Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sony Walkman - 30th Anniversary

When thinking about electronics design, the Sony Walkman was the leading edge of a technological revolution. Just for fun, the BBC gave a Walkman to a 13-year old and asked him to use it for a week and report back. Here's the article about the investigation. Don't miss the comments, where Walkman users wax nostalgic. One of our favorite lines from the reviewer, 13-year old Scott Campbell:

Personally, I'm relieved I live in the digital age, with bigger choice, more functions and smaller devices. I'm relieved that the majority of technological advancement happened before I was born, as I can't imagine having to use such basic equipment every day.
Those Walkman years were tough!

One wonders how the iPod will stand up to its 30th Anniversary. We imagine Steve Jobs will still here, completely rebuilt.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Charles and Ray Eames Get Spacey

People mostly know the superstar couple Charles and Ray Eames for the amazing furniture they designed. Actually they were true multi-disciplinarians, as proven by this film they made in 1977, entitled ‘Powers of Ten’ for IBM. Elmer Bernstein wrote the sci-fi score. It opens with a picnic in a park, before taking the viewer on a journey out to the edge of the universe, and then back to a carbon atom inside the hand of the man.

It serves to put things into perspective.

As a point of earthly reference, in the late 1940s, as part of the Arts & Architecture magazine's "Case Study" program, Ray and Charles designed and built the groundbreaking Eames House, Case Study House #8, as their home. Located upon a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean and hand-constructed within a matter of days entirely of pre-fabricated steel parts intended for industrial construction, it remains a milestone of modern architecture.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Lamenting Lost Marbles.

Twelves years in the planning and execution, the Acropolis Museum officially opened 20 June 2009. Crouching 300 yards from the Parthenon's slender bones like a skewed stack of glass boxes, the $180 million museum provides a setting for some of the best surviving works of classical sculpture that once adorned the Acropolis. With about 150,000 square feet of exhibition space, it holds more than 4,000 ancient works, many of them never displayed before due to lack of space in the cramped old museum that sat atop the Acropolis hill.

The larger issue that was fueled by the opening of the Acropolis Museum, is of "the Marbles." Only about half of the original marble panels from the famous frieze that used to encircle the Parthenon are on view. The remainder famously, or infamously, line the walls of the Duveen gallery in London’s British Museum, to which they were transported in the early 19th century by the Scottish aristocrat Thomas Bruce, seventh Earl of Elgin, hence called, "The Elgin Marbles." A cogent point of view on the whole issue of the "looted" marbles is nicely articulated by Greek blogger Pinelope.

If you enjoy reading well written architectural descriptions, we think Nicolai Ouroussoff, the New York Times architecture and design critic, provides some of the very best. He's description of the Acropolis Museum reflects the beauty and imagery of great architectural writing. Here's a snip from his review of the building designed by Swiss-born architect, Bernard Tschumi:
The genius lies in how the room snaps disparate sculptural and architectural fragments into their proper context. You first enter the south side of the gallery, where the museum’s friezes and metopes will be seen against the chalky backdrop of the rooftops of Athens. As you turn a corner, the Parthenon comes into full view; the ancient temple hovers through huge windows to your right. The eastern facade of the Parthenon and the sculptures that once adorned it unite in your imagination, allowing you to picture the temple as it was in Periclean Athens. Eventually you descend through a sequence of smaller galleries, where the glories of the High Classical period gradually give way to Roman copies of Greek antiquities. The Parthenon fades from view.
Reviews of this building, generally, conclude that the design of it reveals the importance of the return of the Marbles to their rightful country. We're sure this debate will continue for some time.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Out with the Old in with the New?

New York City: Old Pennsylvania Station

New York City: New Penn Station

The Infrastructurist blog provides a look at eleven historic buildings that met the wrecking ball and what replaced them. Try not to cry. Better, yet, cry.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

No joke.

Those of us who appreciate the history, legend and design of Moleskine notebooks, will understand the ire that knock-offs generate. The notebook on the left is a real Moleskine, made in Milan, Italy, where it should be made. The notebook on the right is made in Germany, where it shouldn't.

