that evolve out of those rules. But because computational design often includes simulation as part of the process, it can also provide an integrated approach to design and testing. As such, it presents a new way of creating that transforms the very nature of being a designer. With the rapid growth and development of computer-based production processes such as 3D printing, computational design has greater potential than ever, placing it in the vanguard of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.1 Computational design’s direct origins lie in the computer labs of the 1960s and 70s, but its roots 1 The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a development of the digital revolution (the so-called Third Industrial Revolution). It is somewhat vaguely defined, and has been proclaimed multiple times since the 1940s. It now typically refers to ways in which the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence and data science might be incorporated into physical manufacturing and cities. It came into particular focus during the World Economic Forum, which was hosted in Davos, Switzerland, in January 2016.
reach back into works such as Jean-Nicolas-Louis Durand’s early-19th-century Précis des Leçons d’Architecture, a pre-modernist proposal to design buildings using repetitive, modular elements. Alternatively, you might look to Leonardo da Vinci’s studies into representing centrally planned churches, involving plans defined by rules that configured circles and rectangles from which forms grew almost organically. And if you really want to keep going back, Vitruvius’s tying of proportion to the human body in his 1st-century AD treatise De Architectura was also an attempt to codify designed forms. Yet with the growth of computers, complete with their ability to tirelessly repeat simple instructions, the idea of calculating physical forms became possible. In the early 1970s, the computational theorists George Stiny and James Gips coined the term “shape grammars” for a process they developed that calculated 2D and 3D visual forms in order to explain them, applying
design. Each rule comprises two pictures, a left-hand picture that shows a shape’s starting form and a right-hand picture that shows how it changes into a new form, such as by moving position or rotating. These rules are then applied, one after another, to a main shape that’s being calculated. For many years, the research behind shape grammars remained chiefly academic. “When I started out,” says Stiny, “the reaction [from designers] was immediate: ‘You must be crazy.’ But as shape grammars were shown to do more and more, the reaction changed to something like this: ‘Well, whatever you can see and do with shape grammars, there’s more to my designs than that.’” Even today, Stiny believes that architects and designers who use shape grammars in their work keep quiet about it: “The very idea of visual calculating is still far too controversial.” Some architects did, however, begin to explore the possibilities. One of the first was Christopher Alexander, who wrote the book A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction in 1977, in which he proposed a system of rules – or a “pattern language” – for designing harmonious buildings and spaces. More famous is Greg Lynn, who edited a special issue of Architectural Design in 1993 called ‘Folding in Architecture’, in which a series of essays argued for the place for computers in the design process. Although Lynn later remarked that the examples the issue exhibited were designed at a time just before software and hardware became capable of realising their potential, ‘Folding in Architecture’ nevertheless identified calculus as the driver of a new field of design – one that could explore curvature, and a state where the monolithic could exist in the same terms of form, structure and detail as the minute. Another key player was John Frazer, who wrote the book An Evolutionary Architecture. The book explores form-generating processes, which it puts forward as a form of artificial life governed by a DNA of rules and code. Frazer examined Tuscan columns and established algorithms that could generate various different forms of them, developing a system that could synthesise buildings as code. For example, the code for Le Corbusier’s Maison Minimum is FF803F71180EFE033F and the 3D form of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building is 10083EFE0F00. Recreating architectural forms as code has been the focus of some of the more practical
“The generated results are outside the norms of beauty and aesthetics. It’s a new aesthetic.” —Matias del Campo these grammars to painting, sculpture, architecture, urban design and ornamentation. “Really, shape grammars are for anyone who wants to design visually, whether in art, architecture, urban design, or in engineering and product design,” says Stiny, who is now a professor of architecture at MIT. “They can be used to link form, function, and material in sundry ways at any scale, from nano to gigantic.” Stiny and Gips were inspired by the contemporary work of linguists like Noam Chomsky, who were exploring natural languages and trying to understand the rules that underpin them. Yet shape grammars threw up challenges not present in the grammar behind natural languages. While for Chomsky two letter As side-by-side are simply two As, for Stiny, interpretation of these forms lies in the eye of the beholder: “There may be an M, Vs in many sizes, snow-capped mountain peaks, cat’s ears, and whatever my eye finds.” At its most fundamental, a shape grammar is a set of rules that are applied, step-by-step in order to generate a language of 90
manifestations of computational design. In 2006 a set of researchers developed software called CityEngine that could generate cities and simulate systems such as CO2 production and crowd dynamics as a visualisation tool for urban planning. One of the researchers, Pascal Mueller, founded a company called Procedural Inc to market CityEngine, finding that city planners loved its ability to demonstrate the effects of density zoning, while architects could use it to show how prospective designs might look in context. Filmmakers, meanwhile, could use it to generate cities as backdrops, such as the Metropolis of Man of Steel and the San Fransokyo of Big Hero 6. CityEngine works using rules that define urban forms, from building archetypes to street plans. When users paint these rules across an area of land, it can spool out acres of Haussmann‑style Paris, or the cartoonish San Fransokyo, right down to the detail of a balustrade or doorknob. The software comes with hundreds of preset urban types, but designers can create their own too, programming the fundamental characteristics – the range of building heights, the numbers of windows, positions of doors, the width of streets. “We want people to have more time to figure out design choices,” says Mueller. “It doesn’t make a designer faster – it shouldn’t – it should make the designer better, exploring more options, better quality, and seeing results.” Frazer’s ideas, which originated from working on Cambridge University’s Titan computer in the 1960s, were not just about recreating existing forms. He designed systems, modelled on nature, that could quickly evolve architectural concepts, test and evaluate them for suitability, and then generate new sets in response. In comparison to the traditional design process, these generated forms would often be unexpected, conjured by processes outside human imagination – sometimes seemingly mundane and sometimes beautiful sinuous forms. Sandra Manninger, who founded Span Architects in Vienna with Matias del Campo, sees this property as a core part of its appeal. “Best case, it’s something you’ve never dreamed of designing,” she says. The promise of the unknown is one of the attractions of No Man’s Sky, a forthcoming video game being developed by Hello Games, a small UK-based studio. Players start the game on the
edge of a galaxy of 18,446,744,073,709,551,616 procedurally generated planets, with the aim of embarking on a journey to its centre. The terrain of each world is unique, comprising land, lakes and seas; barren deserts and ice, savannahs and lush jungles, all influenced by factors such as the location of the planet in relation to its sun. The creatures and plants are also procedurally generated, exhibiting different sizes, colours, and even vocal calls. It means that even No Man’s Sky’s developers don’t know exactly what’s in the vast galaxy. It’s a romantic notion, one that fits neatly with the game’s sci-fi setting, promising that every player will encounter places, sights and sounds that no one has ever seen before. Yet this heady idea also means that such generative forms are dislocated from the designer’s hand, a property that Frazer was already well aware of in An Evolutionary Architecture. “When we ‘design’ [using this process], we are clear in our intentions, but perhaps ‘blind’ to the eventual outcome of the process that we are creating,” he wrote. “This ‘blindness’ can cause concern to those with traditional design values who relish total control.” The ramifications perhaps go beyond concern, however: the process has the potential to change the nature of being an designer. “The role of the architect here, I think, is not so much to design a building or city as to catalyse them: to act that they may evolve,” wrote Gordon Pask, one of the forefathers of cybernetics, in his foreword to Frazer’s book. But Frazer was careful to emphasise that the initial spark still came from human creativity, something with which Mueller agrees: “[CityEngine is] a tool, not the computer taking over. Identikit buildings are not a result of tools, they’re the result of architects’ decisions. It’s the artist who decides what the tool’s doing.” It’s important to note that generative processes are not random. They don’t create forms without sense or reason to them. No Man’s Sky’s galaxy is deterministic, mathematically generating from a seed number (the mobile phone number of a member of the development team, as it happens), which when applied to the player’s location in the galaxy generates the world around you through a set of interrelating rules. It’s completely consistent every time you visit the same place, down to the scatterings of rocks at your feet, the shoreline 92
in the distance and the stars in the sky. Hello Games’s creativity lies in defining those rules, which in No Man’s Sky generate worlds that evoke the sci-fi book covers that inspired the game. No Man’s Sky is just one of many games and related platforms that use procedural generation. Another, Dwarf Fortress, uses it to make a world and its history, writing stories of the societies that have lived there and left stories and ruins behind them before the player arrives. Shadow of Mordor, based on The Lord of the Rings, uses the technology to model the social dynamics of an orc army. SpeedTree is a system that generates realistic trees so artists don’t have to make video-game forests by hand. Or there’s Angelina, made by the computational creativity researcher Michael Cook, which can generate entire games, picking graphics from the web, and devising rules and goals. These implementations are allowing big and encompassing games to come from very small teams of people, getting round the serious problem in the game industry of simply making enough things for players
to see and space for them to explore. Small studios can’t afford to employ the hundreds of artists that made, for example, the blockbuster game Assassin’s Creed Syndicate’s detailed Victorian London setting and it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the biggest developers too. Computational design presents a potential way out of the problem. Daniel Brown’s work, which often uses the endlessly recursive nature of fractals as its base material, is a fine example of this. Brown is best known for On Growth and Form, a series of videos of gracefully growing artificial flowers that was featured at London’s Design Museum (2003-2004), as well as for creating images from 3D fractals that look like buildings. Using the free software Mandelbulb, he flies around a fractal form to find interesting places and then renders them, applying textures from photographs over their surfaces and lighting them in a way that mimics natural illumination. The images are bizarre and surprising, instantly familiar yet alien, and always beautiful in their uniformity.
Computational design naturally involves a very different way of working to traditional areas of the discipline. Brown doesn’t start with sketches; he starts with generating and then observes the results. “I typically start with a form in mind; there are essentially off-the-shelf mathematical formulae for particular shapes. You can easily combine these to get an approximate model, and then add or subtract complexity and noise to vary and evolve the form,” he says. “But there are tools now, such as Mandelbulb, that let you do this visually. It’s getting easier every day.” Manninger and del Campo describe their process as a “constant cloud” of research and testing, quickly creating genealogies of designs to build up a set of possibilities, with the aim of finding rigorous and appropriate solutions on which to focus. For a 2011 exhibition at MAK, the Museum for Applied Arts in Vienna, Span explored 3D recursive geometries and fractals in a similar fashion to Brown. “So what happens is that we change a little bit of the algorithm and every time it generates a different result, which is always surprising. So you can steer it but you can’t define it,” says del Campo. Manninger and del Campo use programming languages like Python and 3D-design applications like Maya, which can process Python scripts and then export the results to other applications, like the 3D printing-based Rhino. But each project demands different tools and methodologies. “We haven’t got a protocol,” says Manninger. “We never use the same software.” Instead of grandly inscribing lines on a sketchpad to be realised in massive physical form, practices like Span are more like curators of ideas and authors of processes. “There’s a shift from architect to programmer, to tool-builder,” says del Campo. Brown agrees: “You create systems, not strict designs. That means all designers have to think systemically rather than in terms of pretty pictures.” But Brown is adamant that what he practices isn’t necessarily arcane and only accessible to savants. It’s quite possible to start experimenting using Processing, a language developed to explore computational generation for which a large, supportive community is already in place. Meanwhile, the Design Research and Computational Science departments of the Autodesk corporation have collaborated on software called Project Dreamcatcher, which automates some of the tool-making that computational design requires.
Dreamcatcher is a CAD system that can automatically generate many forms, from bicycle frames to bridges, by meeting a designer’s goals and constraints, including function, material and cost. A designer might, therefore, ask for a chair that can support 100kg, be made from carbon fibre, and which weighs as little as possible. When reviewing results, they can adapt the goals and constraints, thereby generating new sets of results. It’s a process in which the designer takes the role of decision maker rather than originator. Yet the prevalence of tools in all discussions of computational design gives other designers pause. Marcelo Spina, director of the Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary design studio Patterns, says, “I can’t let a tool become a burden for what I want to do.” Spina is also concerned by the idea that one could rationalise design as far as to be able to create an app that generates your own house. “Architecture is too complex. People like Frank Gehry figured out how to rationalise part of the process, but there’s another part that’s completely human and based on artistry.” Similar criticisms are made of procedural
Instead of grandly inscribing lines on a sketchpad to be realised in massive physical form, practices like Span are more like curators of ideas and authors of processes. generation in video games, where generated worlds and levels can feel formulaic, lacking the wit of human design. Even today, it’s hard not to see Frazer’s 20-year‑old ideas about organic architecture in terms of science fiction. Greg Lynn and his studio, Form, became celebrated for biomorphic architecture, or blobitecture, the creation of organic shapes through computational design. But it was also questioned: was it form-making for its own sake? Was it too concerned with the tools and not with the building itself? And was it before its time? Frazer’s longer term goals were to connect his generative systems to building processes, such that they were self-generating and self‑constructing, perhaps using molecular engineering, nanotechnology, 94
or the genetic engineering of plants to achieve this. He even wondered if it could produce the start of artificial life. Today’s technology finally shows glimpses of Frazer’s sci-fi future, however. MX3D is a steel canal bridge in Amsterdam designed by Joris Laarman using Project Dreamcatcher that is due to open in 2017. The bridge will be 3D printed in a factory by robotic arms, which also print their own track across the bridge as they produce it; a slight deviation from the original plan to print the bridge in situ over the canal, which was deemed to breach health‑and‑safety regulations. In fact, the development of 3D printing has helped to give new significance to computational design. In tying the act of production to the act of designing, and in opening up the ability to make unique, one-off objects, 3D printing complements the individualistic, adaptive, nature of computational design. “I’m convinced that will continue growing in the construction industry,” says del Campo. “There will be a direct connection between the computational model and the physical reality of the building.” Even in 1987, the architecture theorist Charles Jencks saw the potential of this in his book The Language of Post-Modern Architecture. “The new technologies stemming from the computer have made possible a new facility for production,” he wrote. “The emergent type is much more geared to change and individuality than the relatively stereotyped productive processes of the First Industrial Revolution[...] computer modelling, automated production and the sophisticated techniques of market research and prediction now allow us to mass produce a variety of styles and almost personalised products. The results are closer to the 19th-century handicraft than the regimented superblocks of 1965.” But if we can make unique things, there’s a resulting pressure to design them too. Through services like NikeiD, customers can customise purchases, creating an expectation of similar customisability in other goods. Yet, as Brown says, “You come into the paradox that people want customisation and unique products, but most people aren’t designers, and have no inclination to become one. How do you manage everyone wanting a custom product? You can’t have as many designers as there are consumers, so we’re going to have to look at
semi-intelligent processes to guide and help and advise them.” The Italian architect Carlo Ratti, who directs MIT’s Senseable City Lab, sees all this as part of a grander movement in design. “A solitary, top‑down, Promethean attitude has characterised the 20th-century architect,” he says. “Today, I believe that more collaborative approaches are coming back, rooted in internet culture and in the new paradigms of online collaboration.” The days of the designer as ultimate author are over; perhaps it’s time to become the originator of ideas instead. Computational design reframes the architect as an enabler of new forms, rather than their dictator. It recasts the designer as a toolmaker. CityEngine’s Pascal Mueller sees the rapid growth of cities as one important way in which computational design can be used for good: “By 2050, the population of cities is due to double, and cities will grow in both height, area and overall density. There are almost no tools for that, and the only way to deal with this is with tools and communication.” “Tools can help us make better design decisions and be aware we’re making decisions that have an impact on people’s lives,” adds Manninger. “We will communicate through the tools better, and communicate with experts from fields outside our own. I dream of tools that develop and help us to have expertise to engage with one another and the things we create in more exciting ways. To engage with materials in more exciting ways, to create more intricate, sensual objects.” In other words, computational design isn’t necessarily about happy blob-making or rationalising creativity anymore. It’s about process and communication, and working better together. But how will it grow beyond small and focused design practices? “Some things are already in motion,” says del Campo. “The construction industry has to change, and that is already happening, slowly. Awareness of these possibilities has to be bigger in the public’s eye, and decision makers in politics and industry have to be aware. A mistake a lot of architects make is to think they are the decision makers, but we’re not! We can make proposals and generate ideas, but it’s up to the decision makers.” And if all this should snap into place? “We would like to go as far as hardware will take us.” E N D
Reflections on Transparency Words Matthew Allen Photographs Dean Kaufman
As much as I like an opening party, it’s usually best to visit a new work of architecture in the period shortly after it’s opened, once the frenzy has died down and everyone is figuring out how to live with their new environment. Grace Farms by Sanaa is a case in point.
The long driveway up to Grace Farms gives visitors a chance to adjust to the surrounding nature.
Sanaaâ€™s building snakes down a meadowy hillside that is surrounded by forest and overlooks a lake.
Constructed in New Caanan, Connecticut, Grace Farms is the first US building by Sanaa’s Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa since they won the Pritzker Prize in 2010. It has prompted considerable debate. Months on from the grand unveiling in October 2015, there’s still nobody in the world’s architecture press who seems entirely clear as to what sort of building Grace Farms actually is, so the opportunity to visit in December is welcome. One thing is clear: Sanaa’s creation takes transparency and its social effects to an extreme. Situated on a meadowy hillside in a large, forested site, the building snakes in and out of view, although attention is always drawn in its direction. Maybe it’s the shiny roof, a thin, elegant, pancake of steel and wood. Just as beads of oil in water spread out and float, connected by surface tension to form an amorphous, bulging snake, so it is with Sanaa’s roof, under which sit a series of pavilion-like volumes, most of which are enclosed by floor-to-ceiling glass that forms as 203 custom-curved pieces arranged in roughly circular shapes. It’s classic Sanaa: lots of glass; details pared down to a minimum; nowhere to hide. Yet despite the numerous magazine covers it has already adorned, Grace Farms is not a turning point for architecture. Phenomenologically speaking, it employs a vocabulary of simple, transparent, minimalist volumes set into the landscape – a design language that has long been a staple of New Canaan, a haven of modern architecture since the post-war period and the home of Philip Johnson’s Glass House. Functionally, Grace Farms seems familiar too. Behind the confusion, it appears to be a community centre, although it is admittedly strange to encounter a community centre on a site and in a building like this. Some of the things housed in the pavilions are what you might expect – the library and the café. Others seem out of place – the 700-seat auditorium, the sunken-floor basketball court, the tiny tea room. Wandering among the barely enclosed spaces, you begin to feel that you’re in a bubble diagram turned into a building. Grace Farms stems from an architectural fantasy of sketching a shape with a single line, calling it an auditorium, and then – poof! – seeing it materialise. If you’ve done your research, you would expect nothing less from Sanaa: Grace Farms borrows elements from the practice’s Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, which blurs interior and
exterior space; the fluid forms of its Rolex Learning Center in Lausanne; and the undulating pathways of the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion in London. What you might not expect, however, is the way in which the New Canaan building is being used by the community that inhabits it. What sets Grace Farms apart from its predecessors is how the modernist and minimalist tropes it employs are linked up with a peculiar form of idealism. In some respects, Grace Farms is closer to impulses in contemporary art and radical politics than it is to the mega-churches and trophy buildings to which it has been compared.1 Grace Farms is a utopian experiment that raises subtly updated versions of some of the perennial questions of modernism. Who is the subject of architecture? What does it hope to do to them? And what are the mechanisms by which it enacts these manipulations? To make sense of Grace Farms, you need to understand a little of the history of the community it houses. New Canaan exists along a series of winding, rural-suburban roads that run perpendicular to the beautiful Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County. It’s a straight shot down to New York, the roads passing through picturesque hamlets and a patchwork of affluent estates. In the 1990s, the hillside that is now graced by Sanaa’s building was a riding school, and before that, a small farm. But the land was privately owned and plans emerged in the 2000s to develop it into multiple estates. To prevent the spoliation of the view, the community resolved to buy the land and turn it into a nature reserve, with a group of people affiliated with the local non-denominational Grace Community Church forming the Grace Farms Foundation to execute the idea. Members of the church raised $40m to buy the land in 2007, an astonishing figure for a private venture. In 2010 the foundation selected Sanaa to design a building for the site that would serve, vaguely, as a public amenity. Lest this sounds fuzzily idyllic, it is worth emphasising that New Canaan is a product of a specific American dream: a downtown working life that is directly connected to the comforts of home in the suburbs (or a second or third home in the hinterlands). New Caanan is part of the wealthy Connecticut Gold Coast and one of the top-earning 1 It is not iconic in the same way as Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, and the church function is definitely secondary, unlike the Crystal Cathedral in LA by Philip Johnson and John Burgee.
towns in the US, with a median annual income of $540,235 as of 2014. The community is predominantly white (93 per cent) and the majority of residents are homeowners (at least 75 per cent). New Caanan is also the only town in the state with a Republican majority. Commuting to New York is common and the Manhattan/New Canaan connection is a perfect embodiment of the downtown/suburbia dream. Chelsea Thatcher, the foundation’s head of marketing and communications, puts it well: “All it takes is an hour by train and six minutes by taxi to get out here.” But because the town is part of the metropolitan machine, it can take an effort to get in a properly pastoral mood at Grace Farms. Residents seem to have to remind themselves that it is “a place to relax”, sometimes apologising for walking or talking a bit too quickly. “Sejima was very excited about the long driveway,” recalls Thatcher. “It allows you to leave behind whatever is on your mind.” A blockbuster building would hardly have been necessary for Grace Farms to accomplish this. In fact, adding a new building to the newly acquired site seems to have been almost an afterthought. Two structures that were converted from stables already do a fine job of accommodating the centre’s various programmes: children’s art activities, small-scale discussions, a drop-off food pantry, and the day-to-day functions of Grace Church.2 Offloading most of the site’s hustle and bustle to these buildings does, however, have the effect of making the architectural main event more relaxed. The multiple paths leading to the pavilions create a choose-your-own-adventure atmosphere. Such indeterminacy seems to have been anessential part of the Grace Farms mission, as evidenced when I sit down with Sharon Prince, the president of the Grace Farms Foundation, in the tea pavilion 10 weeks after the building’s October grand opening. “The opening didn’t take place all at once,” she says. “We really see the last two months as an extended launch.” The foundation unveiled its justice initiatives in November leading to an ongoing internal discussion about what “justice initiatives” might mean alongside the foundation’s other faith, arts, nature and community projects. In addition, Prince says that she and her colleagues were also trying to decide what to call their building.
