Mar 30, 2009

A Good Argument

The 20th-century definition of “good design” was driven primarily by form. Today the stakes are too high, and the world too complex, for a superficial response.

By Peter Hall

What is good design? Some 54 years after the Museum of Modern Art abandoned its Good Design exhibition program, the question lingers in the air like the smell of last night’s dinner. It’s bandied about in the media and lurks behind the scenes of every product-design competition, from Germany’s Red Dot and Japan’s G-Mark to the IDSA’s International Design Excellence Awards. The question goes further than designers’ personal need for recognition and reveals a much deeper cultural anxiety about consumerism. But is it a useful question?

One problem with “good design” is its connotation of moral authority. Whose “good” are we talking about? MoMA’s idea of good, like the 1950s British and European equivalents, implied “good for all” but tended to translate into a Modernist aesthetic rampage against ornament and historicist styles. Victor Papanek, ever reliable scourge of the design establishment, dismissed museum exhibits of “well-designed objects” as parades of well-worn genres. “[T]he objects are ­usually the same,” he wrote in his 1971 book Design for the Real World, “a few chairs, some automobiles, cutlery, lamps, ashtrays and maybe a photograph of the ever present DC-3 airplane. Innovation of new objects seems to go more and more toward the development of tawdry junk for the annual Christmas gift market.”

The link between “good” and “sellable” was deep in the veins of the Good Design program. Its founder, Edgar Kaufmann Jr., was the son of the owner of Kauf­mann’s department store in Pitts­burgh, and was unabashed about the importance of “eye appeal” in the jurors’ selection of objects for the orange-and-brown Good Design tag. The exhibit was held in January and June at the Mer­chandise Mart of Chicago’s semiannual home-­furnishings shows, with a carefully timed pre-Christmas finale at MoMA. Goods were arranged with a department-store ­taxonomy—furniture, tableware, accessories, and so on. If Good Design is remembered today for helping bring to the American public’s attention the designs of Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Charles and Ray Eames, Harry Bertoia, and Venini, among others, it also directed a fair share of tawdry junk to the Modern, from shrimp cleaners to pancake flippers. Kaufmann used no grand aesthetic theory: he simply charged his jurors with the task of finding high-quality, widely available, reasonably priced wares that were new to the U.S. market since the previous show. This established, as Terence Riley and Edward Eigen put it in an essay about the program, “an equivalence between the good and the new—a concept that became a characteristic of the optimism of the postwar years.” It also cemented the importance of the image as the means by which product design is judged, prefacing Guy Debord’s sardonic prophesy: “that which appears is good, that which is good appears.”

Current concepts of good design have a hard time shaking off this legacy, this Cold War mission to stimulate consumption with images of products and rid the world of ornament, pastiche, and, implicitly, Com­munism. (After launching the program, Kaufmann put together Design for Use, USA, an international exhibition of exemplary work, sponsored by the State Department, to promote the American dream overseas.) But without a comparable value system, do we descend into a relativist morass, in which good and bad are simply matters of taste, culturally constructed terms serving different agendas? In the 21st century, surely, we need to move beyond the impasse of cultural relativism, but without resorting to 1950s dogma and agendas hidden under the guise of good.

This is easier said than done. It’s tempting, for example, to simply replace “good” with “useful.” In these uncertain times, with rampant consumerism taking a breather, it might even make sense to revive the framework of MoMA’s 1942 show Useful Objects Under $10. No doubt Papanek’s ghost would be delighted by needs-based criteria supplanting “eye appeal.” We could imagine MoMA festooned with Make magazine–style creations, with perhaps a historical exhibit or two on “vernacular” design. But the problem with usefulness as a standard is that it doesn’t allow for useless objects, which are actually quite an important part of design practice. Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby’s nervous robots, for example, are polemical objects that cannot be purchased, let alone used. Some important icons of product-design history are similarly useless: Raymond Loewy’s streamlined pencil sharpener (which never went into production, or needed to), Philippe Starck’s famously dysfunctional Juicy Salif lemon squeezer, or Ettore Sottsass’s Carlton bookcase (you could put books on it, but that wasn’t the point).

