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August 28, 2008

Change of art.


Art speaks to everyone regardless of political inclinations. Knowing that,, the progressive website, challenged its members to create art celebrating Barak Obama’s presidential candidacy. Chosen from over 1,000 original works of art submitted, the 31 finalists are now on display at the Manifest Hope Gallery in Denver, coinciding with the DNC convention. While Obama may not be your pick for president, I assume most would be hard-pressed to not find beauty in many of the finalist’s work. It is a welcome change to the traditional political imagery crowding magazines, newspaper and websites.

August 14, 2008

On campus with Mies, Corbu and Saarinen.

A student of modernism will recognize Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier and Eero Saarinen as designers of tables and chairs, but some may be surprised to recognize the work of these masters on American college campuses. In honor of the upcoming academic year, we’re looking at three buildings on the campuses of Illinois Institute of Technology, Harvard and MIT.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe was originally trained as a bricklayer before becoming a master of proportion in other materials, like steel and glass. It’s also ironic that Mies directed the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT), as he had no formal architectural training of his own. Mies had a strict, meticulous approach and a belief in using only the finest materials. The precision with which he worked and the timeless architecture he created were the result of looking, studying and spending time with a problem until he was fully satisfied with an ordered and logical solution. Even after he mastered the principles that would forever define his work, Mies remained a student of materials and technology. “I don’t want to be interesting,” said Mies. “I want to be good.”

The S.R. Crown Hall, built in 1956, was the last of seven buildings Mies designed for the IIT campus in Chicago. In 2005, the S.R. Crown Hall underwent a $3.6 million restoration, kicked off when Mies’ grandson, Dirk Lohan, took a sledge hammer to one of the Hall’s windows. The privilege to do this to a National Historic Landmark was something Lohan won the right to in an eBay auction (he paid $2,705). The building houses IIT’s College of Architecture, which was directed by Mies for 20 years, ending in 1958, two years after his S.R. Crown Hall was built. Never one to add unnecessary ornament, the exterior of the rectangular building is made up of a steel frame with clear and frosted glass walls. The interior is an open, universal space, which Mies created so it could be adapted to meet changing needs. Visit the building when class is in session and you’ll find it filled with drafting tables at which students work by natural light coming through the 18-foot-high floor-to-ceiling windows.

While Mies created buildings that appeared almost to be floating, Le Corbusier built a “tight, dense world…where space seems almost carved out of tense volumes.”1 Early in his career, Le Corbusier was apprenticed to Mies, and while the latter would go on to have a 30-year career in America, Corbu would not find the same success. In fact, there is only one building on the North American continent designed by Le Corbusier: the Carpenter Visual Arts Center at Harvard University. The building, which was completed in 1963, houses the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies. Shortly after breaking ground to build the Center, Corbu was awarded the 1961 gold medal from the American Institute of Architects (AIA). Upon accepting the medal, Corbu said, “I live in the skin of a student,” referring to his desire to find new ways to apply industrial design to built structures, which he called “machines for living.” An early teacher of Corbu’s, Charles L’Eplattenier, told him to “Learn every possible form of classic art – and forget it as quickly as possible in order to create something new.”

The Carpenter Center stands five stories tall, with a ramp through the building to encourage circulation and make visible the light-filled studios where students paint, draw and sculpt. Francesco Passanti, a Le Corbusier scholar, has compared the experience of walking by these studios to that of being on a train as it passes another train going the opposite direction. The fact that the Visual Arts Center does not blend in with the rest of Harvard’s brick and ivy-covered campus was intentional, as doing so would have been a contradiction. “Architecture,” said Corbu, “goes beyond utilitarian needs. You employ stone, wood and concrete, and with these materials you build houses and palaces. That is construction. Ingenuity is at work. But suddenly you touch my heart. You do me good and I am happy and I say, ‘This is beautiful.’ That is architecture. Art enters in.”

