NOWNESS invited Finland’s top contemporary design talent to showcase their work in the home of the country’s greatest most celebrated aesthete, Alvar Aalto. Today preserved as an atmospheric museum, the Alvar Aalto house, which was the architect’s domicile and studio from 1936 until his death, is an intimate memorial to the modernist master. The clean lines, functionality and unpretentious nature of classic Finnish design pioneered by Aalto, Ilmari Tapiovaara and Kaj Franck still permeates much of the work by the discipline’s current stars. Here we select our top Finnish designers for further scrutiny.
Jussi Takkinen “Untitled” folding chair and “Osio” wall clock, Matti Syrjälä “Riuku” stool and “Loiste” storm lantern, Hannu Kähönen “Kapeneva” bench, Ville Kokkonen “White 4″ table lamp, Ilkka Suppanen “Kaasa” lantern, Klaus Haapaniemi “Rabbit Throw”, Marko Nenonen “Lounge Chair”, Harri Koskinen “Remain in Light”
Alvar Aalto: In the Master’s Home, via: NOWNESS
In the year 2008, the American designer George Nelson (1908-1986) would have celebrated his 100th birthday. To commemorate this occasion, the Vitra Design Museum exhibited the first comprehensive retrospective of his work. Nelson was one of the most influential figures in American design during the second half of the twentieth century. With an architectural degree from Yale, he was not only active in the fields of architecture and design, but was also a widely respected writer and publicist, lecturer, curator, and a passionate photographer. His office produced numerous furnishings and interior designs that became modern classics, including the Coconut Chair (1956), the Marshmallow Sofa (1956), the Ball Clock (1947) and the Bubble Lamps (1952 onwards).
As design director at Herman Miller, a leading US manufacturer of modern furniture design, Nelson had a major influence on the product line and public image of the company for over two decades. He played an essential role in bringing the company together with designers such as Charles Eames, Alexander Girard and Isamu Noguchi. Early on, Nelson was convinced that design should be an integral part of a company’s philosophy, and by promoting this viewpoint, he also became a pioneer in the areas of business communication and corporate design.
As an architect, designer and writer, Nelson was deeply interested in the topics of domestic living and interior furnishings. In the bestselling book Tomorrow’s House (1945, co-authored with Henry Wright), he articulated the groundbreaking concept of the “storagewall”. The walls of a house, Nelson explained, could be used to store things by transforming them into floor-to-ceiling, two-sided cabinets. A revolutionary idea at the time, it anticipated the flood of consumer goods that the economic boom in the western world would soon produce, turning the single-family home into a small warehouse.
Nelson designed several private homes, including a New York town house for Sherman Fairchild (1941, together with William Hamby) and Spaeth House on Southampton beach (1956, together with Gordon Chadwick). As a committed proponent of industrial building methods, Nelson published numerous texts on the topic of prefabricated architecture. In the 1950s he developed the “Experimental House”, a modular system of cubic volumes with Plexiglas roof domes which owners could assemble into personal habitations according to their own spatial requirements.
In addition to his preoccupation with architecture and the domestic interior, Nelson intently pursued the topic of office furnishings. Besides designing the first L-shaped desk, he played a major role in the development of Herman Miller’s Action Office, and in the 1970s he created his own office system, Nelson Workspaces. Similar to Nelson’s home furnishings and experimental architecture, this system was based on a variety of modular elements that could be freely combined.
The extraordinary diversity of design tasks taken on by the Nelson office extends far beyond the field of furniture design, although the latter forms the basis of his reputation today. Numbering among his clients were many large corporations including Abbott, Alcoa, BP, Ford, Gulf, IBM, General Electric, Monsanto and Olivetti, as well as the United States government. In his New York office, which he established in 1947 and ran for more than three decades, Nelson employed over fifty people at times, including familiar figures such as Ettore Sottsass and Michael Graves. Along with exhibitions, restaurant interiors and showrooms, George Nelson & Company designed kitchens, flatware and dishes, record players and speakers, birdhouses and weathervanes, computers and typewriters, company logos and packaging, rugs and tiles.
Anyone who has yielded to the luxurious embrace of an Eames lounge chair is well acquainted with its sensual and aesthetic pleasures but Charles and Ray Eames, the husband and wife team behind the enduring classic furniture designs are less familiar.
Their partnership and multifaceted careers — they’re credited with both reinventing the concept of the chair and putting the playfulness back into modernism — are explored in Eames: The Architect and the Painter, Jason Cohn and veteran broadcast producer Bill Jersey’s well-crafted, straightforward and insightful documentary. A must for those with an interest in modern design, the film’s portrait of an unconventional marriage during the 1950s, and the alchemy that fueled a professional collaboration between intensely creative personalities, who perfectly complemented one another, should extend its appeal beyond the ranks of subscribers toArchitectural Digest and Dwell.
