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Entries in design (23)


paid parking

One of the original Park(ing) day spots in San Francisco

Park(ing) day, originally a guerrilla project in San Francisco in the mid 2000s, now spread over many cities around the world.  On one day in September, parking meters are fed and the parking space is made into a temporary park, rather than being occupied by a car.  Fine, point made, city streets are inhospitable with their wall-of-steel edges, when they could be lined with boulevards of grass and trees instead.  

However, a festival aspect has entered Park(ing) Day, a celebration of pop-up parks: it is not longer a guerrilla action, it is sanctified as a street festival in many cities, street fair licences are bought, the protest element has been infantilised. Balloons abound.

The surest way to disarm protest is to commodify it, to bring it on board as a celebration.  What is actually being celebrated here?  That one day in a whole year, car parking is suspended in a few streets?  Point lost.


'Lighter Than Air' Park(ing) Day balloon installation at Public Bikes on Valencia & 17th St., San Francisco


Man Ray: underground planets

Man Ray. London Transport poster, 1939. Photo: London Transport Museum


weak systems

Massound Hassani. Mine Kafon, 2011

This is Massoud Hassani's Eindhoven graduation project, Mine Kafon, a lightweight bamboo and plastic large dandelion puff that is blown by the wind over mined fields, detonating the mine and destroying itself in the process.

It is interesting, that the detonater was not conceived of as a large, mechanical force of technology that rolls over mines, survives them, and rolls on to the next land mine.  Like children who mostly detonate land mines, this is a lightweight, expendable, one-time use detonator.  Each unit contains a GPS that maps where it has been, showing areas that are safe.
It was tested by the Ministry of Defence of the Netherlands, and a second version is being developed that moves less randomly and is not so reliant on the wind.  It is likely to be used to indicate a mined area, rather than clearing the area.  Thus in the development process it becomes more controllable, probably heavier.  

Hassani is from Kabul, smuggled out at 14, ending up in the Netherlands in 1998.  On his website he talks about flying kites as a child and making other small things that caught the wind, the genesis of this project.  The project has won a slew of awards so far, in its original bamboo form.  The International Campaign to Ban Landmines is cautious: 'What the ICBL and our members, many of whom are humanitarian mine clearance organisations, are focused on is not the financial cost of clearing landmines but the humanitarian and socio-economic cost of not clearing them.'  I'm not sure what that means. 


Fernando Brízio at the Antigo Convento da Trindade

From EXD'11 in Lisbon.  Click on the image to go to David Pereira's beautiful sequence of photographs of this exhibition.

David Pereira, photographer. Don't Look Back | Fernando Brízio | Desenho Habitado | Antigo Convento da Trindade


Lukas Peet, lamp

Lukas Peet. Hanging light ~ 24k: a pendant light that literally hangs from its electrical cord. 2011


Theo Jansen's Strandbeest


the MacLean's method

The MacLean’s method of handwriting. 
H. B. Maclean, Victoria, c. 1921. Developed in Victoria by educator H. B. MacLean between 1921 and 1964, the MacLean method was used across Canada as the official handwriting method in schools, particularly in the Maritimes, parts of Quebec, Manitoba, and BC. Sources
Text: Shirley Cuthbertson’s “H.B. MacLean’s Method of Writing” in BC Historical News
Photo: Allan Collier Collection

It all looks very odd now, but this is how I was taught: pages of O's done moving your whole arm sliding over the desk with ease.  Practice makes perfect, and perfect was entirely without character or identity.  When I looked at Jack Layton's wacky little fillips on his highly legible signature – well, this was usually  the only place that individuality was added (much later in life than elementary school) to this relentless, flattened commercial script.  

One could completely change one's writing style, especially if one went into architecture where you either did drafting printing for the rest of your life, or went to some sort of arty italic calligraphic script.  But now, most people don't write at all, except blurted little shopping lists or illegible signatures at the bottom of a VISA bill.

Writing is like drawing, something we don't often do much either these days, preferring to cobble images together with Illustrator and Photoshop – activities that engage a completely different part of the brain than drawing, on paper, with a curious instrument holding either ink or graphite, in the hand. 


all for one, one for all

Is this the most unnecessary thing I have ever seen?  yes.  

It came in a press release for Paris Design Week and will be found at Autori Vari, 17, rue Saint Sebastien between the 12th and the 18th of September, 2011.