Le Corbusier was called “the Leonardo of our time” by Eero Saarinen, whose campus commissions included the Noyes dormitory at Vassar, the Kresge Auditorium and Chapel at MIT and the D’Angelo Law Library at the University of Chicago Law School. Barack Obama taught constitutional law at this school from 1992 to 2004, but he did not experience this building as it exists today, following a $32 million renovation completed in 2008. Saarinen’s concrete-framed six-story Law Library, with its “pleated” dark glass, was originally completed in 1959. The structure is devoid of the grey limestone, gargoyles and spires that are characteristic of the rest of the gothic campus, but it doesn’t conflict with them either. “Saarinen referred to his style as ‘neogothic,’” wrote critic Judith Russi Kirshner, “yet the very structure and materials – glass, steel and concrete – exemplified a contemporary aesthetic objective and philosophical idea of clarity.”

Saarinen’s design called for open areas that encouraged discussion, and the recent renovation has stayed true to that goal, while adding the best tools of the digital age to the collaborative, inviting work space. Unlike Corbu and Mies, who created open flexible areas that could change with use, Saarinen created the Law Library for the University of Chicago law students, and not for anything else. “The overall concept seeks to reflect the importance to the legal profession,” said Saarinen, “of both the written and the spoken word.”

The D’Angelo Law Library is not open to the public. For access to the Carpenter Center and S.R. Crown Hall, check with Harvard and IIT, respectively.

1. The New York Times, “Architecture: Mies at National Gallery,” October 20, 1979.

August 12, 2008

A town house turns fun house.


I just have to spotlight the whimsical and ridiculous home of Roland Emmerich here on the blog. The New York Times featured the auteur’s London town house on Thursday and I’ve been unable to shake the images from my head. Admittedly not for everyone, Emmerich’s home contains bold image after bold image: a taxidermy zebra, communist imagery, World War II planes remade into furniture and a waxwork of the Pope. While on the same grand level as his blockbuster films, like Independence Day, his home has something I find missing from his films: depth. Slideshow here.

August 11, 2008

Fashion forward.


The illustrator Robert Fontanelli had an all-too-quick show in Chelsea last week that I, unfortunately, missed. A friend sent me pictures on his iPhone of Fontanelli’s drawings which led me to his site. His work is a combination of fashion illustration and homoerotic imagery mixed with the fetishism of all things mid-century modern. Some of the images are sexy (“Storage”) while others are, somewhat, disturbing ("Rape of Red Eames Chair #1"). All of them are, in my humble opinion, brilliant.

Thinking about John Lautner in Berkeley.


On July 17, the Berkeley Studio hosted an event to celebrate architect John Lautner. We hosted a packed house with writer/director Bette Jane Cohen, and screened her 16mm documentary film, John Lautner: the Spirit in Architecture, which she introduced in 1991. Lautner was one of the most influential architects of the 20th century and there is nothing else like his work. You’ve seen them in Hollywood movies (James Bond) and on TV. The 60-minute film was completed before Lautner passed away in 1994. Bette was able to tour the film with Lautner when it was first released, and had some amazing stories to share with the audience about her time with Lautner and about making the film. Candid interviews with Lautner himself and insight from colleagues combine to create a very interesting film on this amazingly creative architect. Bette answered some really great questions and three lucky winners took home Taschen’s Lautner book. Lautner worked mostly solo as he found architectural committees and collaborating would lead to compromising on creativity and the design. Contact the Berkeley Studio at if you are interested in purchasing one of the films on VHS tape.

Want to learn more about John Lautner? Check out info about the film here. Plus, the UCLA Hammer Museum has an exhibit on him, which opened July 13.

Posted by Lisa Russell, Proprietor, Berkeley Studio

August 09, 2008

(Design) dreams realized.

Today at the DWR Fort Mason warehouse sale, many dreams were fulfilled. Peter and Scott chose the best Albero sofa ever. By warehouse standards that means matching cushions and legs that weren’t bent. They also chose a one-of-a-kind Saarinen Executive chair (see Time Life) in a special order and much sought after fabric. Though they didn’t NEED it, the chair was so fabulous they knew their home had to have it.

The next memorable customer who had a dream come true was a college student (from Cranbrook, hello!) who NEEDED an asymmetrical Bertoia chaise. To anyone in the know, no one NEEDS such a beautiful piece. It’s something to be visually enjoyed and lounged in at every glamorous opportunity.

