One of the best known houses in the history of Modernism is not a house at all, but an elaborate movie set. Created entirely at MGM studios in Culver City, California for Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film, North by Northwest. In 1958, when the movie was in production, Frank Lloyd Wright was the most famous Modernist architect in the world. His magnum opus, Fallingwater, was conceivably the most famous house anywhere. His renown in the Fifties was such that mass-market magazines like House Beautiful and House & Garden devoted entire issues to his work. Hitchcock instructed the set designers at MGM to design a house in the Wright style, by its creation, the image of the Vandamm House became an icon of Modernism in architecture.
Designed by Corradino D’Ascanio, an engineer at Piaggio, who also designed, constructed and flew the first modern helicopter. A man who hated motorcycles, D’Ascanio dreamed up this revolutionary new vehicle; drawing from the latest aeronautical technology, he imagined a vehicle built on a unibody steel chassis, the front fork, like a plane’s landing gear, allowed for easy wheel changing. The result was an aircraft-inspired design that to this day remains forward-thinking and unique among all other two-wheeled vehicles.
Upon seeing the vehicle, Enrico Piaggio remarked “Sembra una Vespa!” (“It looks like a wasp!”) and the name stuck. Vespa has lived on from one generation to the next, subtly modifying its image each time. The first Vespa offered mobility to everyone, then, it became the two-wheeler of the post war economic boom. During the sixties and seventies, the vehicle became a symbol for the revolutionary ideas of the time. Advertising campaigns like “He Who Vespas, eats the apple”, and films such as Quadrophenia have come to symbolized these eras.
Nanna Ditzel’s career has spanned five decades, Born in Copenhagen in 1923, she would later become an apprentice cabinetmaker at the Richards School before completing her education at the School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. In the same year that she graduated from the Academy she and her first husband, Jorgen Ditzel, established a design studio in order to continue their already fruitful collaboration.
During this period of her career she designed several signature pieces like the “Hanging” or “Basket” chair that could be suspended from the ceiling and serves as a remarkable example of the Ditzel’s experiments with wicker. In 1954 Nanna and Jorgen began creating jewelry for Georg Jensen. These designs would win them both gold and silver medals at the Milan Trienalle. Using the rippling of little waves across the surface of water as an important source of inspiration Nanna Ditzel created, throughout her career, jewelry that communicates an elegant interpretation of simple organic form. Collaboration with her husband also produced a series of children’s furniture the most notable of which is the “Toadstool” which was a stackable piece that could serve as either stool or table.
Official site: Nanna Ditzel
The Barcelona Pavilion, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, was the German Pavilion for the 1929 International Exposition in Barcelona. (rebuilt 1986) It is the most significant building in the history of modern architecture, known for its simple form and extravagant materials, such as marble and travertine. The building stood on a large podium alongside a pool. The structure itself consists of eight steel posts supporting a flat roof, with curtain walls of glass and a small number of partition walls. Mies designed his now famous Barcelona chair especially for this building.
Barcelona Pavilion, by Mies van der Rohe
Buy the Book: Mies van der Rohe: A Critical Biography
Ease of travel in the jet age encouraged a growing fusion of cultural influences after World War II. Although Sori Yanagi’s stool was designed and manufactured in Japan, it employs western forms (the stool) and the material (bent plywood). Its calligraphic elegance, however, suggests a distinctly Asian sensibility despite the rarity of such seating furniture in traditional Japanese culture. The stool is made from two curving and inverted L-shaped sections, each forming one leg and half of the seat. A metal rod midway between the legs serves as a stretcher and holds the stool together.
Butterfly Stool, 1956, by Sori Yanagi (Japanese, born 1915); Originally manufactured by Tendo Co. Ltd. Now sold by Vitra.
James Irvine (Born London 1958) studied furniture design first at Kingston University and then at the Royal College of Art. One of his closest friends at both institutions was his fellow designer Jasper Morrison who remains a friend and occasional collaborator today. After graduating from the RCA in 1984, Irvine worked first at Olivetti’s design studio in Milan and then for Toshiba in Tokyo before returning to Milan in 1988. He continued to work for Olivetti under the guidance of Ettore Sottsass, and in 1992 became a partner in Sottsass’ studio. Since leaving Sottsass Associati in 1998 to concentrate on his own projects, Irvine has developed products for companies such as Arabia, Artemide, Asplund, B&B Italia, Canon, Danese, Magis and Whirlpool as well as working on ambitious public projects such as the design of the Mercedes Benz city fleet of buses for Hannover.
Polaroid’s first fully automatic, motorized camera was an instant design classic, even starring in a documentary the year it was introduced by company cofounder Edwin Land. The camera is detailed with tan leather and folds into a rectangle the size of a paperback book. Smart.
Polaroid SX-70, by Edwin Land, for Polaroid
Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) was born in Ordrup, Denmark, he trained as an architect at the Danish College of Technology in Copenhagen. Finding the style of traditional lighting designs to be insufficient for his interiors he began designing his own solutions. He was depressed by “how dismal people’s homes are,” and realised that “electric light gave the possibility of wallowing in light.” Henningsen was evangelistic towards the development of modern lighting.
His two most successful designs the “PH lamp,” designed in 1924 and the “Artichoke” have become icons of modern design.
The “PH” lamp, also callled the “Paris” lamp because of its award winning appearance at the Paris World Exhibition incorporates tiers of shades, allowing the user to direct light in several different directions without exposing the light source. The Artichoke is considered to be a classical masterpiece designed by Poul Henningsen more than 40 years ago. The structure is made of twelve steel arches. On this structure he placed 72 copper “leaves” in twelve circular rows with six blades in each row. Because each row is staggered from the previous, all 72 leaves are able to “cover for each other”.
Poul Henningsen Biography
One of the most influential architects of the mid-20th century, Louis Kahn (1901-1974) realized relatively few buildings, yet the formal restraint and emotional expressiveness of his Jonas Salk Institute is regarded as an inspired progression from the International Style.
Salk, the developer of the polio vaccine, saw the world much as Kahn did, he felt that great thoughts would flow more freely from a monastic setting, perched high on a cliff above the Pacific Ocean, that allowed the thinkers to ponder the great questions of life in solitude.
Jonas Salk Institute, La Jolla, California, USA by Louis Kahn
The Panton Chair is the first cantilevered chair made from a single piece of plastic. Sleek, sexy and a technical first, the Panton was the chair of the era. A glossy red Panton featured in Nova magazine’s 1970 shoot in which a model demonstrated “How to undress in front of your husband”.
Panton Classic Chair, 1968, by Verner Panton, for Vitra