Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

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Sticky logistics

20 January, 2009

Many apologies for the recent random disruptions in operation. I had received e-mails last week about several on-site issues resulting from the host having difficulties with universal caching earlier. But luckily that issue has since been resolved, with the premier of WordPress.tv coming as more than adequate conciliation. Of course there has also been yesterday’s sudden disappearance of the UI — or change, rather — as maintenance finally went full-throttle. The feedback received since the previous update seemed to be just as split as I was on the decision. I figured the indecisiveness indicated that by now it was beyond overdue: the gradient grays were not at all helping to curb the claustrophobia. So here it is, lots of white space with sparse linear noise. The silhouettes will more or less be up for the time being. With deadlines approaching, there isn’t much time for well-calculated construction as yet. But consider this a trial-run to verify whether shifting content-focus makes lengthy reading and image-viewing more of a comfortable task to tackle outside the confines of the feed reader. Things may continue to alter throughout the upcoming few weeks until a single stylesheet settles the matter. So if loading appears faulty until then, this will most likely be the reason why.

Just thought I’d throw that in to clear up the confusion, as the title and image above suggest that this post wasn’t initially meant to be an update. The banter of the day narrows in on something that has kept these pages and indeed other areas of daily activity afloat. I like to think of it as the Band-Aid for modern living, fit for the organized though slightly frazzled multi-tasker whose work inevitably becomes steeped in mounds of paper despite all the paperless alternatives gadgetry offers today. The Post-it Note is certainly one of those inventions that is the quintessential brandname-namebrand: Hoover, Kleenex, Cola — any type of object referred to by the name on the tin rather than the term in the dictionary. To think that a small square of paper with non-abrasive adhesive could become such a fundamental part of what we instinctively expect to see in offices, classrooms, and on desktops worldwide is something of an incredible feat. One can only dream of designing an item that is so solidly welded to the culture or activity whose purpose it serves, that it essentially never goes out of demand. In the spirit of Objectified, I owe it to Dr. Spencer Silver to give him an honourable mention here, as without him, Arthur Fry would never have conceived the adhesive application on paper and the Post-it would never have been patented by 3M to launch in 1977.

Today, made available both under the original brand umbrella and in other extraneous generic forms, there’s no shortage of colours, sizes and applications for the household sticky-note. Brooklyn-based artist Rebecca Murtaugh is well-known for using them in installation art pieces, often requiring hundreds of dollars’ worth to cover walls and furniture for a neon mosaic effect isolating the contours of objects through two-dimensional texture. In the virtual world, Jack Cheng’s popular StickyScreen homepage alternative to 3M’s Post-it Digital Notes is a great project providing some space to jot down a brief itemized to-do list for constant reminder every time you open your browser. Even further on the multimedia front, award-winning illustrator Jeff Chiba Stearns animated his entire journey to become a filmmaker on 2,300 Post-its, set to a score by Genevieve Vincent (watch Yellow Sticky Notes below). And its use for sake of memory makes good sense: Harvard psychology department head Daniel Schacter, the author of The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers, discusses how the Post-it functions as a ‘prospective memory cue or an external memory aid’ that compensates for our inherent absent-mindedness due to the ceaseless sources of distraction in our lives.

And on that note, don’t forget to watch the inauguration streaming live from D.C. today at 11 am EST (4pm GMT) courtesy of MS Silverlight via the official inaugural site. Comprehensive updates will also be featured on Joost‘s ‘Everything Obama’ channel for US-based users and anyone using a proxy, and CNN.com Live is covering this historic event in tandem with Facebook.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: ‘Humble Masterpieces’ (MoMA 2004)

British hallmarks (pieces at random)

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Industrial image

18 January, 2009

As any fan of the font Helvetica (Glenn Sorrentino, no doubt) will know, Gary Hustwit’s documentaries are good food for thought.  His 2007 independent film Helvetica, a rather notable recent example, took the fiftieth anniversary of this single, iconically-Swiss font and shaped an entire discussion around it in focusing on the art of visual communication through graphic design and typography in our modern, posterized, urban-aesthetic world. The full eighty minutes of insightful interviews from renowned designers such as Michael Bierut, Bruno Steinert and Lars Müller places this feature along the same lines as Phaidon and Die Gestalten Verlag in my home media library in terms of educational value elevated by a generous helping of inspiring eye-candy. Which is why I was so delighted to find out several weeks ago that Hustwit’s next full-length release is expected to premiere at the South by Southwest Film Festival at the end of March. And this time, the main object(s) of focus will be industrial design — yet another field that has tremendously impacted our living spaces, and dare I say probably even more so than graphic design.

