Saturday, August 30, 2008

Linotype in Portland

I'm in Portland, Maine for the weekend to see my brother, our friends Sei, Wendy, and Melissa, and my husband, Matt, play in a musical festival here (their band is called Hearts by Darts).

Mike and his friend, Sei, recorded their first album up here with the help of Ron Harrity, founder of Peapod Recordings. Yesterday we dropped the band off for practice and saw inside the New Systems Laundry building, a warehouse near downtown. It's been transformed into artist's space and there are several designers creating screenprint posters:

And then there was this: a classic 1880's linotype machine used by a local bookseller/preserver.

The machine is operated by one individual at a keyboard.

(That's my sister-in-law, Anne)

Here's a description of how it works from a linotype Web site:

Having adjusted the machine for the required point size and line length, the metal heated to the correct temperature—about 550 degrees Fahrenheit—he commences setting.

A light press of the key buttons actuates a mechanism that releases the matrices. These are small pieces of brass in which the characters or dies are stamped. The matrices travel from the magazine channels where they are housed, by means of a miniature conveyor belt, into the assembler box. This assembler box is the composing stick of the Linotype. After each word the operator touches the spaceband key which allows a spaceband to fall before setting the first letter of the following word. These spacebands are steel wedges and are used to spread out the line of matrices to the required width. When these spacebands have entered the assembler they are so positioned that their minimum width is between the matrices.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Junk Mail (and the Failures of Modern Marriage)

Something awful happens when you get married. Or, more precisely, something awful happens when you get married and decide to register for gifts. Suddenly, you are on the mail order grid. I'm not sure the W├╝sthof knives are worth the quadrupling of our mail intake.

It's hard to pinpoint which company is selling our name. Occasionally I get a clue: I bought a baby book for a pregnant friend from and within 24 hours I'm getting emails from Fisher Price about Rainforest Giraffe Ring Stackers. F*@&ing Amazon.

Most of the time, though, I can only hazard a guess. Was it you Williams-Sonoma? Or you, Restoration Hardware, with all of your overpriced crap? (PS: never register there).

My mom has a clever system. When she signs up for new accounts—magazine subscriptions, online services, listervs, etc—she misspells her name by a letter. Or she uses her middle name with one account, her maiden name on another. No two are alike. This way, when the unwanted catalogues and junk email inevitably come, she knows who sold her out. Calling up customer service and telling them what they can do with their b.s. marketing ploys makes for a nice outlet after a bad day.

Yesterday, amidst the hundreds of credit card offers and furniture and clothing catalogues, I got a copy of The Nest magazine. What?

The Nest, it turns out, is a subsidiary of the The Knot, that online wedding planning site that obsessively parses every aspect of the classic American wedding. And offers grounbreaking polls like, What's Your Biggest Wedding Fear?! (Note to The Knot: Mine is getting put on your mailing list. Fear realized.)

How did I get on The Knot radar in the first place? Not sure, but I'm blaming you Target.

The Nest, I am told, is for this next stage of my life. It is "the must have magazine for modern marrieds."

Screen Grab: it's "cheaper than therapy!"

So what does this 140-page publication have to say about modern marriage? Apparently, it's a lot like a marriage from the 50's, with a notable exception. Rather than pictures of housewives, you've got pictures of the mythical SuperWomen, the virgin/whore, professional/housewife who knows that when hosting a wine tasting, a malbec is best paired with piave. And if YOU didn't know that, naive newlywed, well thank the heavens you have this magazine to fill you in. Buckle up ladies, it's time to get neurotic.

Let's start with the cover. The Fall 2008 issue features a smiling, real-life couple. "She's a fundraising dynomo! He's a chief White House correspondent!" [for Fox news, btw, suggesting this rag's intended audience]. The picture shows the husband smiling up at his wife, cup of coffee in hand and the morning paper splayed out on the dining table. The "fundraising dynamo" is standing over the table in a classic ready-to-serve-you stance. Look closely and you'll notice that even their coffee mugs run the gender line: his a sturdy, white ceramic. Hers a whimsical mug with a girl in a dress and the word "Shopping..." legible in what is likely a nod to her womanly desire to spend hours at the mall.

Inside, you get advice on everything from money and decor, to sex and cooking. The stereotypes persist in all categories. There are those pesky in-laws and the need to keep up appearances."In-Law Proof Your Home" advises that you hide the liquor and the sex toys, and swap out pictures of friends for family photos. They offer this important Hint:

"You can slide your family photo behind your crazy vaca one in the frame. Should you get a surprise visit, you can quickly swap out the incriminating shots!"

