Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Really Big Chairs

Students from the School of Visual Art greet visitors at ICFF last week from the perch of their oversized chair.

Last week the International Contemporary Furniture Fair descended on New York city, bringing nearly 900 exhibitors from around the world to the Javitz Center and a rash of design-related parties to warehouses across the city. Chairs are always a big part of New York Design Week, and this year Konstantin Grcic earned the most attention for his cantilevered Myto chair:

But something else caught my eye: really big chairs. More specifically, really big, plain and simple chairs. The students from the School of Visual Art designed a booth at ICFF around the use of plain, wooden, IKEA chairs. A giant chair centered their exhibit. The normal-sized versions were redesigned as a part of the school's 2008 Chair Project. Students were asked to take a basic chair and transform it into something new. Kristina Critchlow called her design Superstitious:

Steven Smith's chair is called Horny:

Kimiyo Nakatsui asks her chair to be more. "The ambitious chair aspires to something far beyond its present condition as a simple, utilitarian item of furniture," she writes on the project's Web site. "As it climbs skyward, forced perspective emphasizes its height. The simple white finish reflects an interpretation of ambition as a pure, very personal desire for something more."

Last week also saw the opening of Robert Therrien's exhibit at the Gagosian (through June 14). Included is a work that features enormous metal folding chairs, some as big as 8' tall.

Robert Therrien, No Title9 folding table + chairs, dark brown, 2008. Painted metal and fabric. Table: 96 x 120 x 120 inches, 4 chairs each: 104x64x72 inches.

These mammoth monuments to quotidian furniture feel particularly interesting at a time when the most luxurious, highly-crafted, and pristine pieces are on display throughout the city. The effect is to remind us that while Grcic's $450 chair gets the attention, most of us live daily with the $12.99 version.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bookshelf: Little Houses

This June marks the tenth anniversary of Ghost Lab, a unique workshop hosted by architect Brian MacKay-Lyons on his farm in Nova Scotia and in honor of the occasion, there is a new book about the project. It comes out today. For fans of both vernacular architecture and modern design, this is a spectacular read. It includes essays, historical images, photos, and sketches of the first nine Ghost labs, which brought students and architects to this remote coastline on the Atlantic for an intensive retreat. MacKay-Lyons is a principal in the firm MacKay Lyons Sweetapple in Halifax, and his firm is known for its stunningly pragmatic, aesthetically beautiful homes. I interviewed Brian last week about Ghost and his architectural philosophy and you can read that Q & A by clicking here.

The above is an image from the first Ghost Lab in 1994. Participants built a home over the stone foundation of an historic house, clad it in a translucent sheath, and lit it from within, creating a glowing monument to Nova Scotia's vernacular architecture. I wonder if Brad Pitt saw this and referenced it for his Make it Right Foundation project, which used pink structures to simulate the rebuilt ninth ward:

This week also saw Tom Kundig winning the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Architecture Award for 2008. Like MacKay-Lyons, Kundig combines materials and pragmatism to connect his buildings to the landscape. He can create simple houses that honor the topography and the user, and he makes small seem absolutely elegant. His work is, hands down, some of the best I've ever seen. A book of his work is available through Princeton Architectural Press (they also published Ghost).

Kundig's Delta Shelter in Washington State, pictured above and below, is a modest 1,000 square foot retreat in the woods. The exterior 10’ x 18’ steel shutters can be closed simultaneously using a hand crank (last image)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


Map of FM transmissions from URBANtraces.

Spring is a rare and precious time of year on the East Coast. It's a fleeting season - sometimes the chill of winter downshifts directly into the oppressive humidity of summer without so much as a warning - making any mild and sunny weather seem like a gift. Bulbs push through the soil, cherry blossoms bloom, and the mosquitoes have yet to launch their seasonal invasion. It's also the time of year when windows begin to open. There's nothing like that first night of sleep, a cross breeze blowing the curtains, and the ambient sounds of the city floating up from the street (until the car alarms and the 3 am drunks chime in, of course).

