Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Humanitarian Design - Emily Pilloton

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Emily Pilloton
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

Designer Emily Pilloton wants to create things that aren't just well designed, but have a positive social impact. People. Planet. Profit. These three words focus the concept of humanitarian design---design that has necessary human purpose, is kind to the planet and is also potentially profitable. Philloton's book, "Design Revolution: 100 Products that Empower People" shows and tells the story.

Colbert gives her an opportunity to give us some insight. One example, is the pushable plastic drum. For people who must walk miles to obtain clean water, the drum holds 20 gallons. Once filled it weighs 400 lbs. The "push weight" of it, however, is 40 pounds. A person can fill the drum and then push it home. Without the drum, people could carry only a few gallons at most. These simple design ideas are revolutionizing the lives of people in the developing world.

Pilloton's mission is to encourage and report on the ideas that provide humanitarian solutions to vexing problems of the poor. We can't believe the eye glasses that have a self adjusting prescription lens. With all the gloomy feelings today about our economy and strange times, Pilloton offers a demonstration of how designers do good things with their minds and hearts.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Baltimore Woman Fined for Green Landscaping

Wood Chip Playground
A local Butchers Hill resident, Maxine Taylor, used wood chips to create a parking pad at her woodsy, stable-house that she renovated. She lives in the house and also has her studio in the space. The city ordered Ms. Taylor to use either asphalt or concrete, both impermeable surfaces. This article provides a lively discourse on the conflict over green options. There are some gnarly transitional issues involved in moving to a greener community. Most conflicts involve building codes that have not caught up with sound environmental practices

Our favorite quote, from Ms. Taylor:
"I though there was way too much concrete," she said. "I didn't know about sustainability or runoff. I was just trying to be...what's today's word? Green?"
The city's own Sustainability Plan for a "cleaner, greener" city calls for removing impervious surfaces citywide to reduce the runoff into the storm drains and into our dying Chesapeake Bay. In fact, the Parks & People Foundation, with help from city grants has removed 20 acres of pavement. In place of the pavement, they planted trees, grass and flowers to soak up rainfall.

Its a loopy time.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

One Year in 120 Seconds

We have been hard pressed to post in the new year. Life is swirling around us. So, we'll post this time-lapsed video from Oslo, Norway, before we lose our way. This one has nature, environment and architecture (you will see a vernacular house in the background!). It sets a beautiful tone. Provides a quiet relief. Lasts more than :30 or 140 characters. Ironically, this visual speeding up of time, reminds us to slow down and crack open each day.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Cleaning Up Detroit One Orange Object at a Time

Metropolis Magazine discusses Detroit's confrontation with its deterioration here. A group of former Cranbrook Academy of Art students, appalled by the number of deteriorated houses in the city, formed Object Orange. They painted the dangerous and dilapidated houses orange so that they could be exposed and dealt with. Both things happened. The houses they painted orange were clearly seen and shortly demolished, one may assume from embarrassment, by the city.

“At this point in Detroit there are so many abandoned spaces,” says Christian, a New Jersey native who recently began teaching at a university in Colorado. “Living around these neighborhoods and experiencing the product of the blight and seeing what happens to the children and the landscape, we’re just kind of questioning it and saying, ‘Why is nothing done? Why is this happening?’”
There also seems to be a whiff of art object to us. Art and social action? Art as protest?
If nothing else Object Orange has produced a new typology for site-specific art installations: art as a possible agent of demolition. “I tell my students that if you’re in Detroit you don’t need a studio,” Christian says. “The city is one big studio.”
We like their attitude.

Blu Dot Goes Undercover with Real Good Chair

On November 4-5, 25 Real Good Chairs were dropped around NYC, free for the take. Many were GPS-enabled. Watch the film to see what happened. It is a little lengthy (that is, longer than :30), but more fun than numerous "action" films we've seen lately. This is a great example of "gorilla advertising."

