Category Archives: design heros.

happy weekend.

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Christo
The Floating Piers (Project for Lake Iseo, Italy)
Collage 2014 in two parts. Pencil, charcoal, pastel, wax crayon, fabric, enamel paint, cut-out photographs by Wolfgang Volz and map
Photo: André Grossmann

He’s back, and I’m thrilled, being a huge fan. The Floating Piers is Christo’s first work since the death of his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude in 2009 (they were also born on the same day in 1935).

For 16 days in June 2016, Christo will reimagine Italy’s Lake Iseo. The work will consist of swathes of shimmering yellow fabric, carried by a modular dock system of polyethylene cubes floating on the surface of the water. The walkways will continue on land, connecting the mainland to the island of San Paolo. More, here

Other works by Christo and Jeanne-Claude include Surrounded Islands and, possibly his best known work, Wrapped Reichstag, completed in 1995. Happy weekend.

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lessons in modernism.

If I could be anywhere this coming week it would be Palm Springs for Modernism week and the Palm Springs Art Fair. Palm Springs is of course a modernism enthusiasts’ delight, with its plentiful single and split level homes, all shifting planes and open plan layouts, with big glass sections and cantilevered floors.

Instead, I’m rediscovering the work of one of my favourite proponents of the style, the Melbourne architect and writer Robin Boyd. His work and in particular his writing were hugely influential on me growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. His two key tomes – Australia’s Home and The Australian Ugliness – defined for me everything that was wrong with suburban living.

One of his best known works is Walsh Street house designed by Boyd for his family in 1957. It now houses the Robin Boyd Foundation and remains in its original condition.

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Furnished with pieces designed by Boyd’s contemporaries – Grant Featherston and Clement Meadmore (whom I once met, and visited his home in NY) amongst others – it demonstrates the design principles championed in his books, utilising an introspective layout, with the main house and a separate children’s pavilion facing inwards toward a central courtyard. (This was in direct contrast to the usual model of building a suburban house in the middle of the block).

The finishes are bold and intense – deep, saturated colours and dark-painted brickwork walls; rich red woodwork, glimmering mosaic and even copper (how very contemporary..). Floor-to-ceiling plate glass, soaring ceilings and clerestory windows ensure light and nature are ever present.

An (almost) fitting substitute for a trip to Palm Springs…

Walsh Street House via Photographs, Eve Wilson

the anatomy of a building.

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Sir Denys Lasdun created a radical new headquarters for the Royal college of Physicians 50 years ago. Unlike anything else in the classical, verdant green surroundings of Regent’s Park, his building was bold, restrained and unashamedly modern. He is also the architect responsible for one of my other favourite of all London buildings, the National theatre, Southbank.

Lasdun’s building is comprised of three contrasting materials, expressing the form of the building and defining the three distinct zones. The grand, ceremonial areas are clad in off-white mosaic, appearing to float above the lower administrative areas constructed from dark blue engineering bricks. Concrete was used for the fire escape and functional, hard-working parts of the building.

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This extraordinary building is the subject of a current exhibition, now until 13 February 2015.
‘The anatomy of a building: Denys Lasdun and the Royal College of Physicians’, Royal College of Physicians, St Andrew’s Place, Regent’s Park, London. More, here

Photograph via and RCP 

a perfect case study.

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The case study houses of the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s have long been my idea of the perfect contemporary home – open plan, maximum glazing, simple, functional. Perhaps the climate helps (these homes were most often built in California), but they seem to embody a free and easy lifestyle and optimism. Post war construction methods and new materials made the houses possible, and yet…

The Case Study house program stated that: each ‘house must be capable of duplication and in no sense be a individual performance.. It is important that the best material available be used in the best possible way in order to arrive at a ‘good’ solution of each problem, which in the overall program will be general enough to be of practical assistance to the average AmerIcan in search of a home in which he can afford to live…’ I just adore this philosophy.

Nine architects were involved in the initial scheme, including Richard Neutra and Charles Eames. I have often wondered how they could get these simple, easy-to-build forms so right; contemporary architecture today very often loses sight of its modernist roots.

Now a new partnership between the son of Richard Neutra, and the California Architecture Conservancy, means one can license the right to build from the plans of Richard Neutra. More about the scheme, here. Neutra (1892-1970), one of the most important of the mid-century modernist architects, became famous for the simple geometries of his designs, which were often made of steel and glass, and the prefabricated elements that made them extremely easy to build. Known for rigorously geometric yet open and airy structures, Neutra blended the interior and exterior of a space such that it would ‘place man in relationship with nature; that’s where he developed and where he feels most at home’. This philosophy grew from a feeling that “our environment is often chaotic, irritating, inhibitive and disorienting. It is not generally designed at all, but amounts to a cacophonous, visually discordant accretion of accidental events, sometimes euphemized as ‘urban development’ and ‘economic progress’’’.*

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neupes04dailyiconTroxell08dailyiconTroxell01dailyicon1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / 5 / 6 / 7 / 8  (not all were the case study models, but too good not to show).

A very funny account of what it must be like to live in a mid-century modern home with children, here

More wonderful spaces, here. And my take on the fabulous mid-century modern show at Lord’s in London this past weekend on next Thursday’s post…

* Quotation from Neutra’s biography, Life and Shape, available from this dreadful-looking Neutra web-site..

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corten house.

I first came upon the architecture of John Winter (1930-2012) three years ago, experiencing it first hand in a beach house he owned on the north east Norfolk coast (you can stay there too; details, here). Inspired by Charles Eames’ west coast cabin (he worked with Eames when he moved to San Francisco early in his career), he designed and built the house out of renewable timber, steel and aluminium. It is the simplest of plans being rectilinear in form, with windows running along both of the long sides, and my favorite of all interior spaces – a sunken lounge.