Last week, artist Steve Bradley amplified those urban sounds with a three-month media project in the Station North neighborhood of Baltimore. Bradley and a team of media artists launched URBANtraces, a neighborhood radio project that has several low-power FM transmitters broadcasting at 87.7 FM. The transmitters are located at various sites, including people’s homes, shops, and art spaces, offering a rare window inside these otherwise closed-off interiors. It's an audio map of the city and they will be available 24/7 through August. Those who can't walk the streets can download archived podcasts that will appear on the site.

David Byrne's installation Playing the Building turns a warehouse into an instrument.

Another interesting city-based audio project is running through August in New York. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has retrofitted an antique organ into a historic building, turning the infrastructure into a musical instrument. I wrote about the installation, Playing the Building, on the Metropolis blog and you can read more by clicking here.

Friday, May 9, 2008


The Portable Light Prototype at work.

With U.S. infrastructure failing on a grand scale (The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates it will cost $1.6 trillion to begin fixing the problem), it's interesting to see the rise of "pico-infrastructure." Think of it as infrastructure on a smaller scale. Designers are creating small-scaled, personalized systems that can be used by individuals in communities that have no services or in disaster areas where service has been interrupted. So rather than rely on a larger system that may not function effectively (or that may not exist at all, depending on where you live), you are empowered to resolve the problem yourself.

Take the lighting system created by Sheila Kennedy of the Boston firm Kennedy & Violoch Architecture. Her Portable Light Prototype is a small, lightweight mat with solar cells capable of capturing sunlight to fuel a solid-state lighting system. The mat absorbs solar energy during the day and emits light for up to 8 hours at night.

Eric Olsen, an architect in San Francisco, just won the Next Generation Design Award for his Solar Water Disinfecting Tarpaulin. Inspired by Kennedy's light design, he created a pleated mat that can easily collect water and then use the sun's ultraviolet rays to disinfect it within several hours. Imagine the possibilities in dry climates with limited drinking water, or in a disaster area where potable water is at a premium. Imagine if the residence of Myanmar had something like this right now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Arachnids, George Lucas, and Cumulus Patterns

What do all of the above have to do with design? Check out my latest post on the Metropolis website. I'm playing double duty on the blogging, so I hope you don't mind the link. It's a fun piece. Click HERE.

And a little image preview: At top, Rem Koolhaas’s Ras al Khaimah Convention and Exhibition Centre. At bottom, the Death Star from Star Wars.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Roller Derby Art

Charm City Roller Girls poster illustration by artist Kali Ciesemier.

The return of roller derby in America has played out in the news for a few years now (Drew Barrymore is directing Juno star Ellen Page in a forthcoming film), but the art that accompanies the sport has received less attention. Baltimore has the Charm City Roller Girls, and at a bout last night, I discovered the work of Kali Ciesemier. A student at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Ciesemier's illustrations capture the spirit of the female-driven sport, with mix of classic art deco and contemporary kitsch.

I realize now that I've seen her work around Baltimore for rock show posters. Her website includes images of the full range of her posters, cartoons, and typography. She also just launched a blog, so you can keep up with her latest work. Here are a few non-roller derby related picks:

This poster just got picked up by CMYK magazine.

Deconstructing a letter.

Part of her series on eccentric millionaires

Typography and tattoos.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Film Fest

From Beautiful Losers: the work of Mike Mills.

The Maryland Film Festival launched last night in Baltimore and those in or near the city should make the trip to check out this year's line up. Some things that caught my eye:'s Andrew O'Hehir selected a film out of Mali called Bamako. In the film, citizens of Mali stage a trial against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund for crimes against the people of the Third World.

There's also the documentary Beautiful Losers about the DIY art scene born in New York in the 1990's. Filmmakers Aaron Rose and Joshua Leonard collect the stories of artists in a film that is described as "the perfect antidote to documentaries that would present the act of creation as a mysterious practice performed by lonely geniuses -- and instead paints an empowering picture of art as spontaneous, natural, fun, and universal." And its got a soundtrack by Money Mark, keyboardist for the Beastie Boys.

Writer Anne Haddad is going to be blogging from the festival all weekend about the films and the scene, so check it out by clicking here.

More stills of artwork from Beautiful Losers:

Geoff McFetridge (above)

Margaret Kilgallen (above)

Shepard Fairey (above)