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urbanity

Jonas Damon Reveals Frog Design’s Vision for NYC Payphones

Ring! ring! It’s the future calling. With NYC’s current payphone contracts set to expire in 2014, the city is scouting for ways to modernize payphone infrastructure across the five boroughs and put all of that public space to the best possible use. Hence Mayor Michael Bloomberg‘s appearance (via video link) at a December meeting of the New York Tech Meetup, where he announced the “Reinvent Payphones Design Challenge,” a competition to rally urban designers, planners, technologists, and policy experts to create physical and virtual prototypes that imagine the future of NYC’s public pay telephones. Frog Design hopped to it, and while the list of semi-finalists who will present their concepts at next Tuesday’s Demo Day has yet to be announced, something tells us Frog will be among them. In a talk on Saturday at Parsons’ Aftertaste symposium, Frog creative director Jonas Damon offered a sneak peek at the firm’s vision for payphones of the future:

NYC by Design: City-Wide Event to Showcase, Promote Design


X marks the spot. The identity for the new event was created by Base New York.

The Bloomberg Administration has been busy pumping up the NYC tech scene and fashion industry, and now it’s focusing on design of all disciplines with NYCxDESIGN, a collaboration among the City Council, Mayor’s Office, City agencies, and a steering committee of 33 design stars ranging from MoMA’s Paola Antonelli to AIGA/NY President Willy Wong. The inaugural twelve-day event, smartly sandwiched between Frieze and ICFF, kicks off on May 10 with happenings that will showcase NYC designers and more, from design-centric institutions and retailers to curators and educators, with the goal of driving economic development.

According to the Center for an Urban Future, NYC is home to more design firms than any other city (L.A. comes in a rather distant second), and the May event will seek to attract even more designers and manufacturers to the city, generate new sales and export opportunities for local designers, and increase design-based tourism. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn is setting her sights even higher. “NYCxDesign will help demonstrate that New York City is the design capital of the world,” she said in a statement. London, Milan, and Paris–consider yourself warned.

Moby Praises ‘Baffling, Byzantine, Fantastically Uncohesive’ L.A. Architecture

The Getty is looking to seize the momentum of last year’s “Pacific Standard Time” L.A. art bonanza with an equally collaborative (yet smaller-scale) celebration of SoCal architecture. The new initiative, “Pacific Standard Time Presents: Modern Architecture in L.A.,” will take the form of 11 exhibitions and related events in and around Los Angeles that will run from April through July. Grab your dog-eared copy of City of Quartz and prepare to survey what $3.6 million in Getty-funded grants can do.

Among the exhibitions to look forward to: the Getty’s own “In Focus: Ed Ruscha” (“a concentrated look at Ruscha’s engagement with L.A.’s vernacular architecture, urban landscape, and car culture”), “The Presence of the Past: Peter Zumthor Reconsiders LACMA,” and “Quincy Jones: Building For Better Living” at the Hammer Museum. Moby is up for it. In the below video about “Pacific Standard Time Presents,” the musician, DJ, photographer, and en”tea“repreneur riffs on LA architecture, in all its “mind-numbingly complicated” glory.

Strip Tease: New Science Channel Series Takes Deeper Look at Cities

The Science Channel, our source for the highly unscientific adventures of misanthropic savant Karl Pilkington, has marshaled the forces of CGI animation for Strip the City. The new six-part series aims to “strip major cities naked of their steel, concrete, air, ocean, and bedrock–layer by layer, act by act–to explore their hidden infrastructure and solve key mysteries surrounding their origins, geology, archaeology, industry, weather, and engineering.” First up on the stripping block (pole?) is San Francisco, where thare’s fire-fighting water in them thar valleys. Take a sip of your urbane beverage every time someone says “plate tectonics.” Watch a clip below and tune in to Science on Tuesday nights for new episodes that will dramatically dislodge the infrastructure of the likes of Sydney, London, and Toronto.

Flash Mob Lights Up Grand Central

New York’s Grand Central Terminal is an ideal spot for a flash mob–remember when Moncler Grenoble’s stone-faced model-dancers took to the floor in Carlo Mollino-inspired skiwear? As part of the big 100th birthday bash, the insta-happening experts at Improv Everywhere recruited 135 LED-flashlight-wielding performers to light up Grand Central’s grand windows, mesmerizing passersby. The impressively choreographed affair, a project cooked up with MTA Arts for Transit, was something of a homecoming for Improv Everywhere, which in 2007 staged “Frozen Grand Central,” a flash freeze that has racked up 32 million views on YouTube. Watch both successful “missions” below.


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Electrolux Design Lab Gets Urban Twist

The Electrolux Design Lab competition is back for its eleventh go-round, and this year the theme–urbanization–invites a broader array of entries than ever before. Design students (undergraduate or graduate) from around the world have until March 15 to submit creative ideas for an innovative product, accessory, consumable, or service that “would be seen as a breakthrough within the sector of social cooking, natural air, or effortless cleaning.”

Flummoxed by the concept of social cooking, and fearful that it may involve having to share dessert, we consulted Electrolux and learned that for this category, the judges are looking for ideas that address city dwellers’ “shortage of entertaining space and preparation time, whilst allowing us to live a healthier lifestyle.” This sounds like a job for Jetsons-style food pellets–after all, last year’s first-prize winner was Jan Ankiersztajn‘s Aeroball, a constellation of luminescent, helium-infused balls that floatingly filter and fragrance the air in a room. Noble gases win again. Begin the brainstorming process (where can we get some delicious yet effortless neon?) by watching highlights from last year’s finals, held at the Triennale Design Museum in Milan.