Jompy 2

Quite a beautiful graphic.  Makes the task clear.


the Jompy

David Osborne. The Jompy water heater.This was one of the entries into the Shell World Challenge last year.  It is very clever: a flat coil of hardened aluminum alloy, like a flat skillet, that sits between the fire and the cooking pot.  What looks like a handle is attached to water, cold or contaminated which circulates through the coil, is heated and comes out of the other end of the coil hot and boiled. 

Although in use in South Africa, Kenya and India, in theory it is the same as the hot water on demand burners which are slowly replacing the elephantine hot water tank that lurks in most basements.  The Jompy is much more minimal however, and consequently more adaptable to different conditions and uses. 
David Osborne, a plumber and gas fitter from Troon in Scotland was on his honeymoon in a water-challenged part of Africa and figured out this inexpensive way of boiling water with fire already doing some other task such as cooking food. 

The website, is a bit cumbersome, but all the information is there, plus various videos, including the World Challenge introduction

David Osborne. The Jompy in demonstration in Kenya by Celsius Solar's enthusiastic representative, Kalfan Okoth, just reminding everyone that this is a Scottish product.


Sarajevo Survival Tools 

Isak Albahrij's Oven, 1992.The Sarajevo survival tools project is both an exhibition and a virtual archive of the tools, implements and re-inventions from the Sarajevo siege of 1992-1996. 

Seige, whether by war as in the 3-year seige of Leningrad or by sanctions as in the last forty years for Cuba or by environmental disaster as is now unfolding in Japan, means a lack of everything: food, water, medicine, fuel.  It shouldn't be that total deprivation makes people creative, but it does. 

Sarajevo survival tools run from the watering can made out of a cooking oil tin delivered as humanitarian aid,  to a sat phone left behind by fleeing UN workers and quickly appropriated.  There is a double-barrelled rifle, minimal in the extreme, and a hand crank flashlight made out of a bicycle lamp.  This isn't a return to primitive technology, many of the materials are taken from electronic equipment and re-engineered with considerable sophistication.  However, even making an oven out of an aluminum drum results in an object that sustains life and therefore is necessarily beautiful.

Isak Albahrij's Oven, 1992.


taking time

Sohei Nishino presents himself thus:

Jean-Paul Goude sliced the outline of Grace Jones into something sharp and brittle 30 years ago, and architects have been making photo-collages of buildings and cities for the last 50 or more.  The techniques are not new, but the diligence of Nishino's dioramas for example, or David Hockney's polaroid collages of the 1970s, is.
The difference between architects and designers who pick up lots of techniques for presenting things and artists who make those techniques into 10-year long projects, is one of duration, and intent. 

Blake's universe in a grain of sand: one must concentrate to do this, not dash about scatter-shot, cramming quarts into pint pots and throwing metaphors all over the place.


Shelley Fox

Shelley Fox. Installation, Fashion at Belsay, 2004.

Shelley Fox was one of the fashion designers invited to an exhibition at Belsay Hall, Northumbria in 2004.  She took a small anteroom, typically with a 15' ceiling as Belsay Hall is an early Georgian house.  It was built between 1810 and 1817, but so badly afflicted by dry rot by the 1970s that it was made structurally sound and then left as an empty shell.  This is why it is used for art installations, one of which is Fashion at Belsay Hall

Shelley Fox lined the walls of this small room – well, not so small, it looks about 10 x 10m and has both a beautiful sash window and a large fireplace – with bundles of white cloth representing the sheets, towels, dust covers, pillow cases, undergarments, shirts, night gowns and night shirts that went through the laundry of a typical country house with its small army of servants. 

The appearance of bundles of white cloth is transgressive: this material in this form would never have appeared upstairs.  It all had to be transformed: washed, bleached, dried, starched, ironed and folded before it could leave the nether regions for the rooms occupied by the family.  We seem to have, today, more interest in the processes of running a large house, than the occupants of the houses themselves, which over the centuries have been so very well documented. 

Shelley Fox was interviewed for Fashion Projects issue 3.   It is an interesting interview as it is not so much about fashion, but about the processes of making things, of burning cloth, of adjusting and readjusting a garment as the body underneath it changes over time.  Much of what she says is about accommodation of accident and change and the shifting of perception.  It goes way beyond frocks.


garbage cans

It occured to me that we needed a context for Duende's urban fire fountains.  Existing Paris garbage cans clearly discourage fires.