Small House Flickr Slide Show

As we step across the dividing line between this year and next, let us celebrate the small, the reasonable, the wee.

via Small House Style

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A Reason to Celebrate

This evokes the all-embracing spirit of the holiday. Thanks, again, to TED.

Thought for the Holiday.

"I have about reached the conclusion that, while large industry is important, fresh air and clean water are more important, and the day may well come when we have to lay that kind of hand on the table and see who is bluffing." Barry M. Goldwater

Monday, December 21, 2009

Social Media and Its Unnerving Creepy Facts.

There is no going back.

What to do with Empty Space in Depressed Areas of a City?

(The pitch starts at :58)

RIBA Guerrilla Tactics 2009: Space Invaders Live Pitch

The Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is striving to address many of the same urban issues we struggle with here in the United States. At each year's annual meeting, a problem is posed for a "Guerrilla" (cheap, under the radar) solution.

How would you propose to use abandoned space?

This year's Guerrilla Tactics Live Pitch was titled Space Invaders and was designed to respond to the Arts Council "Art in Empty Spaces" movement that is rolling across the country. Piercy Connor Architects went up against Feix and Merlin to pitch their solutions in front of a panel of industry experts, architectural peers and clients. Not an easy crowd. The moderator's comment at the end, made to the winning team was a gentle, whack in the face of designer illusions.

Most Puzzeling Patents of 2009

(Click image to enlarge)

Creative minds flock to the U.S. Patent Office to assure that their ingenious idea is not ripped from their hands by someone who beat them to it. Designer extraordinaire, Paula Sher, has taken this year's most thought provoking submissions and created a jovial graphic to represent them. Click on the chart above. It will pop-out to set your mind humming with new thoughts, inventions, bright ideas you have been meaning to get to and all manner of folly. Note the categories that border the panel. Click!

Pentagram Pulls Back the Curtain, a Little.

Wallpaper, the magazine of design cognoscenti (and a few poseurs!), has just published the Pentagram holiday cards that have been mailed to a select design community since 1974. Pentagram, founded in London, and now with offices around the planet is one of the most prestigious design firms in the world. Wallpaper explains:

Each Christmas, Pentagram designs and publishes a small book and sends it to a very select group. Intended to provide diversions during what, for many, can be a hectic period, the booklets traditionally avoid any direct reference to the festive season, adopting a strong graphic vocabulary, setting them apart from the myriad of cards received at this time of year. Since John McConnell's first design in 1974, they've grown to become a cult collectors' item.

In the spirit of goodwill, Pentagram opened their archives for us so we could celebrate the history of their unique way of celebrating Christmas, without any tinsel or fairy lights in sight. Which is just how we like it.

Its hard not to like Pentagram, although, envy does get in the way.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Landscape Wonder from Norway's NRK

In honor of our little mashup of snow and ice here in Baltimore, we thought we'd post this gorgeous video. It is just ten minutes of a train ride through Norway, the place where snow really falls. The original was 7 1/2 HOURS long. It aired in Norway on November 27. It was watched, beginning to end, by 1.2 million Norwegians, one-quarter of the population.

The full length video shows every minute of the scenic train ride between Bergen on the Norwegian west coast, crossing the mountains to the capital of Oslo. You can download the entire video here. The NRK has also thrown open the door to the creative world. Designers and videographers are invited to edit it, remix it, share it, cut it, color it, digitize it. Whatever. (The Creative Commons license applies.)

The full-length video was a wild idea by the staff at NRK, the state run Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation. The wild idea turned out to be a wild success. Besides the size of the viewing audience, there were over 1,500 tweets (and still growing) posted (#bergensbanen). From our perspective, it seems like a orgy of landscape devotion. The NRK deserves some praise. That they invited people to simply observe the landscape of their country was a daring notion and a wonderful gift. No spectacle. No drama. No screaming, talking heads. Just the natural world.

Let it snow!