Why not just call it a community centre? Prince’s response is both direct and diffuse: “We did call it a community centre! We also called it a cultural centre, and a faith and cultural centre... But we didn’t want people to come here with preconceptions, so we settled on the five words on the website: nature, community, justice, faith, and the arts.” Similar openness and questioning is demanded of Grace Farms’ visitors. Although I braced myself on the drive over for an onslaught of faith-heavy conversations, the building and the foundation are, in fact, pleasantly non-denominational. References to grace are so understated that you might put it out of mind entirely, were it not for the fact that the word is in the name of the building. But if Grace Farms is not a faith centre or a church, what is it? Its official status is vague. Grace Farms Foundation is a tax-exempt 501c3 non-profit organisation, a designation that is pretty open-ended, covering churches, charities and even sports ventures. When I ask the barista in the cafeteria how many staff its initiatives employ, he guesses 50. There certainly seems to be no shortage of helping hands attending to the building and its activities. It may be a luxury to be able to experiment with unusual architecture and a new institution, but the vast sums of money involved create expectation. According to the foundation’s fact sheet, the building cost $67m. Yet Prince emphasises that they are prepared to take their time: “In thinking about what Grace Farms should be, we are thinking about the next 200 or 300 years.” Perhaps the most interesting way to frame Grace Farms is to think of it as an intentional community. New Haven, home to Yale University and a relatively short drive from New Canaan, was one of colonial America’s first utopian communities: a 17th-century town established in accordance with the puritanism of its immigrant founders. Grace Community Church derives from the less grandiose tradition of informal Bible study, but there is still something about it that seems to re-invent utopian ambitions. Other communities formed around buildings spring to mind – Arcosanti, an arcological community built by Paolo Soleri and his acolytes in the Arizona desert; Drop City, a series of cobbled-together geodesic domes housing a commune in Colorado in the mid-1960s – although Grace Farms operates at a lower key than these earlier social experiments. Its community seems less interested in the heroic gesture of building from
2 Although the Grace Farms Foundation donates time and space to Grace Church, they are nonetheless separate entities.
The steel roof shimmers as it stretches through the landscape. What is reflective and somewhat cold on the outside is contrasted by a warm interior atmosphere where the roof is clad in wood.
scratch than in keeping a building in operation. Are users engaged in a form of maintenance art?3 When I visit, at least a dozen people are tidying gravel, repairing flashing, cleaning bathrooms and fixing doors. As I ponder some sandbags near an entrance, a passer-by offers an explanation. “Ah, you’ve noticed our doorstops. On windy days the doors can fly open and tweak these little things,” he says, pointing at the minimalist posts that Sanaa seems to have called doorstops. What follows is the most thoughtful conversation about doorstops, safety and the rigours of minimal design I’ve had in a while. The mindset that accompanies the daily struggle against entropy seems to trickle up through the Grace Farms hierarchy. “Working with Sanaa and living in
more like their Toledo Glass Pavilion or Rolex Learning Center, and two photographs by Thomas Demand (commissioned by the Foundation) document the piles of sketch models the architects produced. Requirements were checked off, one by one. The request for “warmth” translated not only into wood ceilings and furniture (made from the trees felled during construction – another requirement), but also into the warm-hued concrete of the floors.5 Because every part of the building was subjected to Occam’s razor, some normal things didn’t make the cut. There are no trash cans in the bathrooms.6 The stage has no curtain and no backstage. Peter Miller of Handel Architects, the project’s executive architect, says that never before had he gone into such detail when designing a building. “Between the foundation, their project director, Sanaa, and Handel, there was an ongoing discussion about what the project would be, from programming to design to execution,” he says. “Even while the building was being built there was still a questioning about how the foundation would pursue its initiatives and what types of spaces it would need and how they would be used.” As a result, the architecture at Grace Farms rarely recedes into the background; previously unconscious habits demand to be rethought. This may seem like the worst form of modernism – architecture as a sociology experiment – and at Grace Farms the experiment takes place on a considerable scale. According to Thatcher, it is not unusual for 100 people per day to use what must be the nicest basketball court in the world, with its 360° view of grass, trees, and sky. “We want people to be able to use it like any other court,” says Thatcher. But she can’t help adding, with a laugh, “Will it make better teenagers?” The intentions of Sanaa and the Foundation aside, this sort of question seems to be the essence of the utopian impulse. In his essay ‘Is Utopianism Dead?’ the philosopher Simon Critchley writes that “We are living through a long anti-1960s. The various anticapitalist experiments in communal living and collective existence that defined that period seem to us either quaintly passé, laughably unrealistic or dangerously misguided.” However, he continues,
Because every part of the building was subjected to Occam’s razor, some things didn’t make the cut. their building has made us very aware of everything we do,” says Thatcher. “We are trying to be as intentional and straightforward as they are.” Sanaa’s imposition of extreme deliberateness began in the design process, which Thatcher encapsulates in a story about the width of a staircase. Could it be narrowed by coordinating the handrails and columns more carefully? “They argued with us for months about two inches,” she says. “When we asked why we needed to get rid of them, Sanaa said it was because they weren’t necessary.” Such hyper-vigilance must have been difficult for the personalities involved. Grace Farms Foundation is headed by former executives from a community of overachievers and their approach was initially top‑down. Rather than organising a competition, they hired a project director, Paratus Group,4 which helped the Foundation draft a lengthy briefing document and brought in a range of high-profile firms in 2009 to submit proposals. After Sanaa was selected, an intense, two-year design process followed. Sejima and Nishizawa’s first scheme was a well-defined shape, 3 The artist Mierle Ukeles introduced maintenance art in her 1969 work Manifesto for Maintenance Art, 1969!. It sets out a vision of care and basic maintenance as a creative strategy. 4 Paratus Group has managed such major projects as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao (Frank Gehry) and the Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art (Sanaa). It also works with architects like Herzog and de Meuron and Renzo Piano.
5 The meaningfulness of everything in Sanaa’s design is, coincidentally, reminiscent of the highly-loaded symbolism of Christian ritual practices. 6 A farcical return of the paperless office of the 1990s?
if there is a new tendency that marks our time, it is “a deeply felt Situationist nostalgia for ideas of collectivity, action, self-management, collaboration, and indeed the idea of the group as such.” Today’s utopianism is modest and personal – based in maintenance and cultivation, and linked to collaborative art and experimental politics – but it is utopianism nonetheless. During a community dinner hosted the evening I visit, I am reminded that cultivation is a large part of what happens in a building like this. Teenagers from a local school stand half-comfortably in tuxedos, singing holiday music a cappella. Being a parent means shaping children, a task that can be partially offloaded to a community – and also to architecture. What better way to control others than to have them control themselves? One way of instilling self-control is to create a sense of being watched. This is accomplished, architecturally, by the transparency effect. In a famous essay of recent architecture theory, ‘Transparency: Literal and Phenomenal... Part II’, the architectural historian Colin Rowe explains that what is important about transparency is not the physical fact of light going through glass, but rather the psychological effect that accompanies the perception of overlapping and ambiguous spatial phenomena. At Grace Farms, looking in and through pavilions tends to collapse several layers of space, which has the effect of confusing inside with outside, carpet with immaculate-looking grass, columns with tree trunks and so on. By day, its glass enclosures seem to disappear, but people and their activities are held in place, framed by the concrete floor and the wooden ceiling. By night, reflections off the glass walls double up the space, intensifying the sense of exposure given that even the trees lit up outside seem to be watching. Nevertheless, when I ask Sejima if the demands of an extremely transparent building might make its inhabitants change their activities and habits, she demurs: “Yes, people can see what goes on inside the building, but we didn’t see that as a problem. The strong sunlight penetrating due to the transparency of the building was more problematic, which we tried to solve by creating the overhang.” I take this as a pragmatic avoidance of some of modernism’s more difficult questions. The transparency effect is especially important in New Canaan, where living life in the public realm is difficult to accomplish. The centre of the town, like
many exclusive suburban centres, might as well be a mall; it’s possible to be visible while shopping and dining, but that’s about it. Grace Farms houses a range of public activities that have been largely sidelined elsewhere – study, performance, sport, meditation, spending time outdoors. Only time will tell what comes of this. Thinking optimistically, Grace Farms might foster an expanded public realm in New Canaan. On the other hand, it may only be used for tightly delimited leisure activities by a select group of people who already have plenty of options. When the architecture critic Alexandra Lange used an essay on Dezeen to call for people to “test the limits of this proffered public-ness” by actually going to Grace Farms and using it, she was onto something. Certainly, the foundation seems to back Lange’s call. In our conversation, Prince emphasises repeatedly that they “want many different communities in the same space”, but no amount of participation would create a real sense of publicness if openness weren’t already so deeply a part of the architecture. It’s important that the building is transparent: the public realm requires seeing others and being seen. The extreme visual and organisational openness of Grace Farms can create problems, however. “One day we might have sweaty teenagers in one part and people from the Department of Homeland Security in
“Yes, people can see what goes on inside the building, but we didn’t see that as a problem.”—Kazuyo Sejima another,” says Thatcher. “There’s nothing to stop them from running into each other.” The building’s five main volumes – auditorium, library, offices, tea room, and basketball court – are not things that normally go together. Putting them under one roof results in a rare fantasy of programmatic hybridisation: meditatively drinking tea while playing basketball; watching a dance performance while rolling in the grass; discussing law enforcement while contemplating art. It’s not quite “eating oysters with boxing gloves, naked, on the 9th floor”, as Rem Koolhaas famously fantasised about the Downtown Athletic Club (“a machine for metropolitan bachelors”) in his book Delirious New York, but that’s the idea. In a testament to the power of architecture, Sanaa’s building has even had an effect on the
The fluidity and transparency of the building creates interesting meetings between its many visitors.
The basketball court is surrounded by a 360Â° glass wall.
Homeland Security types. Krishna Patel, director of the Foundation’s justice initiatives, was initially sceptical. “How can you believe that a physical space can have an effect?” she says. “Wouldn’t it be better to use the money for the actual cause?” The architecture was tested a month after the opening when people working on ending child trafficking in Connecticut were invited to a two-day workshop. “The idea was to bring in the right groups to cut across the boundaries and turf wars that constrain law enforcement,” says Patel. “I was shocked at the results.” Patel and her colleagues are used to working in courtrooms – opaque spaces with dark-wood walls and gold ceilings (“They feel like important places, but it can be oppressive”). She says that when trying to bring together NGOs and multiple levels of government, “there is no neutral place to convene, so meetings end up taking place in hotel conference rooms. It may seem silly, but it’s a major obstacle.” In contrast, the auditorium at Grace Farms is the epitome of openness. Its amoeba-shaped glass walls expand to accommodate a welcome desk, but other than that it’s nothing but a gently sloping floor filled with chairs and a half-metre stage at the bottom. A wood ceiling with 28m-long wooden beams and cables floats overhead. The view continues over the stage and down the hillside to meadows and a forest beyond. Patel insists that the space had a restorative effect on the workshop: “It created a new momentum.” Beyond this, transparency-thinking infuses the justice initiatives at all levels. For Patel, one method of stopping child trafficking is to scrape information from the dark web and use machine learning to find those responsible. The basic idea, she says, is to expose what many consider a private realm (the internet) to scrutiny. Visibility might even be pushed beyond some people’s comfort level: “At its extreme best, this is about creating predicative models of people’s behaviour.” Perhaps transparency can reach all the way into people’s souls. The same thinking is evident in Grace Farm’s art programme. In finding a way to help artists “work against the inertia of the art industry,” Kenyon Adams, the foundation’s arts director, extols the virtues of a retreat to nature, helped by Sanaa’s minimalism: “They’ve created an instrument to help you discover what you didn’t know you needed.” When I ask him how this happens, he points to a particularly beautiful curve in the roof outside,
framed against the sky by another part of the roof above and the hillside below. “It’s about putting people in the right place and in the right state of mind to notice these little things. You can’t force surprise, but that’s where you run into grace.” The first step in the process is creating a state of vulnerability, which happens quite literally on the auditorium’s stage. “It’s very exposed up there – you can’t bring all your tricks,” Adams says. As a compensation for this general overexposure, the people of Grace Farms are keenly attuned to opacity. A few of the building’s volumes (the offices, bathrooms, and food preparation area) are surrounded by white walls. Other spaces are hidden underground. The mixture of transparency and opacity in the main building is Sanaa’s doing, of course, but the rooms in the existing barn structures can be attributed to the foundation. They see these rooms as “opaque spaces” with their own qualities – “places for healing,” as Thatcher puts it. On the night I visit, a discussion with refugees is taking place in one of these rooms. Yet with all the talk about transparency, one criticism seems inevitable: it’s unclear how Grace Farms sustains itself. Thatcher mentions that they sell bags of coffee beans in the café to “help keep the lights on”, but do they also rely on grants to support workshops? Do they plan to rent out space to local partners? How much of their day-to-day budget is met by donations? Because everything surrounding the project is framed in terms of calm optimism, nobody seems at liberty to talk about the uncomfortable subject of money. But then tensions of transparency run deep in New Canaan. The first wave of architects to settle in the area were students and colleagues of Walter Gropius at Harvard University, most famously Marcel Breuer and Philip Johnson. They were derided as proponents of so-called Harvard box design: aesthetically simple, “cheap,” and functionalist, but – surprise, surprise – actually rather expensive and as dysfunctional as anything else. In the longer term, the wealth of international style modernist architecture has made New Canaan a site of pilgrimage. Throughout his long life, Philip Johnson hosted a prodigious cast of characters at his Glass House (which he built shortly after graduating from Harvard in 1943). Like Grace Farms, the Glass House is a sort of vitrine: it seems to have been built to frame the photos of Johnson cavorting with, say, Andy Warhol and Robert
A.M. Stern (the dean of Yale’s school of architecture for nearly two decades). For all that, the only sign of Johnson’s house from the road outside is an old stone wall that is a little taller than the others. Johnson’s formula (which is very different from Sanaa’s) seems to be that extreme transparency requires extreme privacy, with the public gaze always mediated by the camera, or, nowadays, the tour guide. The predominant sense is that the Glass House is an arrangement to be seen, not touched. Except – and here’s the twist – familiarity and enjoyment are essential to the spirit of the place.
likely that there is a connection between the reality of being stuck in a single large building through the long winters and the sense (illusory or not) of being trapped in utopia. But once everyone has the freedom to come and go as they please, the fiction of utopia becomes hard to sustain. It is no coincidence that the great wave of utopian experiments in the 19th century ended with the rise of rail transportation. And that is the problem with contemporary utopias: keeping people in. It’s not hard to restrict access, but it’s much more difficult to keep visitors from leaving: people can always hop in a car and go, or else glance down at their phones and be somewhere else, virtually. This is why Grace Farms is so remarkable. Disconnecting, retreating, being anonymous, being invisible – this is where the utopian impulse seems to be directed these days. Although it is counterintuitive that this would take place in a transparent building, it makes sense when you realise that it is only by refocusing attention on ourselves and the minutiae of our actions that our connections to what surrounds us become apparent. It’s a new-age idea, but once the rhetoric is pared back – as it is so insistently at Grace Farms – it’s possible to see it as an architectural effect. The important thing, for those who choose to, is simply to live in a space and follow its dictates. And to do so with others. This is Sanaa’s brilliance: to make a public spectacle out of a personal lifestyle choice. Grace Farms offers the platform to make a particular utopian sensibility communal. The architectural historian Antoine Picon suggested in his essay ‘Learning from Utopia’ that utopia is idealism plus architecture, but when I pose this formula to Prince, it falls flat. She comes back with a statement about how the design of Grace Farms was “purpose driven” and “goal orientated.” This is certainly the minimalist stance as well: do as little as possible to produce the desired effect, and stop there. “When you ask Sanaa for a bench,” muses Thatcher, “you get a plank of wood with little steel legs.” That’s it. And it works both functionally and aesthetically, but maybe socially, culturally and politically also. Like grace, maybe socio-cultural experimentation sneaks up through other means. Utopia can’t be approached directly. Rather, it’s a by-product of living with design. E N D
The view continues over the stage and down the hillside to meadows and a forest beyond. During my visit, no one seems to be stopping some kids from climbing on Johnson’s Lincoln Kirstein Tower and the Glass House Foundation even plans to host freestyle picnics to let visitors wander the grounds as they please. The Glass House, like Grace Farms, is becoming an odd sort of cultural centre. “We want to help people remember that they are living in the middle of this stuff,” says communications director Christa Carr, my tour guide for the day. Do the Glass House and Grace Farms work through vision, order and stasis, or familiarity, play and change? This is a question without an answer and something that has to be negotiated through experimentation. Yet, one thing that sets Grace Farms apart from the more eclectic Johnson complex is the uniformity of its glass design. “It’s like a UFO landed,” Carr opines, adding that the totalitarianism of Sanaa’s design reportedly made one critic feel claustrophobic: “After a few minutes, she had to get out.” Small shifts in scale can completely change the outcome of a utopian experiment. Seen in isolation, Grace Farms is an example of total design, but compared to earlier utopian communities, it has very little power over those who visit or work there. In the past, it was possible to be stuck in utopia. Imagine moving to New Haven, Connecticut, when it was founded as one of America’s first utopian communities in 1638. Or think about a more extreme case, the Oneida Community, a utopian experiment started in upstate New York in 1848 that infamously instituted a practice of communal marriage. It seems
19th-century Modern Jacquard textiles photographed in the studio of artist Monika Brandmeier Words Joe Lloyd Photographs Florian Böhm Styling Annahita Kamali Hair/Makeup Anna Neugebauer Model Sidney Williams
For many, jacquard textiles carry the garishness and mustiness of the pre-modern. Yet this is a curious fate for a technology that once symbolised innovation and progress. The jacquard loom was created in 1801 by the inventor Joseph Marie Charles dit Jacquard. It was the first automatic machine for weaving patterns of any great complexity. The loom’s innovation lay in a series of punched cards that determined the rise and fall of warp threads to create brocades, brocatelles and damasks with previously unheard-of accuracy and efficiency. More than 200 years on, contemporary designers still make hay with the technology. Mary Katrantzou, Hella Jongerius, Nike and Bertjan Pot have recently used jacquard to create upholstery, ball gowns, trainers and outsized pendant lamps. But what draws people to a 215-year-old technique? The versatility and complexity of the method? Or the sense of history and heritage it bestows? The photographs that follow – shot in the Berlin studio of artist Monika Brandmeier and incorporating a series of Brandmeier’s sketches – reveal something of the enduring beauty of these fabrics. Jacquard’s invention remains amongst the most modern of timeworn techniques. 114
Knitted sweater by Jacquemus, jacquard skirt by Miu Miu, and sketches by Monika Brandmeier.
Right page: 4 RĂźckspiegel, z.B., 2014, private collection, Munich, ÂŠVG Bildkunst, Bonn.
Jacquard coat and skirt by Miu Miu, bag by PB 0110, and drawing by Monika Brandmeier.
Sweater and silk top by Ayzit Bostan, jacquard skirt by Miu Miu, scarf by Public Possession, Paper Planes armchair by Doshi Levien for Moroso using jacquard upholstery fabrics, and studies for a floor piece by Monika Brandmeier.
Jacquard dress and top by Mary Katrantzou, and blanket designed by Alexander Girard, produced by Vitra.
T-shirt by Ayzit Bostan, jacquard skirt by Erdem, and drawing and sculpture by Monika Brandmeier.
Left page: Blaue Wand, 2015, courtesy of Galerie Mark Mueller, Zürich, ©VG Bildkunst, Bonn; right page: Achse, 2012, courtesy of Galerie Mueller-Roth, Stuttgart, ©VG Bildkunst, Bonn.
T-shirt by Ayzit Bostan, jacquard skirt by Erdem, bag by PB 0110, Volant armchair designed by Patricia Urquiola for Morosoâ€ƒwith jacquard fabric, and wall drawing by Monika Brandmeier.
Left page: Wall drawing from 2T+X, 2015, courtesy of Galerie Conrads, Düsseldorf, ©VG Bildkunst, Bonn.
Right page: Untitled, 2015, courtesy of Galerie Heike Strelow, Frankfurt, Â©VG Bildkunst, Bonn.
Jacquard coat by Rochas, knitted sweater by Jacquemus, and drawing by Monika Brandmeier.
Jacquard bomber jacket by Dries Van Noten, T-shirt by Ayzit Bostan and 360Â° chair designed by Konstantin Grcic for Magis.
Bahraini Vernacular with Anne Holtrop Photographs Fabian Frinzel
“Moving to Bahrain gives me the opportunity to work in a different setting and experiment with new materials.”
The photographer Fabian Frinzel accompanied Dutch architect Anne Holtrop around Bahrain in February 2016, when Holtrop’s new studio was still under construction.
Holtrop’s new studio (right) in the old pearl-fishing district of Muharraq is leased from the Bahrain Authority for Culture and the Arts. “I like the awkwardness of these buildings,” he says.
Holtrop recently created the exhibition design for Magnificent
Maharajah Splendor of Indian Royal Costumes at the Bahrain National Museum (left).
