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Archives: July 2005

Bottoms Up

chachacha.jpgJust when we thought we had maxed out on chandelier coverage, we found the Swedish confection at left, courtesy of Budget Living, and were smitten anew. The bulb seemed like it would make such pleasant refracting patterns all over the living room. But there’s just one problem: The glasses are meant to be used, washed, and replaced. It’s a space-saver as well as a conversation piece. But when it comes time to serve the wine at your dinner party, won’t your guests just be whispering about the weirdo who hung a naked bulb above her dining-room table?

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The post Featured Post appeared first on MBToolBox.

T: The Magazine That Doesn’t Want to Be

design_spring_05.jpgIt’s been nearly a year since the Times magazine combined its style supplements and bound them together under the “T” logo. The mothership spoke with T editor Stefano Tonchi last year around the time of the launch, and Tonchi mentioned that part of the reasoning behind T was that readers weren’t making that necessary connection from “Fashions of the Times” to “Home Design,” and so on, and that T would create a stronger brand identity—as well as drawing many of the Times‘ star culture critics onto one masthead. If that was the sole mission of T, we certainly won’t begrudge them. As we flip through the issues, there are those starry bylines: Cathy Horyn, Pilar Viladas, Tyler Brule, Suzy Menkes. And we do think the gothic T logo elegantly does its job as a unifier.

But why is that we can barely drag ourselves through an issue of this magazine? We’re convinced that the look of the magazine is partly to blame, especially when you consider how much more appealing the online version of the magazine is. The Times has the money and the talent to make T a force to be reckoned with, but it seems they’re just wasting their resources. They’ve solved the problem of turning scattershot titles into a recognizable brand, but the design is so haphazard that it seems like whoever’s behind the wheel just doesn’t care.

T doesn’t have to be Dwell or even City. It doesn’t have to be porn for design or fashion obsessives. But reading it shouldn’t be such a challenging experience: The design should be more sensory, more intuitive, less schizophrenic. As it stands now, the photos are either too small, or so big they look like ads. The headlines are disproportionate. The edge of the type is too ragged. The text somehow overwhelms the page despite being nearly impossible to read. And in general, the magazine is too beholden to the orthodox aesthetic of the Times and the Times magazine to become any sort of player on its own.

The problem is mostly in the front of the book. This generic layout could be found in any tech or men’s magazine; this travel piece has the most unclean design we’ve ever seen, and it seems that the effect of white space wasn’t even a consideration. (Click to enlarge; apologies for the crap scans)

The magazine gets easier on the eyes as it goes. Spreads like this should happen more often:

Maybe it doesn’t matter. T, unlike most magazines, is unfettered by the whims of the newsstand. More than a million readers will see T even if it gets thrown out with the Old Navy inserts and the Automobiles section. Tonchi himself has said things like, “I’m not here to compete or play the games of W or Visionaire or Vogue or that kind of magazine.” But the thing is, we’re not graphic designers (though we’re also not blind)—we’re readers. And shouldn’t the magazine of the paper of record at least be a joy to read?

Daniel Clowes is So Not An Art School Snob

GhostWorld.jpgFrom the August/September issue of ReadyMade (we promise to get through this issue eventually):

RM: So you ended up applying to art schools. You got into Pratt and moved to New York…

DC: It’s impossible not to get into Pratt. I got into Parsons, too, but I chose Pratt because they had a dorm.

Zing! Yeah, and we got into Harvard, but we chose Stanford because they had really delicious tuna melts on Fridays. Actually, we know next to nothing about the reputations of various art schools, so we did some research and here’s what some guy on the Archinect forums had to say.

I worked for a kool guy who went to Pratt, or was it Cooper Union? Anyway, this jerk never recycled & smoked cigarettes. Plus he wasn’t a good Christian. Actually, now, he lives in a Jersey suburb. Anyway, he designed a lot of stuff painted red. I guess they do that in Boston. Oh yeah, he really dug that Architect from Finland. What was his name? Goldberg, or something.

OK, Pratt sounds pretty awesome.

(We are actually quite psyched for Daniel Clowes’ new film Art School Confidential. We love us some John Malkovich. Malkovich Malkovich.)

We Never Thought We’d Lust After Mylar

ma.gifAs if the siren song of Silver Lake wasn’t strong enough (don’t pretend we’re the only ones who have skulked past Home praying for a Seth Cohen sighting), today’s “Currents: Los Angeles” section in the Times highlights a beautiful new installation at the Materials & Applications gallery on Silver Lake Boulevard. The vortex-shaped canopy is made of translucent, amber-colored mylar, and the pictures in the Times, taken on a brilliantly sunny day, make the open-air space beneath absolutely glow: The panels look like birds of paradise feathers stitched together and the light filtering through creates a golden-hued mosaic on the floor. The project is the brainchild of architect Benjamin Ball and Gaston Nogues, an architect and product designer at Frank Gehry Partners.

