Kate Convissor is testing the limits of mobile technology as she writes for Discover while on an extended road trip. You can follow her travel blog at www.wanderingnotlost.org.
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.
March 11, 2011
After making the list for 23 out of 25 years, Herman Miller again is one of FORTUNE magazine’s “Most Admired” companies for 2011. Herman Miller was ranked #2 in an expanded “Home Equipment, Furnishings” category and was the only office furniture manufacturer to make the list. The company was also ranked first in five of the nine attributes—innovation, people management, use of corporate assets, social responsibility, and quality of products and services.
Before you move on to read something else, consider that this has been a year of winnowing. Now, hard upon the recent economic turmoil, some companies are well-positioned to move forward; others remain on shaky ground; and yet others have disappeared completely. According to FORTUNE magazine, this year’s list contains more new names than ever before—and fewer of the old standards. FORTUNE calls it, “a new competitive order…that will probably last years.” Companies that made the list this year “through good times and bad…dared to differ from how most competitors were behaving.”
If “daring to differ” is a differentiator, it comes as no surprise that Herman Miller continues to rank high on the “Most Admired” companies list. Setting trends, creating markets, and not following the herd is in Herman Miller’s corporate DNA. This recognition reaffirms that if the vision is broad enough, the roots deep enough, and the moral ground solid enough, it doesn’t matter what the rest of the world does. In this case, the rest of the world recognized a leader—yet again.
March 2, 2011
Daniel Korb has a penchant for simplicity, which is evident in the design of products like Herman Miller’s Sense Desking System. He began his studies in interior design, and he began his professional career with the architectural firm, Zinsmeister and Scheffler, and later migrated to furniture design, all of which provides what he considers a necessary “holistic view of the world.”
His firm, Korb + Korb, which he runs with his architect wife, Susan, reflects that holistic view. Based in Baden, Switzerland, the firm operates at the intersection of architecture, design, and communication, finding creativity and inspiration in the mix. That holistic blend must be fertile ground if Korb + Korb’s impressive list of projects and awards, which include several international awards for the Sense system, are any indication.
Here are seven questions for Daniel Korb:
1. What are you working on right now?
Actually, I’m working on different projects, but my main goal is to understand what I’m really after. Since I’ve worked for more than 25 years as an architect and designer I’m asking myself, What do you really want to achieve? Therefore, I started my own project to determine what does really matter [in the design of a building].
Just as a doctor is responsible for his patient, an architect and designer is responsible for his product and what it means for his customer. To add value is key for me. This could be very basic like choosing the right color for a wall or selecting the right material for a product. I do not only want to facilitate the way people meet, but also I would like to add a certain quality to the space in which they meet and a quality to the furniture involved. We know that a good space can inspire us, and I want to refocus myself on how this quality might be achieved.
February 11, 2011
Brian Kane came to design early and has pursued it obsessively for 40 years. Fresh out of college with a degree in industrial design, he worked for Silvio Coppolo in Milan, Italy. Still in his early 30s, he became partner, part-owner, and vice president of development and design of Metropolitan Furniture Corporation (Metro) in New York City. A dozen years later, in March 1989, he established Brian Kane Design Studio in San Francisco where he’s been ever since.
Kane’s seating resides unobtrusively in some of the most recognizable cityscapes in the world, from Manhattan to San Francisco. He also recently designed Swoop lounge furniture for Herman Miller.
Here are seven questions for Brian Kane:
1. What are you working on right now?
My current projects include the completion of the Swoop lounge area concept. Other elements are needed, such as café stools and tables, lighting, privacy screens, technology cabinets—all the things required to supply the needs of this ‘working lounge’ collaborative environment.
2. Which of your projects are you most proud of?
For sure, the Swoop collection for Herman Miller. Watching the way people act in public spaces and providing a whole-room solution for that environment was a great design problem—and I’m very happy with the final design.
I’m also proud to have my Landscape Forms’ bench solutions all over the streets of New York City and San Francisco.
January 28, 2011
Within its sphere of influence, Herman Miller works hard to stay true to its ethos of environmental stewardship and to fulfill its commitment to zero waste by 2020. But whether it’s environmentally friendly facilities or responsible manufacturing processes, companies like Herman Miller can only move ahead as fast as the science that undergirds these techniques and processes.
One place where research is happening on a large scale is Biosphere2 in the desert north of Tucson, Arizona. Biosphere1 is our Earth.
Managed by the University of Arizona, Biosphere2 is a scientist’s dream. It’s a 3-acre Star Trek-like greenhouse of glass and steel completely sealed from the surrounding desert. Within this sealed environment, five mini-biomes, such as mangrove wetlands, a savannah grassland, and a coral reef, have been created. Because these environments can be minutely controlled, science can proceed on a large scale.
Studies are underway, for example, to compare the effect of drought on native grasses like tanglehead versus invasive species like buffelgrass. Or to examine how fast carbon dioxide is absorbed in a rain forest.