One could argue that this useless stuff isn’t design. But the above examples were created by designers and belong to an ongoing conversation about design. Sottsass’s bookcase was a provocation to remind us to see form not as an end in itself but as the beginning of an interaction. Dunne and Raby’s robots sprang from the idea that design can serve as a medium for discussion about the cultural and ethical implications of technology, an alternative to the “Hollywood” genre of corporate design, which tends to glorify technology.

Many objects are designed not to be useful but to make an argument. And my contention is that every object is an argument of some sort, and its strength or weakness as an argument is a good guide to its value. The theorist Richard Buchanan once identified three rhetorical characteristics of a product’s design: Its logos, or technological reasoning, is the clarity of its ­function—the way in which, say, a spoon is an argument for getting food from the plate to the mouth, or a clamshell shape suggests that the cell phone needs to be opened to be used. Its ethos, or character, is how it reflects its maker; a Dieter Rams–designed Braun product conveys an unobtrusive, efficient quality. Its pathos, or emotion, is how it persuades its potential users that it is desirable and useful to them—its sexiness, if you like.

But the most valuable effect of considering an object as an argument is that it allows us to look under the rhetorical hood and consider it not as an inevitable or neutral invention but as something that embodies a point of view. The iPod may seem like an innocuous music-playing device, but in fact it is an argument about how we should navigate, purchase, download, and listen to sound. It’s an argument based on premises negotiated among the various stakeholders (Apple, the music industry, acoustic engineers). Similarly, the Ford Model-T was an argument for personal transportation using fossil fuels. Frequently, designers are not given to thinking about the premises on which their arguments are based, but in a world where every decision is connected to a sprawling set of decisions and consequences, they should be.

Viewing designs as arguments frees us from the art world’s tendency to evaluate on aesthetic criteria alone. It insists on contextual evaluation: design is not just about how a thing looks or how it works; it is also about the assumptions on which it rests. The new One Laptop per Child XO computer, the MIT Media Lab’s $100 machine for children in developing countries, lacks the sleek eye appeal of a Mac­intosh and has been criticized for pioneering a non-Windows user interface based on a theory rather than user testing. But a full appraisal would note that it is an argument for closing the digital divide based on the theory of “learning by making,” which assumes that children learn by creative experimentation and making social objects. A polished-aluminum case and a user interface rooted in files, folders, and wastebasket metaphors would be irrelevant in rural India.

Seeing good design as an argument has one more point in its favor. “Good Design” was a stamp of approval that bestowed a suggestion of timelessness. As such, it depended on a rather fixed notion of problems and solutions, an old-fashioned model that still persists in everyday design language. But in reality, problems are too big and slippery to stamp or fix. Who would have known in 1950 that we’d be recycling plastic, eliminating chrome plating, and singing the praises of urban density? I’m sure there are designers at Boeing and General Motors who have seen the parameters of a project changed beyond recognition by recent events. The great design thinker Horst Rittel once wrote that “a design problem keeps changing while it is treated, because the understanding of what ought to be accomplished, and how it might be accomplished is continually shifting. Learning what the problem is IS the problem.”

The current issue of Metropolis makes a case for ten criteria for evaluating design arguments today, in the troubled economic, ecological, and political climate of the early 21st century. Arguably, these criteria provide an ethical framework for evaluating design so that the long-established yardsticks—design that is functional, beautiful, enduring, well made—are offset by values like affordability, accessibility, ergonomic strength, social benefit and necessity, and emotional resonance. No argument could meet all these criteria, but it might satisfy a few. More to the point, a loose framework gets us beyond the problem of labeling design as good or bad, or seeing problems as solvable. There are no solutions to design problems. There are only responses in the form of arguments.

