“At the present day a library has become as necessary an appendage to a house as a hot and cold bath” wrote the Roman Stoic Seneca at some point in the first century CE, “I would excuse them straightway if they really were carried away by an excessive zeal for literature; but as it is, these costly works of sacred genius, with all the illustrations that adorn them, are merely bought for display and to serve as wall-furniture.”1
While the glossy coffee table book may be have become an increasingly popular, and commercially successful, use of books as idle representation, we’d be interested to know how many individuals in the past months have deliberately positioned themselves in front of a carefully reorganised bookcase for work video conferences, or how many politicians have ensured that an appropriately stocked bookcase serves as the background for their video interview?
For, and despite the, alleged, reduction in the relevance and importance of the printed word in contemporary society, the bookcase remains, in contrast to the bath, not only a near ubiquitous piece of domestic furniture, but a strongly symbolic object…….
“Wij hebben de nieuwe wereld te scheppen” wrote a, then, 19 year old Mart Stam in 1919.1
“We have to create the new world”
And subsequently spent the following decades developing, explaining and demonstrating his understandings of what that meant……
“What August dosen’t do, September puts right”1 opined once Johann Wolfgang Goethe.
And loathed as we are to contradict Goethe. He’s wrong.
August may be a time when one can allow oneself a little more freedom than the rest of the year; however, that which we call life is the actions, experiences, leanings, emotions of each month consecutively and sequentially building on, informing and evolving one-another, a month of inactivity is a month of moments missed, and hoping that September can in some form rectify for a laxness in August is wishful thinking.
And this year not particularly sensible: for as we all understand, that which we don’t do in August may come back to bite us in September.
Thus, on this occasion, ignore Goethe, and use August wisely, sagely and as a chance to get more out of September. And subsequently get more out of October. November. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Our five recommendations for meaningful things to do in August 2020, apart from regular hand washing, keeping abreast of local developments/advice and maintaining mutual respectful relations with those around you, can be found in Tallinn, Brussels, Malmö, Amsterdam and Berlin.
And as ever in these times, if you are planning visiting any museum or exhibition, please familiarise yourself in advance with the current ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, cloakroom, etc rules and systems. And during your visit please stay safe, stay responsible, and above all, stay curious….
While understandings of form, of beauty, in context of the objects with which we surround ourselves continually evolve and develop, understandings of function are, generally, much more stable. Or at least are once they have been identified, understood and normalised.
Something that can be studied and appreciated in Thomas E. Warren’s Centripetal Spring Chair…..
In all corners of the globe one finds objects of furniture which developed in response to local conditions, traditions and practices; vernacular objects without a formal author and which although, on account of?, arising from a very specific place and time can, invariably, both teach us a lot about the essentials of furniture and help explain furniture’s relationships with wider realities.
And objects we want to celebrate, starting with arguably, one of the best known examples of vernacular furniture: the Windsor chair.
The German designer and graphic artist Otl Aicher once opined, “Hans Gugelot wasn’t a theoretician. But not a practitioner either. What is one if neither a theorist nor a practitioner?”1
With the exhibition Hans Gugelot. The Architecture of Design the HfG-Archiv Ulm allows one to approach an answer…..
Christa Petroff-Bohne arrived a trifling couple of minutes late for the opening of Beauty of Form.
And was most apologetic, apologised for keeping us all waiting.
Whereby, we couldn’t help thinking, it is much more us, all, the international community, who should be apologising for keeping Christa Petroff-Bohne waiting for such a comprehensive and rounded recognition of her work and career………1
July is traditionally a slow month for new architecture and design exhibition openings. July 2020 less so. Not because of any fundamental changes in understandings amongst architecture and design museums of when is a good time to open an exhibition; but because owing to Corona many shows scheduled to open in the spring had to be postponed, not least until the museums were allowed to open.
And throughout July 2020 ever more museums are planned and planning to open; meaning ever more architecture and design exhibitions are planned and planning to open throughout July 2020.
And thus, while our physical travel options may still be limited, our (potential) cerebral and cultural travel spheres continues to expand, and that is never a bad thing.
If you do feel comfortable about visiting a museum, and are physically allowed to do so, as we will never tire of saying in these trying of times, please familiarise yourself in advance with the current ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, cloakroom, etc rules and systems.
And during your visit please stay safe, stay responsible, and above all, stay curious….
Given the very close connections between Le Corbusier and France, one could be forgiven for, occasionally, forgetting that he was born in Switzerland.
With the exhibition Le Corbusier and Zürich the Museum für Gestaltung allow not only an insight into the Le Corbusier biography as charted by Switzerland’s largest city, but also of his not always easy relationship with the country of his birth.
Our recent deliberations on Bauhaus and music very naturally led us to a whole raft of further deliberations on the associations between music and other forms of creative expression; and for all the question, given that so many of those Bauhäusler who had/could have had second careers as musicians were artists, are there designers who have/had second careers as musicians…….
…….of course there are……
“It’s not possible to define a style in my work”1, opined once the Italian architect and designer Gae Aulenti.