It’s fascinating that despite the extent to which our lives are determined by the use of objects we choose to buy and surround ourselves by, it still seems that many of us know very little about who made them and the creative processes that went into making them for mass-consumption in the marketplace. Objectified seeks to redress this issue, examining the realm of industrial design through the perspectives of both our interfacing with manufactured objects through our use of them, and reciprocally the industrial designers who design them for us to use. Hustwit defines objectified as having two meanings:  one as being ‘treated with the status of a mere object’, and the other as representing ‘something abstract expressed in a concrete form’. Through exploring what ‘good design’ is, Hustwit is set to reveal a great deal about what such objects serve to reflect about us and our contemporary society — continuing the age-old form vs. function debate whilst highlighting the importance in understanding consumerism, identity, expression and sustainability in relation along the way.

Once again, it provides insights of several of the industry’s greats, including interviews with MoMA curator Paola Antonelli, Apple’s Jonathan Ive (yes, the iPod designer), Naoto Fukasawa (MUJI audio), the IDEO design consultancy, and revolutionary designer Karim Rashid. Not himself being an expert in either graphic or industrial design, Hustwit’s refreshing approach undoubtedly provides a very much needed look at not only what design is or what it does, but rather what it means and what it may one day become. His interest in the profound way that industrial designers influence the threadwork of culture and interaction is one that many more people should be inspired to share. He asks, ‘If you could get all of these designers and design experts together at a dinner party, what would they talk about? […] Maybe there’s a third meaning to this title, regarding the ways these objects are affecting us and our environment. Have we all become objectified?’ And for a $500 donation, you can become one of ‘The Objectifiers’ whose names are listed in the  credits — along with a DVD and other special merchandise thrown in the mix as objects of appreciation.

Produced and directed by Gary Hustwit, edited by Joe Beshenkovsy, and shot by Luke Geissbuhler.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Swiss Dots

Objectified (Shop)

Helvetica Teaser

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My playground

15 January, 2009

VM Mountain Series by Kim Høltermand

Philosopher Michel Foucault once said, ‘architecture is not an object but a process; not a thing but a flow.’ Little did he know that nearly thirty years later, in the same city that helped launch his career, a group of teenagers would invent a sport that would not only bring his words to life, but it would also inspire an entire movement to re-examine the way we build our cities and view our urban landscape. The artful athleticism of parkour has swiftly taken the world by storm since the Yamakasi formed in Paris back in 1997. Led by its legendary founder David Belle and Sébastian Foucan, the trasceurs (practitioners of parkour) have become increasingly known for their mastery of overcoming physical obstacles in order to efficiently reach one place from another. It is this visually impressive, highly skilled discipline required in the undertaking of parkour and freerunning that has since inspired films ranging from Luc Besson’s Yamakasi – Le samouraïs des temps modernes and Banlieue 13 to the more recent Breaking and Entering by Anthony Minghella. In 2003, Mike Christie presented parkour to the English-speaking world with his Channel 4 documentary Jump London, in which Foucan coined the term ‘freerunning’ to describe the parkour off-shoot geared towards freedom of movement and street acrobatics.

What each of these films has in common apart from featuring high-action parkour stunts is that they all reflect upon urban life and how it’s shaped by the surrounding architecture. Even more interesting, however, is the way traceurs reach destinations made impossible by what ordinary pedestrians see as physical obstacles. And a brilliant demonstration of these views can be seen this summer in Kaspar Astrup Schröder’s highly anticipated upcoming film MY PLAYGROUND. Inspired by his previous documentary CITY SURFERS about the parkour scene in Denmark, Schröder set out to more closely examine the way that traceurs interact with architecture, honing in on movement, tricking and parkour in the urban space through the exceptional skill of Denmark’s Team JiYo. What makes MY PLAYGROUND so unique is that not only does Schröder provide the perspectives of the traceurs themselves, but he also includes interviews with the architects, politicians, planners and philosophers who determine how space is shaped within our cities. Bridging both modern and traditional architecture, Schröder’s choice of locations highlights the potential for traceurs and architects to learn from one another in order to pave the way for revolutionizing the functionality of our living spaces and the dynamics of our surrounding environment.