Matthew Blackett wrote a good piece in Spacing about the replacement of the heavy concrete and ceramic tile garbage cans in the Toronto Metro with a similar, transparent solution.  He says it is an anti-terrorism measure: one can see a bomb, whereas before they were hidden.  If they were there. 

Matthew Blackett. Spadina station, Toronto.

Then I found Artemy Lebedev's site: a two-year study of rubbish bins in the public domain, mostly in Russia and eastern Europe.  He writes with that lovely irony of someone who lives in cynical times.  'The function of a trash can is the timely collection of litter that is carelessly thrown in its direction.'

Artemy Lebedev. Movable trash can. MoscowArtemy Lebedev. A trash can that never got scrubbed, Moscow

We have just had enormous black bins with wheels delivered for our household garbage with helpful hints of what to do with our old garbage cans, such as storing sports equipment in them.  I have an aversion to throwing raw rubbish into my new, clean, very shiny garbage bin. It seems somehow slovenly not to have it tidily contained in a black plastic bag.  I would quite like to have that blue Moscow urn as my garbage can: a thing of beauty on the alley.  It just needs a lid.


winter street furniture

Duende Studio and François Bauchet. Fire Fountain, 2010

Duende, a design studio that regularly sends notices of very chic French industrial design, sent this elegant garbage can today.  Acknowledging that people on the street light fires in metal barrels, and often set themselves alight, this is a safe version.  It also aestheticises a social condition that is not always beautiful.

François Bauchet calls it a public fireplace, the winter version of Paris's fountains, an idea first floated by Yves Klein.  I doubt Klein, who died in 1962 at 34, had the homeless in mind, but he had made a conceptual shift from dancing fountains in the public domain to a winter version: both water and fire are elemental, fugitive, ephemeral.  So yes, one can see how Kleinian this lovely garbage can might be.

It is also in the tradition of the Art Nouveau Paris Metro entrances: cast iron and romantic, not a utilitarian atom in their sinuous, gratuitous decorativeness.  Well, other than holding up a sign. 
Should gratuitous beauty be put into service?  Is the issue here safety or the propriety of the street?  The poor are always with us, but at least we can make them look good?
Is it overly presbyterian Canadian of me to think that winter fire fountains casting a sweet wood-smoke pall over the city are a cosmetic device?  Yes, it is, and this is no doubt why our Canadian city streets are so bleak, so unlovely, so un-made up, so un-Parisian.

This is another example of a small thing, like the lipsticks given out during the relief of Belsen, that make a hard life bearable.  Of course we should be solving poverty at a structural level, but we don't seem to be capable of doing that.  In the meantime, might we not acknowledge that the sidewalks are our common ground where all levels of society meet the same amenities? 


Martín Ruiz de Azúa

Martín Ruiz de Azúa. Medallas Campeonato Europa de Atletismo Barcelona 2010

Martín Ruiz de Azúa is a tremendously inventive Barcelona designer who has recently designed the medals for the European Athletics Championships being held in Barcelona July 26-August 1, 2010.

It is interesting, this medal, as it leaves the military tradition of the minted coin as a medal and concentrates instead on the ribbon holding the medal, undercutting the formality of a symmetrical disc.  Azúa has designed previous medals that play with eccentricity: an off-centre ellipse for the 2005 European Athletic Championships in Madrid – immediately one thinks of the shape of an elliptical track.  For the World Swimming Championships in Barcelona 2003, the medal was a large disc holding a flat lens full of water and air bubbles: 'water the main part of the medal and the principal element of the sport'.  The ribbon was translucent silicon, much like the bands that hold swimming goggles in place. 

Given Spain's difficult past, especially Franco's imposition of a near obsessive respect for military pomp and tradition – uniforms, castles, massive formalistic memorials, it is no wonder that new Spanish design rejects any aspect that could possibly reflect those monstrous traditions.  It is a political and social imperative to re-think everything, so much an imperative that it has become second nature.  And this why, since the early 1980s, we have looked to Barcelona for a kind of pure modernism that only looks forward.


glass block lights

the Tuff Block Light installedA press release came in the mail today about a glass block with LED lighting embedded in it.  It is from Arizona, and the brochure stresses that the inventor is Harold P Kopp, Blind Veteran, USN Retired.  The website is even more curious: the back story of Kopp's various bouts with illness appears to be as important as product information. It is certainly more important than spelling.  Whatever, the lights have a life of 50,000 hours and are laid in with regular brick or block paving.  The brochure appears to come from some other century altogether.  Is this one man working away in his garage, inventing clever electrical devices and then running off product information on his printer and mailing them at some expense to architecture magazines all over the continent?  It appears so. 