Ultimately, the kind of research that’s happening at Biosphere2 should result in a better understanding of how our planet works, as well as nuts-and-bolts ways to preserve and protect our fragile biosystems. That’s the kind of research that companies like Herman Miller might find useful in the future.
January 20, 2011
In August 2009, the traveling exhibit Good Design: Stories from Herman Miller hit the road. In a multilayered story format, the exhibit examines the development of well-known Herman Miller products, such as the Aeron chair, Action Office, and a selection of iconic Eames products. Each story explores how a need was met through the collaborative, problem-solving approach that Herman Miller does so well.
“When you look at needs and problems, you aren’t inhibited by the market constraints,” says John Berry, guest curator of the exhibit. “It’s very much about understanding a need and meeting that need and creating, as Herman Miller often does, a brand new market.”
The exhibit is the result of a collaboration between the Muskegon Museum of Art (MMA) and The Henry Ford Museum, which houses the largest collection of Herman Miller products in the world. Since its opening at the MMA, Good Design has traveled to four cities: St. Paul, Minnesota; Dearborn, Michigan; Syracuse, New York; and lately, San Angelo, Texas. Wherever it goes, the reception has been enthusiastic.
“Even in San Angelo, in the middle of Texas, the opening attracted 600 people,” says Berry.
“I find that people can relate to the exhibit because these are items that are in the common vernacular,” he adds. “When you see a plastic shell chair that you probably sat on in school, you can say, ‘Oh, that was an Eames design.’ You understand that this chair wasn’t the result of casual decisions. It required serious, robust research to meet real needs.”
The exhibit is scheduled to open at the Leigh Yawkey Woodson Art Museum in Wausau, Wisconsin, from January 29, 2011, to April 3, 2011. Additional stops include Austin, Texas; Midland, Michigan; Chattanooga, Tennessee; San Francisco, California; and Kalamazoo, Michigan, before it ends in 2013.
Design, Healthcare, Products
January 12, 2011
Gianfranco Zaccai brings to design a synergy of two cultures: the rational, practical, American approach he grew up in and the more emotional, traditional, Italian perspective that is his heritage.
While he may have relied on American practicality in his design of the Swiffer system for Proctor & Gamble, he clearly drew from broad experience and a depth of understanding in his work on Herman Miller’s Compass system.
He also is the co-founder of Continuum, an international design firm.
Here are seven questions (plus a half) for Gianfranco Zaccai:
1. What are you working on right now?
Well, I’m working on another project for Herman Miller. Like Compass, it’s in healthcare, which is a particularly compelling area to work in. When I first got out of design school, I began to focus on bringing a human touch to healthcare. That’s really vital.
There’s an overwhelming amount of technology in healthcare. Even doctors get overwhelmed by the evolution in certain disciplines. What gets lost is the human touch.
2. Which of your projects are you most proud of?
Years ago, I worked on another project for Herman Miller that never went to market, but it dealt with ways to allow people to stay at home as they aged or developed disabilities. We came up with a series of solutions for things like personal hygiene, for example. My own parents were aging at the time, so the development of the project came from observing them. When we were building prototypes, many people talked about how they needed something like it for their mothers—or for themselves. It never went into production, but those conversations indicated a need.
3. What inspires you? Where do you go for inspiration?
The way we approach any project is to get deeply into the context. So, with healthcare, we spend a lot of time in hospitals. We observe and talk to people—nurses, doctors, patients, cleaning staff. As a result, we are able to glean information that we’ve developed into a series of projects.
I also like to hike in the Italian Alps, especially the Dolomites. That’s a particularly wonderful place to be.
4. What work do you most admire by another artist or designer?
One guy I very much admire is Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis collective. He was very pragmatic and was not afraid to step outside the bounds of what’s considered good design. His work was both rational and emotional at the same time.
I also admire Philippe Starck because he transforms everyday items into something you can experience in a different way. It’s very emotional design. I particularly like the flyswatter and the ghost chair.
And Renzo Piano, not only because he designs elegant buildings, but also because he incorporates elegant solutions, like bringing light into a gallery space, for example.
5. What would be your dream project?
To redesign the American healthcare system–the way healthcare is delivered, the way people collaborate, the way technology is integrated. We have a lot of Band-Aid solutions. Someone has to change the package.
And one-half: You’ve said that Compass is your favorite project. Why?
Compass deals with the sweet spot that I’m interested in—humanizing health care. If we’re successful, we will have created an environment in which providers can practice better healthcare and patients can feel that they’re well taken care of. Compass is a system that allows for efficient change, even if the hospital is 100 years old. It’s Utopian to think you can create the perfect environment for something when that something keeps changing.
6. What place in the world would you most like to visit?
Tibet, because of the mountains, but also because Asian art, architecture, and furniture is very appealing to me. I’ve been to other places in Asia, but not there.
7. What one thing do you want to accomplish before you die?
To make sure my children are headed in the right direction. Everyone has their own path to follow. I hope to do my part in preparing them to be good people and to achieve their dreams.
