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November 25, 2009

Looking beyond the façade.

There’s been some press this week about the completion of the latest building by Jean Nouvel. Much to my surprise (and embarrassment), this is a building I’ve been photographing because I actually thought it was being disassembled, not the other way around. (“Architecture is a visual art,” said Julia Morgan, “and the buildings speak for themselves.”)

Jean Nouvel’s building is located next to Frank Gehry’s IAC Building in New York’s Chelsea neighborhood. I first noticed it when I saw what looked like a shirt hanging among the construction debris – as if the tenant didn’t even have time to pack his white chef’s coat before the cranes started ripping off the sides of the building. And as you can see from my photos below, the “façade-removal” theory is not that hard to imagine.

In an awkward building stage, especially with unidentified objects hanging in windows.

Fortunately, no “top chefs” were harmed in the construction of this building, and my apologies to Pritzker Architecture Prize winner Jean Nouvel for the blunder. The building, which is at 100 11th Avenue, is a 23-story luxury condominium tower that showcases Nouvel’s interest in “skins.” The curving façade wrapping around the south and west sides of the building is made up of prefabricated metal grids and more than 1,600 windows of different sizes and shapes. Each window is set at a unique angle and torque, and thus reflects light differently than the other panes around it. The result is that the building appears to shimmer, and some people say it looks like it’s draped in sequins. Personally, I think it looks like a pair madras shorts, but I’ve never been much of a couture gal.

The windows, which are colorless but take on various shades of blue in the reflected light, also make me think of the Kaleidoscope House, the children’s toy with the transparent sliding walls that I seriously wish they’d bring back into production.

Nouvel’s new building at 100 11th Avenue (left); the Kaleidoscope House toy (right).

You can’t spin a protractor in New York without hitting a building by a Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, and this block is no exception. Both Gehry and Nouvel have been honored with the prize and I wonder what the jury would say about how the IAC Building and 100 11th Avenue work in relation to one another. In the States, we spend a lot of time debating whether or not a new building “fits in” with the existing context, but we rarely speak to how one building improves another, or provides an additional benefit to another.

For example, in Masdar City – the carbon-neutral development in the Abu Dhabi desert – the buildings are being designed to work together to funnel hot desert air upward, and in the process create breezes to cool the city. The entire city is orientated to make best use of solar movements and prevailing winds, and “the relationship of one building to the next provides shading and generates year-round useable spaces in between,” say master planners Foster + Partners.

Computer-generated images of Masdar City. “One day, all cities will be built like this,” say Foster + Partners.

I’m both freaked out and awestruck by the Masdar City project, but despite the fact that I think it would feel like being in the movie Sleeper, I would still like to go there. Especially since my little cottage just got “red tagged” by the building department for a permit issue. Silly me, I didn’t realize I had to ask permission to repair my front door so that it opens, closes and (wait for it) locks. My mind must have been elsewhere, perhaps in Abu Dhabi.

Gwendolyn Horton

November 18, 2009

DWR: Tools for Living SoHo Artist Window Series, No. 6.

Our latest DWR: Tools for Living SoHo window comes from graphic designer Grant Gold. His inspiration for this window series was “winter time in the city.” 


It is a time when he feels more introverted and introspective of his life and habits, a time of reflection and response to those reflections. “Winter, particularly in the city, is a period of seclusion for people and it wraps them into themselves,” he says, “around all of their thoughts and into a messy rumpus of trying to comfort their own ideas about who they are and who they want to be.” Grant enjoys the idea that the seasons change the way people act and feel. He wanted to convey winter as a time of “disheveled adaptation.” 

Continue reading "DWR: Tools for Living SoHo Artist Window Series, No. 6." »

November 17, 2009

Driving me crazy.

Tatra Sedan 2
Wright’s upcoming “Important Design” auction will include a Tatra 87: A sedan with an “air-cooled, aluminum-alloy, 8-cylinder, overhead cam, rear-located engine producing 73 horse power that propels the car to speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.” I don’t know what all of that means, but I’m so smitten with this car that I don’t care. It speaks in a foreign tongue (a.k.a. gear talk) and I’m hanging on every word. And in this case, I better hang on tight since the Tatra 87 has got gusto thanks to its streamlined body and stabilizing fin. Designed by Hans Ledwinka in 1936, the Tatra 87 being auctioned is from 1940 and has fewer than 700 miles on the original engine. Read more about the car, including its “one-shot pedal operated lubricating system” here, and for additional photos and bidding info, click here. (And if you are the successful bidder, promise you’ll take me for a ride.)

November 13, 2009

Happy 103rd Birthday Eva Zeisel!

