Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Color Time

A little light on color lately.




Thursday, September 20, 2007

Not Such an Accident

*girl may have thought running into New Museum was an accident but I have to admit, I was looking at the museum's website a week before going to NYC. I did not, however, know the exact location so it was a surprise when we ran directly into it. The lecture given by Ryue Nishizawa, on the other hand, was a delightful coincidence. I attempted to see his partner, Kazuyo Sejima, twice last winter at the GSD only to have the lecture postponed and then canceled due to weather.

I first became acquainted with the work of Sejima three and a half years ago while working on my thesis project at Syracuse University. Between the works of Sejima and Herzog & DeMeuron, my fundamental ideas of what architecture is and how it functions changed significantly. The key word that ties all of this work together is atmosphere. When *girl wrote about the work she used the terms ephemeral, light, air and beauty. This all speaks to things that many imagine are outside the realm of architecture - until your fundamental idea of how architecture operates is changed.

When thinking of architecture as the creation of atmosphere, your focus shifts from the manipulation of walls and large architectural objects to the very nature of how you perceive those walls. You realize that you must choreograph these elements, make them perform, to manipulate the experience of the space. Then architecture is no longer about defining rooms but about designing spatial atmospheres that can transcend the built environment. "Atmosphere" is an all-encompassing vision of spatial experience, beyond spatial ideas and formal manipulations of space that preoccupied many traditionally modern architects. It is no wonder that the work of SANAA, Sejima and Nishizawa often have the most beautiful, simple and functional plans and forms - all because their time is spent realizing the intangible qualities of the world around us, harnessing them to create beautiful experiences and atmospheres which happen to be called architecture.

When I presented my thesis project, it was clear on which side of the line people stood when it came to asking the question "What is architecture?" I heard, "I don't get it, it's just a big open space with a bunch of columns, how is this architecture?" but I also had the leading theory professor whispering in my ear, "Your project is the only project worth looking at," meaning that at the very least I was challenging the concepts of what architecture could be.

I still can see it both ways. Maybe I would be more eloquent describing my project while trying to speak Japanese.

A few images of my humble thesis project:

Beauty in Translation

The architecture stars aligned a bit over the last few days for *boy and me. First we accidentally stumbled upon New Museum in NYC last weekend and then discovered that one of the architects, Ryue Nishizawa, was giving a lecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design (GSD) last night. I love coincidence.

Before running into New Museum on Saturday, I had never heard of Ryue Nishizawa or SANAA or Sejima. Not shocking given that I'm not an architect. But after seeing those little stacked, white boxes in the Bowery, I was very interested in seeing more work from this architect. There is something wonderful and refreshing about simplicity when its done right - in any form of design. It is an ephemeral quality, hard to describe but effortlessly recognized.

He shared 4 of his independent projects and 3 projects in conjunction with Sejima via SANAA, but my favorite part of the entire presentation was simply listening to him speak. I would describe his English as good but not fluent - his vocabulary and grammar limited to very simple words and phrases. You could tell he felt pressure to say more but, lacking the alternative words to elaborate, he would resort to repeating the only words he knew to describe the images on the screen: beauty, light, open, air, green.

I've only really been a part of this crazy world of architecture for a little over a year but it only took about 5 minutes to discover that the discourse, like in all other forms of design, is mostly just plain BS. Simplicity and restraint in design is an achievement but simple, succinct description of design is almost unheard of. I'm sure when speaking about his design in Japanese, Nishizawa is the epitome of eloquence, but when designing using the basic principles of beauty - light, open, green, air - what more really needs to be said?

Some images from last night's presentation:

N Museum, Japan

1-room museum, concept based on a water droplet

Moriyama House, Japan

Apartment building divided into individual houses with public patios

Private Residence, Japan

Translucent cotton panels seperate and reveal each room

Main living room with retractable roof

Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, Ohio

Glass walls seperate program while revealing contents

Learning Center, Switzerland

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

New York's New Museum

Hot on the heels of Boston’s newest home for contemporary art, the ICA, the New Museum in New York City is scheduled to open on December 1 and should provoke many comparisons to the Diller Scofidio + Renfro museum located on Boston’s waterfront. Both contemporary art museums outgrew their former makeshift homes and decided to make a bold public statement with their new digs. The New Museum, designed by the Japanese firm SANAA which consists of Kazuyo Sejima & Ryue Nishizawa, will be the first major art museum in the city’s modern history to be constructed in downtown Manhattan (below 14th street). Located in the Bowery district, it is situated amongst many diverse lower Manhattan neighborhoods.

The New Museum website says, “Our building project is already catalyzing the transformation of the fabled Bowery. We are proud to be making this contribution to New York and the revitalization of Downtown Manhattan.”