Shot in Copenhagen, the film features the award-winning VM Houses and neighbouring Mountain Dwellings designed by BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group). These buildings reflect the firm’s common interest in parkour and freerunning, ultimately stemming from its reputation as being a member of the new generation of architects combining innovative analysis, experimentation and social awareness in their work. BIG architects go beyond common convention in order to incorporate contemporary life in a manner similar to that of the famed architect Le Corbusier and his Unité d’Habitation. Pioneering functional, urban design in modern architecture, Le Corbusier had dedicated himself to providing better living conditions for residents of crowded cities — even going so far as to exclusively use the proportions of the human body for his scale of architectural proportion. Today, as Le Corbusier had done decades before, BIG seeks to understand the way humans live rather than merely building buildings to fill up space — all the while exploring new ways to create our living, commercial and social spaces. A philosophy summed up nicely by the words of parkour photographer Andy Day as featured in Canon’s 2005 ‘The Shot‘ campaign on-site at the London School of Economics: ‘[The urban landscape] is there for you to run across; it’s not there to contain you.’

Shot, edited and directed by Kaspar Astrup Schröder. Music by The Notwist (‘This Room’, Neon Golden).

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: MY PLAYGROUND – Bjarke Hellden, Team JiYo

A Day of Few Spoken Words by Kaspar Astrup Schröder

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Playing genetics

11 January, 2009

Move over Furby, there’s a new toy in town. Welcome to the next generation of childhood entertainment, where the line blurs between cutting edge genetics and hours of endless fun with ‘the only bioengineered buddies’ around. Genpets™, according to specifications listed in the catalogue, are ‘living, breathing mammals’ available with seven different personality types, a fully functional heart monitor with LED display, and even a handy sell-by date mechanism to guarantee freshness of the creature upon purchase. These organic, mass-produced pets are allergen-free, child-safe, low-maintenance, and ‘life-perfected’ through to their very core. According to Bio-Genica, the bio-research company responsible for manufacturing the Genpet line, the models you see were grown in assisted breeding lab farms and produced based on an original prototype created using a process called ‘Zygote Micro Injection’. They also resemble a mix of something out of The Gremlins and Alien: Resurrection, which is why by now you should probably realize that they’re actually not real. ‘Genpets’ is in fact an award-winning work of art by Canadian sculptor, programmer and designer Adam Brandejs. Launched in 2005, it has since been displayed in museums and galleries worldwide, along with its site having been a sensational hit with millions of visitors.

But shockingly enough, zygote micro-injection does indeed exist — a method of combining DNA by inserting certain proteins from different species into a fertilized cell. According to Brandejs’ statement about his performance project, ‘In 1985, the US Patents and Trademarks Office ruled that genetically engineered plants, seeds and animal tissue could all be patented’. Today, this has led to agricultural crops being modified (GM food) and human DNA being injected into animal eggs to create part-human, part-animal hybrid embryos. And it is this precise issue amongst others that Brandejs wants viewers of his Genpets to think about. Aside from being a brilliantly thought-out example of bio-hacking for the new millennium (or else may be seen as simply a hoax by some), it highlights the ethical implications of genetic engineering technologies so rapidly advancing today. Stories abound on the newswire already indicate the possibility of soon one day having superhumanly attractive and intelligent ‘test-tube babies‘ be only a doctor’s visit away. But what of the increasingly popular process of DNA screening that allows parents-to-be to selectively cull embryos in the hope that their child will have been spared inheriting genetic predisposition towards various forms of disease?

Posing several tough but very much needed questions regarding the fundamental alteration of the lives of animals and humans, the underlying message of Genpets and Bio-Genica is one more relevant — if not worryingly pressing — than ever.

Sarah Badr © MMIX

See also: Juan Enriquez on genomics and our future (TED Talks)

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Diplomatic design

7 January, 2009

Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, Designer, Is Dead at 92
By Steven Heller
New York Times
January 4, 2009

Oliver Lincoln Lundquist, an architect and industrial designer who led the team that created the United Nations logo, died on Sunday at his home in the Yorkville neighborhood of Manhattan. He was 92. The cause was prostate cancer, said his daughter, Jill Lundquist. In World War II, as a Navy lieutenant, Mr. Lundquist served in the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A. Until 1946 he worked directly with Alger Hiss and the architect Eero Saarinen, preparing visual presentations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff as well as the Washington press corps. After the Navy, Mr. Lundquist attended the San Francisco conference at which the United Nations Charter was signed. His team was responsible for designing all the graphics for the conference and an official delegate’s badge, which became the prototype for the United Nations logo. The team did not set out to design the logo for the United Nations, but the badge became the prototype. It was initially designed by Donald McLaughlin, who worked for Mr. Lundquist as the director of graphics for the conference.