Gates Foundation Backs Scientific Study of Urban Slums

The word slum conjures images of the poorest quality housing, most unsanitary conditions, and dangerous–usually illegal–activities. But in developing countries, the word is free of its original, pejorative connatation and simply refers to lower quality or informal housing. Meanwhile, the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) has developed a kind of slum-defining checklist that includes: inadequate access to safe water, sanitation, and other infrastrucure; poor structural quality of housing; overcrowding; and insecure residential status. Researchers at the Santa Fe Institute have secured funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to undertake a scientific study of a urban slums worldwide. The goal of the project, a collaboration with the nonprofit Slum Dwellers International (SDI), is to uncover some of the underlying principles common to rapid urbanization and the emergence of informal settlements.

“Part of what we will do is analyze data from 7,000 slum settlements around the world,” says Santa Fe Institute professor Luis Bettencourt, a physicist whose research includes studying urban organization and dynamics, in a statement issued recently. SDI has accumulated census-like data on many of the world’s slums, and researchers will combine and compare it across cultures, levels of socioeconomic development, geography, and time to identify common features of slums and test the data for accuracy. Subsequent stages of the project will examine how the SDI data was collected and find ways to make it most useful to scientists, policymakers, and others interested in urban development. Ultimately, the project will help to shape ongoing data-collection practices and generate new datasets. Added Bettencourt, “In this way, the project will help create standards through which informal communities can collect and use data about themselves and develop economic models to sustain these efforts.“

Nifty, Gifty: Diller Scofidio + Renfro’s Lincoln Center Inside Out

Diller Scofidio + Renfro excels at inversion, masterly flipping concepts of public and private, nature and structure (see also: High Line, The). The interdisciplinary design studio’s transformation of New York’s Lincoln Center is revealed in the pages of Lincoln Center Inside Out: An Architectural Account, hot off the Damiani presses. Falling somewhere on the continuum between art book and architectural diary, the monograph chronicles the extensive redevelopment project through photographs, drawings, renderings, texts, and interviews. Upping the book’s giftability quotient are the series of 30 gatefolds: large-format photographs by the likes of Iwan Baan and Matthew Monteith that open up to stories and ephemera documenting the spaces shown in the images.

In Miami? So are Elizabeth Diller, Ricardo Scofidio, and Charles Renfro. The trio will be signing books today at Design Miami from 1-2 p.m. before heading across the street to chat with Ari Wiseman, deputy director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, as part of the Art Salon series at Art Basel Miami Beach.

This is part of a series of elegantly wrapped December posts about desirable goods that we suggest you purchase with the laudable yet vague intent of giving to others and then keep for yourself. Got a “nifty, gifty” idea? Tell the UnBeige elves: unbeige (at) mediabistro.com

Previously on UnBeige:
Nifty, Gifty: Rodarte’s Out-of-This-World Ornament
Nifty, Gifty: Crate&Barrel 50th Anniversary Teapot

Christian de Portzamparc’s One57 Gets Turn in Hurricane Sandy Spotlight


Ze crane! The flaccid crane at One57, slated to be the tallest residential property in Manhattan.

Sandy came, she saw, she conquered–and she made a global megastar out of a building project that already had garnered plenty of buzz among New York real estate mavens and architecture buffs: One57, Extell’s 1,000-foot mixed-use tower designed by Christian de Portzamparc. On Monday afternoon, as the storm winds strengthened, the crane at the construction site buckled with a boom that those in the vicinity at first mistook for a thunder clap. Cut to a frightening shot of the crane’s top portion dangling like a limp tree limb and poised to plummet 90 stories below to the Manhattan thoroughfare of West 57th Street.

On TV, the injured crane and the luxe tower-in-progress got almost as much airtime as drenched, windbreaker-clad correspondents and, as coverage wore on and darkness set in, provided rain-pelted reporters with a few moments of respite from the cameras. CNN’s Piers Morgan located a “crane expert” and then pressed him to concur that a total collapse was imminent. Donald Trump chimed in on Twitter. There were no mentions of Portzamparc (or of Tomas Juul-Hansen, who is masterminding One57′s interiors), only of the “several billionaires” that had already purchased condos in the 95-unit building. Meanwhile, the crane is hanging in there. “Our hope is that tomorrow they’ll be able to find a way to pull it in, and then cable it to the building so it’s not going to fall,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a press conference today.

In Brief: Thom Browne’s Silver Spectacular, Bridget Riley Honored, Incense and Holograms for Frieze

• Madcap madras meets spaceman chic in an elegant Parisian garden? Only Thom Browne could pull off that improbable combination and garnish it with giant silver Slinkys (“spring has spring”), from which his glimmering models emerged in a rainbow of exploded prepster motifs (watch a video of the presentation here). Providing a spectacular close to the spring 2013 menswear shows marked the start of a busy July for Browne, who heads to the White House Friday to join the other 2012 National Design Award recipients for a luncheon hosted by First Lady Michelle Obama. Here’s hoping that Browne dons a sample from his latest collection for the festivities (might we suggest look #18, at right?).

• In other National Design Awards news, the Cooper-Hewitt has selected this year’s Design Patron: Red Burns, an arts professor and chief collaborations officer for the interactive telecommunications program at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. She is being recognized for her role as founder of ITP and for her innovations and achievements in the field of communication technology, the museum announced yesterday. During the 1970s, as head of NYU’s Alternate Media Center, she designed and directed a series of telecommunications projects, including two-way television for and by senior citizens, telecommunications applications to serve the developmentally disabled, and one of the first Teletext field trials in the United States (at WETA in Washington, D.C.).
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