Realities of the Possible
This is the Waterline Museum, a centre which opened in October 2015 at historic Fort Vechten, a military site since Roman times. Nestled in a dyke along the Hollandic Waterline, it is the first permanent building designed by Anne Holtrop, a 38-year-old architect better known for experimental temporary structures that prize chance, randomness and free forms. It is a style of design that Holtrop calls “a possible architecture”. Seven years after he founded his practice, Holtrop has achieved international acclaim. Alongside the Waterline, 2015 saw Holtrop complete the award‑winning Pavilion of Bahrain at the Milan Expo, one of the few entries to emerge with credit from a festival beset from the beginning by controversies.1 In previous years, Holtrop had made his name through experimental plans, models and temporary structures, as well as writing for journals such as Oase, which he edited until 2013. His Temporary Museum (Lake) was a timber maze based on the surrealist notion of automatic drawing, a process Holtrop likens to finding meaning in a Rorschach inkblot; the plan for his Trail House pavilion in an overgrown field in Almere, the Netherlands, was devised by extending existing grass trails; and his Maniera 02 furniture series was based on the stone collection of Roger Caillois, a philosopher and sociologist. “I take references from outside architecture,” says Holtrop, “and then I try to make architecture out of them.” This is the concept of possible architecture. The cool, underground rooms of the Waterline Museum intersect with the site’s 19th-century fort, their winding paths and walls rough with concrete. Light pours in through large glass windows from a courtyard at the centre of the building, such that the museum seems to change with each step, like a game or a dance. It is Holtrop’s use of the random and unexpected in action – but how much randomness, or artistic freedom, is possible when dealing with permanent buildings such as the Waterline? The museum’s rooms and galleries have clearly defined functions – there is a café, a conference room, an entrance through the fort and an exit into the courtyard – and the building regulations for this museum, nestled as it is in a UNESCO World Heritage
Words Lemma Shehadi Photographs Bas Princen
At the top of a grassy mound, surrounded by forests outside Utrecht in the Netherlands, a giant slab of concrete is buried deep in the earth. It looks as though it has fallen from the sky and sliced into the ground. Curved in waves that follow the ground, the slab sometimes reflects yellow, pink or blue light. The earth is soft and gooey. It is a rainy day, but that’s not the sole cause. I am, after all, standing on an artificial dyke, surrounded by water.
1 The opening of the Expo in 2015 was marked by protests that degenerated into running battles with Milan’s police, and organisational problems that hobbled many of the pavilions.
The Waterline Museum, Fort Vechten.
An aerial shot of the Waterline Museum (photograph by Ossip).
Site, are much stricter than those governing the temporary structures with which Holtrop made his name. As he takes on new commissions, will Holtrop be able to maintain his commitment to free forms? I meet Holtrop to discuss this some 6,000km away from Fort Vechten, in Muharraq, Bahrain. Newly married to his Palestinian wife who lives in Bahrain, Holtrop is opening his second studio here. We are still surrounded by water, but here the ground is sand and tarmac, rather than saturated earth. “Moving to Bahrain gives me the opportunity to work in a different setting and experiment with new materials,” he says as we walk around his under-construction studio, a dilapidated house in an old pearl-fishing district. When he talks or writes about architecture, Holtrop verges on the esoteric, citing continental philosophy and avant-garde movements. But here, in his new studio, he is refreshingly practical: “There will be a kitchen and bathroom on this floor. This room will be air-conditioned in the summer.” Bahrain has played an important role in Holtrop’s professional development. The Pavilion of Bahrain earned the Milan Expo's silver medal, with James Biber, architect of the US pavilion, describing it as “so modest, finely crafted, and unexpected[…] that it is among the most charming and appropriate” of the exhibits. A year later, Holtrop has several commissions for temporary and permanent structures in Bahrain. The island nation has become central to his practice. But to understand Holtrop’s work, we must first go back to Fort Vechten and the surrounding Hollandic
Waterline, canals conceived in the 16th century and built over the course of 300 years to protect the borders of Holland from invasion. Fort Vechten, which lies roughly halfway along the 135km New Dutch Waterline, is being restored by architects West 8 and Penne Hangelbroek, while plans for the complementary Waterline Museum began in 2011 with the ambition that it would celebrate the military and cultural history of the waterlines. Yet when working on the initial plans for the museum, Holtrop did not
“I want to write a new language: one that is recognisable in all my work, but that can be reinterpreted and re-written for different contexts.” make reference to the logical or social aspects of the project, or to the history of the site itself. Instead, he drew the building’s contours by following the height lines visible on a landscape drawing of the Fort Vechten site. The process was random, although Holtrop admits not everything was left to chance: “I amended the shape in places where I didn’t like the lines. The process is not dogmatic, but more a way of doing.” When you compare old maps of Fort Vechten with Holtrop’s plans, you can see the formal contrast between the two. Fort Vechten was built to survey and 138
Inkblot drawings are part of Holtrop’s
The Bahrain National Pavilion for the Milan Expo, 2015,
is now being relocated to Muharraq in Bahrain and is expected to be in place by early 2017.
defend the Netherlands’ eastern front; it appears symmetrical and is circular to enhance visibility on all sides. The museum, on the other hand, consists of fluid curves. It winds across the earth, stretching and condensing. “I want to look at form and material freely and in an intuitive way,” Holtrop explains, arguing that by using random forms, his buildings can be interpreted freely. “There is no reason for these curves,” he explains and at times he can be deliberately vague, refusing to let himself or his work be pinned down easily. “That is your interpretation,” he says calmly when we talk about the contrasts between the Waterline Museum and Fort Vechten. “I would not say that those thoughts crossed my mind when I built the museum. But I like to hear people’s interpretations of my work.” Holtrop's work and thinking seem to ally him with a series of young architects who have used nature and organic forms to inspire minimalist, often monolithic, structures. In Japan, Junya Ishigami, who is also known for experimenting with temporary structures, built partitions for a nursery in Atsugi by drawing on the shapes of clouds. He now has plans to expand these cloud forms into a covered artificial island that will house a boating lake in Copenhagen harbour. Meanwhile, Antón García-Abril’s Trufa was formed by casting concrete over hay bales buried in a Spanish forest, before exhuming the structure and encouraging a cow to eat the hay, leaving only the concrete shell. Such architects are often less concerned with the social role of the built environment than they are with pushing the boundaries of form. In an era
characterised by shortages in affordable housing and public amenities – prompting this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale to call for architects to think about “the quality of the built environment,” and “bridge the gap between architecture and civil society” – this is controversial. Yet Holtrop is unswayed. “I am primarily interested in the beauty of the material, what I can produce with it and the environments I can create,” he says. “This is the way I can contribute to the world. This is what I can give.” Many who work with Holtrop describe his approach as being more akin to that of an artist than that of an architect: “He had a precise idea and stuck to it,” says Amaryllis Jacobs, the founder of the Maniera gallery in Brussels, for which Holtrop devised his Maniera 02 collection. It is a comparison that Holtrop accepts. “I learn a lot from artists,” he says, listing a range of references that takes in the abstract expressionist Cy Twombly, Dada artist Jean Arp and the contemporary painter Gerhard Richter. After graduating from Amsterdam’s Academy of Architecture in 2005, Holtrop spent five years as a studio assistant to the Dutch artist Krijn de Koning. “With De Koning, I realised you could make things even if nobody asked for it or needed it,” he recalls, laughing. “They don’t teach you this at architecture school.” Yet building the Waterline Museum was not as free a process: it came with a strict set of rules and regulations. First, Holtrop had to work out how to mould and erect a concrete building based on uneven curves and height lines, with no pre-existing
The Batara project under construction,
The project is being executed in collaboration
with photographer Bas Princen.
Yet in spite of the difficulties of working in this way, Holtrop’s recent projects demonstrate his eagerness to engage with materials and the making process. His ongoing collaborative project Batara with photographer Bas Princen, which includes a model he exhibited in Copenhagen and a pavilion in Wageningen, was inspired by the rock-cut architecture of the ancient city of Petra in Jordan. “Petra is made by hewing the stone on the mountain,” says Holtrop. “It is architecture that exists by taking material away, rather than putting things together.” Mirroring this process, Holtrop poured concrete into large, uneven holes in the ground to create building blocks that were rough and organic on one side, and smooth and flat on the other, and which were later cut to create openings. Yet Holtrop’s methods have developed since he first began working on the Waterline Museum and his buildings are no longer solely determined by the initial plans. “I find that approach too constraining,” he says, “so I now work with smaller, variable parts. They are a family of things, which do not fit together. The only principle is that they are composed of arcs and lines.” This has its roots in Batara, for which Holtrop had to fit together a series of uneven concrete blocks – smooth on one end, rounded on the other – to make a pavilion, but it finds fuller expression in the Pavilion of Bahrain, which was built out of movable curved and straight parts. “Not all the roof pieces span from wall to wall. Some blocks lean on each other, while others are connected,” Holtrop explains. “It keeps me involved in the process of making. I get pleasure out of it”.
templates. For this, he worked closely with Henk Oude Kempers, a concrete specialist, to build 8m-high mock-up walls. “We experimented for months,” he recalls. “The reinforcements in the walls were so heavy that we couldn’t bend them on-site, so we bent them at the factory.” In addition, the location presented challenges. “The fort is an archaeological site,” he explains, “so we couldn’t build pillar foundations as you normally do in the Netherlands.” The solution – an even greater challenge – was to build the museum in one pouring of concrete. “It was spectacular,” recalls Holtrop. “We could have built it in sections, using small blocks to minimise the differences when the building sets over time, but the single pouring allowed us to have a concrete surface without any dilatations. Its texture is completely homogeneous.” Holtrop and his studio are involved in the production process of all their structures, and they develop strong relationships with their contractors and subcontractors, usually drawing up the production plans themselves, as they did for the Pavilion of Bahrain. “It stops being a linear process, whereby you give your initial plans to the contractors to produce,” says Holtrop. “Instead it becomes a back-and-forth between us and the contractors, which is much more interesting.” Yet such a relationship with contractors is unusual; practices such as Studio Mumbai, which acts variously as architect, producer and contractor, are in the minority. “There are so many checks and balances, so much more bureaucracy, which have distanced architects from the production process,” says Holtrop. 140
The Trail House in Almere was part of the 2009
The shape of the house was created using existing
exhibition Unknown Territory at Museum De Paviljoens.
trails in the landscape.
Holtrop has great ambitions for his new methodology – “I want to write a new language: one that is recognisable in all my work, but that can be reinterpreted and re-written for different contexts” – and cites the architect Carlo Scarpa as a new influence on his working practice. “When Scarpa restored the Palazzo Abatellis in Sicily, he created a dialogue between his work and the old museum,” says Holtrop. He is referring to the discreet, but distinctly modern elements that Scarpa introduced in his 1953-1954 restoration of the bomb-damaged 15th-century Palazzo Abatellis: openings cut into walls to reveal both the
Many who work with Holtrop describe his approach as being more akin to that of an artist than that of an architect. original stonework and the steel columns embedded to stabilise the building; thin joints introduced into the stucco facade to create a framework into which the windows, surrounded by a border of the underlying masonry, could slot. “He developed his own language,” says Holtrop. The Scarpa-inspired method is manifest in Holtrop's latest commission in Bahrain, a series of shops outside Muharraq’s old market, known as the Suq Al-Qaysariya. Like the Waterline Museum, this is a new public building that is part of a major restoration
project on a World Heritage Site. Yet Holtrop’s plans to rebuild 14 shops, as well as building nine new shops, are more formally constrained. Unlike projects such as the Trail House, which was built in an open field, construction in the Suq Al-Qaysariya is restricted by the demands of the wider restoration project and the absence of space in these dense urban surroundings. In 2012, UNESCO designated the Bahrain pearling trail in Muharraq a World Heritage Site. The trail is a 3.5km stretch of houses and oyster beds used by pearl divers for much of Bahrain’s history. Since the 2012 listing, the Bahrain Authority for Culture and the Arts (BACA) and the Sheikh Ebrahim Bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa Center for Culture and Research (a nonprofit organisation run by Sheikha Mai Bint Mohammed Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's minister of culture) has launched several restoration and regeneration projects in Muharraq, including the Suq Al-Qaysariya. BACA is the biggest cultural commissioner on the island, but there are also impressive privately funded restoration projects such as La Fontaine, a family palace that is now an arts and lifestyle centre in Manama. In the 19th and early-20th century, before pearl fishing ended, the Suq Al-Qaysiriya attracted merchants from across the Gulf, India and East Africa. Today, its dealers mainly sell goods and clothing from China. But dig a little deeper and you can still find spices from South Asia, Iranian saffron, and royal jelly from Yemen. Restoration of the Suq began in 2010, after BACA intervened to stop plans to demolish the shops and build a shopping mall. This preservation of the area’s
traditions has also played a part in Holtrop’s plans. In his design, he has stuck to the rectangular structure of the original buildings. “I want to create an experience that is new, but feels familiar at the same time,” he says. The two floors are stacked at split levels, mimicking the irregular and organic growth of Muharraq’s urban fabric, while the windows will be covered by aluminium grilles that evoke the gypsum panels on traditional Bahraini housing. His language of arcs and straight lines is visible in these gestures, as it is in the curved stone panels used in the shops’ ceilings. But are these signatures enough to make this an example of possible architecture? Holtrop acknowledges that the Suq Al-Qaysariya project demands he respond sensitively to the area
Holtrop by BACA. “For example, this staircase is so inconveniently placed, it is uneven. There is no reason for it to be there.” As we look out onto the city, a red sun sets behind the low white houses. I realise we have caught Holtrop at a critical juncture in his career. He is a young architect, one who has just come to international attention, establishing his practice in a radically different part of the world, all while reviewing his basic approach to design. “Of course, I expect my work to change,” he says, contemplating the significance of his move to Bahrain. “Everything here is different: the climate, the landscape, the space, the materials available. But I will see what happens; I don’t make five-year plans.” Although at this stage, Holtrop can only show sites and plans for his new commissions in the country, his move to Bahrain gives him more opportunities to develop his plans for a distinctive architectural language, a possible architecture, all the while negotiating the constraints and requirements of permanent buildings. E N D
“Of course, I expect my work to change. Everything here is different: the climate, the landscape, the space, the materials available.” and that his freedom to play with form has been restricted. “What I am looking forward to the most,” he says, “is experimenting with materials that are sourced locally or in the regions nearby.” Traditional Bahraini houses are made of lime plaster (a mixture of water, sand and lime from burnt oyster shells) and coral from the Persian Gulf. Their ceilings were supported by wooden mangrove beams imported from India or the East African coast. Holtrop is constructing the Suq with limestone from Egypt and aluminium from Aluminium Bahrain, one of the world’s largest smelting factories. “Instead of plastering over coral stone, I am using stacked limestone, which I will keep bare, to reveal the stone and create a new experience of these buildings,” says Holtrop. It is an aesthetic that comes to mind as we drive deeper into Muharraq, where the vernacular extensions and modifications that came with the influx of migrant workers, mostly from South Asia, in the 1960s are clear to see. Looking at these houses’ simple facades and brutal textures, the visual similarities to Holtrop’s work become apparent. “I like the awkwardness of these buildings,” he says, as we stumble through the rubble, stones and broken wood of his future studio, which has been leased to 142
W W W.D OW N TOW N D E S IG N .CO M
DISCOVER ORIGINAL DESIGN IN DUBAI 25â€“28 OCTOBER 2016
photography by: Harry Fricker
73 Standard fixtures and bespoke installations Visit our showroom in Berlin - Bocci 79 Kantstrasse 79, 10627 Berlin
The Spectre of Milan
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Introduction Johanna Agerman Ross Photographs Florian Böhm
Milan’s position in design lore is legendary. Ever since the Salone Internazionale del Mobile was launched in 1961, the city has been a natural hub for design on an international scale. It is comfortably the world’s biggest furniture trade fair, with around 300,000 visitors attending each year from more than 160 countries. And yet, over recent years, the supremacy of Milan’s Salone has been questioned. “Isn’t it odd,” asked the design critic Alice Rawsthorn in a 2015 column for Frieze, “that a furniture fair should exert so much power throughout design culture, not just in its chosen field…The problem is that the Salone faces growing tension between its official role as a trade fair (-cum-branding bacchanale) and its unofficial one as a general design forum.” Add to this Jasper Morrison labelling it the “Salone del Marketing”, a statement he later retracted, as well as Hella Jongerius and Louise Schouwenberg criticising its never-ending slew of new products in their 2015 manifesto Beyond The New, released on the eve of the fair: “We advocate an idealistic agenda in design, as we deplore the obsession with the New for the sake of the New”. The fear for the Salone is that marketing exercises for big corporations risk taking over a space where critical discussion and reflection should reign. The criticism the fair has received is fundamentally tied to a shift in the importance of furniture design to the wider industry. Furniture is no longer at the cutting edge of design, as ably demonstrated by the standout event of last year’s Salone (at least in terms of setting tongues wagging) being a dinner hosted by Marc Newson and Jonathan Ive to celebrate the arrival of the Apple Watch. Elsewhere, Las Vegas’s Consumer Electronics Show now generates nearly as much design news as it does technology, while South By Southwest in Austin, Texas, is increasingly considered a must-visit for design curators and writers. By comparison, furniture can start to seem somewhat old hat. Similarly, intellectual discussions around design and its role in society play out just as well at less vaunted events such as Ljubljana’s Biennial of Design or the Istanbul Design Biennial, which this year is being curated by academics Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley. “For me, design should be a discussion of life, society, politics, food and the design itself,” the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass once said. Today
more than ever, the discussions that Sottsass had in mind seem to happen more naturally in places outside of the fundamentally commercial agenda of Milan. But it is nevertheless impossible to deny the collective experiences that still take place in a city like Milan, as well as the accumulation of those experiences over the Salone’s fifty-something lifespan. Most people within the design world know about the 2,500 guests who turned up to the Memphis launch in 1981 – even if many of those people weren’t actually there to experience it firsthand – and they know what a launch like that communicated about design at that time in history. The same can be said for countless other occasions: the debut of Droog Design in 1993, the Established and Sons events between 2007 and 2010, or the crowds of people who regularly fill the streets outside Bar Basso late at night. For this issue of Disegno we decided to tap into these shared experiences. While it is clear that Milan needs to rethink its value to a world where furniture plays an ever decreasing role in critical discussions around design, what cannot be taken away is the city’s past. It is these stories that cement Milan’s position within the design world. The stories on the following pages are personal experiences that reveal a layer of Milan invisible to the eye. They are experiences that have remained in people’s minds and which are embedded in the fabric of the city. They are stories that linger, regardless of the Salone’s commercial interests or the changing focus of the design world. Alongside these oral histories is a photography project from Florian Böhm, which depicts layers of Milan from a street-view perspective, capturing aspects of a city where, to quote the designer Alberto Meda, “a good ghost still lives.” “An object has a great potential to exert an influence upon the individual,” the Milanese designer Vico Magistretti once said. “While it might be indirect and almost imperceptible, this influence can still be enduring and effective. It can provide the individual with a different understanding of the relationship between space and object in the home and of how one chooses to live.” We hope that Milan can remain just such an object.
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The Spectre of Milan
Marco de Vincenzo For a long time, I thought Milan was too cold. Having lived in Sicily and then Rome, Milan feels like a place you have to discover. It’s beautiful in a different way than those other places; it's more secret. I'm like a stranger here. Before I moved here, I never listened to what people said about Milan, good or bad, because I didn’t want to have too many preconceptions. I was waiting for the moment when the city would feel like mine, but then I always wait for the right moment to do everything. I'm never under pressure to make something if I think the moment hasn't come. With Milan it was the same. I’ve now found a space for my office in the city. I saw many places before choosing the current location in Luigi Moretti’s Corso Italia Complex from 1956. Many of those places were beautiful, but they somehow felt common, whereas the Corso Italia is like working in a glass room: it's all open. A few walls are just made of glass and the whole city is in front of you. You can really feel the city, which is a good way to get familiar with it. In Rome it's obvious that you should live in a place with a view, but I didn't associate Milan with a great skyline. Light is the most exciting thing in the new office. There is light everywhere, which gives you the impression of the day as it passes. It’s given me a feeling of freedom: the feeling that I could live somewhere else after a long time of thinking Rome was perfect. When I used to be in Milan, my first thoughts were, “I want to go back to Rome to work or to find something inspiring.” But today I was working on some drawings in the new office for the first time, and I thought “Wow, it's the same as in Rome.” I believe in the power of the place around you and this morning I felt like I was in the right place. I felt happy.
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Patricia Urquiola I’m Spanish and I come from Asturias, so I’m Atlantic, not Mediterranean. The seas are strong in Asturias and the clouds are always changing. There is a lot of geography: steep hills, mountains and the sea. When I arrived in Milan 30 years ago I found it difficult to adapt to the flatness of the place and I still find it a little problematic that there are no geographical elements to guide me. There is no river, no seaside, no mountains. There are no points of view, no belvederes. The city has canals, but many have now disappeared under roads, so knowing the city was always very difficult for me because I had no references. Instead, people became my references. Even before I was working with him I remember seeing Vico Magistretti on his bicycle. He always parked it outside De Padova on Corso Venezia and his was always the only one there. Magistretti and Maddalena De Padova were perhaps my first connections to the city, but the art critic Gillo Dorfles was another. I was always crossing his path as he lives close to me, but I never wanted to disturb him. He’s a small man but has such incredible energy in his step, even now at 105-years-old. After I stopped working with Magistretti he remained a part of my daily life for many years. My daughter’s school was on the same street as his studio, right by the Conservatorio, and I always used to look up at his window. Sometimes I saw Franco Montella, his assistant, and sometimes, if he was sat at his desk facing the wall, I would see Magistretti’s back. That always made me happy; he always seemed to use the city in the right way.