Here's the situation in Baltimore today: the Blizzard of 2009. We like how snow rounds things and softens the world. Too, noise pollution disappears. There is just the wonderful, white, quiet. If only we could wrap the city in the equivalent of insulation noise control batts year-round!

If you like a slew of wonderful images for inspiration or just for feasting, we recommend a leisurely cruise on the blog "Feasting Never Stops."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Unchop a Tree - Maya Lin, "What is Missing?"

Maya Lin - Unchopping A Tree from Unchop A Tree on Vimeo.

Maya Lin, from her groundbreaking project "What is Missing?," provides a moving video on the shocking effects of deforestation. Imagine: the equivalent of Central Park is destroyed in 9 minutes. Don't miss the unchopping at the end! rebmiT!!

Dirty Ugly Design - The Decade of

(From left) Cover of Steve Heller and Mirko Ilic’s book Handwritten (2006);
and Jon Gray’s book jacket design for Everything Is Illuminated (2002)

Jonny Hannah’s hand-drawn lettering for the Starbucks Birmingham International
Jazz Festival 2005 (left) and the book Telling Tales (2004).

Steven Heller Speaks
Steven Heller of the School of Visual Arts In NYC makes the argument that graphics of the 90s were driven by the concept of "dirty design." It is an interesting and, by any measure of the comments section, a controversial point of view.

Apple, Target and Ikea, Too
We tend to think it is an oversimplification of the graphics for the age of George W. Bush, especially considering the potent graphics of Apple, Target and Ikea . But, the "dirty" style was a breath of fresh air in the midst of tight, conservative memes that predominated the decade.

Praise to it all.

I.D Magazine Folds!

ID Magazine, America's foremost design magazine, has devastated the design world by announcing it is ceasing publication. The bible of the design cognoscenti is gone. Awful news.

Citing the dramatic drop in advertisers and the rise of unique, segmented web resources, some free of charge, the magazine announced its closing---the day after "Employee Appreciation Day."

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Design and Web 2.0 Distractions

"We can't see the garden."

The Washington Post offers a critique of the PDA / laptop world. This one has great meaning for designers. This trend portends the demise of awareness of one's surroundings as a consequence of spending oodles of time with one's head down reading the latest on a Blackberry, iPhone, and all manner of gadgets and apps. Robert Harrison, professor of Italian Literature at Stanford offered this nugget:

The difficulty, Harrison argues, is that we are losing something profoundly human, the capacity to connect deeply to our environments.

Landscape designers talk about bestowing on a garden its genius loci, or spirit of the place, that bubbles up into your consciousness if its presence is strong enough and the visitor meditative enough to receive it.

Harrison says a garden truly reveals itself only when its own depths and those of the beholder flow together. But that takes time. "For the gardens to become fully visible in space, they require a temporal horizon that the age makes less and less room for."

Designers, architects, take note: the "cloaking device."
"Most of the groves, courtyards, gardens, fountains, artworks, open spaces and architectural complexes have disappeared behind a cloaking device, it would seem," he writes in his book "Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition."
What will it take to bring us back to our context? Or, how will our environments change in order to elicit interactions and bestow a sense of place? Or, what will become of our relationship to the constructed world? Only questions, it seems.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Architectural Freedom Compromised by Swiss

Minarets Banned
The Washington Post reported that in a referendum last month, 57.5 percent of Switzerland's voting citizens endorsed adoption of a law banning minarets, and only minarets, the often elegant towers attached to mosques throughout the Islamic world.

University of Maryland Architect Responds
Roger K. Lewis, a practicing architect and a professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland, offers this reasonable thought in his recent blistering rebuke of the Swiss in the Washington Post:

During this holiday season of glad tidings and goodwill, perhaps the Swiss will reconsider their reactionary vote. Rather than outlawing minarets, a fundamental component of mosque architecture, the Swiss should do the right thing: ensure that a mosque and its minaret comply with the same laws and standards as churches and other buildings serving citizens of the community.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Font Favorite

When the Salahi's crashed the State dinner, they not only created Washington's newest verb, to be "Salahi'd," it looks like we have a new typeface as well. Sorry, we couldn't resist. Politico article.