Narrated by James Franco, the First Run Features doc opens theatrically in New York and L.A. November 18, and will have its broadcast premiere December 19 as part of the PBS American Masters series.
Described by those who knew them as a union between “a painter that didn’t paint and an architecture school drop-out who never got his license,” the pair initially dedicated themselves to a utopian vision of promulgating beauty to a broad audience through high quality, low cost, mass produced furnishings. Together they helped transform 20th century design in the post-war era.
A photographer, furniture designer and a filmmaker who made over 100 shorts including the much imitated Powers of Ten, Charles was a charismatic, workaholic visionary driven by a voracious intellectual curiosity. Their Venice, California studio, likened to a circus and Disneyland by those who reminisce about working there, was built on the model of Renaissance art studio with the master at the top of the pyramid and a host of talented assistants executing his vision.
Not surprisingly, Charles often overshadowed his wife but the film goes to some lengths to correct the misperception that he was the only Eames who counted. A painter with a keen design sense, exceptionally gifted in the realm of color and a notorious perfectionist, Ray’s aesthetic contributions to the design process were crucial to their success, a fact not lost on her husband who once acknowledged, “Anything I can do, she can do better.”
She was also an obsessive collector and maker of notes on cigarette papers. Her illustrated letters to Charles, along with some 350,000 photographs and voluminous documents archived at the Library of Congress, and shared with the filmmakers, are a delightful reflection of a teeming creative mind.
The doc incorporates archival photographs, television appearances, clips from Eames’ films as well as footage of the futuristic IBM Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair and the couple’s trendsetting Pacific Palisades home, perched on a bluff overlooking the ocean and filled with fine art and an evolving collage of objects and contraptions that caught their eye. Family members, historians, critics and fellow artists, who worked with or simply admired them, add pertinent commentary, while editor, Don Bernier, smoothly integrates a wealth of material and contributions by multiple lensers.
Buy it here: Amazon
Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the 1973 Douglas House was one of architect Richard Meier’s first residential commissions. Defined by its verticality, the house features an exterior stepped walkway that extends over the trees, connecting the levels.
Once [Michael McCarthy and Marcia Myers] bought it, they called Meier’s office in New York. The architect suggested that if they intended to modify the building they might consider hiring his firm. “But he said if we were going to restore it, we’d be better off using local engineers,” says McCarthy, who did a bit of both by assembling a team to move forward while at the same time striking up an informal relationship with then Meier employee and Michigan native Michael Trudeau.
The Douglas House is a clear nod to Les Terrasses, a 1928 residence created by Le Corbusier in Garches, France. Shared elements include curved walls, spatial ambiguities, and the series of ladders and cantilevered staircases that join the levels and encourage a cascading architectural promenade.
If the couple had questions, they’d call Trudeau, who’d get answers from Meier. “They’re impeccably cognizant of keeping the original design,” Trudeau says. This went on for four years. The team removed the original steel awning windows, sandblasted and powder-coated each one, then reinstalled them with thermal glass and hardware from the original supplier. They replaced and painted the redwood siding its original “Meier White,” then added a steel backbone to the bridge. HVAC systems were replaced with energy-efficient equipment. They even reupholstered a Meier-designed sofa for the living room.
With the renovation now mostly complete, the couple has reached out to state and national preservation organizations about the home’s future. “We had no idea what we were getting into–but this is a keeper,” McCarthy says. “Our role is to restore it and maintain it for America.”
Forty years after its creation, the Douglas House has returned to its original intent–an architectural experience that moves the visitor through an exploration of inside and outside spaces. “The same is true in the Farnsworth House and Fallingwater,” says Meier. “The idea was there from the beginning–it’s about the making of space and how to articulate it.”
During 1951-1952, Mies van der Rohe designed the steel, glass and brick McCormick House for real-estate developer Robert Hall McCormick, Jr. A one story adaptation of the exterior curtain wall of his famous 860-880 Lake Shore Drive towers, (if you like 860-880 Lake Shore Drive set to music click here) it served as a prototype for an unbuilt series of speculative houses to be constructed in Melrose Park, Illinois.
The McCormick House is one of only three houses built in the United States. by Mies van der Rohe. The Landscape was designed by Alfred Caldwell. The home was moved on August 16, 1994 from its original property at 299 Prospect Avenue in Elmhurst IL, to its present location as part of the Elmhurst Art Museum. The house was de-constructed, separated into units, with each loaded onto a flat bed truck, and began its journey though the streets of Elmhurst to it’s new location at the Museum’s current site in Wilder Park.
