My Absolute Favorite Design Book So Far

I’ve seen a lot of design book reviews lately. I dig that because I’m a book sort of fella, but one of more selective tastes. It’s really hard to find good architecture or design books. You certainly would have a hard time bumping into one at a local book store – unless you have an awesome book store. I used to and then it closed. I miss you Prairie Avenue Bookstore.

In the interests of sharing and a bit of thanks for everyone who’s posted some really interesting books lately, I will share my favorite design book.

This is Human Interaction & Interior Space by Julius Panero and Martin Zelnick . Yes, my copy is beat up. I’ve had it for quite some time. Whenever I start a new project, chances are I consult this book at the onset. Basically, it’s a giant human factors book and I have to admit that I perhaps consult only the first third of the book, but those pages I do use are all invaluable.

The book is a giant treasure trove of anthropological information. I think that my volume here might be a bit out of date, taking into account of the changes the populace is trending to but it is still quite relevant. My searching seems to indicate that there has been no updates to the book, unfortunately. We all get to stay in the 70’s.

Otherwise, I’d like to pick up another one, just in case, but they’re nearly impossible to find – or apparently not. Regardless, I guard mine more than almost everything else I own.

I think that I’ve had this book for almost two decades now. Searching out Human Factors books is a latent hobby of mine. They’re quite difficult to find, especially used. They’re a bit easier to find new but certainly not easy on the wallet.

If you have the capability, I absolutely suggest you pick up a copy, it is pure genius. Partially, it’s kind of fun to see the page layouts and text handling from 1979. Look at that masterful stroking of Helvetica! A gem to be sure!

Breaking Through All the Little Boxes of Fine Art

This dazzle-painted installation by Tobias Rehberger  for Artek has picqued my imagination. Obviously, the dazzle painting derived from WWI ship camouflage – although in my mind it’s not as closely related to the original work – is nifty and certainly a fresh decorative aesthetic. The thing that interests me much more is that this installation breaks through all of the little boxes of decoration that we furnish our homes in.

I have snatched the image above from the totally great home decorating site, Apartment Therapy and is a nice example of a well-appointed and nicely styled contemporary room. Using this as an example of how we compartmentalize things in our homes – where everything is corralled in its spot and for its purpose: The floor is the bottom of the room. The walls touch the floor at a specific point and the art hangs on the wall. The couch touches the floor and maybe the wall but is distinct from both and so on.

The Artek installation breaks that trend. In the installation, the artwork is continuous across all planes and items. The wall artwork extends across the floors as well. The furniture blends to both the walls and the floor, not merely matching it. The entire effect creates a cohesive space, perhaps even a modern space?

I think it’s interesting to postulate on the effects this open thinking has on home furnishings, where your art is not  just put in compartments on a wall, instead it’s able to flow everywhere. Or how your furniture could become much more integrated with the space – even if it’s just aesthetically. The idea of calling into question the division of art and style in a room is kind of exciting. It’s like a fine art and interior design “mash-up” concept.

The idea of not finding the edges where art or the definition of a space ends and the utility begins is a concept that should certainly be explored more. I think it creates a lot of exciting opportunities for the artist and how one lives in such a realm. With the seeming movement of fine art toward decoration, perhaps this is some thinking that could push back the tide a bit. It would have to be through artists who are willing to look beyond the canvas as well as into new materials, not to mention new thought processes. The kind of thinking that is not compartmentalized in small rectangles.

Lost in Sofa and the Actions in Between Furniture Design

One of the more interesting ( at least to me) thoughts I had recently was how there are actions in between all the major actions we have furniture designed to help us with.  This thought stemmed from thinking of furniture as a form of interaction design rather than making another chair, or something. We really have enough quality chairs so if someone is going to make another one, it had better be functionally special and I think there is quite a bit of potential there.

Back to the thought at hand, my theorem is that there are a number of things that happen between when we stop watching TV on the couch and go get a something from the fridge, for example. People don’t exist in only two conditions in the living room: standing and sitting. When you stop to think of all the other things that happen between those positions and actions, I think it opens up a lot of thinking as to how furniture-human interaction should be designed.