And lastly, we found a young woman who in all of her years hadn’t had a new sofa in 20 of them. Her next 20 years will be spent in 20 more of comfort. The generous discount almost brought her to tears (of joy).

For all the reasons above you have to make time on Sunday August 10th to visit and realize the dreams that you’ve always had but never dared to make come true. The sale is over at 5pm so you better show up early. The trick is to hang out for awhile and rumor has it that prices get slashed mid afternoon. There will be two fierce boys with red pens who are determined to make dreams come true...

Edward McFarland, Studio Visuals Manager

August 07, 2008

Warehouse sale by the sea.

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This weekend we’re hosting what has turned out to be the most exciting sale DWR has had in years. Fort Mason is magnificent, nestled on the water between the Marina District and Fisherman’s Wharf, the views provide the perfect venue for a sale of this magnitude. Setting up has been an absolute joy. In two days we have unloaded over 50 trucks of modern design.

Design aficionados thrive on situations like this, the opportunity to own a piece of heaven at a discounted price. Heaven for one may be all about the Eames infused with a bit of Knoll and a few fabulous accessories. Another may go for the Le Corbusier mixed with some Philippe Starck. Each DWR employee has their own story about how their home has been filled with heaven after a fun weekend of working a warehouse sale. Some collect chairs from every sale until they have a full set around a Saarinen Table. Others collect sofas (like me) and I have even seen the occasional hoarder who can’t say no. They usually have an attic or storage space filled with gems that they swap out seasonally.

We recommend that you wear comfortable shoes, know your product and get ready to let us load your car, truck or fuel cell vehicle with your favorite items. There are great deals on sofas, dining chairs (a lot of full sets) and pieces for your garden or office. Something new for this sale, our DIY (do-it-yourself) section, which is filled with items you can reinterpret into something new with a little bit of TLC.

Come down, say hi and if you're daring, ask one of to help seek out your bit of heaven.

Edward McFarland, DWR Studio Visuals Manager

August 06, 2008

A modern nest.


The world has its eyes on China this week for the beginning of the Olympics. Sharing the spotlight with the athletes will be the quite-incredible National Stadium in Beijing. Designed by the duo Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, the stadium has been given the rather appropriate nickname of “bird’s nest.”  The resulting structure is breathtaking and as complex as the nation it’s housed in. The New York Times has a slideshow here.

August 04, 2008

David Lynch in the Studio.


An idea from two years ago became a reality on July 31, when we hosted David Lynch in the Los Angeles, Beverly Blvd Studio. Three-time Oscar nominee, Lynch is among the leading filmmakers of our era. From the early seventies to the present day, Lynch’s popular and critically acclaimed film projects are internationally recognized for breaking down the wall between art-house cinema and Hollywood moviemaking. His gracious manner and inspiring insights to his creative process, entwined with his 30-year commitment to Transcendental Meditation, provided the platform for a very colorful Q&A. Lynch described the experience of “diving within” and “catching” ideas like fish, and then preparing them for television or movie screens, and other mediums in which he works, such as painting, music and design. During the event, our book sponsor, Book Soup, sold every copy it had of Lynch’s new book, “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity.” For those who did not want to leave the event empty handed, we offered Lynch’s signature roasted coffee. (It’s delicious by the way.)

If you’re in the LA area and want to learn more about Beverly Blvd Studio events, visit us on Facebook.

August 01, 2008

The DWR Warehouse Sale spreads out.


The Fort Mason Center is really very San Francisco: Take a former military base and turn it into an arts center/conference hall/event space. It’s got one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the city (Greens) and is home to one of the most forward-thinking (literally) nonprofits around (learn more about the Long Now Foundation here). I’ve even been to a wedding there.

It also happens to have a massive space – the Festival Pavilion – which is an ideal location for the largest-ever DWR Warehouse Sale. Imagine (if you dare) 50,000 square feet of product in every category that’s discounted 20–80%. The sale lasts for four days, August 7–10, so please come by. Make a day of it: Bring a picnic to snack on at Crissy Field and stroll along the water, gazing at the Golden Gate Bridge (and probably some fog). Then stop in to check out the best in modern design, at a discount. Find hours, directions and other info here.