Autostrada dei Giovi
Oki Sato from Nendo I still remember an installation I did in Milan’s Museo della Permanente during the 2008 Milan Design Week like it was yesterday. I was exhibiting our Diamond chair, which is made using a 3D printer capable of producing a diamond-like structure, and I had also designed the installation space. It was the first time I had taken on an exhibition of that scale and level of difficulty, and I ended up cancelling over six months’ worth of other projects. I had every single Nendo designer focused on the installation from morning to night. It goes without saying that by the time the day of the exhibition arrived the studio’s savings had been depleted, and it was clear that if no new projects arose as a result of the exhibit, Nendo would be out of business. On the final day of the installation, when I had about halfway given up, the Italian designer Piero Lissoni showed up. Piero picked up the Diamond chair, tucked it under his arm, and started to walk out. I hurried after him to say something, at which point he handed me a blank cheque. Piero’s personality played a big part in it, but this event made me feel very deeply that the people of Milan have an intrinsic attraction towards design. At the same time, it was because of this event that I felt compelled to use design to give something back to the city of Milan and its people. Although its criticism and judgement can be harsh at times, Milan is a city that provides a warm hand of support to those willing to give their all. Because of that it remains a city that I love dearly.
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Alessandro Mendini I was born in Milan, have lived here for 84 years, and I have never wanted to change cities. Milan is sort of ugly, sort of small, sort of unfriendly, sort of violent. Yet it contains the mysterious humus that has allowed all my imagination to grow, something I really would not find anywhere else. It is a mixture of the cold poetry of the streets, the cultural traditions, my subconscious, 20th-century painters, the city's partly frozen architectural history, its great and historic designers, and glorious architecture magazines. I am there inside all of that and live inside it, sometimes comfortably and sometimes uncomfortably. I frequent but a few people; I stay home at night; the official society of the bourgeois is not nice and it makes me timid. I do frequent an imaginary Milan that comes to me in my dreams at night. I walk in streets that do not exist, I enter phantom churches, buy bread in unknown, surreal shops, find objects, bump into friendly people, and all this might happen as I remain sat on my comfy sofa, reading novels by faraway authors. I am like those animals that can only survive in a certain microclimate, for example in the muted darkness of a cavern, and if they go out in the light they don't survive. The Milanese Designer is an endangered species indeed. There is another curious fact: as an architect I have practically never built a thing in Milan. It has never happened that I woke up in the morning and went to a construction site of mine by foot or by tram. My work is always far away; I mean extremely far away. One memory that coincides with five years of my life is this: a long time ago, when I was the editor-in-chief of Domus magazine, I travelled to the editorial office every day, located in the historical, famous seat of the publishing house. The headquarters were romantic and outside Milan, toward the foggy flatland south of the city, close to the grassy rice fields. Exiting Milan every day, a 30-minute drive by automobile, I disengaged mentally from the city and spent that whole time in an abstract mental space and in a physical agricultural space: a bubble of decompression. We used to eat around there in countryside trattorie; sometimes they made fried frogs' legs. In this isolated place, full and rich with the stories of the legendary Casabella and Domus magazines, I became acquainted with the most famous architects and hundreds of young designers, who came to visit the editorial office as if on a pilgrimage. And during the round trip by automobile, one hour of classical music per day.
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The Spectre of Milan
Paola Antonelli I grew up in Milan. I was a kid during the years of terrorism and a teenager when Milan became the world capital of fashion. Between age 15 and 18, every day after school, I worked in a fashion PR office. Barbara Vitti was my sister's best friend's mom. When I started, she was the PR for Gruppo Finanziario Tessile and she needed girls who would help keep press and buyers separate at fashion shows. Soon thereafter, Barbara became Armani's exclusive PR, and so every day I would leave my liceo in via Passione around 1:30pm, grab a slice of focacccia, and walk five minutes to Armani's showroom in via Durini. It was devastatingly elegant: black carpets, black aluminium tube dividers, black curtains; the famously frescoed ceilings were the only touch of colour. During Fashion Week, Armani would not show with the hoi polloi at the fairgrounds, but rather would invite press and buyers by appointment. He had models on call at the showroom, like an old-school atelier. One year, when I was probably 17 and in my New Romantic period, I arrived at work during Fashion Week decked out Spandau Ballet-style in full black, except for a wide white lace gorgère and, ahem, bright white boots. It was a pair of disembodied phosphorescent pointy shoes, and I felt cool and gorgeous running around attending my tasks. Little did I know that I was interfering with the showroom's black magic, which was set up to cast light only on the right clothes worn by the right models. Armani, who had never really noticed me before, came close, smiled warmly, took me by the arm, led me into the room that contained all the accessories, picked a box, put it in my hands, and told me "You look so smart today, you deserve a new pair of shoes as a gift." The shoes were black.
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Nathalie Du Pasquier When I arrived in Milan, I had been living in Rome for nine months. It was September, around 7 or 8 o’clock in the evening, and I arrived by train at Stazione Centrale, a very imposing building. But it was full of people with red flags: a happy crowd leaving Milan after having taken part in the last day of the Festa dell’Unità, a festival organised by the Communist Party. There was an amazing atmosphere. That was the first thing I saw in Milan: red flags that seemed to indicate a revolution and a huge Egyptian or Assyrian-style train station: quite beautiful, although very strange. That evening I went to stay with friends of friends, as young people do, and the next morning I went to look for a job. I took a long walk from via Torino towards the old Fiera in Corso Sempione. The first thing you see in a city is the architecture and, if Rome was beautiful, Milan appeared very ordinary at first. But after having crossed the Parco Sempione and begun walking along the Corso Sempione, I started to notice things I liked. The street was broad, planted with high French trees, and the more I headed towards the Fiera, the higher and more modern the buildings became. But it was a type of modernity that I was not used to; it was a modernity that seemed handmade. I found my first job in Milan that day and the friends of friends whom I was staying with let me a room in another area of town. Little by little, I was attracted to things I would never have thought would interest me. First of all, the trams. They were a very old model of tram, quite short with wooden benches and nice lamps. I had never been in a city with trams and they seemed very urban, because at that time most cities had suppressed their tramlines. There was also a metro, but a modern one, with modern graphics and clean trains (then…): very different from the metro in Paris, the only one I had known. Through Milan, I started looking at architecture from the 20th century and I started to be interested in my own time and culture. That was the time I realised I wanted to take part in that culture.
Hella Jongerius My career started in Milan 22 years ago. I had just come from school and went there with Droog Design as part of a generation of designers working on self-initiated projects. I was curious and excited, and also a bit a naive; I was so surprised that people were queuing up to see Droog. I couldn't believe it! It was overwhelming, because you can only dream of something like that. We were a rabble: I was with my friends and we shared a conceptual approach to design. There was less responsibility. That was a long time ago, however, when the design world was not so big and when being in Milan didn’t come with so much commercial pressure. After a few years my practice grew and I had to start moving faster and faster to the tempo of assignments. Milan today feels like a giant cake where the dough is fermenting and always rising; it has started to feel like a pressure cooker. There is no time to enjoy it because I have to fulfil duties like attending events and giving interviews. Besides it’s becoming harder to find quality during the Salone, with all the businesses that have rushed in. We need good reasons for producing designs, because the simple fact of a design being new does not grant it validity. Everybody knows that Milan and the design world needs to refocus; we have to find a new discourse for what’s behind the commercial context and empty marketing phrases. What to design in a world of plenty? But one year I did enjoy was 2005, when I launched the Polder sofa with Vitra. It was my first industrially designed piece and we made it in under a year, which was such a short amount of time. Nobody was convinced by it, not even Vitra. I remember the evening before we were due to show it we got cold feet, so we changed the fabric to calm it down a bit. But in the morning, we just thought “Come on! Let's go for it!” and changed the colours back to the more collaged approach we ended up with. It was so unexpected when everybody liked it. It was a really magical experience.
“No, I am English.” “ My God!” said the driver. “The food is terrible in your country!” “ Well,” apologetically as if it were my fault, “it’s getting better, when were you there?”
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Driver: “1943 for two years, I was a prisoner of war.”
George Sowden 1970. From day one in Milan I was under siege from being told how wonderful Italian food was and how I, an Englishman from England where the food was terrible, would eventually have to understand this and learn that Italian food is the best food to be found anywhere in the world. Always the same story, whether it was with my coffee and brioche in the morning, lunch in the trattoria or dinner with friends, the endless conversations about food and inevitably, to the point of tedium, how bad was the food from the country of my birth; an argument that I found a bit irritating. Even though I agreed, of course, that Italian food is good, I could never bring myself to acknowledge publicly that English food was awful. At the same time as I fell in love with Italy and working here, I also fell in love with the Fiat 600 Multipla, the only car I have ever loved in my life. It was used predominately in Italy as the chosen car of taxi drivers and I would take a taxi only (or especially) if the cab was a Multipla. One day I was sitting in the back seat admiring the details of clever engineering and exchanging a few polite words with the driver when he said, “You are not Italian!” An easy guess, I was learning the language.
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Via Andrea Solari
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The Spectre of Milan
Via Giosuè Borsi
Giulio Cappellini One of the Milan Design Week events I remember the most was a presentation at Superstudio Più in Zona Tortona in 2000. At that time Fuori Salone events were not very numerous and Zona Tortona was not famous. But Cappellini decided to open the day before the Salone started, so we had almost 10,000 visitors. The soundtrack for the event was a selection of Rolling Stones songs, beginning with ‘Start Me Up’. Looking at the number of people queuing outside was an unforgettable experience. The exhibition space was very big, about 4,000m2, and realised with Jasper Morrison’s help. We created a very colourful floor with rope rings to contain the new products, while the ceiling was made up of thousands of fake silver clouds. We put all our energy and passion into that presentation and our efforts were rewarded. That year was the definitive consecration of Cappellini as a global trendsetter and we showed prototypes by designers from all over the world: from Marcel Wanders to Jasper, the Bouroullec brothers to Patrick Norguet. In the years that followed we’ve made many other presentations, but 2000 remains a major landmark in my career and personal life.
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Alberto Meda There are hidden aspects of this city, in which a good ghost lives. Milano is very secretive, and does not reveal itself easily, even to a Milanese like me. Yesterday, for example, I was on via Santa Marta at the FabLab. It’s a 200m2 workshop in the centre of Milan, that combines educational activities with an open lab that provides the best technologies in digital fabrication. It’s warm and welcoming – a place where you can bring friends, curiosity and expertise and ideas to share with others – and is run by an architect, a designer and a physicist. Milan is a city of these hidden relations, a network that produces interesting and unpredictable results. Milan is a place of magnificent accidents. When the Domus Academy was founded in 1983 I worked for a few years as a professor of industrial technologies with Ezio Manzini. It was a very stimulating experience which circulated thoughts shared from teachers such as Andrea Branzi, Antonio Petrillo, Mario Bellini, Ettore Sottsass and Clino Castelli, culminating in Ezio’s book The Material of Invention, the design aspects of which were curated by me and Denis Santachiara. But good students came out from that experience too, like Francisco Gomez Paz whom I later worked with on the Solar Bottle project. It’s a bottle that uses sunlight to disinfect water and which won an INDEX Award in 2007 in Copenhagen. A magnificent accident! Or think about the Triennale museum, which is not only a place for exhibitions but also for meetings, some of which are completely unexpected. Last year, I met the design curator and retailer George Beylerian from New York on the steps of the Triennale, coming out of the TVS-Ghianda exhibition. He must have seen the wok and tongs that I’d designed for TVS-Ghianda, because he asked me to take part in his Design Memorabilia initiative for the Milan Expo. I ended up creating Medamade, an oil dispenser that automatically opens its lid when you pour from it. But that is Milan: an intersection of creative energies and talents. Here in Milan, a good ghost continues to live.
Via Benedetto Marcello
Arthur Arbesser Being a young fashion designer is hard in Milan, especially when I started three years ago. The thing that changed it all for me was a presentation I did in the house of my friend Luca. Of course, I didn’t know him at the time. I was looking for a place to show my second collection during Milan Fashion Week and I was at a dinner with a group of Milanese acquaintances at this legendary dancehall, Sala Venezia. I asked the whole table if anyone knew of a place, a home of some sort, where I could show my collection in an intimate milieu. Luca invited me to come see his place. It was a very Milanese setting, in this great 1920s building, and his apartment was filled with treasures from Italian design history. Originally we planned to do the presentation for two days, but we ended up staying open for the whole fashion week and it just became crazier and crazier. One day the fashion writer Suzy Menkes came to visit and wrote a piece about it for the International Herald Tribune. The next day everybody came. It was a significant moment because it showed me that there is a massive will to give someone young a chance and to give them the necessary attention. All it took was a beautiful apartment and a few mannequins. It was all super budget, but all the editors from the magazines were there. It was bizarre that they were willing to come to the apartment of somebody they didn’t know and take an elevator to the 6th floor of a block of flats on via Benedetto Marcello. But it does prove how curious people are.
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Clemens Weisshaar Whenever I see the Torre Velasca skyscraper in Milan, the ghost of Ernesto Nathan Rogers appears in my mind. He was one of the four partners in the übercool architecture office BBPR that not only build Torre Velasca – one of my favourite buildings – but also designed the famous Spazio furniture range for Olivetti. Rogers once said that the ambition of design is spoon to skyscraper; that remains one of the most important things that has ever been said about our profession.
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These photographs are black and white reproductions of photographic works in colour by Florian Böhm, 2015/16. They are part of an ongoing project where Böhm explores cities such as Havana, New York and Las Vegas. Courtesy Galerie f5,6 in Munich.
Piazza Duca d'Aosta
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Jaime Hayon When I was a student, I put Milan on a pedestal. What city in the world could be more innovative, high-tech, stylish, or unique than Milan? Certainly not Madrid, Barcelona or any other city I knew. But when I visited for the first time, I was completely shocked - everything was a disaster! From the airport to the train station, the city looked old and dated. Coming from Madrid, with its relatively modern and well-functioning system, Milan's subway system seemed positively ancient to me. Instead of a design city, Milan turned out to be quite the opposite of what I expected. What I’ve realised is that what makes Milan special are the people who live there, and the ideas and work created there. That’s what sets Milan apart from other cities; not, thankfully, its infrastructure.
The Witness Words Will Wiles Game developer Jonathan Blowâ€™s first project since the critically acclaimed and commercially successful Braid prompts reflection on game design as a form of landscape art.
Always outdoorsy, landscape writing is enjoying a moment in the sun. At the very least, it’s in vogue – once time has passed and critical distance has coalesced, perhaps we will even call this a golden age of the genre. Robert Macfarlane, the modern master of the form, now consistently makes both the bestseller charts and the prize shortlists. Helen Macdonald’s H is for Hawk was a phenomenal success. There’s renewed interest in – and new editions of – classics such as Patrick Leigh Fermor’s European books and Richard Mabey’s The Unofficial Countryside. Other authors in the field (a well-matched word), such as Rebecca Solnit, Melissa Harrison and Philips Hoare and Marsden, prosper. And that’s before we get into writing about the urban landscape, where the urbexers and psychogeographers roam. A substantial part of the appeal of these books is that they bring the outdoors indoors. The reader is able to pick a comfy chair, nudge the central heating up a degree and, cup of tea inches away, read about Maurice Herzog losing all his fingers while climbing Annapurna. Brr! Their skill is evocation, which goes a step beyond mere description: a great natural landscape
On this technical level, The Witness is also phenomenally beautiful. The player “awakes” in a tunnel, which leads out into a semi-ruined fort, now turned into a luxurious garden. is not only outlined, it is filled in. We can begin to identify with it, almost as one would with a well-drawn character in a novel. I have never been to Annapurna, or the Himalayas, and I doubt I ever will, but they exist for me because I have read Macfarlane’s superb Mountains of the Mind (2003), which contains that grisly – but also inspiring – story about Herzog. Mountains of the Mind is based on the premise that landscape is not objective. It is not a history of geology, or of mountaineering, although it contains both these things. It is an account of the place mountains have in the mind, and a reminder that our responses to landscapes “are for the most part
culturally devised”. “That is to say, when we look at a landscape, we do not see what is there, but largely what we think is there[…] We read landscapes, in other words, we interpret their forms in the light of our own experience and memory, and that of our shared cultural memory.” If natural landscapes exist in part in our shared cultural memory, then they are increasingly contiguous with another kind of landscape: that found in computer games. Can we write about those in the same way? And what does it mean when we have to consider games as landscapes, as well as mere games? Specifically: what are we to make of the landscape served up in The Witness, one of the most anticipated, cerebral, beautiful and fascinating games of recent years? Can a landscape be a game? That its developer, Jonathan Blow, worked with two architecture firms – Fourm for buildings and structures, and David Fletcher Studio for the landscape architecture – suggests at least a willingness to take this idea seriously. Advances in graphics and processor technology mean that some quite extraordinarily beautiful landscapes can now be enjoyed from the comfort of the desktop PC or games console. A notable new example is the recent release Firewatch by a small developer called Campo Santo. (What should we infer from the fact that Campo Santo, which means “cemetery” in Italian, is also the name of a volume of essays by W.G. Sebald, godfather of the modern landscape writers?) Compiling his review, Lewis Gordon of the intelligent games website killscreen.com reached not for the system specifications and arid consideration of gameplay, but for the work of the great American landscape painters and writers of the 19th century, in particular John Muir. On this technical level, The Witness is also phenomenally beautiful. The player “awakes” in a tunnel, which leads out into a semi-ruined fort, now turned into a luxurious garden. The sun is shining benevolently, the vegetation has an LSD-trip brilliance, the rocks have the gentle, lapidary firmness of soapstone and one can almost feel the warmth from the walls and the cool from the shade. In order to leave this attractive, but small, fort, the player must complete a series of simple puzzles. These
appear on computer screens dotted about the space, a (literal) device that at first glance appears redundant. Why go to all the trouble of showing a touchscreen computer – its stand, its power cables, the vents and greebles on its back – when we are already inside a computer game, and the same level of interaction could be had with, well, conceivably anything? And you quickly see that it’s possible to interact with very, very little apart from those screens. It’s a leisurely kind of environment – with cushions to sit on, cool drinks, ponds and the like – but none of that can be touched, only the screens. At first, that feels a little odd. Clearly this won't be the sort of game where one runs around gathering objects, hitting surfaces to find hidden compartments, collecting keys and so on. The puzzles, which must be completed in order, are unthreatening mazes: drag a circle from a start point to an end point. Once they’re all finished, the fort’s gate opens and you’re out. Landscape writing wanders in more than one way. It is inherently digressive, mimicking the way the mind moves from books, to films, to the past, to personal history while you’re walking, prompted by what you see. So, time for a brief detour through the late 1980s. I have praised the technical qualities of The Witness, but a game’s landscape doesn't have to be sophisticated to be memorable. The Witness has been compared, naturally enough, with Braid, an earlier game by Blow, and with the seminal puzzler Myst (1993) – a landmark for many game-players my age, this was for several years the bestselling PC game of all time. Playing The Witness, I was cast back even further, to the point‑and‑click adventures produced by Sierra in the 1980s, such as the King’s Quest series, and to the contemporaneous Ultima games by Origin Systems. Most of all, I remembered the hours spent playing Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny. Ultima V was set in a fantasy world and was little to speak of graphically (though no worse than other games of its era). However, I recall it being terrifically difficult. Not only was the complex quest hard to unpick, the gloomy terrain of mountains and swamps sprang quick death on the player on a regular basis.
Traversing the world was strenuous and difficult, so arriving somewhere safe was a genuine respite. And arriving somewhere new was also special. You felt a mixture of wonder and trepidation – here, the fairly limited graphics of the game worked in its favour, as a hitherto unseen element or decorative scheme stood out against the relative monotony that had come before. Ultima V’s is a landscape that survives in my imagination as vividly as many real places. The world of The Witness is wildly varied and entirely safe. What recalled Ultima V was something else. Early on in Ultima V – although not quite early enough – I realised that the whole environment had a symbolic meaning that was only lightly camouflaged. Seven of the world's settlements corresponded to the virtues that underpinned the (surprisingly detailed) in-game cosmology; each of these virtues was balanced by a vice and, sure enough, there were seven locations that embodied those as well. Discovering this, I realised I should be taking notes and remembering where everything was, in order to keep track of the connections this opened up. More damagingly, I realised I should have been taking notes all along. And so it was with The Witness – quite quickly (although not quite quickly enough) I realised that I should have been paying more attention. There I was, breezing along through puzzles – each a little more taxing than the one before – and, abruptly, I hit a wall. Or rather, I hit a locked door. The little pleasing mazes had taken a giant leap in complexity and I was stuck. Anyone who plays computer games will be familiar with the state of deep absorption that overcomes you if you play a particular game long enough. The neural pathways used by the activity become ruts, and the game's structures and mechanisms start to bleed into the world. Play too much Tetris and everything around you starts to look like blocks and slots; play too much Civilization V and the whole world becomes a hexagonal grid. You have, in a way, reprogrammed yourself. The Witness is the first game I have encountered that plays with that sensation – that takes the way a player
locks themselves into a frame, exploits it, subverts it and then breaks it. The setting of The Witness is an island – a peaceful and attractive island, with a surprising variety of climatic zones, from blossom-filled orchard to red desert and snowy basalt peak. The player is, it seems, alone. While there’s an immense variety of multi-chromatic flora, no fauna can be seen, although it can sometimes be heard. The island’s structures – starting with that fort – are almost all semi-ruined, but it’s a tame kind of ruin, sometimes featuring the sort of modern walkways and improvements you see in prim, well-maintained European heritage sites. The place has a pleasure-garden, touristy feel, as if it is set up for a wedding party or a posh festival. In some parts there’s evidence of recent archaeological work. But there’s also a sculpted, deliberate feel to it – particularly when it comes to the statues, which are human-scale and sometimes caught in troubling, violent poses. Are they statues, or people, petrified by a mysterious catastrophe? It’s reminiscent of Portmeirion, Clough Williams-Ellis’s extraordinary, enormous folly-village in Wales – delightful, whimsical and profoundly sinister. Like all pocket utopias, Portmeirion is a dystopia-in-waiting, needing only the slightest shift in the light to be pitched into darkness, a quality that made it the perfect setting for the TV series The Prisoner – that classic of 1960s paranoia, in which it became… an island. The Prisoner, The Witness… Could that be significant? Possibly. Because the player of The Witness soon learns that everything is significant. That first run of puzzles, shunting dots around mazes, quickly nudges the player into the game-space, and the pretty landscape recedes. The player’s thought processes are all about finding screens, finding the starting point of the maze, finding the exit. Coming up against the first apparently impossible puzzle is infuriating. It’s possible to guess one’s way ahead, or brute-force it when there are only so many possible solutions, but eventually you come to a point where you realise you have to know exactly what you are doing right in order to figure out what you are doing wrong. And then you look up from the screen… It has already been remarked
by online reviewers that The Witness is a hard game to write about, because to describe the way it works is to spoil the moment of discovery. And that moment of discovery is so sweet that no one who has experienced it wants to spoil it: in a lifetime spent playing computer games, always with contentment and sometimes with high emotion, I can count similar moments of outrageous joy on one hand. This makes reviewing the game something of a tease and I apologise for that. But step back to the first really difficult puzzle. Exploring a little further along the same path takes the player to a glade and in that glade are two sequences of screens that carefully teach the rules the player must follow to complete the big puzzle correctly. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was also being taught a lesson about the broader workings of The Witness: if you get stuck, look around you. Break out of the game-space – or, better yet, bring everything else into it. In the words of the great science broadcaster James Burke, “The key to why things change is the key to everything.” What brings those words to mind, I can't say. If this all sounds a bit “there is no spoon”, that's just the kind of philosophical musing The Witness invites. Blow has spoken in the past about “unethical” and “ethical” games, telling game-makers that their job is not to simply to get people to play, but to get them to play for the right reasons. A game can be popular because it is mindless and repetitive, because it provokes addictive behaviour and continually defers its rewards. Or it can be popular because it is genuinely rewarding, and stimulates and expands the player’s thoughts, rather than restricting and channelling them. The question “can a game be a work of art?” is inherently sterile, because it invites fruitless comparisons and useless categorical wrangling. A better question is “what can a game be?” The Witness provides a truly great answer: like walking out of a tunnel, into a garden. The Witness by Thekla, Inc is now on general release.