Take, for instance, this chair by Daisuke Motogi. Cleverly designing a seat with even more cushion seams – a trend that most of the world is running from – creates an interaction that allows for even greater utility. The chair becomes a holder of items, maybe a bookcase, maybe a table or maybe something else. Whatever it becomes, the concept of what the chair’s human interaction value has increased. The seat is no longer a place that’s slightly more comfortable than the floor, it’s a center for the user. It contains item which the user perhaps commonly uses or perhaps items that create an emotional comfort, thus the chair makes itself a personalized personal space for the user.

By allowing this storage and personalization, the chair moves past a temporary, single use item and into something much more valuable. The chair becomes a device that provides a number of functions that facilitates eases of transitions between actions. It is the place that also holds your book while you freshen up, your phone when you’re done calling, or perhaps when you’re calling on speaker, etc. Obviously, this can be done with what we usually call, a ‘table’ but the value is the diminishing of the transition between states of rest, as well as the capability to easily modify it to make it your own, which I think is what they call comfort.

The Mash House and How We Might Break Up Our Architectural Spaces.

In a previous post somewhere on this site I pondered the thoughts of how living spaces are all moving toward open concept and this post on BLDGBLOG got me thinking about it again. While this house is not completely what I had been thinking about, it does have a rather unique feature that points to the open-concept idea, and how we will go about crafting areas for our activities. That item is the ‘kitchen island’ in this house.

Yes, I know, we all have kitchen islands, but this one is different, as it links three rooms together as it traverses a large portion of the house from the kitchen to what looks like the office.

The island is this giant, multi-functional device in the house that changes its utility as it moves through rooms – a very unique concept. I wish there was a floor plan to have look in greater detail though or an explanation of how it works.

Obviously, in the kitchen it provides the services we all come to expect but as it moves to this sun room it provides perhaps storage for coats and outer wear  like a conventional foyer closet? The island also divides what could be the ‘foyer’ area from a hallway, delineating activities within the house. Finally it terminates at the edge of the office, creating the feeling of a fourth wall.

It’s a very interesting bit of built-in furniture.  I think it also points out a way where furniture can create spaces and functionalities in the open-concept future we will be living in. Furniture will be needed not just to sit on but to craft the shape of our rooms as the opportunities to modify our spaces will become prohibitive in terms of time and even capability. It will be much easier to buy units instead of breaking down walls and putting up new. Our breaking up of spaces to function will be more personalized and more temporary, which means it will have to be done by furnishings rather than builders.

It is interesting to think of what other devices we will use to make our houses homes where we have the capability to build and modify our spaces rather than to just take the placement of bedrooms to offices that we have now.

Space Density Driving Innovative Architectural Design

So, I’ve been to Ireland. I’ve driven around the country. One point of difference from the U.S. and Ireland (and I think the rest of the Old World, but I am guessing) is how it seems buildings are never really torn down or moved in Ireland and new buildings are built to fit in with the surrounding areas. In the U.S., we tend to go through buildings quickly, tearing them down and re-purposing land. So we haven’t really seen much construction like Egan’s Coffee Bar and Roof Terrace (which really has a great story, please take the time to read the link).

What I think is really exciting about such construction is that it forces us to break the box way of thinking. You simply can’t have a box when the space is not built for one. Breaking the box design will allow for a lot more exciting and memorable constructions, where they essentially have a forced personality and individuality of space.

I think in the U.S. in the next few decades we’ll begin to see a lot more architecture like this due to rising urban densities and rising costs of construction, forcing designers into more ingenious solutions.  Further forces may be long-tail inspired where big-box stores will begin to give way to more specialized stores as shoppers are already accustomed to finding non one-size-fits-all solutions, creating the need for an army of smaller storefronts, where big box stores already find trouble with zoning and finding building space.

Further into the center of a city, these more interesting design solutions could be seen filling more interesting places. There is only so much ground-floor space in downtown high-rises, causing perhaps slightly temporary buildings or storefronts to spring up, taking advantage of the courtyards and malls that these monoliths are surrounded by. Perhaps even going so far as setting up semi-perminent markets in these underused spaces.

What all of this really boils down to is that we might be on the edge of a new expansiveness in architectural design where instead of creativity being allowed by a few generous patrons, inspiration will be forced into new work to solve solutions in previously unacceptable locations. Perhaps this is where the long shadow of the Modernist Cube will come to an end?

Col-Letto Bed and the Construction of Personal Space

Lately, one of the things I have been thinking about is how in the coming future we will have to work quite diligently on designing more personal space for ourselves. This is due to a lot of forces, most notably the encroachment of pervasive technologies as well as diminishing living spaces.