The distinctive blue in the design, Mr. Lundquist explained, was “the opposite of red, the war color.” He continued, “It was a gray blue, a little different than the modern United Nations flag.” The symbol of the globe was also slightly different in the original design, he said: “We had originally based it on what’s called an azimuthal north polar projection of the world, so that all the countries of the world were spun around this concentric circle, and we had limited it in the Southern sector to a parallel that cut off Argentina because Argentina was not to be a member of the United Nations. We centered the symbol on the United States as the host country. Subsequently, in England our design was adapted as the official symbol of the United Nations, centered on Europe as more the epicenter, I guess, of the East-West world, and took into account the whole Earth, including Antarctica. By then, of course, Argentina had been made a member.”

Mr. Lundquist was born on September 20, 1916, in Westbury, N.Y., the son of Frances Molly Lundquist and the landscape architect Louis Lundquist. He grew up in Peekskill, N.Y., and studied architecture as an undergraduate at Columbia University. In 1937, during his senior year, he was hired to work in the prestigious industrial design office of Raymond Loewy and was trained by Loewy himself. He later studied on his own for the New York architecture licensing exams, all of which he passed on his first attempt, in 1956. At Loewy’s firm, he worked on the Chrysler Motors Exhibition for the 1939 New York World’s Fair; Chrysler had developed the Air Flow car, and Mr. Lundquist was involved with designing a wind tunnel display that used smoke to show the smooth air stream. He helped create a “magic talking car” that spoke in the voice of the “Amateur Hour” host Major Bowes about the great autos created by Chrysler. He also installed a “frozen forest” to demonstrate Chrysler’s new air-conditioning system. The forest had palm trees made of steel with refrigerant inside. “This became a favorite refuge inside on the hot summer days,” Mr. Lundquist said.

In Arts & Architecture magazine’s Post War Living housing competition in 1943, Mr. Lundquist won top honors for a house he designed with Saarinen. Mr. Lundquist was a partner in the architectural firm Van Der Lanken & Lundquist and was later a partner in the firm Lundquist & Stonehill in New York. In addition to designing private residences, he worked on hospitals, schools and Parks Department buildings; the offices of the investment firms Bache & Company and Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette, and the drug maker Hoffmann La-Roche; and the renovation of the art auctioneers Sotheby Parke Bernet in the former Kodak Building in Manhattan. He was an early proponent of track lighting, doing many original designs for the lighting company Lightolier. Mr. Lundquist’s marriage to Betty Cooper Lundquist ended in divorce in 1975. He is survived by their three children, Jill, Timothy and Eric Lundquist, and five grandchildren. While he was at the Loewy office, Mr. Lundquist designed something almost as visible as the U.N. logo: one of the most widely known of product packages, the blue-and-white Q-Tip box.

See also: Q-tips

United Nations

Arts & Architecture

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British hallmarks

30 December, 2008

A little over a year and a half ago, I had featured a piece about our modern world so continuously elucidated by the visual impact of brilliantly devised manifestations of information graphics. In it, I vaguely recall having lamented over the nonchalant passing by of London travellers with respect to one diagrammatic wonder in particular: the indispensable TFL Underground map. More often adorned on tacky souvenir-shop undergarments rather than admired for the massive ease with which it allows Oyster Card carriers to get about town as best they can whilst avoiding congestion charge zones and bus routes sloth- and convulsion-prone, surely in this colour-coded map’s absence an already nightmarish logistical operation of daily tube service would be further exacerbated in levels of demoralizing pain as per experienced in rush hour commute, when the least you have to worry about is making sure you’re getting to where you actually want to go after having to change lines five times..? Which is why I was ecstatic upon hearing the news that Her Majesty’s postal service will soon be issuing a set of first class stamps to commemorate historic icons of British design. Because out of the ten monumental classics to be featured is the very inspiration behind ‘The Great Bear’ and many of the subway maps commonplace around the world.