With the exhibition Gae Aulenti: A Creative Universe, the Vitra Design Museum Schaudepot don’t contradict that opinion, but do provide for a framework for considerations on its validity……
In a letter in 2008 to the editors of the Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians concerning remarks in an article on the staged illumination of Mies van der Rohe’s skeletal frame constructions, the architecture historian Kathleen James-Chakraborty refers to the “linking of Heinrich Tessenow’s Festspielhaus of 1910-12 in Hellerau with the installation for the glass industry that Mies designed (in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom Petty does not mention) for the Stuttgart Werkbund exhibition in 1927.”1
“(in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom Petty does not mention)”
(in collaboration with Lilly Reich, whom history so often does not mention, or when then fleetingly and sparingly, and which thus tends to leave Lilly Reich’s oeuvre in the shadows. Not least in the shadows of the staged illumination of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe…….)
As previously noted, the (hi)story of the office is long and has its origins in functions and individuals rather than physical spaces; its understanding evolving over the course of several centuries as those functions/individuals gradually became synonyms for their physical place of activity. Before in the course of the 19th century its understanding became increasingly institutionalised, not least against the background of increasing commerce, industry and civic administration, and leading to the emergence of the “office building” as an identifiable branch of architecture; something, arguably, most popularly associated with the skyscrapers of Chicago, and in which context Louis H Sullivan penned the (fateful) words “form ever follows function, and this is the law.“1
A law, tenet, understanding, option, that Sullivan’s former employee, and in many regards pupil, Frank Lloyd Wright developed to a milestone of office building design with his Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, New York.
Interesting, important and not irrelevant as hygiene is at the moment, the new exhibition at the Deutsches Hygiene-Museum Dresden doesn’t concern itself with pandemics, but with another subject of contemporary global interest, importance and relevance: food, food supply, food security.
And a theme not entirely unrelated to, certainly not unaffected by, our current reality……
We thought long and hard as to if we should continue our online exhibition recommendations series, or go back to offline exhibitions…… and decided for a return to offline.
We fully appreciate that in a lot of countries museums are still closed, as indeed are the international borders that you would normally and naturally criss-cross for a short city break to visit those that are open; however, many museums are open, many more are planned/planning to open in the course of June, and interesting and informative as online presentations can be, viewing an exhibition in a museum is the more satisfying experience, the more rewarding experience, the more enduring experience. And an important experience.
As we oft opine, museums aren’t just about collecting and preserving the past, nor just additions, adornments, to cafés and gift shops; rather they are locations for discourse, contemplation and reflection. Locations in which not only subjects which, in the overhyped, overheated marketplace of contemporary media may never find an audience, can be allowed to tell their story, can in many cases be allowed to reclaim their place in our (hi)story, but locations where subjects can be approached not only from a multitude of perspectives simultaneously, but from new, contradictory and often otherwise unachievable perspectives, and that without prejudice, bias or a commercial necessity to conform to some preconceived narrative.
Admittedly not every exhibition manages that, many do succumb to an egoistic desire to be a “blockbuster” and thus present an accepted, tourist gaze, presentation of their subject; but there is no reason why every exhibition cannot discuss lesser illuminated subjects without fear or favour.
And when museums do such, and do such well, do such with honesty and impartiality, they become locations which invite, encourage and enable you to extrapolate on that which is presented and to carry your thoughts and arguments over into other arenas and areas, and thereby helping us all approach better understandings of ourselves, individually and collectively, and of the world around us, the innate natural and that which human society has created. While also improving our knowledge of the subject at hand. Clarifying that you may not have understood a subject as completely as you believed you did.
And that’s not an experience and opportunity that one should ever undervalue or neglect. And certainly never stop searching for.
While specifically in context of design exhibitions; for all that online exhibitions can and do offer, there is simply no substitute to being in the presence of a physical object, nor can we imagine there ever will be.
And so while all museums remain virtually open 24/7, and we’d encourage each and everyone of you to use museums’ online services as tools and resources; the fact that many are physically open is much more important. And something to be treasured and made use of.
If made use of with appropriate awareness and sensibility at this moment. Therefore, if you feel comfortable visiting a museum, please before doing so (a) check in advance to ensure that it is actually open, short-term changes can occur and (b) familiarise yourself in advance with ticketing, entry, safety, hygiene, etc rules and systems. And during your visit stay safe and responsible. And receptive for new ideas, new opinions, new names, new perspectives, new connections, new understandings……
On May 17th 1955 Charles Eames*, as assignor to the Herman Miller Furniture Company, was granted US patent 2,708,476 for a “Furniture Frame Construction”, specifically for, “a skeleton type metal furniture frame or shell construction” formed from “a plurality of lengths of wire arranged in crossed relation with another plurality of lengths of wire and welded thereto at their intersection…”1
A patent which although important and interesting in itself, is and was in many regards just as important and interesting for developments that arose on account of it. And for what its (hi)story can teach us about the work of Charles and Ray Eames……..
In a year in which the familiar glow of many a beloved cultural event is missing, one beacon continues to shine.
