May 31, 2011
Part two of my conversation with architect, thinker, and director of Cranbrook Academy of Art, Reed Kroloff.
What is your vision for how to shape the next generation of architects and designers?
Cranbrook steps way outside the bounds of what is now becoming a typical architecture education. It’s highly lateral—seeking out information from other disciplines. [Students] know how to “make” here. It’s not an elective studio where you have an opportunity to work on a building for a few weeks. At Cranbrook, that’s all we do–we just make. As a result the people who come out of here know what it means to build. That’s all they do.
Cranbrook is a graduate program exclusively. We’re the nation’s only independent graduate school of design education. There’s no curriculum; you and the [artist] in residence decide what you’re going to work on all year. It’s very liberating… you could easily see yourself spending your whole life here.
Cranbrook has had a massively outsized influence on contemporary design culture, more than almost any school in the country. It really has reinvented the way we live, and sit and make buildings and make art.
You were living in New York on 9/11 and in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, how has witnessing these
events shaped you?
I am by nature optimistic and I choose to see the positive above the negative. What I came away from those events with was a greater faith in people and a recognition that we always have to be vigilant, and listen and think and read and learn.
Never under estimate the power of the average citizen to do wonderful things. Because that’s what we saw over and over. The people who just showed up from nowhere with nothing. People who just came and wanted to help. They slept in disgusting places and went out every day to hammer nails and tear down flooded building. And they kept coming in wave after wave. It was really humbling. It changed everything I do.
Read part one of our interview with Reed Kroloff.
May 26, 2011
Nelson took his role of provocateur very seriously and spent his long career asking, challenging, and commenting on design, architectural, business and society at large. He could be cantankerous and opinionated, but he was also brilliant. Much of his writing, and design work feels as contemporary today as it did the day it was created.
Herman Miller owes much to Nelson, whose birthday is May 29. Under his guidance the company pioneered modern design, discovered Charles and Ray Eames, and conceived the first office system. But most of all, Herman Miller owes George Nelson for instilling the company with his design philosophy, the belief that good design is honest, an integral part of business, and that a market exists for it –a philosophy that lives on today.
One would hope that George would feel a sense of satisfaction in products like Aeron, Setu, SAYL, and Compass; proud that the seeds he sowed are still growing today.
If you’re in the San Antonio, Texas area, the McNay museum will be exhibiting George Nelson: Architect, Writer, Designer, Teacher beginning June 8.
Photo: “Junkyard” observations from “George Nelson: The Deisgn of Modern Design“
Design, What's Up
May 25, 2011
Charles Eames famously said it’s the details that make the product. In this case, it was the Herman Miller booth at ICFF. It was an ingenious homage to the J. Irwin Miller House in Columbus, Indiana.
Booth designers Craig Bassam and Scott Fellows added two “walls” to suggest structure. Covering the booth with a fabric scrim supported by white beams softened the harsh lights of the exhibition hall while hinting at the home’s skylights. An interior wall of silk screened with bright, angular shapes abstracted the home’s storage wall. High-gloss flooring and a bed of live ground cover recalled the travertine floor and extended roof lines of the home.
In these areas, where the distinction between indoor and outdoor became blurred, Eames Aluminum Group chairs were on display. The Millers were among the first to embrace these chairs for their terraces. With new fabrics and finishes designed for the outdoors, the chairs have returned to their original intent and took an award for it. These were nestled around an Eames table with a new stone top, the effect striking and wonderfully textural.
May 24, 2011
This is the second in our POV interviews. Last week we talked to Jim Jennings and this week we chat with John Friedman. JFAK is an LA-based architectural practice run by Friedman and his wife Alice Kimm. The two architects met in grad school and moved to Los Angeles for work.They created JFAK in 1996 with the shared idea that good architecture has the power to dramatically affect people’s lives. Today three kids and a thriving practice keep them very busy so we were thrilled that Friedman took time to sit down with us and talk about their work.