We usually shun exclamation points at DWR, but I had to make the exception for Eva Zeisel who turns 103 today. (103!) Truly the matriarch of the industrial design, Zeisel has been producing her signature fluid looks since she was 18, and launched a new career as a furniture designer when she was in her 80s. Her career has spanned centuries, continents and cultural clashes, and the inventions that have occurred in her lifetime include the telephone, jetliner and penicillin, just to name a few.

Zeisel at her 1951 solo exhibition Eva Zeisel: Industrial Designer at the Akron Art Institute. Courtesy of the Eva Zeisel Archives.

Born in Hungary in 1906, Zeisel’s life has all the elements of a great novel, and in fact, part of her life inspired the book Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler. (A timely read considering it’s the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.) It was May 1936 when everything changed for Zeisel. She was 29 years old and working as the artistic director of the China and Glass Industry in Russia – an important job that Zeisel says she got because of her “personal charm.” But charming or not, with the job came enemies, and one night “at 4am, the doors knocked and so began a different life.” Falsely accused of plotting to assassinate Stalin, Zeisel was sent to prison for 16 months, 12 of which were in solitary confinement. Her release happened as mysteriously as her arrest, and to this day, Zeisel doesn’t know how it happened. “I hadn’t seen any colors for a year and a half,” says the designer.

Zeisel’s sketch for a collection inspired by the Kispester-Granit factory in Budapest, where she briefly worked in 1926.

Despite this dark period in her life – and perhaps because of it – Zeisel is continually intrigued by what she calls her “playful search for beauty.” Upon her release from prison, she married Hans Zeisel. They lived in Vienna briefly, before the threat of Hitler made them leave for America. “I saw the Statue of Liberty and my fears came down. It was a very touching reception,” says Zeisel of her October 1938 arrival. The next day she went to the magazine China and Glass and was immediately commissioned for 10 ceramic miniatures for $100. She was also hired at New York’s Pratt Institute, where she became the first person to teach ceramics as industrial design for mass production, rather than handicraft.

DWR Design Studio worked closely with Zeisel to launch her Granit Collection. Originally designed in 1983, and inspired by the factory where she worked in 1926, the collection was put into production in 2009.

Zeisel’s work continued to gather acclaim, and in 1946, her all-white modern dinner service – a first by an American designer – was honored with an exhibition at MoMA. Her work is included in the permanent collections of museums worldwide, including MoMA, the Met and the V&A. In 2005, she was awarded the National Design Award for Lifetime Achievement by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York.

When Zeisel was in her early 80s, she started designing tables. The medium may have changed, but her Coffee Table (1993) is still very Zeisel, with its whimsical lines and ornamental motifs.

A person of delightfully defiant spirit, Zeisel has never been one to follow the predictable path of the fashionable avant-garde. “I didn’t accept the purism of modern design,” she says. “In my definition, if it gave beauty to the eye, it was beauty.”

To learn more about the woman who many (including me) believe to be the most important ceramic designer of the 20th century, check out the documentary Throwing Curves – Eva Zeisel (click here for the trailer) and her talk at TED.

And of course, please join me in raising a glass to Eva Zeisel and wishing her a very happy 103rd birthday.

Gwendolyn Horton

November 11, 2009

Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future.

Saarinen Exhibit
It’s been three years since the traveling exhibit Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future kicked off in Helsinki, and the tour has finally made it to New York. This retrospective takes an in-depth look at Eero Saarinen, the architect and designer whose work brought international attention to mid-twentieth-century America. While you may know that Saarinen designed the TWA Terminal at JFK (shown above), the St. Louis Gateway Arch, and the Tulip™ and Womb™ chairs, you might be surprised to know the full scale of Saarinen’s career. The “potent expressions of national power” that Saarinen designed introduced modern architecture to mainstream America. The impact of which continues to shape architectural practices today. For Nicolai Ouroussoff’s review in The New York Times, click here. The exhibit is at the Museum of the City of New York through January 31, 2010.

Image: TWA Terminal, New York International (now John F. Kennedy International) Airport, New York, circa 1962. Photographer Balthazar Korab. 

DWR People: Hanging Around SoHo.


In the “hot” seat this month is Dan, who’s the proprietor of our DWR: Tools for Living store in SoHo.

“One of my favorite items in our store is the Eames Hang-It-All. It was my first employee purchase at DWR and I’m a huge fan of Ray and Charles Eames. Simplicity and functionality – what more can you ask for? Even my young nieces are taken with the Hang-It-All. They love all the bright colors and always make an effort to hang their coats and sweaters on it when they come to visit me. Seeing this, their mom said, ‘you never hang up anything at home. Why here?’ So, as a gift to my sister to help her control the chaos in my nieces’ bedrooms, I purchased one for each of them. Something so simple and functional can keep my nieces’ rooms tidy and my sister sane.”
– Dan M. Studio Proprietor, DWR: Tools for Living in SoHo