The subject of this post however, is not that house but this one, in Highgate, North London. Built in 1967 by John Winter for his own use, this is a wonderful, proper modernist house, given a rare Grade II* listing by English Heritage: ‘This is a highly influential and unusual house in its structure, materials, plan and aesthetic. It is still a model for minimal housing, as influential today as it was when it was built’.

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Constructed around a steel frame, the house has huge double-glazed picture windows that flood the interior with light. It is clad in Corten, a steel alloy that weathers naturally to a beautiful dark rust colour. This was the first domestic use of the material in Britain, and the proportions of the house and grid were designed around the dimensions of the standard, factory-produced Corten sheet, so that nothing was wasted.

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It has three floors with, unusually for the time, the living room on the top floor, to take advantage of the views over the utterly charming Highgate cemetery and Waterlow park opposite. The interior is all original – kitchen, built-in storage, quarry tiles. The long, low linear shelf which runs the length of one wall is a detail he used often. And there is, of course, fabulous original  furniture – Barcelona arm chairs and coffee table, and Eames’ LCW wood lounge chairs and ubiquitous (but no less than fabulous) DSR chair.

It’s for sale, and sadly, I won’t be buying it. Corten house via The Modern House.

More wonderful spaces, here. More design heros, here.

gio ponti.

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Architect, craftsman, editor, writer, set designer and industrial designer. Founding editor of Domus magazine. Gio Ponti (1891-1979) has long been a design hero of mine, and how wonderfully relevant his designs are even today – all geometric patterns and blue-greys, and all imbued with exuberance and life.

Gio Ponti didn’t simply create buildings. He conceived the building’s interior as well, creating furniture, lighting, appliances, and ceramics, glassware, and silverware. Alice Rawsthorn in the NY Times called him a ‘designer of a thousand talents’ (read the review, here)

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Furniture images via

The Design Museum opened a wonderful exhibition of his work in 2002. Two quotes of his really resonated for me, as a mantra to follow and at the same time demonstrating his spirit and passion:

‘The architect must imagine for each window, a person at the sill, for each door a person passing through’.

‘Enchantment, a useless thing, but as indispensable as bread’.

Ponti originally trained as an architect and entered industrial design by developing products for Richard Ginori, an 18th-century ceramics manufacturer in Florence, for whom he later became artistic director. As an architect, Ponti’s designs embodied and embraced every era in which he worked. The classical style of his earliest houses in the 1920s, evident also in his designs for Ginori, were heavily influenced by Andrea Palladio’s 16th-century villas. In the forties he designed costumes and sets for the opera and ballet, as well as gleaming chrome espressomakers for La Pavoni. He also started another magazine, Stile. After the war he helped rejuvenate Italian ship travel with a commission to fit out four ocean liners. In the fifties his collaborations with Piero Fornasetti resulted in a series of surreally beautiful residences in Milan. In addition he built the iconic, modernist skyscraper, the Pirelli Tower (1956) in Milan, the Villa Planchart (1953-57) and the Villa Arreaza (1956) in Caracas, Venezuela, which are among the most exquisite houses of the modernist period. There is a wonderful article written by Ponti himself describing the Villa Planchart and his design process, in an archival issue of Domus (read it, here).

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Images of Villa Planchart via Gio Ponti archive and Daily Icon

Ponti used his writing and editorial roles to champion designers and artists whom he admired, including Carlo Mollino, Piero Fornasetti and Lucio Fontana, and in the process contextualised Italian design within contemporary culture. He always encouraged young designers, even when they challenged his own thinking. Among them were Alessandro Mendini and Ettore Sottsass, who were at the forefront of the 1970s post-modernist movement, which emerged as an alternative to modernism.

‘It is neither necessary to be a dogmatic follower of modern design or a dogmatic follower of traditional design to be modern and traditional, nor even to be preoccupied with all of this’.

More design heros, here

a light called artichoke.

Louis Poulsen, purveyor of light fittings, produces some true classics. Icons of Scandinavian mid century design, ubiquitous and recognisable everywhere. I came across these new images for Louis Poulsen’s latest catalogue and simply could not resist. So I thought I’d first do a little research…

Perhaps the two most distinctive, the wonderfully named Artichoke and the rather more dry PH5 were both designed in 1958 by Dane Poul Henningsen. He was an architect and critic, but his main focus was lighting and he collaborated with Louis Poulsen over his career. He designed not just aesthetically, but scientifically, using refraction to create soft, glare-free lighting. He grew up with petroleum lamps, and, with the advent of harsh electrical lighting in the 1920s, his objective turned to creating an ambient, warm glow rather than to ‘flood the home with light’. His first design was a three sided lamp of brass and opal glass, exhibited in the Danish Pavillion at the Paris Exposition of Decorative Arts in 1924. It was picked up by his peers and used internationally by amongst others, Mies van der Rohe in his Villa Tugendhat. The first PH lamp.

Image Villa Tugendhat

The PH Artichoke is characterised by 72 leaves forming 12 rows of 6 leaves each, which are positioned to provide 360 degree glare-free light when viewed from any angle. They also shield the  light source, redirecting and reflecting the light onto the underlying leaves. The result is a luminous glow.

The PH5 was developed as a response to constant changes to the shape and size of incandescent bulbs by bulb manufacturers of the time. The light produced is also glare-free regardless of where it is positioned, the multiple concentric shades emitting the light both downward and laterally. A version designed for use with energy saving lamps was introduced in 1994, and the PH50, in high gloss colours for the 50th anniversary.

Photographed by Jacob Termansen. Images Elle Decor.

Two very distinctive designs, one designer. What do you think? Unique and individual, or ubiquitous and much-copied?