text from :

posted by s-uper-chii

Mar 27, 2009

Tokyo Art Navigation

Tokyo Art Navigation is a website that was established with the aim of bringing art closer to the citizens of Tokyo by introducing the current culture and art scene in Tokyo. There are many exhibitions and concerts being held in the art museums and music halls of Tokyo. The Tokyo Art Navigation site introduces information on these activities in real time.
In addition, in an effort to support the activities of artists, the site also provides information as to activity spaces, available grants-in-aid, as well as contests. It is expected that the site will be fully utilized as a venue from which artists engaged in creative activities will be able to distribute their work and activity information. (to find out more..)

passage & image from:

posted by afterrabbit

Mar 26, 2009

Hemeroscopium House / Ensamble Studio

For the Greek, Hemeroscopium is the place where the sun sets. An allusion to a place that exists only in our mind, in our senses, that is ever-changing and mutable, but is nonetheless real. It is delimited by the references of the horizon, by the physical limits, defined by light, and it happens in time. Hemeroscopium house traps, a domestic space, and a distant horizon. And it does so playing a game with structures placed in an apparently unstable balance, that enclose the living spaces allowing the vision to escape. With heavy structures and big actions, disposed in a way to provoke gravity to move the space. And this way it defines the place.

The order in which these structures are piled up generates a helix that sets out from a stable support, the mother beam, and develops upwards in a sequence of elements that become lighter as the structure grows, closing on a point that culminates the system of equilibrium. Seven elements in total. The design of their joints respond to their constructive nature, to their forces; and their stresses express the structural condition they have. By the way this structure is set, the house becomes aerial, light, transparent, and the space kept inside flows with life. The apparent simplicity of the structure’s joints requires in fact the development of complex calculations, due to the reinforcement, and the prestress and post-tension of the steel rods that sew the web of the beams.

(to find out more..)

images and passage from:

posted by midori mizu

Mar 24, 2009

A Memorial to a Memorable Event - Student Competition by CAA

Eighth International Student Design Competition 2010

A Memorial to a Memorable Event
Making Manifest the Memory

Memorial: ‘serving to preserve the memory of the dead or a past event; serving as a remembrance’. (Collins)

Memories are not shackles Franklin, they are garlands’. Alan Bennett, Forty Years On (1969)‘And some there be, which have no memorial… and are become as though they had never been born……’ Ecclesiasticus ch. 44, v. 9‘Et tout d’un coup le souvenir m’est apparu’. (And suddenly the memory revealed itself). Marcel Proust, Du côté de chez Swann (Swann’s Way, 1913)

Competitors are invited to make proposals for a memorial commemorating a significant past event in their own country, or the country in which they are studying. The event should be real and worthy of remembrance. It could be a political, sporting, cultural or historical event such as a famous speech, a battle, a protest march, sporting success, disaster, human migration, musical performance, act of bravery, revolution, strike……
Certain events in history help to shape a society’s identity. Significant events, like warsand revolutions are frequently marked with memorials and monuments, which can become cultural points of reference for that society. But many past events go unmarked and unremembered, and lose their significance. Competitors are asked to identify such an event in their own country, for which a worthy memorial does not already exist and to submit designs for a building that will make manifest the memory. The competition jury will be interested in ideas that explore the nature of a memorial in contemporary society and how current concerns such as environmental, social and economic sustainability, might be accommodated in its design. (to find out more..)

text from:

posted by afterrabbit

Vanke-Tulou - Urbanus

Tulou is a dwelling type unique to the Hakka people. It is a communal residence between the city and the countryside, integrating living, storage, shopping, spiritual, and public entertainment into one single building entity... introducing a "new tulou" to modern cities and by careful experimentation of form and economy, one can transcend conventional uran design. Our experiments explored ways to stitch the tulou within the exsiting urban fabric of the city - green areas, overpasses, expressways, and residual alnd left over by urbanization. The cost of residual sites is quite low due to incentives by the goverment, and this is an important factor in developing low-income housing. (to find out more..)