As a virtual, and in many regards virtual, event the smow Song Contest is one that can be staged regardless of prevailing physical social distancing regulations and physical travel restrictions.
And while virtual closeness and virtual travel can never, and must never be allowed to, replace the physical, the 2020 smow Song Contest does allow us all an opportunity to cross great distances, to come together, to stay safe, to stay responsible, but for all to stay dancing…..
Back in the year 1 BCE, Before Corona Epidemic, we developed a plan to use 2020 to tour through contemporary office design, a tour to be undertaken both physically and theoretically.
A very simple plan developed in the knowledge that in October the Orgatec office furniture fair would be staged in Cologne, and that such a tour would, hopefully, allow us to approach Orgatec 2020 from differentiated and manifold perspectives.
And a simple plan, which, and as with all simple plans, proved more difficult than anticipated. And became all but impossible in the year 1 CE. Or at least the physical part did, the theoretical part remains unaffected. And as older, more loyal, readers will understand, we’re at our happiest with the theoretical components of life.
Thus in the coming weeks we will present a series of (desk bound) reflections and considerations on aspects of both the contemporary office and contemporary public/civic/commercial interiors, whereby our Design Calender post on the opening of the 1993 exhibition Citizen Office at the Vitra Design Museum can be considered an official unofficial first step….. one originally planned as a fourth or fifth step…….
By way of a fuller introduction, and an explanation that despite the unequivocal title the smow Blog #officetour isn’t limited to offices , ⇓⇓⇓ the text we’d written as the original introduction…..
Developed in the mid-1960s as an office furniture system, the inherent flexibility and variability of USM Haller’s modular system has allowed it to naturally evolve alongside office practices and realities; for example, alongside the shift in recent decades from rigid to more flexible office scenographies, alongside the rise in recent decades of home working, or, most recently, with the USM Security Screen which naturally, and quickly, allows any existing USM reception desk to be effortlessly updated and reinvented for our Corona age.
Similarly in the domestic landscape. A landscape USM Haller quickly inhabited and where over the decades the inherent flexibility and variability of its modular system has seen it naturally adapt to the ever evolving realities of domestic life: the domestic life of both the private individual with all its personal fluctuations, high, lows and unpredictability, but also of communal society and, for example, its ever increasing collective networked, digital structure.
But despite its indoor success, system USM Haller hasn’t found its way out of doors……
Bauhaus Weimar’s centenary may now be behind us, but there remains a lot of discussion, consideration and reflection ahead of us. Not least in context of the rapidly approaching Bauhaus Dessau centenary.
By way of an accompaniment to those reflections, considerations and discussions, and of engendering a differing perspective on both the schools and the contexts in which they existed, a Radio smow playlist devoted to music of, from and associated with the Bauhauses.
With the exhibition Citizen Office the Vitra Design Museum staged not only their first conceptual, research based, exhibition, but also one of the first museal reflections on “the world of the office”.
Reflections which not only pointed towards new directions and understandings then, but which offer insights and lessons for today…….
While we’d all much rather physically visit architecture and design museums, our current enforced virtual patronage does allow us all an excellent opportunity to begin to understand architecture and design museums as more than just an exhibition space with shop and café, and to begin to learn to interact with them, and for all their collections, in new, proactive, manners. To understand architecture and design museums as tools as much as institutions.
And while a virtual visit can never replace a physical one, it can help us extenuate and expand our understandings and thereby allow us to take even more from that physical visit. And those physical visits will return.
Until then, volume two of our online recommendations takes you from your sofa to Berlin, Hamburg, Bloomfield Hills, Mumbai, München, and hopefully and awful lot further…..
Throughout his numerous lives and careers Isamu Noguchi practised as an artist, set designer, garden designer, furniture designer, lighting designer, etc…. yet through all incarnations he remained one thing: a sculptor.
Isamu Noguchi’s most popularly known work is inarguably his Akari lamps, yet before Akari there came a lamp which in many regards exists more in context of the man and his art than its more famous relations…..
“The work of the Dresden artist Margarete Junge is largely shrouded in darkness” noted the art historian Gert Claußnitzer in his introduction to the 1981 exhibition “Margarete Junge. Fashion sketches and flower studies”1
And while Margarete Junge’s 2D works may have been allowed to shine, if only briefly, in the early 1980s, her 3D works remained stubbornly shrouded: only in recent years being afforded the opportunity, if only partially, to radiate as they once did.
Thankfully. For the works, and the biography, of Margarete Junge are as interesting and important as they are illuminating……
The 3316 Easy Chair by Arne Jacobsen a.k.a. The Egg is not only one of the most universally recognised works by Jacobsen, but also one of the most popular representatives of both the lounge chair and also of post-War furniture design. Yet, and as with the Easter egg, the Jacobsen Egg is an object whose simple, inviting charms often hide the much more complex, interesting, informative, instructive, realities of its origin and provenance.
And so in a year when many an Easter egg hunt will be extraordinarily localised, we take you an international hunt for the (hi)story of an egg-straordinary chair……