Riiiight. Cause that doesn't look odd. "Excuse me while I take apart my picture frame..."

Other tips: stock the fridge, lest your in-laws think you're not taking care of your husband, and fill vases with flowers so "your house will look polished."

That said, be sure you don't actually eat too much out of that fridge. You wouldn't want to tip the scales away from your wonderful wedding weight. In the article "Prime Time" you get tips on how to prepare the perfect steak. Strip for him! Filet for her!

There's decorating advice for men and women: For her, a lovely, prissy bedroom with floral print walls. For him, a Man Room with a Lazyboy, a BeerTender, a foosball table, and a flatscreen.

And there's the need to accumulate and show off all that stuff. The article about "Housewarming Party How-To" says that a housewarming party is a "coming-out shindig for your new life together in your shared pad and a way to make people feel welcome in it. Okay, and maybe to gloat (just a little) over your new space with all that cool wedding swag on display." The authors go on to explain that "Housewarming gifts are optional (don't look so depressed)."

And then there's vacation, where apparently the squeamish newlywed is too afraid to try the local fare. While in Prague, they suggest you go to a restaurant and "try the pork knee (don't be scared!)"

I could go on. But I'm only a quarter of the way through the table of contents.

I was born in 1973. My parents lived in faculty housing on the campus of an all-girl's liberal arts college where my father taught history. It was the height of the ERA movement and my first book was a copy of Any Woman Can: Love and Sexual Fulfillment for the single, widowed, divorced...and Married gifted to my mother by a couple of female students. The inscription reads, in part,: "For baby Elizabeth when she is old enough to read..."

This was also the era of the Enjoli ad and the beginning of the idea that a woman could bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, put the kids to bed, and fuck her husband silly all while looking smashing. The tagline: "The new 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman."

Something happened on the way to this female liberation. Women got screwed. Today, I would argue that we identify more with that woman in the Enjoli ad than the pioneers of women's rights, with the exception that now we're frying up organic, fair-traded, free range turkey bacon. The Nest perpetuates the worst possible vision of the modern American woman and the modern American marriage: Impossible standards, impossibly childish ideas of partnership, the notion that women you can do it all in the boardroom, the bedroom, and the baby's room, and that we are still responsible for coddling our husbands. It's an amazing set of contradictions. Let's not forget that we live in the era of the first female presidential candidate, but we also live in a time when her pantsuits are billed as breaking news.

A screen grab from Google yesterday.

Whew. That was a rant. See what all this junk mail is doing to me?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Designing Democracy

South Korean designer Minsuk Cho’s Air Forest, a 10,000 square foot architectural pavilion located in Denver’s City Park as a part of the interactive arts event Dialog:City.

OK. It's getting old. I know. All the links to my Metropolis posts and fewer new posts unique to this blog. But I promise some more design news soon. In the meantime...

Read what I posted this morning about the activities at the DNC and the rise of the designer-as-activist (and I definitely promise more on that topic soon).

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Haute Barnyard

Another blog of mine went live on Metropolis this morning. This one's about the farm-to-table trend in the restaurant industry. It's called Billionaire's Farmhouse. Click here to check it out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Paper Kingdom

A new post of mine is up on about artist Elena Johnston and her new book documenting the last two decades of rock poster art in Baltimore. Check it out. (And thanks to Eric for bringing this book to my attention.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Design Conversation Baltimore

(Click on the image above for a larger version of the invitation)

save. the. date.

A fun event is kicking off on September 3rd. A group of folks have been batting around the notion of a Baltimore Design Center and out of those meetings came an idea for a monthly gathering of people interested in talking about design and architecture in Baltimore (think design with a capital "D": everything from buildings to graphics to urban planning). We thought it would be nice to meet over drinks once a month for some conversation and collaboration. Each gathering will have a loose topic, but mostly it's an open forum and an excuse to meet people and drink a pint (or three). And you definitely don't need to be a designer or an architect to join in.

The first gathering is on Sept. 3rd at the Wind Up Space in Station North from 6-8 PM. Snacks provided; you buy your own drinks.

The more the merrier, so if you're in Baltimore, pop by. It promises to be a fun evening.