An organization, aptly named, Plagiarius has taken on the (heroic) work of identifying companies that copy and market other's design ideas. Plariarius hands-out public awards to these dubious companies who prefer to hide in the shadows. Surprisingly, they are not all Chinese, although companies in Guangdong, PR China show up a few too many time through the years. Here is the 2008 roster of those who choose to copy rather than innovate.

Plagiarius announces their negative award, during a press conference, at the annual “Ambiente” household consumables trade fair, held in Frankfurt, Germany. The award is conferred on those companies that the jury has found guilty of making "the most flagrant" design imitations. As his award icon, Rido Busse, the founder of Plagiarius, chose a gnome, which he painted black with a gold nose to signify the “illicit earnings from product imitation."

Our favorite award was entitled, "Special Award for Falsification of a Vacuum-Pump." In nothing sacred?!

Some Facts & Numbers from Plagiarius

> 10% of world-wide commerce are fakes and plagiarisms

> Annual world-wide economic loss: EUR 200-300 billion

> Annual world-wide loss of jobs: 200.000

> Dramatically rising numbers of confiscations through customs

> Increase of unauthorized/unfounded product liability claims on part of the creatives

Hat tip to PAW

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Berliners Brainstorm

Recently Tempelhof Airport, in the center of Berlin, was closed . The city of Berlin challenged citizens to come up with some ideas for the 300 hectare site. Normally, architecture prevails, the bigger the better: gigantic hotels in fancy shapes, sky-high office towers, hovering philharmonic temples, dramatic sports arenas. Architect, Jakob Tigges, proposed an amazing idea: build a 1,071 meter high mountain.

Tigges, Tempelhof Mountain would be constructed of rubble. The German construction industry produces 280 million tons of rubble in a year, for starters. We think it is a wondrous idea. The creation of a new "natural" structure would add both a visual and emotional anchor to the community that few buildings achieve.

It seems that all involved understand that the idea would be difficult to pull off. There are many supporters trying to figure out the ecological impact of moving 280 million tons of rubble, for example. Getting the mountain developed has some difficulties. It may not happen, but, what the idea serves to do is create a "holding space' for the site. This pause allows some creative space to consider an ingenious solution, one that has inspired people to think differently about the use of space. We really like that.

Jakob Tigges Facebook page

Turn, Turn, Turn

"The answer my friend, is blowin' in the wind." The wind power industry is seeking trained technicians. Community colleges and technical institutes are creating wind turbine technician programs as fast as they can. One of the first classes is at Cerro Coso Community College in Kern County, California. When the class was announced in February, the course fee was $1,000. The demand for the class has been so high that the course fee has since doubled! America is mobilizing the green industry.

If you can climb to 300 feet and can face the possibility of, ahem...dismemberment, you will make $15 to $20 an hour. Crack technicians will make in the six figures. These are permanent jobs that will be necessary as long as there are wind turbines. Prediction: 250,000 jobs. Let's hope.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Vertical Gardens!

Kevin Smith, founder of Smith Built is a prolific designer. Although Smith is primarily a builder, his vertical gardens are triumphant. They are an inspiring delight. We like them.

The one below, installed at the Bardessono Hotel in Napa Valley, in collaboration with the brilliant Flora Grubb of Flora Grubb Gardens, is a magical, show stopper.

Poisoning of the Cities

Nicolai Ouroussoff, New York Times architecture and design critic is not happy. In his critique of the new Brooklyn Nets Arena, Ouroussoff describes the design:

A colossal, spiritless box, it would fit more comfortably in a cornfield than at one of the busiest intersections of a vibrant metropolis. Its low-budget, no-frills design embodies the crass, bottom-line mentality that puts personal profit above the public good. If it is ever built, it will create a black hole in the heart of a vital neighborhood.

Whew! He goes on:
But what’s most offensive about the design is the message it sends to New Yorkers. Architecture, we are being told, is something decorative and expendable, a luxury we can afford only in good times, or if we happen to be very rich. What’s most important is to build, no matter how thoughtless or dehumanizing the results. It is the kind of logic that kills cities — and that has been poisoning this one for decades.
For the complete review, click here.