Towards a Critical Mass Words Aileen Kwun Photographs Guido Vitti
At 89 years old, Jane Thompson is known for many things, not least her stint as the founding editor of pioneering design magazine ID. Thompson once described herself as “an architect without a portfolio”, a phrase that is wryly apt to sum up a lifetime of work that has defied simple categorisation.
a four-year supplement in Interiors that had been fruitful, albeit slightly premature. As the story goes, Whitney revisited the venture at the behest of designer George Nelson, who argued for the discipline’s impending significance in society, culture, and business. “Industrial Design was on the back burner, and nobody had ever seen the timeliness of it,” says Thompson. “George sort of woke up and said, ‘This is it; now is the time for Industrial Design.’ He knew, because he was in the field and was actually doing it. So they concocted it. Whitney chose me and I said yes, on the condition that I have Deborah Allen as my co-editor, and John Pile from George’s office. He said, ‘No problem, whatever you need.’ Except money – no money,” she jokes. “I can tell you they never paid us for any photograph we took ourselves, which we often did. We were such a dry bone!” Six months later – in February 1954 – and on a shoestring budget, Industrial Design launched as a bimonthly (later monthly) magazine. From the start, the title was marketed as a trade publication for practising industrial design professionals, yet there was an autonomy to the editors’ approach that also established it as a platform for critical writing. As non-designers well-versed in art history, literature, and journalism, Thompson and Allen grappled with an emerging culture of mass-produced objects. These carried with them “an anonymous, or group-oriented expression of the 20th century in terms of practical needs – which is not by all the people, but at least for the people”, as Thompson wrote in ‘Evaluating Industrial Design’, a 1958 article for a women’s trade journal. Far from developing moral judgments or a formal rubric of good and bad design as the basis of their explorations (as prevailing modes of design discourse had tended to do), Thompson and Allen drew on their personal experiences as well-educated working professionals and mothers. This informed, pluralist approach provided practical insight into a market that was increasingly driven by a domestic female consumer base. “It was a long period of war-living and then recession-living; we all woke up and it was a whole new world,” Thompson explains. “Then suddenly the whole thing flowered.” “They saw the role of design in mass manufacture and its impact on everyday life as ripe territory for their own literary exploration,” notes the design historian Alice Twemlow in a forthcoming book on 20th-century design criticism. “Allen and Fiske
From the large converted loft of a former shoe factory in Cambridge, Massachusetts, today Thompson helms Thompson Design Associates, an urban-planning firm that has revitalised large-scale civic projects ranging from Boston’s Faneuil Hall to Chicago’s Navy Pier and Manhattan’s Grand Central District. “I feel longevity proves something,” says Thompson of her nearly seven-decade career in the field, as well as the fact that, by sheer virtue of scale, many of her recent projects have entailed long-term commitments. “It’s not easy to make things that last anymore. I like the idea of longevity if you can manage it.” A young art history graduate of Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, Thompson (then Fiske) landed in the design world in 1948 when she took a job in the architecture and design department of MoMA, New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The department had been founded 16 years prior as the first of its kind. As noted by the architecture critic Mark Lamster, “The museum in those postwar years was a kind of epicenter of architectural culture, a regular stop for distinguished practitioners and thinkers.” Thompson entered through the secretarial pool, typing up letters for the department’s director Philip Johnson, before replacing her mentor and friend Ada Louise Huxtable as assistant curator when Huxtable embarked on a Fulbright scholarship in Italy. When Johnson hired the curator Arthur Drexler in 1950, Thompson left MoMA to take up Drexler’s newly vacated post as the architecture editor of Interiors magazine, before going on to co-edit and launch Industrial Design in 1954. Industrial Design, known variously over the years as International Design (as the scope of design became increasingly globalised) and then simply ID, was the first specialised American publication on the topic. Although it proved a relatively short chapter in her lengthy career, Thompson’s five-year tenure at ID gave rise to a new mode of American design criticism: one that documented and advocated for the discipline’s importance in an increasingly consumer-driven, postwar landscape. “It was lots of fun,” Thompson recalls. “There were no immediate precedents – we knew literature and art and all the other things, but this was a whole new time. We were dealing with it and we knew it; we were right on the frontline of something that was about to happen.” Charles E. Whitney, the publisher of Interiors, already owned the rights to the title Industrial Design, having registered it a few years previously for
“When we wrote about pots and pans, for example, we didn’t write about how pretty they were, but pointed out which ones worked well and heated up faster, or had a better handle. We evaluated the actual performance; we didn’t do it scientifically, but we used the damn thing.”
Inside Jane Thompson’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Thompson runs Thompson Design Associates located nearby.
conceived of the entire project of editing the magazine as a form of criticism.” Neither avoiding aesthetics, nor assessing designs by appearances alone (as many fashion-driven interiors magazines had been in the habit of doing), Thompson and Allen considered a wide range of factors: function, ease of use, and the application of manufacturing techniques and materials in terms of a design being both a tool and a reflection of its user. “I’m acting like the customer, the user: I think that’s really been the motto of what I do,” says Thompson of this approach, which has characterised her work ever since. “When we wrote about pots and pans, for example, we didn’t write about how pretty they were, but pointed out which ones worked well and heated up faster, or had a better handle. We evaluated the actual performance; we didn’t do it scientifically, but we used the damn thing.” Informative diagrams, considered photoessays, visual taxonomies, and long-form features on complex subjects were presented with nuanced, in-depth reporting and a lively journalistic tone that was
inspired in part by the photography-driven pages of generalist weeklies like Life. “We wanted what we were doing to be beautiful and dramatic and wonderful,” recalls Thompson. “We worked very hard and did a lot of research; these weren’t puff pieces by any means. That was the way it was: if you came in and had ideas, it didn’t really matter what background you had. We hired historians, as well as architects, to write for us.” Several articles also addressed the general malaise industrial designers felt at being misunderstood as mere stylists, while nevertheless acknowledging that this formed a substantial part of the roles of many working in the discipline. To wit, the October 1955 issue reported on the booming automotive industry in Detroit, Michigan, the epicentre of what the high-culture elite vilified as the creation of over-styled variations solely in the name of planned obsolescence. Yet the co-editors developed a lyrical way of describing automotive body design in technical terms, if not for its function, then certainly for the aesthetic sense that played
a significant part in the user’s experience and commercial demand. As part of the issue, Thompson wrote a long-form piece on General Motors’ head of design Harley J. Earl (including an illustrated storyboard detailing his role in the corporate chain), highlighting him as one of the first executives appointed to such a role. Meanwhile Allen, initially sceptical of the automobile industry, had begun to understand its pervasive appeal. In a 1957 review of a Buick, detailing the aerodynamic flourishes of the car’s body, she marvels: “The driver sits at the dead calm center of all this motion; hers is a lush situation.” With regular features on the latest material innovations, essays and excerpts from lectures and books, curated product stories in a recurring column titled ‘Design From Abroad’, and an annual design review that collected and showcased selections from a pool of submitted product and furniture designs, the magazine was in-depth and far-reaching. Brightly illustrated centrefold features tended to dissect a significant typology of industrial machinery, such as a lengthy story on tractor design Thompson wrote for the second issue, in April 1954; accompanying her feature were colourful drawings from an aspiring commercial illustrator, Andy Warhol. Other features included essays on the changing landscape of office design, and the dissolving boundaries between kitchens and dining rooms, which ran alongside meticulous visual documentations of appliances and designs. Triggered by increasing US involvement in international trade shows, a February 1957 cover story titled ‘Design as a Political Force’ matter-of-factly observed: “These commercial fairs on foreign soil provide point-of-sale display for the American way.” Issues from ID’s debut year list Thompson and Allen as co-editors, with few other names on the masthead – an indication of the magazine’s humble and short-staffed beginnings. Alongside John Pile, the magazine’s technical editor, was the associate editor Marilyn Silverstone, who later became a renowned Magnum photographer. But the publication also counted Czech-American graphic designer Ladislav Sutnar, father of the modern infographic, as an early and frequent contributor, with Sutnar offering close visual lessons in decoding signage, logos, letters, and symbols in everyday products and urban settings. The first three issues were art directed by Alvin Lustig, an all-star of graphic design and typography, while John Gregory Dunne – literary critic, novelist and,
later, husband of writer Joan Didion – also had an editorial stint at the magazine. Aline B. Saarinen and British design critic Reyner Banham were among the names gracing ID’s early bylines, and the writer Ralph Caplan (who became a longtime collaborator of the Eameses and Herman Miller) joined in 1957. Caplan became editor in 1959 when Thompson transitioned to a consulting role and moved to Vermont for educational initiatives and to raise a family with her husband, the architect Ben Thompson. The magazine’s launch was met with anticipation from its niche target market, and was quickly lauded for its lively journalistic approach. Word of the publication’s imminent appearance had already spread, prompting Thompson and Allen to run a letters page (all of which were invariably addressed to “Sirs”, a telling indication of a male-dominated industry) from the first issue. Among the well-wishers was the designer Peter Muller-Munk, who wrote, “There has always been a very real need for an authoritative publication on industrial design; and if the high standards of Interiors are taken as a guide, the publication should be an excellent one.” Despite its positive reception, the magazine always stood on tenuous financial grounds, right up until its demise in 2009. The broad buying power of its niche trade audience – upon which its print advertising model depended – remained ambiguous over the years, even as the magazine’s scope and readership broadened and earned the acclaim of several National Magazine Awards. As Ralph Caplan wrote at the end of the title’s admirable 55-year run, industrial designers “did not often specify products[…] Although an industrial designer might specify that a product be made of aluminum, he was not empowered to choose Reynolds or Alcoa.” Yet even newer (and perhaps more nebulous) than the concept of a publication devoted to industrial design and its agents was the development of a critical genre of writing and reporting that centred on this. Caplan and Thompson are two of the unwitting pioneers of the mid-century period who have gone on to inspire following generations to continue the tradition. “It is not the business of the magazine to act as critic,” wrote Thompson in the July 1957 editorial of ID, in a presaging acknowledgement of design criticism’s uphill battle. “The editorial effort itself is a critical one.” Nearly 60 years later, the convictions of her efforts still ring true. E N D
Brightly illustrated centrefold features tended to dissect a significant typology of industrial machinery, such as a lengthy story on tractor design Thompson wrote for the second issue, in April 1954.
Jane Thompson and Deborah Allen’s editor’s letter: ID Volume 1 Issue 1 Feb 1954
The trouble with taxis… We start the New Year, and the new magazine, with a quotation from another publication. Roused by New York City’s unexpected blessing of an abbreviated, space-saving taxi, a recent issue of the New Yorker opened with the thought that a taxi is, after all, a delivery vehicle on a pleasure car’s chassis; a short taxi retains most of the old ills and adds the discomfort of cramping. The trouble with taxis, the New Yorker spokesman proffered, as with most human affairs today, is design. Now a properly designed taxi should have… and he proceeded to write an excellent program for the redesign of the taxi. Literally transcribed, the plaintiff’s ideal cab would resemble the sketch: short, high, roomy – not so much a limousine as a delivery truck. In the course of this outburst, the New Yorker hinted at a pretty good definition of an industrial designer: He’s not so much a stylist – a man who slaps jumbo grilles and speedlines on another fellow’s chassis – as a skilled and critical taxi-rider, professionally fitted to give a roadworthy chassis a body worthy of human occupation. We break with the New Yorker on just one point: They say it is for citizens and city fathers to arise and demand a sensible cab. As far as we’re concerned, it is up to the designers, the professional partisans of the taxi-riding (and Jeep-riding) public, to do the arising (not while the vehicle is in motion, please). And the revolt should originate, not in a literary publication, but in a professional magazine dedicated to the efforts of designer and industry to serve the public’s needs. Needless to say, INDUSTRIAL DESIGN hopes to be that professional magazine, and we hereby dedicate ourselves to those problems and all the men embroiled in them. For us, the design profession includes everyone who has a hand in shaping the products of industry for human consumption. The best way to serve a mature profession, as we see it, is not to offer advice but to explore the problems these men face, and report the information they want and need. This first issue is our best advocate. One story, for example, reports on how an independent designer won a free hand with – of all things – a passenger car. For those concerned with human comfort and welfare, Richard Neutra explores some cushions of a basic sort – biological ones. For those who feel the profession is underrated, we examine the broad design policy of the Vere Company, which perceived that though design is a good salesman, that’s not the only good of design. Detachment from well-grooved thoughts and views is fundamental to design today; Feininger’s close-ups refer to nature for a new approach to structure, while a report on plastics shows what happens when an unfamiliar material is shaped by untraditional thinking. That taxi at the top of the page – it just sketches the problem. Like the New Yorker, we count on you
All editor’s letters reproduced with the permission of FW Media.
to give it shape. —the editors.
Jane Thompson and Deborah Allen’s editor’s letter: ID Volume 1 Issue 2 April 1954
If you took yourself a pie… ...about the size of the American economy, and cut yourself a wedge equal to all the things that are designed, or should have been designed, or could have been designed, you’d have quite a slice of pie. Who are the designers that managed to get a finger in this pie? This is a ticklish question, but in view of our – and everybody’s – stake in those designers, we shall try to give a realistic answer. The case of a can-opener may go like this: The designer is the president of the company, who invented the product, raised the money to put it on the market, and took The Risk; Or the designer is the president’s wife, who has a Flair; Or the designer is the president’s son, a Harvard graduate who finds himself in can-openers but much prefers Kandinskys; Or he’s the chief engineer, who knows how to make things Work; Or he’s the sales manager, who has tested things and just Knows (in graph form); Or he’s an art school man who can slick things up to Please the Public. So the president decides thus, and the engineer works it out so, and the sales manager says no, and the president’s wife insists, and the president’s son gives a critique, and at the eleventh hour the designer is allowed to add a few fleet-footed details of his own. This is really pretty wonderful. The more people get worked up about design, the happier we are. But a talent for designing can-openers is not, of course, a natural corollary of being a president; running a company is quite a job in itself. Neither does a spectacular sales record qualify one as a designer – an oracle is not necessarily dogged by a muse. The engineer knows plenty about design; he designs something so it works. But when he feels he must adjust working parts to a salesman’s graph of a workingman’s dream, he is likely to join his own opposition. “Designing” a can-opener, or a building or a package can no longer consist of a last-minute flourish of pen and pastels; it is a serious business which works from the inside out, from the bottom up. It is more than enough to occupy a full-time person with training and experience – a professional. Whether he is a staff man, a whole department, or a hired consultant, he knows how to get along with the engineer, accountant, president, and public, too. We’re for the professional. We’re for the president, too. He’s 100% on the beam in his jealous regard for the design of the can-opener. So is his executive staff. They should care – if only because it’s the surest way to get the best designer to do the best job; the surest way to be competent judges of the finished product; the surest way to get more pie. Perhaps because they’ve found it pays in pie, more and more companies are admitting the designer to the inner policy-making circle. Which brings us full circle. Who IS the designer? The president and his staff each knows what he requires from the design of a can-opener; the designer knows what everybody wants, and how to give reasonable shape to this lump of abstract ideas. Ideally, then everybody gets into the act – the role he alone knows best. That is why INDUSTRIAL DESIGN is not written for designers only; or for design executives only. It is written for everyone with a rightful finger in the pie – may it mean more power, and more pie, to them all. —the editors.
Jane Thompson and Deborah Allen’s editor’s letter: ID Volume 1 Issue 3 June 1954
What’s your line? The design profession is like any other profession in one respect – it has a name. This doesn’t tell you what it’s about, though, and the first thing a businessman wants to know is, what does a designer do? That should be easy – a businessman does business, a designer does design. Business has been with us long enough so that everyone understands the businessman’s line. It’s not so obvious with design. Not long ago, while wondering how best to define “design,” we fell into a discussion which seemed to add up to a good definition. Three upstanding members of outstanding design offices were at hand. When we raised the innocent question, “Why should a manufacturer want good design?” their replies went something like this:
Mr. A: “If a design is any good, it sells better.”
ID: “Bad design seems to sell pretty well too.”
Mr. A: “As long as the designer is hired by a man who’s in business to sell, the design that sells is a good design.”
Mr. B: (impatiently): “Let’s admit that any design that could be better isn’t really good. IF it’s successful, it probably hasn’t met real competition.”
ID: “How do you persuade a client that the design you think is better is better?”
Mr. A: “If it’s any good at all, you can explain it logically in practical terms – cost, tooling, convenience, sales appeal, and what have you.”
ID: “You can explain everything you do?”
Mr. B: “Well, explanations go just so far. To read some design case histories about the problems that are solved, you’d think the designer was Edison; yet the final product may be ugly as sin - and may not sell so well either.”
Mr. C: “Look at it this way. With every nice new design contract you get a horrid list of terms – call them limitations. Half the job may be meeting those terms. Still, the other half is pure personal choice. You must have three knobs and they must be molded plastic, but it’s your business to shape them and relate them so that the whole thing makes sense. That gives you an awful lot of room to make or break a design.”
Mr. A: “Exactly – and here’s where you separate the sheep from the goats. Many people wouldn’t know how to work without limitations – they let them dictate the whole design. Take a washing machine: it’s got to be big and white with a door in one place, and it’s probably made with dies that can’t be changed. Anyone can figure out what to do with those limitations – shift the controls around and throw some color on the nameplate – but a good man may transform it into a knock-out.
Mr. C: “There’s one job that only a good man can do, though, and that’s the one with no limitations. When someone says, ‘Design me the best washing machine you can – make it any way you want, as long as it’s good,’ the designer meets his test. No use worrying about that, because most manufacturers aren’t interested in putting us to the test – so far.”
ID: “How can you get a client to let you do a good job?”
That’s where the meeting broke up. Though the last question was left up in the air, we’re prepared to venture an answer: The job of putting across a good design is not just up to the designer, it’s up to the businessman too. There are no easy rules on either side. Just as the designer has cultivated the ability to design, the executive must cultivate the ability to choose, and use, his designer well. —the editors.
Jane Thompson’s editor’s letter: ID Volume 2 Issue 5 October 1955
Never heed a mother’s good advice We happened to overhear a lawyer the other day, addressing some friends of ours who had blithely and unaided talked themselves into a serious legal tangle before yelling for help. “I wish,” he said, with an understandable note of ennui, “that people would realize that Law is not a do-it-yourself profession.” We took note of this fee-less advice without consulting our lawyer, for it seemed safe to apply it to certain other service professions whose services, for lack of visible equipment, seem temptingly easy for the layman to emulate. Doctors need forceps as much as wrestlers need biceps; housemovers need winches and jacks; tailors need Singers (as much as singers need tailors) and dentists, at a minimum, need a good length of string. But designers, like lawyers, lack the kind of tools that circumscribe their trade. Admittedly, any designer does well to equip himself with a sharp pencil and a couple of sharp draftsmen, but his real tools are portable and largely invisible. Logic, perception, vision, imagination – some people find it painfully extravagant to purchase commodities that are inedible, unwearable, or unnegotiable. One of the prime talents in business is the talent for being a Client. The Unimaginative wouldn’t dream of it; the Arrogant wouldn’t dare; the Skinflint would probably spend great sums to avoid outright payment for anything so flimsy as advice. Only a Client will acknowledge his own limitations by investing in someone else’s ability to overcome them. The talent for being a Client is eclipsed only by the talent for being a Good Client. Accountants prefer to have things precise; Salesmen are reputedly partial to things saleable; Business Managers are understandingly attached to the status quo. But a Client is Good precisely because he is none of these things. His ceiling is unlimited, and his demands are unlimited, and he knows he gets value in the form of values larger than his own. A Good Client would never be caught advising a designer in the way Mrs. Rickenbacker advised her son Eddie, while he was an air squadron leader in France during World War I: “Dear Eddie, if you must fly, please fly slowly, and close to the ground.” —j. f. m.
Jane Thompson editor’s letter: ID Volume 4 Issue 3 March 1957
demand VERSUS supply Is there a solution to the self-defeating pattern of industry’s annual school search for design personnel?