Smoking without Cigarettes

Still from Mad Men

I've been catching up on the last season of Mad Men and boy oh boy does that show make you want to pick up a pack of smokes (and a bottle of whiskey.) The show is set in a Madison Avenue ad agency in 1959/1960 and Lucky Strikes are still handed out on the sandwich cart. It's the climax of the cigarette, that glamorous age before reality set in. Smoking was sexy and posing with a cigarette was a big part of the visual culture.

So what happens now that smoking is taboo? We're still fascinated with the concept, the body language, the idea of it. I've been noticing images evoking the idea of smoking minus the actual cigarettes. This month's Vanity Fair has a spread with actress Carla Gugino playing pin-up girl. Looks like she could take a drag off that chess piece.

And here's actress Mischa Barton "smoking" a flower on this month's cover of Nylon.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Walking Tour: Seattle

I'll begin this walking tour of Seattle, Washington in the, uh, car. My recent trip to the Pacific Northwest began with a wedding in Seattle. We flew into Portland and hitched a ride with friends on the north I-5. Along the way, our carmate pointed out this roadside gem: Buck a Scoop Chinese Food.

Entering the city we hit some major rush hour traffic (what about all this public transit I keep hearing about? When I posed that question to the guy who checked us into our hotel, he complained that the transit in downtown is great, but it doesn't connect to the rest of the city in any real way). Stuck in a clog of cars we saw some interesting things:

This was spraypainted on decorative rocks in a residential neighborhood.

Our hotel was near the famous Pike Place Market. While the market is definitely overrun by tourists—many snapping a photo of themselves outside the original Starbucks—you could also see plenty of residents buying produce and products from local vendors. It's not quite as Disney-fied as I imagined it.

From here we walked along the waterfront.

Looking out onto Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound

Looking east, toward the city.

Just over the edge of the waterfront promenade is the Alaskan Way Viaduct. A friend who lives nearby in Olympia told me that Popular Mechanics named the roadway one of the Top 10 pieces of infrastructure that needs to be fixed. Here's an excerpt from that May 2008 issue:

"After an earthquake in 2001 damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a traffic artery in Seattle, inspectors found that some supports had subsided 5 in., weakening the structure. Options included fixing the elevated roadway and replacing it with a tunnel or improved surface roads. There's still no decision. Meanwhile, as many as 110,000 vehicles travel on the compromised structure each day."

As my friend explained the dire state of this road, some sort of fire started and emitted plumes of noxious smoke. We moved on.

Walking back up the steep incline to our hotel on 2nd Avenue, I noticed this:

Another interesting infrastructure note—several of the manhole covers in downtown were designed by local artists.

The next day we continued the tour, heading to the Rem Koolhaas public library. This is my first time to Seattle and one of the things I observed about their downtown is that the city's grid maintains views of the bay. Each time you cross a city street, you have an unfettered siteline to the water; structures stay tucked within their block (something I've been noticing more now that my own city of Baltimore has failed so miserably to protect vistas of the water). Koolhaas's Seattle Public Library is an exception—its glass and steel facade juts out over the street on one side, just enough, so that when you look up the steep hill, you can see the form from several blocks away.

Lots has been written about the collaboration between Koolhass and the librarians and about the unique color coding system for the interior. I was curious about how this mammoth space would function from a user's perspective. I suspect noise absorption can be an issue with all the expansive, hard surfaces (especially when you have a husband who likes to play drums on the steel banisters).

The central skylight.

Type embedded into the floors.

The Children's Reading Room.

Walking through the stacks. A wall of glass looks down onto staff offices:

Looking through a sculptural hole onto the bright yellow escalator.

(I took a video in the famous all-red room of the library. You can view it at the end of the post)

After the library, we walked to Pioneer Square, the one area that survived the Seattle fire of 1889. There are several nice examples of Victorian Romanesque architecture

Smith Tower (above) was the tallest building outside Manhattan when it opened in 1914. Later in the weekend, I found a historic image of it in a Seattle museum.

I also found this excellent image of women protesting work conditions. Check out the word "janitresses."

Heading back to our hotel, I noticed this highrise. It's kind of hard to tell from this picture, but the delicate steel structural work running through its center reminded me of the spine of a fish (perhaps its all that Pacific Salmon in the market impacting my perspective)

Spotted on the way back to the hotel:

And here's a video I shot inside the red room of the Koolhaas library, featuring my friends Kerry and Mary Alice and my husband Matt. (I think they thought I was shooting still photos). The video's a touch blurry, but you can hear the way sound bounces off of the walls.