You talk about architecture as a puzzle. Do you find there is a language that threads through all your work that helps you solve that design puzzle?
Every project comes with a specific set of opportunities and constraints – in the form of the site (physical and cultural), the program, the budget, and issues that the client may bring to the table, etc. As a functional art, one of the pleasures of the architectural design process is to mold space and material into dynamic environments that solve the puzzle of these various requirements. But of course there is nothing objective about this – the result always reflects the designer’s particular interests, obsessions, and worldview. For me (and this is probably true of my partner, Alice Kimm, as well) this always involves the creation of sculptural forms, interiors that are filled with natural light (often from unexpected sources), the blurring of interior and exterior spaces, and circulation routes that take you through a collection of interlocking interior spaces. What often makes these spaces interesting and dynamic is that they are linked along an implied diagonal, and this further creates surprising views through and across space. The Ehrlich house (above), a house we did before the King house (pictured below), is a good example of this.
Visit Lifework for more of John Friedman’a interview.
Design, What's Up
May 23, 2011
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Reed Kroloff, director of Cranbrook Academy of Art, and pick his brain about the field of architecture today and on shaping the next generation of architects and designers.
Kroloff is an influential thinker who has been a TED presenter, editor-in-chief of Architecture magazine, and while dean of the Tulane School of Architecture, he oversaw the planning for rebuilding New Orleans in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina.
In your role as educator, editor, and consultant, you have a unique perspective on how the field has changed over the years. What have you observed?
First and most fundamental has been the digitization of the field. It has utterly revolutionized every aspect of architectural practice from our earliest thoughts of the creation of a building, to the documents, to the execution and construction of the building. Digitization gives architects and designers greater control over their projects than they’ve had perhaps since the middle of the Twentieth Century. Twenty-five years ago, architects didn’t see themselves as part of the building process. They saw themselves as supervisory and peripheral. Now they see themselves as central to it, as they always should have.
The second change is the arrival of women and minorities to the field. Architecture was a tenaciously late player to the game, but it has now come around and is actively embracing this, recognizing that there are tremendous benefits to inclusivity. While ownership and management of firms is still an area where women and minorities are dramatically underrepresented, still their presence in the profession overall is enormously large.
This is a good thing for all the right social equity and justice reasons, but also because it allows the architectural profession to come into line with where other industries have gone before. It begins to align the profession with other professions where women and minorities have already become a presence.
The third major change has been the splintering of the field into subspecialties. Some firms, for example, just design the curtain walls of buildings. Some firms just analyze rental real estate rates and how that affects floor plans.
This creates opportunities for real expertise, but it also splinters the field into such small shards that generalist practices become threatened. The client becomes more confused, and an army of consultants is created, such as owner’s representatives, that are odious in their effect on the practice because they get between the architect and his or her client.
Read part two of our interview with Reed Kroloff.
Better World, What's Up
May 19, 2011
Get your attention? I know it got mine.
That is the beauty of Pechakucha: 20 seconds per slide and only 20 slides is just 400 seconds to tell your story. Grab the audience’s attention early, move quickly, and be concise, and you will be successful.
Brian Malarkey, author of the “We spend 19% of our money on cars” quote, spent 400 seconds (6:40) making the case for a better approach to energy consumption. He feels that the future will require us to explore and support alternative transportation options, not just rely on cars.
Brian was among eight presenters who answered the question, “What does it mean to be a sustainable city?” as part of a themed Pechakucha (PK) event held in Herman Miller’s Houston showroom. From the built environment, to conserving the natural environment, to sustainability as a public-policy issue, everyone delivered a unique perspective on the theme
Sustainability is an important topic for Houston as it challenges itself to become a truly sustainable city. And for Herman Miller as well, as we move closer to our goal of zero waste by 2020.
Checkout Pechakucha’s website to find a PK near you, and for information on starting your own event.