Spring is the traditional Open Season on Seniors. Personnel scouts from all corners of industry pack up their glowing job opportunities and head for campuses, seeking scientists, engineers, business graduates and – more and more in the past few years – designers, too. In all these fields today, employers find themselves competing hotly for talent. But what is worse, most of them are stealing talent from themselves. The good old law of supply and demand breaks down when the preoccupation with current demand starts to dry up the source of supply. And the scramble for design talent has begun to take this ironic twist: employers are not just competing among themselves; they are competing with the very schools they rely on to provide their annual quota of designers. The promising design graduate of 1957 will have his choice of jobs at starting salaries that often exceed what his instructors earn – or probably ever will earn, unless they abandon the classroom. As the director of one school’s design department put it recently, “Every time a student interviewer comes around, I’m terrified I’ll lose an instructor. And viewing what they have to offer the boys,” he added wistfully, “I’m half afraid I’ll begin to be tempted myself.” Teaching, of course, has always attracted people with other than monetary incentives. Thus if the incentive to teach design is withering today, it can’t be blamed on the salary situation alone. Nor can it be solved by the educators alone. There are fewer and fewer good teachers of design, in a period when more and more are critically needed, because design teaching has been made less glamorous than the practice toward which it aims. Employers’ attempts to buy away teachers is both physically and psychologically self-defeating: it conveys the profession’s low regard for the profession it depends on. Almost every professional area has suffered from this exodus. Some of them – science and engineering most recently – have been forced to find ways to equalize the rewards of preaching and practicing. Such solutions are never easy or ready-made, but some of the steps taken in other fields suggest what might be done. These are only a few measures that are within the reach not only of industry but design offices that recognize the need to correct this trend – in their own interest as well as in the long-range interest of the design profession: 1) T he teaching endowment – which means establishing a chair or professorship at a given salary – costs the endower no more than one extra man on the payroll; it allows the school to pay a top man the salary he might normally earn in the business world. 2) A corollary method of endowment – one with hazards but also possibilities – is for firms and offices to free selected designers on their payroll for a given number of teaching hours. 3) A method favored by schools that receive general endowment, from industry or from individuals and alumni, is to have donors earmark a specific part of such funds for instructors’ salaries, to assure the improvement of teaching along with plant and equipment. Whatever methods are devised to boost design teaching incentives, employers would do well to ponder their part in supporting them. Shouldn’t it be possible for their personnel scouts to harvest the campuses this season without laying waste next year’s crop? —j. f. m.
Jane Thompson editor’s letter: ID Volume 4 Issue 4 April 1957
critical horseplay To get an opinion, write an opinion. Dispute the necessity if you will, but we know now that it’s true. This department is always on the lookout for good virile opinions to spark our daily mail. We’ve printed a good many opinions of our own, always weighing both sides of the question, but recently we ventured one into print that had nothing but conviction to back it up, and it worked like a magnet. We referred to the appearance of one small TV set (January ID) as “the most interesting” of the current group. Straightaway a reader penned a view that may be shared by many others: “It is not,” he opined, “the business of the magazine to act as critic.” Now critics are not unaccustomed to criticism. In the stormy history of literature and art criticism, they’ve received even more than they’ve given, which makes them not only less blessed but possibly more broad-minded. Yet amid all the brickbats hurled at critics by men like Francis Bacon (“They’re like brushers of noblemen’s clothes”) and Charles Kingsley (“Critics lie, like saumon fry, to make their meal of you”), none bothered to challenge the critic’s right to pen his painful opinion. It seems possible that artists have accepted opinions not merely as inevitable, but as essential to a subjective endeavor. Whistler knew a man was always free to take issue with another man’s opinion: he sued Ruskin for libel for equating his art to “throwing a paintpot in the public’s face.” Oscar Wilde insisted that “an age without criticism is an age in which art is immobile, hieratic, confined, or one that possesses no art at all.” Samuel Clemens, in a more sportive mood, observed that “it is difference of opinion that makes horse races.” In today’s commercial horse races, criticism has on occasion proved itself commercially useful. More than one out-of-town critic has helped save a loose-limbed play from a Broadway fiasco. But if the tradition of criticism survives in journalism, it is not just because a few sharpened pencils lash conscientiously at what is presented to public view. The New York Times, surely the nation’s most respected newspaper, today presents its news reports as a series of by-lined articles. Why? To make clear that the man who objectively writes facts cannot write the facts, that the man who reads views may learn something from those with whom he least agrees. For the editorial effort itself is a critical one: not even the Journal of Nuclear Physics can be edited by automatons. And where’s the consolation to the designer? Every practicing designer knows that his work is never a yes-or-no proposition, that design does not spring ready-made from sales charts. His hardest job is to be his own audience and most severe critic – preferably at an out-of-town opening. It is here that a magazine edited for him – continually studying his work and his problems – can be of some service. By expressing considered opinions and evaluating our motives for having them, the editors of INDUSTRIAL DESIGN hope to offer not only the news that each reader needs, but one set of views to help him form his opinions and examine his motives for doing what he does. If written opinions stimulate thinking, then to our view everyone’s ahead. After all, it’s not guesswork but practiced judgment that keeps you at the horse races. No doubt all horses are equal (to paraphrase several people) but some horses are still more equal than others. —j. f. m.
A Modern Material Words Takamasa Kikuchiâ€‚Photographs Julia Grassi
Ichikawadaimon is a peaceful countryside town two hoursâ€™ drive west of Tokyo in Yamanashi Prefecture, an area known for its 1,000-year history of washi-paper making. It is home to nine smallscale makers that together produce 40 per cent of the washi used in Japan for shoji sliding doors. Traditional methods of making and application are the norm here, but Siwa represents the area at its most innovative.
Hand-sewing washi at a workshop in Yamanashi Prefecture.
Over the past two decades, the Japanese consumer market has been flooded by cheaply made products from China and other developing countries. Local manufacturers have tried to compete, but they have so far been unable to win the price war, leading to a decline in the national importance of craftsmanship. Craft in Japan risks being forgotten. To fight this decline, a new approach to revitalising craftsmanship has emerged in recent years: established international product designers have been invited to work with Japan’s remaining craftspeople in the hope that contemporary design might revitalise the field.1 British studio Barber and Osgerby drew on the heritage of Japanese lantern making for its Hotaru range in 2015, creating double bubble washi-paper lanterns in collaboration with Gifu province’s Ozeki, a company founded in 1891; similarly, Dutch designers Scholten and Baijings created tableware for artisan porcelain manufacturer 1616 Arita Japan in 2012, before mobilising another 15 contemporary design studios to take part in Arita’s 2016 project, a bid to connect traditional ceramics with the international design world. All three projects have been based upon the idea that a unison of craft with contemporary design benefits both disciplines. Something similar has gone on domestically too, with results that may eventually prove richer. In 2008, the washi paper manufacturer Onao teamed up with Japanese product designer Naoto Fukasawa to set up the paper-product brand Siwa. Now fully established, Siwa has become a pioneer of the movement to reinterpret Japanese craft heritage. “Rather than just working with existing traditional craftsmanships as they are, sometimes innovation in material development can enable me to design beautiful products which are relevant for everyday use for our current life,” says Fukasawa. Siwa is part of Japan’s centuries-old washi paper tradition, but it distinguishes itself with its use of Naoron, a pioneering type of tougher, more versatile washi. Unlike the Hotaru Lanterns and 1616 Arita Japan porcelain, Siwa has reinvented traditional craft techniques to create a contemporary product, rather than simply using original techniques to produce new artefacts. Siwa was founded by the Ichinose family, which has been involved in washi in Ichikawadaimon for centuries and which established Onao in 1974 to produce washi for Japanese calligraphy and shoji. As shoji spread from domestic use to public buildings, however, a more durable washi was required, leading to the invention of Naoron. Naoron is highly resilient, the result of introducing synthetic fibres into its composition, but it retains traditional washi-making methods. Unlike washi, it is resistant to water, tearing and discolouration, and can be shaped into desk accessories, shoes, hats and bags capable of holding up to 10kg. Ai Ichinose is a third-generation member of the Onao family business and joined the company in 2005 when she began working as a sales assistant in Tokyo. “During my time as a saleswoman I became convinced that we needed a new product that would fit with the modern lifestyle of a younger generation, including myself,” she recalls. “Our in-house product designer was trying hard to develop a new range, but with little 1
A full exploration of this phenomenon may be found in Disegno No.4.
Sample products on the shelf at the sewing workshop used by Siwa.
Siwa has reinvented traditional craft techniques to create a contemporary product, rather than simply using original techniques to produce new artefacts.
Rolled washi at the paper-making factory.
Siwa has reinvented traditional craft techniques to create a contemporary product, rather than simply using original techniques to produce new artefacts.
success.” At the same time, Ichinose’s father – Yoshinori Ichinose, the president of Onao – had a chance meeting with Naoto Fukasawa at a conference at the Yamanashi Design Centre. An idea was hatched. “Naoto grew up in our local area in Yamanashi Prefecture and his products were popular with a variety of generations. He was known for his minimal and contemporary design style and so we believed that he was the best person to design our washi-paper products,” says Ichinose, who together with her father visited Naoto’s studio in Tokyo with an offer to create a new range. “When Onao offered me the chance of designing a washi-paper product, I was interested in paper as a material,” says Fukasawa. “I thought that Naoron in particular was an attractive material to use.” “At the first meeting we introduced ourselves and Onao to Naoto,” says Ichinose.” We told him about our idea of a new washi-paper brand that was more suited to contemporary life and supported by a younger generation. This is the only brief we gave him.” Fukasawa’s first visit to the paper-making factory led to an inspiring discovery. Handling Naoron and exploring its properties by touching and rubbing it, he saw a crinkled effect emerge. “The beautiful crinkles reminded me of a brown-paper grocery bag,” he says. “I used to use this bag for packing my lunch box every day. The more the bag was used, the more crinkled and charming it became.” Thus, Siwa washi paper was born. It was a characteristic that embodied the beauty of ordinary usage for Fukasawa, who decided that Siwa’s first product would be a durable and high-quality paper bag for everyday use. The name Siwa is itself a play on the Japanese words for wrinkle and washi (shiwa and wasi, respectively). Two kinds of Naoron were developed for the launch of Siwa: Soft Naoron is made from a mix of wooden pulp and polyolefin, while RPF Naoron – a thicker, more durable paper for Siwa’s larger products – uses polyester fibres from recycled plastic bottles and textiles. The brand wanted to engage with the washi tradition, but it simultaneously wanted to reshape preconceptions about the material. To achieve this radical recalibration of washi, several production methods had to be invented, starting with adhesion. Gluing is the most conventional way to construct paper grocery bags, but also the least durable. Stitching proved to be more resilient, and was eventually settled upon, but nonetheless created production difficulties. “Stitching paper is unusual and therefore it was difficult to find a workshop to do it,” says Ichinose. “I talked to all the stitching workshops in Yamanashi Prefecture and managed to find two.” The paper is cut to shape – press-cutting machines are used for straight lines, while curved patterns are cut by laser – and then stitched together. This is difficult work given that Naoron does not stretch and so requires a high level of accuracy. Post-stitching, the paper has to be turned inside out to give the crinkled effect that originally captivated Fukasawa. So crucial was this process that the company produced a “crinkle sample chart” for the workshop staff. “We tried to use a press machine to make the crinkles but they did not look attractive,” says Ichinose. “So we decided to do it by hand, which is why our crinkle sample 180
Quality inspection at the washi-paper factory.
The pressing process to squeeze water out of the washi.
chart became an essential tool for the workshop. Crinkles by hand are always individual. This is the beauty of Siwa products.” Once these assembly and texture issues had been resolved, a new problem emerged. “Two design elements make Siwa special and unique in comparison with other washi paper products,” says Fukasawa. “One is the innovation of Naoron, the other is its colour.” Washi’s traditional hand‑dyeing process is not difficult, but there was no precedent for achieving the colour balance and high saturation that Fukasawa specified for Siwa. Pre-orders quickly began to stack up and the laborious dyeing process meant the workshop struggled to keep up with demand. Instead, Fukasawa turned to spray colouring as a more time- and cost-effective method, and one that could also produce the high colour saturation that differentiates the brand’s designs from the more delicate colouring of traditional washi products. When Siwa launched in 2008, it did so with 20 utilitarian products that included a square handbag, a document envelope and a pen case. This inaugural range set a template for minimal and pared-back everyday designs, yet the brand had plans for expansion. Collaborations to date include a pouch with the perfumer Le Labo. A greater challenge, however, remained. “I always had the idea of a patterned range at the back of my mind,” says Ichinose. “We designed a bag with a silk-printed pattern in collaboration with 10 Corso Como in Milan, but silk-printed washi is very common and so did not interest me. We started looking for a unique way of printing patterns on our own products. We found urushi lacquer.” Both paper and lacquer share a long history of production in Yamanashi Prefecture, but printing urushi lacquer on washi is rare. Urushi was originally used to stain deerskin, the rough, dented texture of which is suited to holding the dye, but washi’s smooth surface demanded a new treatment. Fukasawa developed a method of scoring indentations into the paper to hold the lacquer, but then the company encountered another challenge: “This printing technique is unusual and I could not find a local lacquer workshop to work with,” says Ichinose. “I contacted lacquer workshops all over Japan and finally found one in Nara Prefecture.” While Yamanashi is in Japan’s Chūbu region, Nara is in neighbouring Kansai. A full year’s development followed before the team discovered a printing method that could combine urushi with Naoron. In 2014, the new collection – Siwa x Urushi – launched with two patterns, with more following in 2015, executed in collaboration with the Finnish designers Harri Koskinen and Klaus Haapaniemi, as well as Akira Minagawa from the Tokyo-based fashion brand Mina Perhonen. The collection was a good example of Siwa’s attempts to encourage material innovation while maintaining faith in the processes and quality of heritage crafts. The brand wants to regenerate Japan’s craft, but not at the cost of losing its ethos of self sufficiency, small-batch production and preservation of local design sensibilities. It is a balancing act that is nowhere more evident than in Fukasawa’s role as a director of the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum in Tokyo, an institution that holds a collection of 17,000 handcraft objects from all over Japan. Fukasawa’s duty as director is to preserve not just objects, Process
Naoto Fukasawa at his studio in Tokyo.
“I am not interested in traditional craftsmanship itself but in the way innovations in material development can enable me to design a beautiful product which is relevant for everyday use.” —Naoto Fukasawa
but also their methods of craftsmanship. The museum was established 80 years ago by Sōetsu Yanagi, leader of the mingei folk art movement, and in 1977 both the directorship of the museum and the leadership of mingei passed to his son Sori Yanagi. Sori was an internationally renowned product designer and pioneer of Japanese industrial design (responsible for the Butterfly stool for Vitra, which combines Eastern forms with the plywood moulding techniques of Charles and Ray Eames). His background in design and its production influenced his relationship to craft. Contrary to the founding idea of handmade mingei crafts,2 Sori explored a new meaning for the mingei movement in an era of modernised production. Sori argued against sentimentalising beauty, stressing the importance of mingei as a movement that would evolve in parallel to wider society. In particular, he pointed out similarities between the Bauhaus and mingei movements: the functionality of their products, the way they allowed materials to dictate form, and the importance of precise production techniques. “I try to create things that we human beings feel are useful in our daily lives. During the process, beauty is born naturally,” he noted in a 2002 interview in The Japan Times. It’s a mission statement relevant to both craft and industrial design. Since succeeding Sori at the Folk Crafts Museum in 2012, Fukasawa’s relationship with mingei and design has cemented this ideology of his predecessor. In partnership with British designer Jasper Morrison, Fukasawa devised Super Normal, a 2006 exhibition, publication and ideology that espouse a concept very similar to the “anonymous design” so beloved of the mingei movement. “Mingei is the ordinary craft of anonymous craftsmen and its beauty stems from everyday life,” says Fukasawa. “I believe that mingei and the products I design share the same philosophy, one that endeavours to create things with aesthetic beauty which can be used on a daily basis. I am interested in the enduring principles that people pass on from generation to generation. I adopt these principles to design a product which supports an ever-changing modern life.” By reinventing the two traditional Japanese materials of washi paper and urushi lacquer, Siwa’s products are a direct reflection of Fukasawa’s design ethos; a vindication of his belief that contemporary design can push the relationship between innovation and craftsmanship forward to establish links between the past, present and future. E N D 2 Speaking at a 1952 potters and weavers’ conference in England, Sōetsu Yanagi had specifically set down that mingei “must reflect the region it was made in; and it must be made by hand”.
A collection of products executed in Naoron (photographs courtesy of Siwa).
Lead character Rey in The Force Awakens. All photographs ÂŠ 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd & TM. All rights reserved.
Star Wars: Episode VII â€“ The Force Awakens Words Ilona Gaynor What do the lightsabers, Sith masks and Stormtroopers of Star Wars reveal about a franchise built on objects, fandom and merchandising?
I am a thoroughly dedicated fan of Star Wars. I wasn’t born when the first instalments of George Lucas’s trilogy were released in theatres, but at the tender age of seven, sitting on the floor, legs crossed and side-by-side, my brother and I were initiated. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens is one of the longest-awaited films by the largest number of fans in cinema history. As a story, as a world, as a cultural artefact, it sits firmly rooted in its fan culture. So much so that J.J. Abrams’s direction of the film has been ardently questioned by critics and fanzines for being too reminiscent of, if not a direct replica of, that of Lucas’s first creation, Episode IV – A New Hope. And they’re right: it is similar. But upon viewing, it seems this may be more of a commentary on Abrams’s taking emphatic measures to erase Lucas’s much disdained prequels: a welcome attempt to return to the familiar. In doing so, The Force Awakens has brought back not only the plot, but also the original visual language of the Star Wars universe. Tactile in its design, it recalls objects and scenery of the past, evoking a nostalgic sense of coming home. The film (of course) starts with John Williams’s upbeat theme, accompanied by the horizontal yellow type scrolling into the distance – carving up the ongoing battle of good and evil. The Force Awakens takes place some years (it’s not clear exactly when) after the events of Return of the Jedi and follows Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young scavenger on a quest to not only find power through the awakening of the Force, but also to return a precious piece of information to the newly formed Resistance. Throughout her journey she encounters not only old characters – Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) – but also a fresh-faced cast of new ones. These include BB-8, loyal droid to the Resistance, and Finn (John Boyega), a renegade stormtrooper of the First Order, this film’s substitute for its predecessors’ Empire. We are also introduced to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Sith warrior and servant to the First Order. Even in the earliest teaser trailer, the reveal of Han Solo was introduced with the line “Chewie, we’re home”. As pointed out by the critic Mark Kermode in The Observer, Abrams has taken the
series “back to its roots while giving it a rocket-fuelled, 21st‑century twist. As always with this director, the film feels very physical, scenes of dogfighting TIE fighters and a re-launched Millennium Falcon crashing through trees possessing the kind of heft so sorely lacking from George Lucas’s over-digitised prequels.” In this sense, the film could be defined as an object with a physical character of its own. Abrams likewise plays with our attachment to the objects we surround ourselves with in the way he crafts it. The film was shot on celluloid rather than digital, a medium with few remaining advocating directors
the same visual properties of films from the 1970s (from modified contrast and sharpness drop-offs, to accurate colour mixes of 70s lens coatings), granting The Force Awakens a warmer feel than is typical in today’s cinematic aesthetic. The process took months of trial and error, the end result of which was described by Mindel as a contemporary, but classic look that “will definitely affect the audience in a subconscious way”. Again, it was perhaps a nod to reinforcing the need to return to something genuine and familiar in the film’s physicality by not solely producing digital imagery.
BB-8 is a new BB unit astromech droid who appears in The Force Awakens.
(Christopher Nolan, Sam Mendes, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson being the chief proponents). The final production was shot on a combination of 35mm and 65mm Imax footage, yet when Abrams first approached cinematographer
Throughout Star Wars’s legacy, its props have always been steeped in fascination, designed with rich tactile qualities and an acute sense of detail towards the universe they embody. Dan Mindel, his aim was to use the same lenses as in the filming of Lucas’s original trilogy to resurrect its look and feel. But technology had moved on; given the advances in digitised intermediaries, film stock and visual effects, this proved impossible. However, motion-picture equipment specialists Panavision stepped in, offering to custom design and fabricate lenses that would give
Throughout the film, particularly on the desert planet of Jakku, we are reminded of this. Scattered across Jakku’s dunes are vast battleship graveyards – presumably relics left over from the fallen dynasty of the Empire – featuring everything from decommissioned Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, to X-wings and fallen AT-AT Walkers (one of which Rey has made her home). Watching these sequences, which are shot from a great height and distance, I couldn’t help but respond to the toy-like scales embodied in these images, giving the sense that these are discarded Star Wars toys left in a sandbox for 32 years since Return of the Jedi, now ready to rise up again. But toys, artefacts and merchandise have always been an important part of cultivating the cultural consciousness of the Star Wars franchise. These objects enable us to bridge the gap between the fictitious Star Wars universe and our own reality (not to mention giving Disney a return on its $4.05bn purchase of Lucasfilm in 2012). Often manufactured at a one-to-one scale, these toys give
children (and adults) the chance to act out the roles of their heroes or show their undying allegiance to the franchise. The most prominent to date is, of course, the lightsaber. Who can pick up a toy lightsaber without making the vvshhhvoom sound? Designed by Lucas in 1977, the lightsaber is a distant cousin to the raygun, an object embodying years of sheer cult, swashbuckling phenomena. Yet it has since transitioned beyond its sci-fi origins, so much so that it may be appropriate to begin classifying it as a contemporary household object. Upon writing this article, I did a sweeping Google image search for “lightsaber”. Most of the images that surfaced depict scenes in mundane domestic settings. Often children are wielding some form of lightsaber (officially merchandised or not), or else the object is displayed in various degraded conditions throughout the home: hanging off a television screen, on the kitchen counter, in the dog’s mouth, or discarded on a carpeted floor. Despite the object’s abstraction – its factual lack of function – its fictional presence has transcended the two worlds. It has become a readily available item: able to be purchased in petrol stations, hung on keyrings or placed on supermarket shelves, displayed in corner shops and toy stores – a presence that spans the 32-year gap between films.
