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Posts tagged INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
Last week interior designer Clodagh (like Cher and Madonna, there’s no last name required) concluded a presentation of her chic, contemporary bathroom designs with a heartfelt appeal for water conservation. She showed images of happy, hydrated children around the world, and of a toilet/lavatory like this one, with a sink over the toilet tank that reuses handwashing water for flushing. It seemed clever and obvious and, also, too weird to be true. Will the skinny little faucet provide enough water to rinse your hands properly? Will water splash up from the shallow basin onto the toilet seat? And will it be awkward leaning over the toilet seat to brush your teeth? While I see how this toilet would work well in small, retrofit powder rooms, I wouldn’t feel comfortable specifying it for a client. There’s still, for me, a strangeness about seeing a toilet and a lavatory combined so seamlessly.
So many popular green construction strategies rely on advanced technologies like photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, and geothermal wells. While the systems are energy-saving, and becoming more and more affordable, it’s simpler, low-tech solutions that might be the most powerful. There are sun movement studies, exterior plantings, and super-insulating construction methods architects can use to help heat and cool rooms more economically. This toilet/lavatory has a similar low-tech vibe, which might limit its appeal to style-conscious clients and designers. How can manufacturers make these types of products, that are so important to green design, positively alluring? And how can designers overcome their biases?
Vision-impaired, temporarily, from dilating drops administered during a routine eye exam, I stumbled home from the doctor’s office like a movie drunk, navigating by counting blocks, and attaching myself to other pedestrians to cross the street. I couldn’t read street signs, gauge the distance of oncoming traffic, or see clearly into store windows. For the hour or so that the drops remained in effect, I was unable to read, write, use my phone, or move around my neighborhood with any degree of confidence. Powerfully, if only temporarily, disoriented, I came home, sat down, and waited for the effects of the drops to subside. It all made me acutely appreciative of my eyesight.
At their design triennial last year the Cooper-Hewitt included a pair of self-adjustable eyeglasses designed by Josh Silver for Adaptive Eyewear, a non-profit overseen by the Centre for Vision in the Developing World. A wearer can adjust the lenses with the turn of a dial to correct refractive problems, without an eye exam or prescription. Silver was trained as an atomic physicist, but now he’s working to bring improved vision to one billion people internationally before 2020. A pair of these eyeglasses can be life-changing for someone without access to formal vision care; it’s some kind of gift. And the frames have a nice retro, Encyclopedia Brown-goes-steampunk feeling. Elaine Scarry has written about the deep beauty of the light bulb, describing how this seemingly inert object transformed our lives, releasing our bodies and imaginations from darkness. I’d say that eyeglasses are similarly transformative.
I subscribe to the myth, still. I believe that Modernism is something entirely divorced from what went before, a historical rupture, a revolution. But the exhibit celebrating reknown nineteenth-century New York furniture maker Duncan Phyfe on view now at the Met makes it seem much less so. Phyfe opened his workshop in 1794 and died in 1854. His work impresses because, like a lot of great work, while it seems absolutely of its time it also looks far forward.
As displayed in the small, open, interconnected galleries in the museum’s American Wing, adjacent to the work of his contemporaries, Phyfe’s pieces have a singular assurance. They are finer, smarter and less fussy, with more elemental profiles. And they are stronger, more fit, than the other Victorian pieces, which seem to be drowning in their own over-ripe Gothic and classical embellishments, some so much so that it’s hard to determine what purpose they serve. Is that a side table or an umbrella stand? A console or a bench. After taking in the Phyfe exhibit my friend and I walked through galleries packed with Arts and Craft, Art Deco and Shaker treasures, arriving finally at the museum’s famous Frank Lloyd Wright-designed period room. The Duncan Phyfe exhibit was a perfect overture.
A few years ago Thomasville launched The Ernest Hemingway Furniture Collection with four lines called “Paris,” “Kenya,” “Key West,” and “Havana,” inspired by the great writer’s travels. The pieces, exaggerated versions of regional styles, had a real appeal. (The company still sells Hemingway furniture in some of these styles, but now it’s only classified by room.) The furniture richly evoked the mythology of the writer. And it was just a beginning. Thomasville could have followed with “Ketchum,” “Pamplona,” and “Oak Park.” Hemingway had so many lives, so many incarnations. Every reader can sift through them and choose the Hemingway she likes best.
After reading A Moveable Feast, “Paris” became my favorite. That memoir, in which Hemingway describes his life there as a young writer in the 1920’s, was completed in the late 1950’s, decades afterwards. In the book Hemingway remembers Gertrude Stein, Pablo Picasso and F. Scott Fitzgerald. And he remembers his (first) wife, his (first) son, and his work. He rented a small, unheated garret for writing, and climbed the steps each morning with empty copy books, pencils, and a pocketful of oranges. He struggled over the empty pages all day, and the oranges sometimes froze before he could eat them. This Hemingway, remembered softly, is the one that appears in Woody Allen’s movie Midnight in Paris, and he’s entirely winning. The movie gives us a Stein, a Picasso and a Fitzgerald that are convincing, but it’s Hemingway, played by Corey Stoll, that really springs to life. He stares boldly and impassively at whomever he’s with, and speaks in slow, absolute declarations that are at once stylistically accurate and richly satirical. He’s always drinking and challenging men to boxing matches, but we don’t see any of the consequences. We only see the young man.