It is a bit like the cat's eyes story where Percy Shaw laboured away in near-destitution for 5 years during the depression before someone in the Ministry of Transport recognised that with the blackout conditions in WWII in England, some sort of low-level road lighting system such as reflective marbles embedded in the road would be of some use. 

The cost of the Tuff Block Light is prohibitive: $US 80 each, plus all the wiring laid down the side of your driveway, or patio or sidewalk.  To get something like this to take off it would need a large government contract attached to some sort of safety bylaw, then when it was in production in a mass-market sort of way, one could start to do some quite nice things with these blocks.   On second thought,  I'll wait for one with photovoltaic cells.  On third thought, I'll just use a hand crank flashlight.  No. On fourth thought, I'll just eat more carrots and develop my night vision. 


Fairey Marine hot-moulded hulls

Fairey Marine, Hamble, England. A hot-moulded mahogany hull.

Back to plywood.  In the next issue of On Site: small things, we have an article by Charles Lawrence who writes about Fairey Marine which took Fairey Aviation's wartime wood laminate experience in making aircraft to the making of powerboats in the 1950s and 60s.  They built up a monococque hull with six layers of wood glued in cross directions over a solid block form, and then the whole lot was baked at boiling point in an autoclave, producing a lightweight nearly indestructible hull.
It was in a white Fairey Huntress that James Bond chased his enemies, in Fairey Huntsmans, in From Russia With Love.  Wonderfully evocative names for these boats: Fantome, Swordsman, Spearfish.  Fleet and nimble, slicing through the waves, many are still in the water.  

The hot-moulded Fairey hull, like the moulded Eames chairs, eventually went over to fibreglas and, I expect, much of the magic was lost. 


the monobloc plastic chair

Simon Palfrey. 8-year-old Kunde boy with ruptured appendix, being carried 12 hours and 25 km in this chair to local airstrip for evacuation to Kathmandu.While looking for an image of the original Eames splint used during the Second World War, the technology of which led to his chair experiments, I came across this use of an ordinary plastic lawn chair in Katmandu being used for emergency transport.  Its light weight and rigidity would be key here.

Jens Thiel, who is working on a book, a documentary and an exhibition on monobloc plastic chairs, has a website full of pictures of these chairs in all settings, in all variations, all kinds of repairs and uses. has a short history of monobloc plastic chair development.  They are cheap – $3 to make, and they are made all over the world. Although polypropylene is recyclable they are too big for our blue bins and are often found in fragments set out with the garbage, and living in the rich west as we do, we rarely see the inventive uses found by Thiel or the repairs and re-use.  Thiel points out that inexpensive as they are, they are still equal to a day's salary in many places, and so are valued, helped along when they get elderly, repaired lovingly.

Jens Thiel and Daniel Spehr. Rapaired backrest, sewen with wire.


the Eames chair

Charles Eames. Patent Drawing, 1951. Library of CongressWe have an article about the Eames chair in the next issue of On Site: small things.  Melissa Jacques writes about its iconicity and its marketing, sixty years after its invention.  While looking for an image for the article, I came across one of the patent drawings submitted by Charles Eames in 1942.  It shows that originally the moulded bucket had material taken out of its stress points.  It somehow seems more plastic this way: one can see the original sheet material and how it is bent, a quality completely lost in the fibreglas shells that quickly followed, although I remember fibreglas chairs with an oval hole cut out at the lower back.  I thought they were for ventilation maybe, not thinking much about it at all.  It is interesting that something can be made stronger with the removal of material, rather than building it up to a state of rigidity.

Much of this moulded plywood technology was developed for wartime applications: airplanes, which are still very flexible, and famously in the Eames' case, for limb splints — both applications lightweight and shapely.  The plywood Eames Chair really is the hallmark of 1950s furniture whether it be Danish or American Modern.  Soon supplanted by fibreglas and wire mesh, and most masking of all, upholstery, all this thin, lightweight industrially processed furniture lost its wartime connections very quickly.  Jacques says that it still has its original über-cool quality however, and I wonder if this is something inherent in the way the form was made that we still  intuitively understand, rather than any amount of marketing. 
Charles and Ray Eames. Moulded Plywood Chair. Library of Congress