In the Royal Mail’s visual inauguration of the new year upon us, avid stamp collectors and designers are bound to appreciate this perforated, adhesive-backed look at history via the beautifully finished British Design Classics series. Launching the 2009 Special Stamp programme on 13th January, Britain’s finest are derived at large from the 20th Century style and engineering archives of the 1930s and 1960s, and will be featured alongside a ‘prestige stamp book’ providing extensive background and history of the designs. Included will be RJ Mitchell’s Spitfire fighter, George Carwardine’s angelpoise lamp, Edward Young’s jacket designs for Penguin books, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott’s extinct K2 model telephone box, Robin Day’s quintessential 60s polypropylene chair for Hille Seating, Mary Quant’s risqué (in its own time) miniskirt, the soon-to-be revived Routemaster bus —  as well as Harry Beck’s map of the London Underground, of course. Perhaps the most obvious impact of British icons as demonstrated by this stamp series is that which British designers have had on transport vehicle engineering. And to mark the Mini’s 50th and Concorde’s 40th birthdays, the Royal Mail will also be printing a generic sheet of twenty stamps (Mini series designed by Magpie; Concorde by Neon) and medal covers for each (designed by the Royal Mint Engraving Team).

Enlisted by HGV to get involved with the project, photographer Jason Tozer shot alongside the team responsible for the images featured in the British Design Classics series. Working to receive the needed permissions from designers and their respective estates, they travelled to the national Motor Museum in Beaulieu to shoot one of the very first Minis manufactured, followed by trips to Stuttgart in Germany for the Concorde, a location in Surrey for the phone box, Acton transport museum for the double decker, and Hendon for the Spitfire. The remainder of the icons were shot in-studio, assuring that each was detailed in a manner true to the heritage of the designs, and soon was followed by exhaustive vetting for approval by the Royal Mail. Julietta Edgar, head of the special stamps division at the Royal Mail, stated that ‘special stamps mark unique moments, great anniversaries and vital cultural themes’. ‘Next year’s programme will take stamps further than before with a unique collection of fascinating images and subjects. For many, stamps are seen as one-inch square works of art, and we are confident that the 2009 stamp programme will live up to our customers’ expectations.’ And as the British postcode system celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this upcoming year by reviving its 1970s campaign to remind people of the importance of correct postcodes usage, what better incentive is there for accuracy than that added touch of classic British design to the corner of your envelope?

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Royal Mail

British Design Innovation

British Design Classics Preview

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Crapwrap with care

22 December, 2008

Every Christmas (along with every birthday, no less), I inevitably find myself scavenging through the scraps of left-over wrapping paper, trying to make some dimensional sense of the random patterned planes with uneven edges and missing cut-outs like shadows rendering them absolutely impossible to be salvaged for re-use. Yes, I am one of those gift-wrappers: the type who refuses to buy more paper in the hope that last year’s bits (more likely from presents received rather than given) will help to spare the trip over to Paperchase and save a few pennies (though the sterling is close to worthless by now). And all done whilst feeling that three-fold moral uplift of being frugal, green and recycling-devout, of course. Yet it can be expected that the final product of my endeavours will be four — maybe five — different specimens of torn paper sellotaped together with the edges folded under several times to compensate for over-estimation in size, along with wrinkled creases in the hollowed grooves caused by irregularly shaped albeit thoughtfully chosen presents and my subsequent attempts to wrap and re-wrap for a snug fit. Although I persistently like to think despite the tell-tale signs that the job done in the end is not all that shabby, my friends would admittedly be far too considerate to complain if it were in fact otherwise…

But luckily this year it appears I have nothing to be embarrassed about, because now there’s a service that does precisely what I do and even gets paid for it as well. The aptly named CrapWrap™ method (made available via the unique online alternative gift-hub Firebox) provides a perfect example of cunning entrepreneurialism seizing on an untapped business opportunity inspired from the marvellous inanities of everyday life. Described as a solution for those gift-givers ‘bored of perfectly folded paper and exquisitely tied ribbon’, the ‘crapwrapping’ process has been officially branded as a ‘uniquely shoddy gift wrapping option’ involving the wrapping of ‘pressies in a slapdash fashion’. At £3.95 a pop, however, it does makes me wonder whether or not I ought to start charging a fee for my own fine touches of gift-wrap blunders…

Sarah Badr © MMVIII

See also: Oxfam Unwrapped