Photo: Ian Johnston
May 18, 2011
SAYL received the International Design Award for “Product Design of the Year” at a ceremony Sunday evening. That’s a pretty cool award to get. Getting there took a good designer challenging us just as much as we challenged him.
SAYL designer Yves Behar did just that. He asked, “How do we create a task chair that is attainable? Can we make a comfortable, supportive, healthy, and beautiful chair at a lower price point?” Yves challenged us to develop a technology not seen in low-cost seating.
Herman Miller likes designers that ask tough questions and look for creative answers. We also like to work collaboratively to help achieve their vision. Design and engineering should be at the table from the beginning. We feel a close relationship is a key to innovation.
SAYL’s 3D Intelligent back is a perfect example. Herman Miller worked in tandem with Yves on iteration after iteration, each requiring a new mold, in order to achieve proper supportive flex. It took months of trial and error. Traditional methods would have been easy, and less expensive to develop, but we knew Yves was on to something.
Innovation is not an easy or straight forward road to travel, but we’re okay with that. And an award or two helps, too.
Photos: Live Unframed
Design, What's Up
May 17, 2011
The recent launch of our online store offered up the unique opportunity to shoot Herman Miller designs in iconic homes. Working closely with Hello Design and photographer Juergen Nogai (who was the late Julius Shulman’s longtime partner) Herman Miller’s Steve Frykholm set out to showcase our pieces in some pretty amazing settings. This is the first of five interviews with the architects who designed the houses we shot in. All reside in California and each has an interesting and unique story to tell.
We start with Jim Jennings who founded his practice in 1975. When interviewed by Architectural Digest for their top 100 designers list Jenkins said of his work, “it always begins with the site and with the clues and conditions found there. Each physical circumstance suggests a particular expression of scale, space and material. For me, a great building is one that is both rational and poetic—and projects a quiet strength.” For more from Jim and shots from the shoot check out our POV site.
Your recent work spans so many climates – with the retreat you designed for yourself in Palm Springs and a house on the beach in Oahu. Yet even with the very different terrains I see a common language in your forms. There’s a strong horizontal quality to your work and a use of sliding walls, screens or open rectangular spaces that engage with the outdoors. What drives those design decisions?
The two houses (Lanikai and Palm Springs) illustrate a similar approach to architectural form. They are both rectilinear in composition with strong hovering roof planes. Both have walls that open large areas of interior space to the outside Both respond to the need for shade and the free movement of air. Although the formal aspects of each building link them, each is conceptually grounded in its very specific place with opposing site conditions.
The Lanikai house is designed to block heavy ocean breezes, which is why it stretches the entire width of the site. Glass doors will stop a strong wind but can be pocketed to modulate airflow. Teak lattices can be positioned to provide protection from the sun without interrupting moving air or visibility. The house is permeable.
The Palm Springs house is the opposite. It is a walled enclosure that is inwardly focused, protective, self-contained. The surrounding wall is designed to create an environment that relates only to itself and the nearby mountain that dominates the view. When the glass doors are opened, the house becomes the entire space inside the wall.
See Lifework for more of Jim Jennings’ interview.
May 16, 2011
It isn’t every day a product introduced 53 years ago wins an award. But that’s the case with the Eames Aluminum Group. Its new version, with fabrics and finishes ready for the outdoors, landed the 2011 ICFF Editors Awards in the Outdoor Furniture category. A classic originally introduced in 1958 has returned to its original intent.
May 16, 2011
We’ve been busy this weekend at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF) in New York City. This year’s booth was inspired by the Miller House and designed by BassamFellows (check out Lifework for more on these two very soon). It’s a clear and beautiful design statement that showcases our pieces perfectly, including the new Eames Aluminum Group Chairs (which won Best Outdoor Furniture category in the Editor’s Choice Awards).
Tomorrow the show opens to the public, so stop by for a visit, check out the booth, and tryout one of the new chairs. If you can’t make it, we’ve put together a slideshow for you. Enjoy!
Photos 1-5 via Paul Warchol Photography.