Inherent in the object’s design is its colour, denoting which side of the Force the weapon sits: red for the Sith (dark side) and blue for the Jedi (light side), a vocabulary so familiar (not unlike the trademark vvshhhvoom sound) that it almost becomes an indicator as to the owner’s fictional political preference. Two prominent characters within The Force Awakens are also somewhat defined by the objects they carry. Rey’s destiny to become a Jedi is set upon finding Luke Skywalker’s lost lightsaber, and Kylo Ren’s weighted mask is designed to block out the positive effects of the Force, in homage to Darth Vader’s iconic mask. Both objects have a historical presence within the larger Star Wars narrative, making them not only integral to the plot, but also to the deeply rooted fan culture. Throughout Star Wars’s legacy, its props have always been steeped in fascination, designed with rich tactile qualities and an acute sense of detail. The Force Awakens proves no exception, backed up by the readily available volumes of published literature and fan infrastructure – Star Wars: The Visual Dictionary and the freely accessible Wookieepedia being the two most prominent resources – that document the film’s vast index of props, costumes, weaponry and ships. One particular
Sith warrior and First Order servant Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) with stormtroopers.
C-3PO (Anthony Daniels).
standout item is Rey’s bartered food supply, described in the dictionary as “ration packs, salvaged from the New Republic and Imperial military kits”. The ration pack is a vacuum-sealed hexagonal disc split down the centre, dividing dehydrated powders of VegMeat and Polystarch. Activated by water, the ingredients swell and grow, the Polystarch forming the most beautifully articulated puffed bread roll that cinema has ever offered. More surprising is its design. The bread was a practical effect shot in camera, which is to say without the assistance of CGI. “It started off with the mechanics of getting the bread to rise and the liquid to disappear, but then there was the ongoing problem of what colour should the bread be? What consistency should it be? Should it have cracks in it? Should it not have cracks in it?” special effects supervisor Chris Corbould told MTV News. “It took about three months. The actual mechanics of it was [sic] fairly simple, but the cosmetic side took a lot longer.” But despite this object (among others) being seemingly incidental, it plays a significant role in the film, in that it embodies the tactile in‑camera spirit that Lucas’s first trilogy set out to achieve. The release of A New Hope arguably defined a pivotal cinematic movement, when visual and special effects started to come into their own, beginning with the formation of Lucas’s own effects behemoth Industrial
Light and Magic. It’s a point that Abrams wants to remind us of. As a consequence, recipes for Rey’s bread have begun to pop up online across Youtube and culinary blogs, documenting fans’ attempts at replicating its consistency in all manner of technical experiments. Whilst not forgetting The Force Awakens’s established origins, Abrams has also set out clear definitions of evolution and indicators as to how the forthcoming films may grow systemically through their design. While the visual language of the Rebellion (now called the Resistance) has remained largely unchanged, that of the Empire (now the First Order) has changed somewhat. With a fresh coat of slicker, blacker and more powerful paint, we see notable new weaponry and a more prominent hierarchy of stormtroopers. Objects in their own right, the stormtroopers in Lucas’s original idea depicted an aesthetic that leant towards riot gear; sketches drawn by concept artist Ralph McQuarrie depicted stormtroopers carrying shields and lightsabers. While Lucas, for whatever reason, eventually moved in a different direction, the sense of riots lingered in the troopers’ timely stomps and rattling of plastic armour heard echoing around the hallways of the Deathstar. However, even in light of such an idea, the stormtroopers always came across as somewhat feeble, ineffective soldiers in spite of their volume. In The Force Awakens, Abrams revisits this idea, perhaps with the intention of evolving the First Order into a more powerful adversary through the design of new weapons, ships and armour; even the stormtroopers’ physiques appear far bulkier, with more defined silhouettes. A more notable introduction is the Z6 riot control baton: an electrified riot stick held at its base by a single-handed metal grip, which is designed to be swung a full 360° towards any unruly assailants, electrocuting them in a manner somewhat reminiscent of a combined sick stick and vortex cannon from Spielberg’s Minority Report (2002). Alongside the step-up of the First Order is the final obstacle, Kylo Ren. Whilst the charismatic forces of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones/David Prowse) are left firmly in the past, Ren is nevertheless a descendant of Vader and a Jedi trained under Luke Skywalker
(Mark Hamill), and consciously mirrors Vader’s presence in both posture and style. Through his design, Ren becomes the embodiment of conflict and, not unlike Vader, is given aesthetic force as an archetypal, mythical figure: a villain defined by how inhuman he appears to be. Once described by Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) as being “more machine now than man”, Darth Vader could have been described as an object in and of itself – and, if not an object, then certainly as some form of industrially designed man with his vac-formed definitions, stiff upper-body posture and pneumatic breathing device augmenting his famously terrifying voice. Equally, it is the objects associated with Ren – his shrouded cape, weighted steel helmet and red lightsaber – that initially tell us everything we need to know about his character. When the first trailer was released there was a strangely loud uproar of speculation – not about the film itself, but about the geometry of Ren’s lightsaber. Unbeknown to the audience at the time, Abrams’s aim was to design Ren’s character in reference to the ancient religious teachings of the Sith. His lightsaber is red (denoting his basic allegiances) and set in the shape of a cross, with its three fields jagged in their movements. According to the dictionary it is “crudely assembled and designed to mirror its ancient design,
unstable in its power”. Presumably the implication is that Ren himself has fashioned this implement from the plans of something pre-existing. His helmet and mask are designed to project his voice, in a similar form and wavelength to Darth Vader’s. Battered black steel, with a distinctly radiated eyepiece, Ren’s helmet and mask communicate their obvious lineages: not only Vader’s appearance but also a broader crosssection of the 1970s sci-fi aesthetic. The film’s design is present in every way, the beauty being that much of it goes largely unnoticed in the eyes of the viewer. The Force Awakens – and no doubt the same will be true of the films that follow – is embedded in a precise infrastructure of pre-existent knowledge. But whether you are new to the franchise or an established fan, you’ll find that Star Wars’s visual language is constantly being developed despite its 2015 reawakening. I don’t think Lucas or Abrams would have wanted it any other way. The erasure of the prequels has begun, a new generation of fans is being initiated. The cult of Star Wars continues. Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens will be available on DVD and Blu-ray from 18 April 2016.
The Millennium Falcon in a dogfight with TIE fighters.
Preserve, Erase, Destruct A roundtable with Janna Bystrykh, Ekaterina Golovatyuk, Rem Koolhaas, Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, and Stephan Petermann, chaired by Shumi Bose. Roundtable
Shumi Bose The Cronocaos exhibition seems like a time when OMA felt prompted to look at preservation and make a statement about it. How did that project come about? Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli It was a moment when the office was actively working on preservation. Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice had already begun and the Hermitage had started a couple of years earlier in 1999, so there was experience within our practice. In parallel to this, there was an interest in the theoretical and political aspects of it that Rem and I had started to discuss and which had grown through a few years of research and practice. There was also an encounter between Rem and Francesco Bandarin, who was then the director of UNESCO's World Heritage Centre, which prefigured a lot of the research. At the time, UNESCO was revising its manifesto for historical centres, because the consequence of World Heritage Site status had been the museumification, or the touristification, of cities
Ever since the architects OMA curated the Cronocaos exhibition at the 2010 Venice Architecture Biennale, preservation has become an intellectual and practical concern in their work. OMA explored the concept as part of an ongoing project at St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum and recently unveiled two major projects that further develop the theme: Fondazione Prada in Milan and Garage Museum
An early concept collage of Fondaco dei Tedeschi
of Contemporary Art
in Venice, which opens later this year.
in Moscow. Fondaco dei
around the world. It was starting to understand what we can do with historical centres in order to make them evolve, as opposed to just turning them into open-air museums. Shumi Let’s talk about this idea of preservation leading to a kind of stasis. The Italian architect Aldo Rossi had a statement about permanent pathological monuments: is this something that you have to negotiate in the cities you work in? Stephan Petermann I think this may be the case in the Russian projects, perhaps because there is a lot of heritage there. But this is also a romantic ideal
Tedeschi in Venice is next. Here, five members of the OMA team1 discuss the issues around preservation. 1 Janna Bystrykh, associate; Ekaterina Golovatyuk, architect; Rem Koolhaas, co-founder; Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, partner; and Stephan Petermann, associate.
A model showing the courtyard view
Images courtesy of OMA.
ofÂ the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.
construction site in winter 2016.
Photographs Delfino Sisto Legnani.
An image of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi
“We all have experiences of Venice, but there’s practically nothing original in them: the degree of artificiality is extreme and the level of authenticity low, even
The roof taking shape at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi construction site in spring 2015.
in the most historical buildings.” —Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli about heritage that is instilled in Rem’s mind and which is particularly triggered at the Hermitage – the idea of keeping a deteriorated condition. Ippolito The ruin state. Ekaterina Golovatyuk At the urban scale in Russia, there was a very interesting discussion that was not about preservation, but about public space, which is a linked concern. Public space has changed with the growth of the market climate, which drives gentrification by increasing the value of cities and real estate. Basically, cities are changing from being places of excitement and danger – much more unexpected and contrasting conditions – into Truman Show situations. This also has to do with preservation: trying to freeze a certain state that doesn’t necessarily represent a real condition of the city. Shumi But in Moscow there are many layers of history to negotiate, right? What were the discussions around which layers of history to preserve? Ekaterina Traditionally, Russian history – and particularly Soviet history – was about looking at the past and picking certain moments that were important for the regime to justify a particular feeling. That’s a common policy in preservation. But all history is important, so you have to think of strategies that let you read the different layers, rather than selecting one over another. Nonetheless, you need to do that in a way that doesn’t create stasis. Ippolito Until 40 years ago our conception of history was rather linear: an accumulation of signs and
matter. It stopped being linear when we wanted to preserve whole chunks of cities or monuments. In the case of the Fondaco, Venice was one of the first cities listed as part of the World Heritage programme. It’s now an open-air museum and that transformation has happened internally too. We all have experiences of Venice, but there’s practically nothing original in them: the degree of artificiality is extreme and the level of authenticity low, even in the most historical buildings, or so-called historical buildings. The city is transforming; it’s just that you don’t see it explicitly. Shumi So it’s a lot to do with perception? Ippolito When you see any historical building – unless it’s an ultra-famous monument where they have incredibly strict preservation regimes – the management will have implemented modern standards, systems and security. That’s a radical level of transformation. For instance, the interventions we are doing in the Fondaco are rather modest, but if you visited today the level of transformation you would see to implement those modest visible upgrades is extreme. The majority of the electricity system is under the courtyard and a huge concrete box has been excavated in order to host all the technical parts. The structure had to be transformed and consolidated through major concrete interventions, but when the building is finished you will almost not see those. Shumi Was that imposed by the city? Ippolito No, it’s a part of the project. The interventions we want to show are very clear, which is common to a lot of our work. What is new is clearly new. However, there is a level of transformation that you cannot show, but which is happening anyway. The concept of total style is artificial in my view.
“The modernist struggle for complete honesty has infiltrated the ideology of preservation to the bone.” —Stephan Petermann Janna Bystrykh That’s very important. There’s actually a kind of hypocrisy in that large transformations are deemed possible, providing that the original appearance remains. Stephan This is discussed in architectural history and building preservation. It runs down to a romantic modernist notion of the authentic: showing and exposing what is real. If you’re making an upgrade, or an update, you have to show it, which is part of the aura of how modernists looked at preservation. The modernist struggle for complete honesty has infiltrated the ideology of preservation to the bone. Ippolito The degree of strictness of preservation regimes that you find in historic cities is really high. The opportunities to transform are much more limited, but there are multiple examples of interesting transformations that happen anyway. What is beautiful about preservation is that you are relieved of the burden of leaving your own mark and time on the city. You think about the organisation of the building or about how you can make it functional in a new way; you shift your mindset towards other problems. Something Rem said on many occasions about the Fondazione Prada was that he felt relieved at not having to make another spectacular building. Ekaterina Although it was spectacular. Shumi He said that at the opening of Garage as well. At that time, I was grading my students and said to Rem, “Listen, I can’t tell them, ‘Just be modest and preserve things.’ They want to make shapes in the same way that you spent years making shapes.” There’s a kind of conflict between the creative urge and… Janna But there are different types of creative urge. (Coming from a previous meeting, Rem Koolhaas walks into the room.) Rem Koolhaas Is this where it’s supposed to be? (Laughter.)
The gold leaf-clad haunted house at Fondazione Prada. The restorers applied the leaves one by one.
Shumi How are you? We were just talking about preservation and having a few minor arguments about what preservation is, or could, or should be. We were just getting there. Stephan We were talking about the conversation you had at Gorky Park about how students want to make shapes, and to tell them to be modest is… Shumi Not something they will accept from their history tutor. Stephan But we were beginning to argue that there is actually a lot of creativity in modesty. I think that the gold leaf cladding at Fondazione Prada is a perfect example. Rem Actually, the gold was to proclaim that it was not about modesty. Maybe the word “modesty” is not right. It’s rather a kind of ambition articulated through different means and interventions. The only way in which “modesty” is appropriate is by confronting the world with a more personal articulation of the architect.
Fondazione Prada in Milan, 2015. The “beam”, cladded in aluminum foam, hovers over the building of
Left page: photograph Delfino Sisto Legnani; right page: photograph Bas Princen.
Model of the Fondazione Prada site at a former distillery in Milan. The tower, which is still under construction, will open later this year.
moments where it would’ve been easier – and more understandable for everyone – to demolish it and build the same thing from scratch, but because of the Gorky Park regulations we couldn’t build anything new. So this regulation made us keep working with the existing building and try to shape it into a museum. For the construction company, the most logical thing was to destroy it and build something new instead. Rem Let me try to give a five-minute history. I’ve always been incredibly interested in Roman architecture in Italy and I’ve always been fascinated by the Italian way of preservation, which is not to restore, but rather to preserve ruins and to make them accessible. You count on the effect of ruins to convey the previous cultures. If this happens on the scale of, for instance, Rome, then that's the greatest and most honest form of preservation. Even before becoming an architect, I spent a lot of time in Pompeii, which I found interesting because it’s an entire city and so the most trivial aspects of its existence are completely accessible alongside the most important. That was a subconscious model that I carried with me. Shumi Is that when you made the great leap forward? Rem From my own hang-up with modernity it became possible to become a preservationist because I could see that preservation was acting as part of modernity. That was the initial moment and subsequent to that, we wanted to apply this Roman idea of the ruin to the modern age. Shumi To allow decay to take place?
Installing the inaugural show Serial Classic in Fondazione Prada’s Podium.
Shumi What do you mean? Rem The reason preservation became necessary for me is that it represents a domain in which there are limits to what an architect can do in terms of personal statements. It limits the extravagance of the new architecture; it’s a way of managing expectations and a form of stepping out from what seems an obligation. Shumi But deciding which things to preserve and which things not to is quite a strong statement. For example, there were discussions in Cronocaos about the fact that we can’t preserve everything. So deciding to preserve a particular pavilion in Gorky Park, for instance, must have felt strange to some people. It wasn’t a very spectacular thing to preserve. Ekaterina It was something like a found object. It felt so natural there as a kind of exhibition space; something that was already a ruin. Rem It was not necessarily a decision to preserve it, but it became an opportunity for us to demonstrate an argument that had been an important part of Cronocaos. Within the enormous apparatus and infrastructure of preservation, a near industry of preservation, there are decades that are excluded from it almost worldwide: the architecture of the 70s, 80s and 90s. It fell into our lap to demonstrate this. Shumi Was there any confusion or opposition from the local culture about why you were preserving this thing? Ekaterina There was no opposition, but there was some difficulty in understanding. There were interesting
The entrance to the Podium under construction
This spread: photographs Delfino Sisto Legnani, illustration OMA.
at Fondazione Prada in spring 2015.
Rem Yes, which is a very inconvenient, implausible thing to do because it involves arguing against the criteria of excellence: the historical value of beauty or monumentality. These are things that are typically used for preservation, but which are actually counterproductive for creating situations that are recognisable for later generations. Shumi There was a statement earlier about wanting to preserve slices of history. So the ugly with the beautiful and the good with the bad. Rem The implication would be that you don’t even use the word “ugly” anymore, but that you make preservation a record of all development at a particular time. Shumi Let’s talk about the telescoping of time. At one stage, what you preserved had to be a certain distance away. But that distance has become ever shorter, so now we’re having debates in London about whether to preserve things that were built in 1987.
Rem The interval between the present and what we preserve is becoming smaller and smaller. So with Cronocaos, it had to be a proactive activity rather than a retroactive one. Ippolito One of the cases that we explored and showed in the exhibition was OMA’s own Maison à Bordeaux. It was declared a national monument only two years after its completion in 1998. Rem We have our own questions about the built substance of today and it deserving to exist for 40 or 50 years. There are reasons for preservation, but we also want to put the issue of destruction or erasure on the agenda. If there’s no real pressure for things to exist, then it would be a relief to get rid of them, because maintaining things is an enormous financial and conceptual burden. It’s a whole archipelago of issues that come together. Ippolito In Italy, some buildings are sold to the private sector, which lets them reach a point of decay that is basically not reversible. It’s actually cheaper and
OMA’s Maison à Bordeaux was made a national monument only two years after its completion in 1998.
faster to tear them apart, even if they are under some kind of preservation order. This is typical, for example, of the navy factories around Italy. They’re falling apart because it is too expensive to keep them up to standard. Shumi I find myself grimacing at the idea of these factories falling into decay and I’m trying to understand why. If they’re not being used or they’re not viable for use, then why should I be upset that they won’t be there? But that leads to UNESCO’s idea of intangible cultural heritage. It’s not just about material ways of life: it’s about what these things embody. Ippolito It’s part of the same obsession. Why should we preserve Turkish oil wrestling or Chinese acupuncture if we have lost other practices or languages? Shumi So what is it then? Is it fetish? Rem It’s a hesitation about modernisation, which is very legitimate. I found it very interesting that intangible cultural heritage happened, because it was an admission that heritage was shifting from
a practical to a political domain. What UNESCO has offered is an equal right to history, sometimes to the point that history has had to be declared, or discovered – or maybe even fabricated – to do justice to that. I don’t think UNESCO is complicit with the market economy; it’s more that the market economy is able to translate and turn everything to one conclusion. Ekaterina In Barcelona there are very famous examples of squares being reconstructed, or refurbished, which then led to the increase in value of the real estate around them. A transformation from a lively historic centre into something very upper class. Shumi Gentrification. Rem “Gentrification” is the word that has always been used, but I think it’s something new. It’s not to do with gentrification, but a completely new form of overuse or wear and tear. Preservation means that there is going to be a completely destructive pattern of intense loss through tourism.
“From my own hang up with modernity it became possible to become a preservationist, because I could see that preservation was acting as
Left page: photograph Hans Werlemann ; right page: diagram courtesy of OMA.
part of modernity.” —Rem Koolhaas Ippolito Overuse of buildings and overflow through cities that are not prepared to host millions and millions of tourists. So you start seeing protection of areas where you cannot walk any longer, whereas five years ago you could walk there. You have millions of tourists eroding old pavements. Rem Preservation is an interesting lens through which to look at the most immediate effects of modernisation. In other words, if you want to know about modernisation, you should not look at Norman Foster buildings; you should look at the way in which ships in the last five years have been transformed into floating socialist housing schemes. It’s all part of an enormous radical change. Ippolito Norman Foster’s buildings – or any kind of huge towers – are the most technological buildings. But preservation is a very pure domain, where chemistry, mechanics, and a lot of very sophisticated techniques come together. Think about the fluids developed to hold very, very old stone: they are injected into the stone and have an extremely sophisticated composition. Rem It’s like an oil slick: it encompasses everything. Look at the restoration department of a museum: they x-ray a painting and before you know it there’s a theory that the painting is not actually the “real” painting. Ippolito When we did a 3D scan inside the Fondaco, we found out that 98 per cent of the building was built after the end of the 19th century, even if the building is supposedly 15th- or 16th-century. Shumi Like Theseus’s ship: if every piece of wood is replaced after a number of years, is it the same ship?
Rem Which might be the ultimate paradox. In the end you may have to return to the Asian form of preservation, which includes destruction: to rebuild something and treat that as a new embodiment of an idea. That’s something we have never really been able to accept. Ekaterina The discussion centres on the Western form of preserving early-20th-century buildings. When you preserve a 1920s building, it is important to preserve the appearance, which was a kind of manifesto of what it should be. That is not the same as a Roman ruin. Shumi When I went to Moscow I saw the Melnikov House, which was completed in 1929. They’re now having discussions about which point in its long, chequered life to restore it to. Rem And do you know what they decided? Ekaterina They want to take it back to the original and take out all traces of life. Janna Konstantin Melnikov designed that house to be adjusted over time: the windows could come in, the walls could come out, it could be shifted. There is something very strange about this notion of turning it into a perfect house. He built it very cheaply, but then you invest this amount of money…
A slide from Cronocaos presenting the different legislations related to preservation in the context of modern inventions.
Ekaterina This is an interesting point related to modernist structures, which weren’t even meant to last. They had a kind of expiry date. So that raises a big question. Ippolito It’s a paradox. There is an idea that buildings are built to last for less and less time, but there is also research into trying to make materials last longer. There is research into making concrete last longer
The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art under construction in Gorky Park.