The ICA and the New Museum share many programmatic similarities as well as an overall size of 60,000sf including 18,000sf of gallery space and additional theaters, cafes, classrooms and a media lounge. Boston’s ICA relies on a large cantilevered box both functionally – to hold the galleries – and aesthetically – to make its main architectural statement. New York’s New Museum will be a seven-story composition of boxes, shifted off-axis laterally in varying directions to create cantilevers and setbacks that filter daylight into the interiors and provide views out to the city. A large balcony on the top floor will offer distinct views of New York. Although mainly windowless, the New Museum’s architects excel at creating a building with an air of lightness and transparency that can be seen in the renderings. In the architect’s words:

"The solution emerged through an extensive period of trial and error. We made numerous study models based upon the New Museum's program and the demands of the site, the zoning envelope. First we arrived at the notion of the boxes themselves; each one represents a specific piece of the program developed by the Museum. Then we tried shifting the boxes to render the inside of the building more accommodating and open, with more possibilities for daylight to enter spaces and views to appear at various points in the interiors.

"We designed the building from the inside out, based upon our understanding of the Museum's needs. Because of the kind of art the Museum shows and the curatorial approach they take, we wanted to design simple spaces - spaces without columns and with a lot of possibilities for different configurations, for placement of temporary dividing walls, and so forth - that would provide the widest range of options. We do not believe that a building should overwhelm or compete with the art presented within it, particularly when it comes to contemporary art. So we have tried to make spaces that are inviting but straightforward."

Whether you prefer one over the other or love to hate them both, the only way to truly know is to go. The ICA has a year of use behind it and the New Museum will be open in the beginning of December. Each museum shows a very different response to both site and context by clearly addressing it and creating a vision for the future of their respective institutions and surrounding neighborhoods.

New Museum
235 Bowery (between Stanton and Rivington Streets, at the head of Prince Street)
New York City

Architect: Kazuyo Sejima + Ryue Nishizawa SANAA LTD
Building Project Fact Sheet.
More photos of the New Museum and other works by SANAA here, via Flickr.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Adventures in Mind-Molding

I've assigned my students an on-going project to present at least twice to the class with a little Design Show+Tell. Because most of my life as a designer is absorbing and processing the design around me, I'm trying to teach them the importance of keeping their eyes open - for both the good and the bad - because you never know how, when, where or why inspiration could strike you. So, to set an example, I went first.

I collect random pieces of design for a multitude of reasons: I love the color, I'm drawn to the typography, I'm struck by the composition or juxtoposition with other things, I'm intrigued by the idea, I'm impressed by the concept, I'm taken with the resounding simplicity or I just plain can't stand to live without it. I keep my little trinkets all over the place, surrounding myself with inspirational design both at work and at home. And although I never imagined myself saying this, I have now come to do the same thing on the internet.

As a paper-lover, the world wide web was a challenge for me, at first. You can't feel it or hold it; you can't untie it, unwrap it or unfold it; you can't tilt it in the light and watch the mesmorizing reaction of the inks; you can't smell it; and, perhaps most importantly, you can't pin it on the wall. But little by little, I've started to come around. I still prefer natural fibers over pixels and page-layout over web pages but the connecting power of the internet is undeniable and, through it alone, I have discovered some of my favorite bits of design (not to mention indispensible design tools). So, it was with both paper and pixel in mind that I presented my Show+Tell to class.

Because my example was also to give them ideas about the variety of places to look for design, I made it a 2-parter. On Tuesday, I shared some of my favorite pieces of print design (Illustration, Identity Systems, Publication) and Thursday night I set up the projector (like a real, bonafide teacher would) and showed them my favorite pieces of non-print design.

Possibly the most clever, intelligent, sophisticated and compelling commercial I've ever seen.

Beautiful simplicity, inspirational truths and fun to play with, to boot.

Because every designer feels this way and the first step to recovery (or at least real-world application) is admitting you have a problem (the design disease).

Statistics in use that won't put you to sleep.

Blog on new book cover design.

Blog on new identity design.

The soapbox of graphic designers.

A lesson on iteration.

Color Helper.

Blog on found type, print and stuff.

Watch how the pro's do it.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Goodbye Old Friend

What better way to say goodbye than a 45-mile ride through the countryside.

For the past year and a half, I have relied on my creaky old Peugeot bicycle to get me to and from work, traversing the perilous Boston traffic in both 0º winter mornings and 95º summer afternoons, alike. I resurrected the bike from a neglected life in a garage, stripped it to the frame and rebuilt it as a retro-inspired, fixed gear bike. "Fixed Gear" means that only one gear ratio is tied directly between the rear wheel and the crank. In short: if the wheel is turning, you are pedaling. It took about three months to devise a plan and locate the parts to convert this early 70’s French bicycle into a modern, urban commuter with all the bells and whistles.