I think this will force furniture to start providing aspects of personal space delineation, especially when rooms become more multifunctional – which brings me to this bed I came across on the Contemporist today, the Col-Letto Bed.

While I usually don’t prefer items that are of the Swiss Army Knife sorts of things, I think this bed is an excellent exception. The part of it’s functionality that I like the best is that it has the capability to create a more inclusive experience through the giant petal around it’s perimeter. All the other folding shapes are nifty but that quality is perhaps the most intriguing to me.

To me, that inclusiveness is at least a great step into creating a separate-ness from whatever else is going on in the room, like a television or a reader in the room. I am also thinking that it could go a bit further but this is a very important step and I would be excited to try one out!

You can find out more about this piece of furniture at the Lago website.

Aspects of Non-rectilinear Space Design 2

In the future, stats point to higher population densities as well as more widespread adoption of an open concept living situation in part spurred by diminishing personal spaces. This diminishing is going to cause situations where the shape of living spaces will become quite a bit more important in order to thwart the living in a cube lifestyle.

I think after a certain point, in order to achieve profitable densities of living spaces, individual living areas will reach a point of minimum size. I am not sure what that size is but there’ll also be a homogenization amongst builders, making certain location/price point spaces nearly identical in terms of square footage.

Some form of differentiation must occur and this will either be achieved through ornamentation or from a more ground-up attempt where architects will parse individuality from more interesting shapes of space. Trending suggests that ornamentation probably will not be the solution sought as it adds extra costs – and costs that could quickly be cut. The solution will come at the architectural stage, rather than at a finishing stage.

There will be interesting solutions being drawn up that will take into account some form of individuality as well as space efficiencies in future buildings. Being that open concept is seemingly the way of the future, I think we’ll initially see angularity in the shapes of living spaces. Probably subtly angled walls and hallways, any more than this and we’ll run into the situation where our square things just won’t fit, not to mention all of these spaces will have to nest into each other in the grand building plan.

The thought that I’m most excited about is that this angular period should give way to more curvilinear spaces. It will become just as easy to create a gracefully curved wall as would to create angular ones. Rooms will flow into the next, while still imbuing some hint of task spaces, in the culmination of a usable open concept situation.

Obviously, at this point in time, this idea can merely be my own pipe dream. There are a lot of sticky points about all this, not the least of which being the apparent difficulty of builders to create curved features easily. At the same time, there are other trends that seem to point us to that direction in the future.

Taking the pulse of concept architecture, there seems to be a lot of interest in a curved future. Many of the sky-scrapers on the boards today are stepping as far away from the monoliths and the wedges of modernism. Some of them are changing for stylistic reasons and others for the technological benefit, like improved aerodynamics for the winds in which these buildings live.

Aside from the easy future, the far more conceptual work of the generative architects points considerably more toward curvilinear thoughts. In this work, no one makes a Gropius rectangle.

I really don’t think it will lead us to the Karim Rashid or Luigi Colani bubble future – at least not in the next 60 years. I think though we’re going to be living in a far more organic space within 20 years and it’s very interesting to consider all of the subtle changes that will ad up when we transition between cube world to curved.

Why the SmartCar Didn’t sell well in the U.S.

The Smart car was designed as a small form factor city car, and in Europe, it performs quite well. It’s size allows for it to find parking in spaces previously unavailable for regular cars. A necessity in every big city, right? Not so for American cities – due to mainly to the manner in which architects and urban planners have made our urban spaces, and to an extent, the economics of vehicle ownership of city dwellers.

One of the biggest threats to Smart cars is the seemingly American notion of the parking space. The American who lives in the city and can afford a new car would probably also be financially capable of affording off-street parking – in a standard sized parking spot. Most modern condominuims and new rentals at least have the option for a parking space. If they do not, the concept is so prohibitively expensive that it is common knowledge that spaces would be unavailable. When moving further out where parking on the street becomes a reality, other economics come into play, such as the owner’s need to drive further than in town for work as well as population density diminishes to the point where street parking is not such a headache.

Looking at the economics of the car’s cost, when new, there are plenty of equivalent regularly-sized vehicles to choose from. Should the owner live in the city and is able to pay for off-street parking, this person would probably be in a position to purchase much more car than a Smart car and would probably looking to do so. A comfortably equipped Smart car goes for around $20,ooo which, while comparatively cheap, also puts the buyer within striking distance of rather nicely appointed full-sized vehicles, not to mention a few sporty models.