Rem In this particular case, the layers of regulations made it practically impossible to preserve it. These days, we face a situation in which, for every stage of use, a building has to be adapted to new regulations. For everything that we wanted to preserve at Fondazione Prada, we had to excavate four layers down to get all the pollution out of the soil, for instance. It was industrial, therefore polluted, therefore excavated, therefore blah blah blah... It became almost impossible to realise the very simple effort of reusing existing buildings. Shumi But wasn’t that the overarching desire: to reuse as much as possible; to keep as much as possible intact? Rem It was an assumption that many of the things there could be used for different purposes in a good way. That wasn’t really a principle, but rather something based on our observation that there was a number of unique spaces that you could never create with new architecture. It was a strategy to introduce and extend the vocabulary and repertoire of different
Left page: photograph courtesy of OMA; right page: bottom photograph by Vasily Babourov, courtesy of OMA, top photograph courtesy of OMA.
than stone, for instance, while of course the flows of the market economy require a life expectancy for buildings that is shorter and shorter. Ekaterina Garage is interesting in terms of its preservation of concrete. Originally it was a prefabricated building, so all the elements were industrially produced and are still produced in that same way. But there was also a statement from us about wanting to preserve something from that period. Many people think that those buildings have no value, but we think they do. Because of the restrictions in Gorky Park, we couldn’t demolish anything, so in the end our interventions were standard reinforcement and repair. Shumi But there are projects with a short life span where inevitable decay is part of the narrative of the project. Ekaterina With Garage, we found that the building had already lost its facade, so there was no intention to reconstruct that, but we did build a facade so that this ruin could become a museum. We created a machine that enabled the existing part to function differently to how it did before. Ippolito I think it varies. The Fondaco sheds light on these paradoxes, in that you have a building which is considered historical, but is in fact a total fake. Yet because of the collective attachment to the building, it’s considered a monument. The typology and shape are historical, but its substance is absolutely not. The interventions there were mostly made in the 1930s, when the preservation culture was much more brutal than nowadays. They changed the original wood structure to a concrete one, which is something that would be almost impossible to do today; you wouldn’t have any kind of body that let you do things like that. With the Fondaco, we’re facing how cities try to conserve their heritage. Where we’re intervening, we’re actually unveiling the substance of the building. We’re showing how the building has been transformed over the years, especially in the 1930s. You could say there is a forensic attitude to our work. Rem The building that became Fondazione Prada wasn’t a monument, so there was no obligation to preserve anything. There was actually no discussion on the level of preservation. So I would say that project was reuse rather than preservation. Ippolito Or transformation.
A Soviet-era mural depicting the four seasons remains in the museum foyer of Garage.
“With Garage we found that the building had already lost its facade, so there was no intention to reconstruct that, but we did build a facade so that this ruin could
Some details of the building that houses Garage
become a museum.”
were preserved, such as this green mosaic tiling.
spaces. But there were no restrictions. I think we could have knocked the whole thing down and rebuilt. Shumi But the Hermitage, for instance, is obviously a very longstanding institution that has an agenda to preserve its identity. Rem What we did with the Hermitage was to intervene in that identity. We’re not intervening in the physical substance, but rather giving a different way of reading it that re-establishes clarity about the state of the building. At the moment, it’s one big space where you’re not quite aware of what you’re looking at. What we are hoping to do is cut it so that you begin to appreciate the different components – so that you see it not as real estate that is just used for art, but instead you recognise that originally one part was a palace, another part was stables, another a private gallery, another a museum. Janna It has always changed. Each building is a composition of many years, and many restorations and changes. Rem Consider the violence of the Hermitage’s history. In the last century, it has been a hospital, a depot, a space dedicated to Stalinist art. That is the weird thing about preservation: it almost suggests that history is a stable entity and doesn’t recognise constant change. But one of the many contradictions internal to preservation is that preservation means change. Ippolito By definition. Shumi I was going to ask you to unpick those terms: preservation and conservation. Stephan Every language comes with a different type of word, and the most interesting thing is that every language struggles and has a multiplicity of terms. In Dutch “erfgoed” is far more related to legacy or what is left behind, whereas “patrimoine” in French is more towards heritage. We use parallel terms, which simply indicates that the phenomena are so complex and badly defined that almost any term is right. Shumi In my language, Bengali, there isn’t a word for heritage because modern Bengali is only 200 years old. There’s no consideration for heritage or retention of the past. Going back to my hometown there are many places that I don’t recognise, because there isn’t a sense of something having been significant, such that we should keep it. Is wanting to retain certain moments of the past a kind of romanticism? Ippolito There was a lot of fascination for ruins during the Romantic period, much more so than
A research theme developed by OMA in conjunction with the Strelka Institute in Moscow for an educational programme focused on Russia.
This roundtable took place in the offices of OMA in Rotterdam in August 2015. END
Diagram courtesy of OMA
what we consider to be the obsession for preservation today, but I don’t think it’s to do with romanticism. Rem I would also say that preservation is not so much a form of leaving things to decay. The word “preservation” is much closer to reconstruction or to finding new techniques for maintaining something. Shumi What about the destruction at Palmyra and the very targeted destruction of sites by Islamic State? Do we have a responsibility to preserve those, or is it just romantic to want to preserve certain things? Rem The preservation of those sites may have coincided with the first impulse to preserve. The beauty of Palmyra is that it has survived, so I don’t think there has been a huge investment in its preservation. The reason that it is stunning is that so much of it survived. I’ve only had one screen saver in my entire life and it was from Palmyra. Shumi How strong is the global community’s obligation to enforce protection or preservation of these things? Rem I don’t know what we can do in the context of war, but the thing about preservation is that, by definition, it doesn’t leave things alone. It’s an active position that introduces a degree of artificiality. It intervenes in the course of history.
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Anemone light, Angold/Mackay (Directory maker Sarah Angold), lasercut acrylic, 2012
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204 COMMENT: THE SQUEEZED MIDDLE p. 48
Writer’s note: I hope that levulinic acid lives up to its potential, both for environmental and selfish reasons.
Jasper Morrison – jaspermorrison.com The Tsukiji Market – tsukiji-market.or.jp
Northwestern University – northwestern.edu
Writer’s note: Every now and then, a space-architecture project hits the world-wide interwebs that everybody and their uncle reports on. In previous scientific chapters I’ve developed a thesis about growing materials rather than shipping them to space, so I know the topic well. Writing theoretically about speculative-yet-somehow-doable projects (I call them “conceivable conjectures”) is a good point of departure when it comes to space architecture, as our chance of actually getting the schemes built are pretty slim. —Magnus Larsson
COMMENT: NEW MARTIAN CONCRETE IS OLD NEWS p. 47
Felipe Ribon – feliperibon.com MADD – bordeaux.fr
Writer’s note: Following on from our interview, Felipe and I decided to visit Maisons de Victor Hugo, the Paris apartments of the celebrated novelist. (I can’t really remember why, although I do remember being quite insistent that we do so.) Period rooms, the possessions of a dead man, a vast collection of charmingly pointless crockery arranged around a selection of charmingly pointless chinoiserie wall panels – Maisons de Victor Hugo was a surprisingly apt chaser to an afternoon spent discussing ghosts and the failings of functionalism. Also, entry was free. —Oli Stratford
Writer’s note: When I went back to the Tsukiji fish market in March to take more pictures, I wasn’t able get many. They’re now trying to stop foreigners coming in during the active period before 8am because the numbers are getting out of control the closer the market gets towards closing. —Jasper Morrison
PHOTOESSAY: THE MEMORY OF PLACE pp. 28-33
Adidas – adidas.com The American Institute of Architects – aia.org Assemble – assemblestudio.co.uk Balenciaga – balenciaga.com David Bowie – davidbowie.com BP – bp.com Burberry – burberry.com Christian Dior – dior.com Farrells – farrells.com Tom Ford – tomford.com Freedom 251 – freedom251.com Zaha Hadid Architects – zaha-hadid.com Tommy Hilfiger – tommy.com Lanvin – lanvin.com Lego – lego.com The New Zealand Flag Referendum – govt.nz/flag Open Architecture Collaborative – openarchcollab.org The Pritzker Prize – pritzkerprize.com Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners – rsh-p.com The Royal College of Art – rca.ac.uk Raf Simons – rafsimons.com Richard Sapper – richardsapperdesign.com Jonathan Saunders – jonathan-saunders.com Serpentine Galleries – serpentinegalleries.org Tate – tate.org.uk Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates – venturiscottbrown.org Virgin Galactic – virgingalactic.com Dominic Wilcox – dominicwilcox.com Y–3 – y-3.com
TIMELINE pp. 23-26
REVIEW: PHILODENDRON pp. 63-66
Arthur Arbesser – arthurarbesser.com Hem – hem.com
Designer’s note: It all felt very organised and clever at Hem, which was refreshing. Sometimes fashion is a very hard process to get to a certain outcome. But design, by contrast, seemed thoughtful and calculated. —Arthur Arbesser
OBSERVATION: ARCH BY ARTHUR ARBESSER FOR HEM p. 60
Fuseproject – fuseproject.com Kodak – kodak.com
Interviewer’s note: Yves Béhar was – as ever – very straight, courteous and to the point. The only exception was when he mentioned “digital satisfactions”: this prompted him to let out a little snigger. —Johanna Agerman Ross
OBSERVATION: SUPER 8 BY FUSEPROJECT FOR KODAK p. 59
PROFILE: GHOSTS AND OTHER FUNCTIONALITIES pp. 38-44
Felix de Pass – felixdepass.com Sweetdram – sweetdram.com
Tasting notes: More refreshing than I expected. Very “Christmas spice”, but lightened by a note of grapefruit. I can imagine it being very nice with some good ginger beer and lashings of lime on a hot summer’s evening. I drank it neat, on the rocks. —Andrew Jones, a friend of the editors and local soak
OBSERVATION: ESCUBAC BOTTLE BY FELIX DE PASS AND ANDREAS NEOPHYTOU FOR SWEETDRAM p. 36
Hay – hay.dk Inga Sempé – ingasempe.fr
Designer’s note: We had to pick the colours for the ribbons on the mirrors from an existing range, but we only ever saw them online, so selecting the colours became quite an uncertain process. —Inga Sempé
OBSERVATION: RUBAN BY INGA SEMPÉ FOR HAY p. 35
Elemental – elementalchile.cl Pritzker Prize – pritzkerprize.com Venice Architecture Biennale – labiennale.org/ architecture
Writer’s note: As I waited for my interview with Alejandro Aravena in Belgravia, I picked up the folder containing the texts for the 2016 Venice Architecture Biennale. Reporting from the Front, the title read, with “Rolex” just below it in big letters. Maybe that explains why I wanted and failed to pin down the current figurehead of activist architecture, for trolling if nothing else. Of course, he was exceptionally diplomatic and patient and agreed with all possible criticisms, in a manner I probably should have expected. On my way home I had some typical “wisdom of the staircase” where I realised what I had wanted to ask him most of all: “Why exactly should we want to adapt and build our own houses? I don’t!” But I suspect he’d have had a very smooth and dialectical response to that as well. —Owen Hatherley
INTERVIEW: SMALL MARGINS pp. 50-57
GF Biochemicals – gfbiochemicals.com
The thought of mid-level midfielder Mathieu Flamini being the herald of a brave carbon-free future is simply too delicious to pass up. It is the equivalent of Richard Fairbrass from Right Said Fred developing an economic policy that rights the iniquities of global capitalism, or a bumblebee resolving transnational organised crime. It must happen. —Oli Stratford
TRAVELOGUE: PORTO’S TEXTILE AWAKENING pp. 68-76
Unmade – unmade.com
Writer’s note: When thinking about flatness, the promotional website for the 2013 Spike Jonze film Her kept coming to mind (herthemovie.com). The site’s layering of moving gif and static image is poetic and eerie, an altogether different treatment of the medium than we see used for brash social-media memes. It was a perfect preycursor to the atmosphere of the film, projecting a world that is convincingly real but also otherworldly. —Riya Patel
COMMENT: THE FLATNESS OF UNMADE.COM p. 67
The Wolfsonian-FIU – wolfsonian.org
Writer’s note: This visit marked the first time I’d seen Miami not in full gale-wind Art Basel mode. The December fair brings a special kind of madness to the city, but it’s still a place full of odd surprises whatever the time of year. Standing outside the museum after seeing Philodendron, I heard a voice calling out my name; moments later, I was tackled right in the numbers by an old friend from New York I hadn’t seen in ages. He was on his way back home from the Florida Keys, on the first leg of a 22‑hour drive. —Ian Volner
Dolce and Gabbana – dolcegabbana.com
Writer’s note: A sign of quite how profitable Islamic fashion has become is its capacity to generate scams such as the International Muslimah Fashion Week, which was due to take place in Pennsylvania in April 2014, but cancelled as soon as the delegates arrived. Have you ever heard of a fake fashion week that has designers and bloggers fly in from around the globe for nothing? That’s what I call potential. —Leila Karin A. Österlind
COMMENT: DESIGNED IN A BUBBLE p. 78
Oculus Rift – oculus.com
Writer’s note: Originally priced at $350, the Oculus Rift now retails for $599 for the headset, with a $1,499 option for a kit that includes a PC powerful enough to operate Rift. The company apologised for this hike in cost, something of a regularity for products funded by platforms like Kickstarter where the complexities of developing a functional product are exposed and not always fully supported. —Tiffany Lambert
COMMENT: AT THE PRECIPICE p. 77
PROJECT: REFLECTIONS ON TRANSPARENCY pp. 97-112
Aeance – aeance.com Farfetch – farfetch.com Flor da Moda – flordamoda.pt Hugo Costa – hugocosta.pt Klar – k-l-a-r.com Mafalda Fonesca – mafaldafonsecabrand.com Estelita Mendonça – estelitamendonca.tumblr.com Portugal Fashion – portugalfashion.com Say My Name – saymyname.pt Wrong Weather – wrongweather.net
Daybed designed by Hella Jongerius, using a mix of printed, woven and jacquard fabrics by Maharam.
GALLERY: 19TH-CENTURY MODERN pp. 113-128
The Glass House – theglasshouse.org Grace Farms – gracefarms.org Sanaa – sanaa.co.jp
Writer’s note: It’s treacherous to try to describe how glass walls make people feel. So maybe Kazuyo Sejima’s tactic of not saying anything about those of Grace Farms makes sense. But it’s impossible not to smile when an architect begins her response to your plea for some hint about what she was thinking as she designed one of the most relentlessly transparent buildings since the Glass House (and practically right next door to it) by saying: “The focus was not so much on the transparency.” —Matthew Allen
Hello Games – hellogames.org Patterns – p-a-t-t-e-r-n-s.net Senseable City Lab – senseable.mit.edu Shape Grammars – shapegrammar.org Span – span-arch.org
Writer’s note: I realised that the world needed more cities like Porto when I sat down in a café on the banks of the river Douro last October. Sipping white Port, I watched the dark water and the city lights, and felt hopeful that similarly liveable and dynamic small cities might start to re‑emerge elsewhere. —Siska Lyssens
Writer’s note: Researching my review of The Witness, I discovered that Ultima V is available, for free, from archive.org, along with thousands of other MS-DOS games from the 1980s and 1990s. SimCity! Floor 13!
REVIEW: THE WITNESS pp. 161-164
Paola Antonelli – moma.org Arthur Arbesser – arthurarbesser.com Giulio Cappellini – cappellini.it Jaime Hayon – hayonstudio.com Hella Jongerius – jongeriuslab.com Alberto Meda – albertomeda.com Alessandro Mendini – ateliermendini.it Nathalie Du Pasquier – nathaliedupasquier.com Oki Sato – nendo.jp George Sowden – sowdendesign.com Patricia Urquiola – patriciaurquiola.com Marco De Vincenzo – marcodevincenzo.com Clemens Weissaar – kramweisshaar.com
Editor’s note: The photographs accompanying this article were taken by Disegno’s creative director, Florian Böhm. Those featured are only a fraction of the more than 6,000 images that Böhm took over the course of five hours, all of which were shot hanging out the back window of a taxi. —Oli Stratford
SPECIAL PROJECT: THE SPECTRE OF MILAN pp. 145-159
The Bahrain Pavilion – bahrainpavilion2015.com Fort Vechten – fortvechten.nl Maniera – maniera.be
Writer’s note: “Its pretty kinky, right?” says Dutch architect Anne Holtrop, as he leads me to the nuptial bedroom of Bayt Siyadi, an 1850s townhouse in Muharraq, Bahrain. The room, dedicated to the house’s newlyweds, would originally have featured a mirror along the ceiling. —Lemma Shehadi
PROFILE: REALITIES OF THE POSSIBLE pp. 136-142
Daniel Brown – danielbrowns.com CityEngine – esri.com/software/cityengine John Frazer – johnfrazer.com Greg Lynn Form – glform.com
Writer’s note: This feature came from a lifetime of playing video games that use procedural generation to create worlds, including Elite (1984), UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994), and Minecraft (2009). I wondered whether the underlying principles have ever had physical expression in design and architecture, a question that led me into a huge and diverse field that kept opening up, ever deeper and wider, and which made me realise just how much potential it has. —Alex Wiltshire
REPORT: THE DEATH OF THE AUTHOR pp. 89-96
Erdem – erdem.com
Writer’s note: When I popped in to the new Erdem store on South Audley Street, I made a serendipitous discovery: a blue plaque graces the neighbouring building informing passers-by that Constance Spry once used to have a shop here. It seems fitting that Erdem should be the quasi-neighbour of one of Britain’s foremost florists, with Spry having run her shop Flower Decoration in Mayfair from 1934 to 1960. —Johanna Agerman Ross
PROFILE: FICTITIOUS NARRATIVES pp. 80-89
Anne Holtrop – anneholtrop.nl
Architect’s note: My dream commission? To create a space or structure that responds to a specific artwork. —Anne Holtrop
GALLERY: BAHRAINI VERNACULAR pp. 129–135
Ayzit Bostan – ayzitbostan.com Erdem – erdem.com Jacquemus – jacquemus.com Magis – magisdesign.com Mary Katrantzou – marykatrantzou.com Miu Miu – miumiu.com Monika Brandmeier – monikabrandmeier.de Moroso – moroso.it Maharam – maharam.com Public Possession – publicpossession.com Dries van Noten – driesvannoten.be PB 0110 – pb0110.de Rochas – rochas.com Saint Laurent – ysl.com Vitra – vitra.com
Writer’s note: Charles Babbage, the inventor whose engines prefigured the modern computer, owned a special portrait. When guests came to Babbage’s home he would challenge them to guess how the portrait had been made. When the visitor almost inevitably said that it was an engraving, Babbage would smile before revealing the truth: it was a textile woven from silk. The man it depicted was Jacquard. —Joe Lloyd
Naoto Fukasawa – naotofukasawa.com SIWA – siwa.jp
Writer’s note: Ichikawadaimon has played a key role in paper’s history in Japan. The material was brought to the country by a Chinese monk, along with Buddhism, and the two were inextricably linked by the practice of Sutra copying, in which Buddhist texts were replicated by hand onto paper. As the location of numerous temples during the Edo period, Ichikawadaimon became one of the best washi-making centres in Japan. —Takamasa Kikuchi
PROCESS: A MODERN MATERIAL pp. 177–184
ID – id-mag.com
Writer’s note: To share a conversation in person with someone whose work I had read about in history books and archived back issues of ID was surreal and humbling. As a design writer and editor myself, I’m forever grateful to now count Jane Thompson as a colleague and a guru. She’s also the most stylish woman I’ll ever meet. —Aileen Kwun
HISTORY: TOWARDS A CRITICAL MASS pp. 165-176
The Witness – the-witness.net
Lemmings! Leisure Suit Larry! The 12-year-old me would have been stunned by such riches. But I suspect some things are better left as memory. —Will Wiles
Roundtable: Preserve, Erase, Destruct pp. 189–202
Star Wars: The Force Awakens – starwars.com/theforce-awakens
Writer’s note: The only hope in my mind whilst walking towards the cinema, having purchased tickets four months in advance, with seats located centre of centre, was that Hollywood would not fuck this up again. —Ilona Gaynor
REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS pp. 185-188
Alessi – alessi.com p. 12 Artemide – artemide.com p. 16 B&B Italia – bebitalia.com pp. 4–5 Bene – bene.com p. 46 Bocci – bocci.ca p. 144 Crafts Council – craftscouncil.org.uk p. 203 De La Espada – delaespada.com p. 25 Dornbracht – dornbracht.com p. 37 Downtown Design Dubai – downtowndesign.com p. 143 Elmo Leather – elmoleather.com p. 22
Sidney Williams wears a jacquard skirt by Balenciaga, accessorised with a jacquard bag by Saint Laurent.
Fondazione Prada – fondazioneprada.org Garage – garagemca.org The Hermitage – hermitagemuseum.org OMA – oma.eu
Moderator’s note: Getting several top dogs at OMA to sit down for more than two hours, I was repeatedly told, was already an historic event, and one that deserves to be “preserved”. Indeed, this conversation was a couple of months in the making. Until he walked in, we weren’t even completely sure whether Rem would be able to join us at all. —Shumi Bose
Emeco – emeco.net pp. 10–11 Etro – etro.com pp. 2–3 Flexform – flexform.it pp. 8–9 Gaggenau – gaggenau.com pp. 6–7 Humanscale – humanscale.com p. 62 Iittala – iittala.com inside back cover James Burleigh – jamesburleigh.co.uk p. 58 Laufen – laufen.com p. 45 Maharam – maharam.com p. 15 Maison & Objet – maison-objet.com p. 49 Modus – modusfurniture.co.uk p. 79 Molteni & C – molteni.it p. 1, inside front cover Moooi – moooi.com p. 20 Nomos Glashütte – nomos-glashuette.com p. 34 Saint Laurent – ysl.com back cover USM – usm.com p. 19 Vola – vola.com p. 61 Zucchetti – zucchettikos.it p. 27
The female fictions of fashion designer Erdem Moralıoğlu; a tour of Bahrain with architect Anne Holtrop; ghost stories about Milan’s industr...