passage & images from:

posted by afterrabbit

Mar 16, 2009

SABD Lecture Series 2009 - 1. Kevin Mark Low

SABD Lecture Series 2009 - 1
Speaker: Kevin Mark Low

Time: 12pm sharp
Venue: Auditorium @ The Annex, Taylor's College PJ Campus (Leisure Commerce Square), Petaling Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia.
Admission: Free

images from: &*news/

posted by afterrabbit

Mar 13, 2009

Bunny Lane

A house within another, bigger house, this design is located on 3 acres of property in Kalkin’s home state of New Jersey. The outer shell is a modern, industrial shed with unusual shaped, custom roll-up doors and 3 stories of rooms on one end. The inner home is a traditional two-story New Jersey home, white-washed and pristine, sitting on display almost as if it were being preserved in a museum.
When the industrial doors are rolled up, the space opens to the outdoors and the cozy living room gets a fresh breeze. The traditional inner home, with its old-school porch make you want to sit and drink tea and lemonade all afternoon. Inside the little two-story house, the furnishings take you back in time, with their antique frames and charming warm colors. At the other end of the shed, three stories of rooms have been built in with modern fixtures, metal staircases and lots of windows. (to find out more..)

posted by afterrabbit

Mar 5, 2009

SANAA to design Serpentine Gallery Pavillion 2009

The Serpentine Gallery is delighted to announce that the Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2009 will be designed by architects Kazuyo Sejima and Ryue Nishizawa, of the leading Japanese practice SANAA. Sejima and Nishizawa’s Pavilion will be the architects’ first built structure in the UK and the ninth commission in the Gallery’s annual series of Pavilions, the world’s first and most ambitious architectural programme of its kind. The Pavilion will open in July on the Serpentine Gallery’s lawn, where it will remain until October.(to find out more..)

image and passage from:

posted by midori mizu

Mar 3, 2009

YTL Residence, Kuala Lumpur

Paris-based Agence Jouin Manku took on its first large-scale integrated architectural and interior design commission in 2003, when YTL Design Group from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, invited it to design the residence of a Malaysian power family.Completed in the latter part of 2008, the residence is the ultimate expression of the taste, influence and industrial-scale capabilities of the prominent family whose entrepreneurial activities have shaped Kuala Lumpur’s skyline. (to find out more...)

images & passage from:

posted by midori mizu

Yorkshire Renaissance Pavilion

Various Architects' project "Yorkshire Diamond" was a finalist in the open international competition for a mobile pavilion for Yorkshire Forward.The project is an attraction in itself with a striking exterior in the form of inflatable tubes arranged in the atomic structure of diamonds. The 20 x 26 x 10 meter diamond grid volume is mined out to form a cavernous interior space reminiscent of the coal mines of Yorkshire. Light and air shafts pierce the structure providing natural light and ventilation. At night the translucent shafts and outer skin radiate light in all colors and directions like a diamond twinkling in the sunlight.A focus on flexibility gives the pavilion multiple configurations.The pavilion can also be turned ‘inside out’ to open up a large covered area to open outdoor spaces to create the ultimate mobile venue for concerts or big-screen events.Innovative sustainable features that can generate energy during transport and while installed, together with lightweight recyclable materials will demonstrate Yorkshire Forward’s commitment to the environment wherever the pavilion is situated... (to find out more...)

text and images from:

posted by s-uper-chii

Villanueva's Public Library, Columbia

It’s a building consisting of two different compact volumes, one houses the public library in the second floor and the complementary program in the first floor (theatre, kids library, administration offices, work spaces, bathrooms), and the other volume shelters a public corridor-plaza. Each of these volumes is built in separate techniques and materials, one in stone gabions (taken under permission from a nearby river) and the other one in pine wood (taken from an ecologically controlled planted forest). In the middle, five metallic white lattice boxes group the program, allowing the air to run though and also creating an open atmosphere where you can see both the wood and the stone. The final outside image renders a monumental project given its scale in the context, but a the same time a down-to-earth sort-of craftsmanship result, an hommage to local made-by-hand objects for the daily life , in short, a minimal tropicallized modern building built for/out of the site. (to find out more...)

Architects: Carlos Meza, Alejandro Pinol, German Ramirez, miguel Torres

text and images from:
posted by s-uper-chii

free hit counter

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Malaysia License.