The other notion is that if one lives in a city in the USA and needs a car to commute with, the Smart car would be an ideal solution. Most folks who live in the city and commute to work via automobile probably has a bit of travel to do and would appreciate the increase in handling a longer wheel-based car, not to mention better gas mileage provided by hybrid vehicles. The added interior space would also be sought by the daily road warrior.

Finally, if one lives in the city, then this person probably would not need a car as they would already have a good feeling on how to work mass transit. Travelling short distances in an American city can be more of a hassle than taking mass transit. The theory of parking spaces once again rears it’s ugly head. In urban areas, there is parking enforcement through the use of predetermined spaces and meters for them. Sure, you could get two Smarts in one spot, but the chances of doing so is displaced by a larger number of full-sized vehicles as well as these predetermined spaces disallow for the cleaver parking that Smart was developed for in other parts of the world.

I think that after facing these facts that small footprint cars cannot make it in the US market on dimension alone. The system is against them. These cars will have to sell in on other characteristics. If the price can come down to entry-level, this may be a good way, otherwise the cars have a dubious place on the automotive landscape that might be construed as just a ‘fun car’.

Aspects of Non-rectilinear Space Design

If you look throughout architectural history, the bulk of everything people have built has been rectangular. Sure, there have been examples and styles which have not been inherently square, like igloos, yurts, some choice Roman buildings, and so on.

This dimensional monopoly interests me. As humans, we are really not designed to operate in cube environments. Our limbs move on what are pretty much arcs. Our hands are better at describing curves than tangents, even our bodies are curvilinear. It seems amazing that we continue to force ourselves into dealing with squares.

While I think that at some time, the bulk of the push towards squareness has been due to the apparent lack of construction ease at which non-rectilinear environments could be built. In modern times, curve-making technology is not so much an issue. Is it just the coasting of style? Perhaps it’s the inertia of all the made goods we have?

Recently, our best shot at living in something that was not inherently square was the Geodesic dome. Bucky showed us that things did not have to be square and we could put up homes in a fraction of the time. In fact, they’d actually be easy. The problem? Where the hell do you get hexagonal curtains? Perhaps more importantly, how do you divide up interior space when everything you could put in there is a rectangle?

Our square stuff doesn’t really fit in something that isn’t. If you’re an interior decorator who’s really good, you could probably do it – otherwise no. This ill-fitting can be seen rather obviously when perusing finished dome homes. People try really hard to make them square but they obviously are not.

I can’t blame them really, because even NASA, when making a habitat for people who have no weight, direction and are floating in space, as well as building in a shape that is in fact circular, made a square out of it.

I think the future of design, especially when it comes to expressive architecture, is going to be curvilinear. It really should be. Not just on the outside, either. The inside is going to be the stickiest point. Of course a a lot of very forward thinking architects have been predicting this change, but the connecting of our world of right angles to the world of the arc is going to be a big change: everything that we have as life accessories will have to change.

Personally, I think we’ve pushed the square as far as it can go. We’ve reached that point that the Abstract Expressionist did. We’ve taken everything out of our boxes and now we are coasting on revisions of the same theme. Something new will happen, it will be curves and we have to prepare ourselves to live in a curved world.

The Vakko Fashion Center and Power Media Center

Archinect has an interesting ShowCase writeup of the new Vakko Fashion Center. It is a pretty amazing building for a number of reasons, not the least of it being the expansive use of mirrored finishes that must be seen to believe, as well as a very expressive structure.

The feature that strikes me most is the molded windows encasing the exterior, as seen above. While the article points to the reasoning as structural, they also have  a fantastic aesthetic quality to them. Below you can see the effects produced by sunlight as it travels through the panes.

I hope that this is just the opening volley in what might become something of trend that will help us break the tyranny of the harsh box we’ve all been accustomed to seeing lately.

With a little imagination, I can see that perhaps larger buildings could have walls of patterns made from such formed glass forming unique topologies – perhaps even signature or branded ones.

It would also be interesting to see what sort of mechanical properties a properly molded window shape could bring to a building. Could a shape be so designed as to reduce the amount of heating required? Or perhaps other qualities?