Photo via Syracuse University Magazine
January 5, 2011
In 2006, after 20 years as an independent design consultant, Kristie Strasen founded Place Textiles, a collection of her own designs. Herman Miller recently announced an alliance with Place that provides 16 new fabrics for its Classic seating designs.
How did you get started in textile design? I’ve always been interested in fabrics as an avocation, but my undergraduate degree was in English, and I actually taught high school English for three years. Then I traveled to Ireland to do research on folklore. While I was traveling, I became captivated by the weaving that was happening in Ireland at the time. I’d go down a country road and hear this clacking sound, and people were sitting there weaving. I absolutely fell in love with it.
I sent home all my research on folklore, and I traveled to the Orkney and Shetland Islands, through Yugoslavia and Turkey, into Iran and Afghanistan to see the weaving. When I got home, I went back to school and got a graduate degree in textiles.
Describe Place Textiles. Place is really about color, texture, and durable luxury. I love systems of color that integrate well; the entire Place line is organized around a clear color matrix.
I wanted the company to be about the integrity of the woven structure, and I wanted the fabrics always to enhance the sculptural characteristics of the furniture. So the focus of our company is very much in tune with Herman Miller, and in fact, companies like Herman Miller inspired me to start a company like Place—to create fabrics that enhance the seating rather than competing with it.
What does this alliance bring to Herman Miller’s fabric lines? Place provides Herman Miller with a little more upscale choice for its customers. All our fabrics are woven with yarns that have a huge amount of integrity. For example, wool is a fantastic fiber with characteristics that make it ideal for certain types of upholstery. One of the new fabrics, Balmory, is a beautiful nubby wool bouclé. It’s yarn-dyed, not piece dyed, so there’s a tremendous amount of nuance in the color. It will provide really good performance and the durability that a Herman Miller customer would absolutely expect.
There’s a wide range of neutrals in this collection, but where we have color, there’s no timidity about it, so we have some wonderful reds, some bright greens, some oranges.
I feel such a strong affinity with what I’m trying to do with Place and what Miller’s been doing all these years. For me, it’s about the integrity of the woven structure; for Herman Miller it’s about the integrity of the structure of the furniture.
Second photo courtesy of Jean Lin, otto architecture + design
January 3, 2011
Herman Miller has always led the charge in environmental stewardship for corporations. In fact, in 1995 Herman Miller’s Greenhouse helped develop the U. S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) first LEED standards. Now, achieving LEED certification for a commercial building has become a mark of distinction and achievement.
But what about residential buildings? What about your home? Private houses vastly outnumber commercial buildings, and they consume the biggest single chunk of energy (22 percent).
Well, houses can indeed achieve LEED certification, just like commercial buildings; however, seeking residential LEED certification is the decidedly less-traveled road. At this point, only a handful of residential construction firms nationally have on-the-ground experience in the many options for building green homes. “There’s a lot of information available,” says Doug Selby, president and co-founder of Meadowlark Builders in Ann Arbor, one of the few construction companies that specialize in green building. “But it’s hard to put it all together and create an action plan.” Selby’s customers tend to be highly motivated, willing to experiment, and eager to get involved in their construction project.
In the end, economic stewardship is reason enough to build green, but as Herman Miller and other companies have discovered, there are some potent economic motivators as well. Meadowlark Builders recently renovated an 1837 historic home that achieved LEED Platinum certification The monthly bill for heating and cooling this 1,850-square-foot home? $42 per month on average, and it uses 70 percent less water than conventional homes.
Straw bale house, anyone?
December 31, 2010
Herman Miller has established several sustainable practices to help it reach its Perfect Vision goals, but what are others doing to create a better world? I recently traveled to Germany and witnessed the country’s commitment to sustainability. Potsdamer Platz is one area that stands out.
Historic Potsdamer Platz in the center of Berlin has seen its share of turbulence. Razed during World War II and bisected by the Berlin Wall (an unobtrusive brick line still runs through the center of the square marking where the wall once stood), it once was a cement-covered no-man’s-land.
Within the last two decades, however, the square has been reborn, and it has a green story to tell.
Meandering through the square, an “Urban Waterscape” of pools, canals, and gentle cascades create “an oasis of calm and beauty,” according to design firm, Atelier Dreiseitl. Naturalized landscapes (“purification biotopes”) surround and filter the water that passes through it.
Besides the aesthetic benefits, the Urban Waterscape is a sophisticated rainwater management system. Over half of the buildings surrounding the enormous square have green roofs. Rainwater from the buildings supplies flushing toilets and fire systems. The remaining rainwater fills the pools and irrigates the landscapes.
Almost subliminally you are drawn to the vista of natural grasses, ducks, fish, and even a crane peacefully co-existing between a highway and the bustling city center. Add the environmental story, and Potsdamer Platz becomes an impressive part of Berlin’s renaissance.