Give me an "S!" Give me an "A!" Give me an "L!" Give me an "A", "H," "I!" What did we spell?!

Pursuit of Happiness

Click to enlarge image

A terrific photo essay by Maira Kalman, who blogs once a month for the New York Times. The subject, Back to the Land, was a Thanksgiving reflection for her NYT blog "And the Pursuit of Happiness." We won't elaborate, but the innovative design graphic with text is a breath of fresh air. And, Alice Waters and democracy get involved.
"The United State of America could be less fastly, fastly and more slowly, slowly."
As far as moving back to the land, a theme in Kalman's essay, we are urbanists. We suggest: Stay in the city. Make your home greener; spend more on real food; enjoy life where you are. Others may differ.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Advice to a Young Architect

The brilliant and somewhat adorable, Ma Yansong, 34 year old Chinese architect of renown, and founder of MAD architects, was recently interviewed by DesignBoom. Ma's career is nothing but remarkable. Trained by Yale and Zaha Hadid, he seems to be creating the future with each new, amazing structure. When asked what advice he would give to young architects, he responded:

Don't hesitate.
Make a decision fast. Follow the first 5 seconds instinct.
If you think you need to compare and you hesitate,
then it must be a wrong decision. As in your life one
decision comes after the other and if you realize you do
something wrong, you know it is because of a previous
decision, which was a mistake. I think everyone should
follow their heart. Robert Stern, the Dean of the Arts and
Architecture at Yale says this to all the students on their
graduation day : 'You should forget everything you learned
from school and start on your own. No matter who said
what, you should believe only in yourself'.
We thought this suggestion that one have faith in one's instinctual response was particularly good advice in these cautious times. This "5 seconds instinct" taoism-like exhortation, could also reflect the kind of twitter-world we live in. However, judging from Ma's work, he is at the peak of his some fabulous 5-second increments. We are passing his advice along, on an impulse.

How Not to Take on Climate Change Deniers

His first words are, "Perhaps I ought not to have accepted the invitation." Gregory Norminton tells the story of appearing at The University of St. Andrews in England to debate climate change. As he explains, his confrontation with the opposition's distortion of known facts turned him into "a bug-eyed fanatic," a mirror image of his foes. We, too, recently confronted a denier at a local meeting and felt the same kind of extreme frustration. What to do? Mr. Norminton speaks:

I can now offer the following hard-won tips for anyone considering debating climate change deniers:

  1. Don’t.
  2. If you must, consider ingesting some form of tranquiliser.
  3. Study the stagecraft of Bernard Manning.
  4. Be up-to-date: know your Aristotle!
  5. No matter the provocation, avoid Nazi analogies like the plague.
  6. Bring plenty of friends.
  7. Just don’t.
Not hopeful.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Cut-Ups in New Zealand.

"Going West" is a beautiful short film illustrating the worlds in a book, incorporating papercraft to make something dreamlike and wonderful. It was animated by Andersen M Studio.

The New Zealand Book Council has produced this intriguing video encouraging, what else, reading. We are told that there are NO computer generated effects! The entire stop-motion animated design is of hand-cut and manipulated papers, producing a dream-like world.

It is hard to imagine that this intricate design is completely handmade. In today's world of computer animation, we think it takes on a very welcoming feel, unlike the computer animation's more slick and forced images. What do you think?

