“It’s not about the pieces. It’s how the pieces work together,” says LA-based rapper Ice Cube. Whether sampling beats or designing architecture, beautiful things happen when you “take something that already exists and make it something special.”
Touring the Eames House, Ice Cube calls attention to the off-the-shelf pieces that make up the modern icon. Built by designers Charles and Ray Eames using a steel-frame, factory windows, and prefabricated walls, the home is more than its parts—a fine example of the rapper’s maxim.
People work together–in pairs and groups large and small–collaborating in the workplace is a way of life. And it happens everywhere in the office, not just at the workstation. This year, our focus at Neocon is supporting the places–formal and informal–where people are working together.
NeoCon is the annual contract furniture tradeshow held every year at the Merchandise Mart in downtown Chicago. Today is the first day and our showroom is packed with well-dressed people sitting, standing, and meandering as they check out our latest products.
Stop by if you’re in the area, Neocon runs June 13-15, and see what we have to offer, or just have a seat and rest your tired feet–we have lots of good choices. The Herman Miller showroom is located on the third floor of the Mart, or visit the Herman Miller Lounge on the first floor in the south lobby.
Umpire Andy Fletcher and manager Ron Gardenhire arguing, presumably, over the finer points of design research. Photo: Getty Images
“Design, like the world as a whole, is unpredictable and messy. If you think it boils down to ‘research,’ you’re mistaken,”
Ben McAllister of Frog Design continues to say, “[a]simplistic view of research pervades our culture…. The real world is a complex system inhabited by autonomous individuals. It isn’t so simple or knowable, which is exactly why design can be so valuable. Research can become a crutch to decision-making and that it is sometimes viewed as hard fact,”
Jon French, also of Frog Design, acknowledges McAllister’s skepticism of research, but counters by saying, “Design research is not ‘a science’ and is not necessarily ‘scientific.’ It gives designers and clients a much more nuanced understanding of the people for whom they design while providing knowledge that addresses some of the most fundamental questions we face throughout the process.”
Research has been a large component of our product development process since the 1960 when Robert Propst joined the company. Herman Miller research has always been person-centered, developing a deep understanding of how people work, how they move, how they sit, and what they makes them comfortable. This provides us and our designers a better understanding of the people using our products. But research is an art as much as it is a science, and we also understand that results are not always as cut-and-dry as charts and graphs can make it appear.
Check out the two articles and let us know what you think.
Architect James Meyer is the founder of Los Angeles based design/build firm LeanArch and the fourth in our POV interviews.
1. You’ve talked about being inspired by the Eames House in your designs. What do you think makes a house feel like a home?
I often promote the idea that the home is the last remaining piece of personal expression left in most people’s lives. Nowadays, we are completely surrounded with products, goods and technology which are designed by others and tailor made to meet the needs of our consumer-driven culture. The cars we drive, the mobile phones we use.
The companies who make these products are constantly trying to demonstrate how they are able to be customized to meet the personal tastes of their potential customers. The fact is, that these items, along with most everything else, are extremely limited when it comes to personalization.
The home is really the last place where one can truly be expressive of their personal tastes, and, as we know, the opportunities are somewhat limitless… This is why we take great care to work closely with our clients to help them define what it is they are ultimately looking for, and to develop a design which will best reflect those desires.
Visit Lifework for the entire conversation with James Meyer.
Two companies, almost a world apart–Herman Miller based in North America and Magis in Italy–share a similar approach to design.
“Both companies have many and continuing collaborations with the greatest world designers,” explains Alberto Perazza, Co-Managing Director of Magis. Like Herman Miller, Magis believes in authored design, working with outside creative partners who provoke them toward something truly new.
It makes sense that the two companies should partner, placing such design icons as the Bombo Stool by Stefano Giovannoni and Konstantin Grcic’s Chair_One alongside Yves Behar’s SAYL chair and Setu by Studio 7.5. As of September 1, 2011, Herman Miller will be the exclusive distributor of Magis products in the U.S. and Canada.
In 1951, while on tour of the Eames office, well-known New Yorker artist Saul Steinberg picked up a brush and painted a reclining woman on an Eames fiberglass arm chair—turning chair into art and beginning a long history of artists using the designs of Charles and Ray as canvases for self-expression.
While for many of us—myself included—the thought of a smudge, much less a deliberate brush stroke, on one of our precious pieces of furniture makes us cringe. But not the Eameses, who treasured Saul’s chair, and displayed it proudly.
Surely they would be delighted to see that artists today continue to find inspiration in their work and use their designs as a canvas for expressing their own artistic visions.
Can you tell us how you both got involved in designing pre-fab homes?
We had incorporated prefabricated modular buildings into a few of our projects in the late 1990s, including a two-story classroom module as part of The Accelerated School in South Los Angeles in 1997, and four-module childcare center for the Los Angeles Airport in 1999. So in 2003, when Dwell magazine asked our firm to participate in a prefab design competition, it seemed like a natural opportunity to continue what we had started.
The competition sparked our interest in the greater possibilities of designing high-end modern homes within the constraints of a factory. We were exploring ways to minimize the inefficiencies involved with site-built construction, including weather delays, sub-contractor delays, runaway costs and excessive material waste, and prefab seemed as if it might provide some solutions
Since our prefab prototype the Desert House in 2005, we have developed our modular system and completed houses in Utah, Nevada, and throughout California. Our project in Moab, UT was on a particularly remote site and in that way was especially suited for modular prefab. Transportation of labor and materials alone would have made for extremely high on-site construction costs. Further, the modules were installed less than 12 months from the very first site visit, meaning design and construction were able to be completed in less than a year. It was an extraordinary case study for how prefab could significantly improve efficiency and reduce costs for the right project.
Visit Lifework for more of our interview with Leo Marmol and Ron Radziner.
We believe design starts with the person—an approach going back to 1976 when we introduced the Ergon chair after 11 years of research.
We’re not just interested in the physical attributes of people, but their behaviors as well: How do they work? What is their posture? How do they move? Even the purpose of their work. Our commitment to understanding the person through research has helped us to balance science with aesthetics and design chairs in which the needs of the person are central.
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.