It is no surprise, then, that I felt a bit of remorse this weekend as I stripped off the wheels, pedals and seat - leaving it helpless on the floor of my apartment - and took the bus to re-fit those parts onto a shiny new, custom-built track frame (more to come later). After serving me so well, I couldn't let it remain an amputee and have decided to replace the missing parts so that Peugeot can retire to a life of leisurely rides through the New Hampshire countryside. The new, nameless bicycle is now faced with the challenge of serving me as well as my old friend has for the last 18 months.

Interested in builing your own fixed gear? My only advice is to start here.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Children's Games

*girl's post just sent chills down my spine. Unlike most children, playing with Atari or Nintendo, I grew up in a Macintosh-only household. While others were mastering Super Mario Brothers, I was throwing rocks at bats and killing dungeon keepers with a ball and chain.My older brother and I would take turns trying to master the art of hitting mice and tin men with rocks with the sole goal of defeating the Black Knight. If only you could hear the sound effects - the whining of the bats and the crack of the whip were more lifelike than the 8 bit sounds coming from Nintendo and, arguably, much more annoying.

The name of the game was Dark Castle and it was released in 1986. I was 5 years old and had already spent 2 years of my young life on the Mac making landscape drawings with bricks fills in MacPaint and forging rivers and dying from dysentery in Oregon Trail. As the first generation to truly grow up with the computer at home and part of my life I have fond memories of these games and have a hard time relating to the Nintendo culture of many of my peers. Other notable Macintosh games from my childhood include Monkey Island, Where in the World is Carmen Sandeigo?, and Indiana Jones.

I Love the 80's

Not that I really want to design for Apple, but this makes me wish that I was one of their designers in the 80's. They just don't make things like this anymore...

Explaining the concept of a "desktop"

Its so fantastic I can barely stand it

Explaining the concept of "scrolling"

Much more from the original Mac User Manual here, via Core77.

Adventures in Mind-Molding

I taught my first class last night.

Well, "teach" might not be the right word. I attended a class meeting, introduced myself, read a syllabus and then asked them all to become members of Veer (its relevant, I swear). The only real teacher-ly thing I did was assign homework, which went pretty well - if I do say so, myself.

The class that I've been charged with the duty of instructing is a foundational computer applications course (teaching the Adobe Creative Suite). I have 10 students: 2 full-time undergrads and 8 part-time continuing ed students. In true haberdashery form, they come from all over the place. There are 2 former psychology majors, 2 former fine artists, a girl who works in publishing, a paralegal assistant from Brazil, a printer rep, a former computer science major, an art education major from Saudi Arabia and an advertising student - all with the desire to become graphic designers. Their experience ranges widely, from comfortably familiar with a few of the programs to borderline scared of Macs altogether.

I can think of no greater evidence of the power and consuming nature of design in today's world than these 10 people. I'm excited that they're mostly continuing ed - not that undergrads can't be serious and committed to their education, but continuing ed students are paying per class, out of their own pockets, working full-time and sacrificing a significant portion of their personal lives to return to academia because they have finally realized what they really want to do and they're willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen.

Design has become a force of nature. People see it, get inspired by it and want to jump on the bandwagon. There is a lot of debate out there, especially in graphic design, about the DIY design culture and the inundation of "average" people doing "designer" things. With the spread of Mac-usage into the non-designer demographic and the prevalence of amazing, user-friendly design tools like iLife and Blurb, anyone with the most basic computer knowledge can design, publish, produce and create. I'm of the mindset that these tools can do nothing but make the world a prettier, better-designed home for all of us and that no amount of user-friendly software will ever replace true, artistic talent and a real design education.

That being said, I'm so excited that my students have choosen the latter, that they have decided to become real designers. I only hope that I'm up to the task of helping them on their way.

Sunday, September 2, 2007


Click to View Larger

What does this drawing say about me? The first thing it says (or screams) is that I clearly had an architect draft it. Had it been up to me, I would have measured the main walls and been done with it. Good thing *boy was there to measure the windows, where the windows are, the height of the crazy wall trim, the placement and height of all the doorways and where the radiators are. I would have ended up with 3 or 4 rectangles; he ended up with what you see above, swinging doors and everything.

What else does this drawing say about me? Mostly that I like color and pattern and have a hard time visualizing 3-Dimensional space without a lot of visual aids. I've used this little plan to make a lot of decisions in the last 3 months. The most major piece of furniture that actually made the move with me was my mattress - so, what you see here was basically designed from the ground-up. After living with a roommate for 3 years, its nice to know that everything in my home was picked by me.

Now, with the last of the major home improvement projects finally completed (the second re-do of the bedroom), this plan, my home, is pretty well done. Three blue paints, a beautiful armless sofa, fantastic yellow velvet and linen curtains and a four-poster bed add up to equal one delightfully girly apartment. I hadn't set out to achieve "girly" - I was just out to create something I loved, a place that felt like home, somewhere I truely wanted to be.

I think I did a pretty good job. Pictures to come.