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Artificial Bio-diversity

Don't miss the pleasure of Christoph Niemann's newest contribution to his "Abstract City" op ed series for the New York Times. This one has the tongue-in-check title of "Bio-Diversity." It's good news in a world flooded with bad and sad.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sarah Susanka Draws the Line

Sarah Susanka
For all of you who appreciate Sarah Susanka's championing of the "Not So Big"house, you may be happy to know that she is expanding the brand. Susanka has taken houses from the "Not So Big" books and packaged the drawings of them. She is selling those drawings at the website

Now you can build your own Not So Big house. However the Not So Big drawings are not so cheap, costing $5,000 to $6,500. For individuals who have no wish for a custom home, who can read detailed drawing, who know how to select and bid out a job to qualified contractors, who feel they know the wealth of fixtures and materials to chose from and who are savvy enough manage and respond to the contractor during complexity of construction, this may be a fine solution. For those who are less inclined to take on all of these responsibilities, consider hiring an architect.

Susanka, one of the innovative thinkers in the field of home design, has always emphasized quality over quantity. That's a good reason why many follow her. She has also changed the way people think about the value and integration of space for daily living. Her skill in using color, enhances space in way that is hard to match. Susanka has brought so much to the housing scene. Her success is a tribute to her manner of communicating ideas, as well as the usefulness of them. Susanka is a big gift from the not so big design genie.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Via Guido Reni 10 00196 Rome

MAXXI Interior

15.11.2009 Rome - Museum of 21st Century public opening

Zaha Hadid, Architect / Designer

Rome's National Museum of 21st Century Contemporary Art and Architecture, whose acronym is MAXXI, was opened to the public yesterday, 15 November 2009. Its official opening will be sometime in 2010, but by all the first reports the space is stunning. Baghdad-born, London-based, and first woman to win the coveted Pritzker Prize, Zaha Hadid, is the building's architect. To some, this seems like Rome's Bilbao moment.

The building required 51,000 tons of concrete and steel, and $203 million of construction dollars. This wonderful Flickr slideshow gives you a good look at the structure from the eye-popping photos it has already inspired. Jay Merrick of The Independent in the UK (which actually has a daily section devoted to architecture), made these comments in this article after a recent visit:

The sweeping geometry of its form and its internal configuration are almost baroque in the way they modulate volume, light and glimpsed views. Exterior spaces are intertwined, sometimes dramatically, at other times with an almost graceful restraint. Inside, the drama is much more visceral. Heavy black staircases, underlit by white lightboxes, rise as if in flowing oriental brush strokes into the overlapping volumes of the gallery spaces. We seem to be in an Expressionist film set.
I have read that the sometimes languid, sometimes fiery, Hadid dislikes handrails. In some of the photos, you can detect the recessed handrails she brought to the design in the main halls. This comment is not meant to be trivial. It is an attempt to consider the mind-busting thought that goes into the details of ground breaking projects like this one.

Hadid was awarded this project over a decade ago, long before she became an international icon for architecture, much like Gehry's relationship to Bilbao. There will be more news to come on this project, but you can say, for now, that Hadid has taken Rome.

New York Times article
Design Museum, British Council, Biography/Comments
Design Boom article - good review and photos
Zaha Hadid Project: Painting as Building
Wiki: Zaha Hadid

Monday Morning Graffiti

Holding up the city’s shaky infrastructure.
You can find Argentine, Gualicho’s website here. (Photo by celso_nyc.)

Get to Know a Graffiti Artist:

"Gualicho was born in Buenos Aires. Though he has lived in this city all his life, he’s one of several artists constantly on the move. He has recently traveled and painted walls all over South and Central America. He began painting graffiti in 1998 and, from 2006 onwards, he’s been using the pseudonym “Gualicho”. His art is very distinctive and colourful. He creates new worlds by inter-connecting animals, plants and machines, also retro-futurist cities and ambiguous characters which reflect archetypes within human beings. He draws upon influences such as folk art, religious icons, comic graphics and 60s psychedelia, together with his own urban heritage on graffiti culture, comic, tattoo, skate and rock. He defines his style as post or neo-graffiti, though he also works vastly on canvas, paper and other materials. Since 2001 he co-manages Barfuss, an animation studio, where he has created pieces for several international companies."

via Escape Into Life
Flickr photo stream slideshow here