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DIS7This will be a post about one of my more favorite topics DESIGN.  

To start off right, some of the sentences you read in quotes will be from an important essay in the DESIGN FOR LIFE Exhibition held in 1997 by the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum. The Museum houses over 160,000 works on paper and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s Drue Heinz Study Center for Drawings and Prints rank among the world’s foremost repositories of European and American designs for architecture, decorative arts, gardens, interiors, graphic and industrial design.

The library holds over 55,000 volumes and 5,000 rare books related to the above areas of Design. The Archives contain a wealth of personal papers left from numerous well-known designers or their firms. That being said, the illustrations, drawings and/or photographs used to write this post are entirely drawn from our private collections assembled over many years. The word Design has changed meaning over the past century and a half. But what has perhaps changed most is the inquiry into the importance of design as a whole.

The sources available to us now about the history of design, whether they are considered a primary source (like a drawing) or secondary source (like a photo), may not be available to us for that same design in the future. For example, a photo of a building that is no longer standing (once the primary source) and for which there are no longer any blue prints easily accessible or even available, that same photo now has become a primary source. “Our relationship to the material world is one of dependency and infatuation. In shaping the spaces that we live in both conditions must be served.” This statement tells us an important thing about design. It is the relationships created between the idea and the space where we experience this relationship be it a house, a car, a barbershop or the clothes we wear.

At times these relationships are not evident but we are comfortable with the spatial surroundings, in essence what we call- a well-designed space. How does color affect us in the way we perceive an object or the shape we see. Think of the “photograms” items photographed through self exposure on paper, for example, through available light, or think about the invention of the new way of communicating an idea or thought through lighting like in Neon. Can we imagine living in a city without the ever polluting visual effect or brightly colored neon lights and how would this change our perception. Compare your thought of sitting in an ill designed Starbucks with the drawing of a mid-century Italian coffee shop illustrated here. 

dis1Design is also about “space“, visual space relates to height and dimension in other words to the scale of things. Look at the photo of men working on a space frame for a “Blimp” in a German factory, building the famous Zeppelin the largest aircraft in the world at the time.   

zeppelin1 Now look again at the hangar for this craft at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station where these “craft” were docked and also the people in the picture. Looking back at the workers on the scaffolding in the Zeppelin Factory, we realize what height is without having to go to the top of the Sear Tower in Chicago.

“Even the driest of data draws on those talents so we can make sense of it. Calendars, maps, and graphs chart everything from the patterns of ecosystems to a company’s earnings. Communication design ranges from the urgent legibility of a stop sign to the more subtle suggestiveness of a book cover.”

 Here we must pause and ask ourselves an important question: In looking at an object can we detect the superfluous? The new? The idea behind the design of the object? Or are we merely a compassionate sightseer who undergoes the latest fashion dictates we see applied to the object? Do we recognize the freshness of the shape of what we looking at?  

Easier said than done every time we have to bend our necks looking to the top of the massive monolith designed to promote the architect’s standing among his peers. The new “cathedral” in a secular age or a Tower of Babel to those who must use the inadequacies of the interior space unfit for social exchange on a human scale but who are subjected to the “grand idea” of the common good. Yes try looking at a skyscraper 2 or 3 times the size of the Sears Tower at one time the highest building in the world.