Fifty years ago, the IBM Selectric typewriter was introduced to the public. In the 25 years that followed, more than 13 million of the typewriters were sold. The machine, designed by Eliot Noyes over a period of seven years, transformed typewriting by allowing the use of different fonts and dramatically increasing the speed at which most people could type. Unlike other typewriters, which struck the paper with hammers, it used golf ball-like type heads embossed with a full set of alphanumeric characters. The ball zipped along in close proximity to the paper, tilting and rotating as necessary to lay down characters on the page almost instantly. Thanks to that head, the typewriter was the first of its kind to eliminate carriage return.
The aesthetic design of the Selectric was the responsibility of Eliot Noyes, an architect and industrial designer who served as consulting design director to IBM for 21 years. Noyes drew on some of the sculptural qualities of Olivetti typewriters in Italy. The result was a patented, timeless shape, and a high-water mark for IBM’s industrial design and product innovation.
The US Post office has included the Selectric in the new series of stamps in honor of Pioneers of American Industrial Design.
Perhaps most famous as the set for the Jackie Treehorn beach house in Malibu from The Big Lebowksi, the house is actually located above a canyon in Beverly Hills and was designed by John Lautner.
Seen here in its current state with photographs by New York and LA-based artjocks – is one of Lautner’s best known works. Originally built between 1961 and 1963, the home is now owned by James Goldstein, who worked with Lautner for over two decades before his death to restore and renovate the property. Read as an extension of the landscape, the design seeks to seamlessly integrate itself with the lush surroundings, blurring the boundaries between interior and exterior. Built into the sandstone ledge of the hillside, the home is both cavernous and exposed, opening to accept unsurpassed views over the city and the encircling natural environment.
Photographer Philip Sinden has completed a series of environmental portraits and images of the home of legendary industrial designer, Dieter Rams.
“Dieter Rams may have just celebrated his 79th birthday but he is still as passionate as ever about design and architecture as he was when starting out at German manufacturer Braun back in 1955 at the age of 23. Sitting in his house, designed by himself, on the outskirts of Frankfurt he reflects on his career and with no children of his own he hopes to help other, young designers take his principles of design and create products that enhance our lives and add to the ever-changing story of good, simple, honest design. Having designed his own home, from the bespoke white tiles with dark grey grouting, made for the Vitsœ showroom in Frankfurt at the same time to match perfectly to the dimensions of his 50-year-old shelving system to fixtures for his tools in the downstairs workshop‚ a room that saw many secret product development when it was even too secretive to be worked on at the Braun factory, Rams is a perfectionist to a degree that most of us would not even comprehend. Only a few items have made it in to his home that have not been under the microscopic view of his eye before heading to mass-production.”
- Daniel Nelson
Widely recognized for their Ettore Sottsass-designed Valentine typewriter, one of Olivetti’s less celebrated design accomplishments is the company’s Venice showroom and store. Architect Carlo Scarpa spent two years conceiving the space with a focus on transparencies and materials after commissioned by Adriano Olivetti in the late ’50s, leading to what became one of the most significant architectural achievements of the 20th century.
Located on Venice’s famed Piazza San Marco, 14 years ago the Olivetti store was turned into a novelty shop. Last year the space’s owner, Assicurazioni Generali, began working with the Venice Heritage office to painstakingly refurbish the shop to its original appearance, reinstating authentic materials, forms and color schemes. They also turned to the glorious Italian cultural institution, FAI to protect and manage the building, which is filled with a unique collection of typewriters and calculators donated by Olivetti that’s now open to the public for regular visits along with the rest of the space.
One focal point of the renovated store is Alberto Viani’s “Nudo al Sole”–a sculpture that the architect put above a black Belgian marble plinth covered by water. To achieve the right amount of light, Scarpa increased the number of windows, illuminating the irregularly-shaped mosaic glass floor which changes color in each area. The main entrance is red, the central section almost white, the side entrance blue and the rear yellow.
Olivetti Showroom and Store, Venice, by Carlo Scarpa, via: Cool Hunting
In this fresh look at the work of Charlotte Perriand (1903-1999), the Petit Palais reveals for the first time the part played by photography in her creative process, both as a source of inspiration and sometimes as an actual component of her pieces. When she joined the Le Corbusier/Pierre Jeanneret studio as furniture design associate in 1928, she at once began using photography for her preliminary studies, then as a means for observing the “laws of nature” — in the mountains, especially — and the urban context. This provided her with inspiration for her experiments with forms, materials and spatial arrangements. The exhibition also particularly emphasises her passion for objects found in the course of her walks; in their distancing of the rationalist spirit of the 1920s, these brought greater flexibility and formal freedom to her work.
Charlotte Perriand 1903-1999: From photography to interior design
April 7 – September 18, Petit Palais, Musée des Beaux-Arts de la Ville de Paris