We’d be interested to see this in person—anyone have a cheap transcontinental flight they’re just dying to get rid of?—although we fear that the installation has something in common with The Gates: The effect is almost heart-stopping from far away and in just the right weather (of course in New York the right weather meant dreary clouds and snowbanks), but a closer look reveals the almost pedestrian quality of the materials. Or in other words, a total Monet. For more images, click here.

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Terminal Bliss?

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On the heels of yesterday’s news that JFK’s Terminal 5 is alive comes a report from spanking new blog Connecting Flights on the completion of American Airlines’ “super terminal” Terminal 8 (which will replace the “just plain nasty“-ness of Terminals 8 and 9.) Yesterday was the media’s chance to sneak a peek at the $1.1 billion baby, and here’s what our man on the inside had to say:

I’m no architecture critic, but if the new Terminal 8 is the future of American airport design, then the passengers of the future should expect to be awed and bored at the same time. Awed because the soaring 65 ft. atrium above the ticketing counters has a certain grandeur in its combination of space, light, and undulating ceiling (which is meant, of course, to bring to mind a wing). [Ed. note: Or, a train station. Or a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl!) On first glance, the terminal is undeniably handsome… in a generic sort of way.

Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but then American Airlines isn’t really known for its risk-taking. In true New York style, though, you won’t be forced to mix with the riff-raff snacking on candies at The Grove or wolfing down potato skins at TGI Fridays if you don’t want to. A mere $50 (which you can certainly afford if you used the company car to actually get to the airport) grants you access to the ultra-luxe Admirals Club.

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“Equipped with a bar, workstations, showers, a children’s playroom, and rows upon rows of leather club chairs (vs. the Eames knockoffs in the actual terminal), the Admirals Club embodied the new airport luxe… Perhaps the Jet Set era hasn’t vanished after all; you simply have to pay for it a la carte.”

Midwestern Mayhem!

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The architecture world is a-tizzy over the unveiling of Spanish starchitect Santiago Calatrava’s plan for the Chicago Fordham Spire, which, at 2,000 feet would be the tallest building in the wait a minute. You know what? We don’t care. We’ll let the boys duke it out over whose is biggest. But Unbeige is a decidedly female institution and we want to know the answer to the real question: Is it pretty?

And, disturbing imagery not withstanding, our gut instinct says yeah, we actually kind of like it. It’s certainly prettier than the Freedom Tower, which looks suspiciously like a glass piece our mother once bought from Marshall’s. The Fordham Tower has been referred to as “a drill bit,” “a blade of grass,” “a tall, twisting tree,” “a stately woman in a flowing, gauzy gown that swirls around her legs,” and “a swizzle stick,” but we have to say there is something appealing about those curves when compared to the sharp, shorn edges of Chicago’s other buildings. Plus, we’re positive a nation of humanities professors will be swooning at the way the structure perfectly marries the masculine and the feminine. Listen closely and you can hear the sound of the world’s most fulsome interdisciplinary thesis being born right now.

The Desire for Tallest Building Persists [NYT]
In Chicago, Plans for a High-Rise Raise Interest and Post-9/11 Security Concerns [NYT]

JetBlue to Reopen Saarinen Terminal

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One of the most intriguing bits to come out of BusinessWeek‘s new Innovation & Design web section is an update on JetBlue’s proposed reopening of the legendary Eero Saarinen TWA terminal at JFK. The terminal has sat mostly vacant since 2001 and preservationists were crawling out of their skin at the end of 2003, when JetBlue and the Port Authority first announced a tentative agreement to renovate the fabulously glam interior. Said Fast Company:

Neither the Port Authority nor JetBlue knows what will become of the [Saarinen] structure, except that it most likely won’t be used in any future airline operations. JetBlue and Port Authority officials talk vaguely about a possible conference center or a shopping area. This sort of cart-before-the-horse thinking was what landed Saarinen’s terminal on the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s list of most endangered historic places earlier this year.

But BizWeek is now reporting that a groundbreaking is scheduled for later this year, and buried deep in the piece is the news that Nobu man-about-Midtown David Rockwell has been lured onto the project!

Here’s a look at the deets:

• JetBlue’s planning an $875 million, 26-gate terminal, designed to handle 250 flights per day
• Richard Smyth, vice-president of JFK development, calls the design “nothing sexy” and says it will include “minimal lighting fixture styles and a boldly colored self-cleaning industrial carpet”
• The ticketing hall will have a low roofline that doesn’t “compete” with the historic Saarinen structure
• Here’s where Rockwell comes in: “Leaving security, all will pass through what the architects describe as a ‘glowing blue box,’ a grand space designed to assure the traveler that ‘JetBlue takes care of you.’” Rockwell calls the room “essentially a glorified food court” but perks up our attention when he reveals he consulted with a Broadway choreographer to plot passenger movement with a sense of “airiness.” We hope this means that running through the terminal with waving jazz hands will be strongly encouraged.
• “The expectation is that passengers will get their boarding passes in the historic building and walk through Saarinen’s Flight Wing tubes to the new terminal.”

There’s a lot at stake here for JetBlue, first in honoring the sanctity with which New Yorkers view the Saarinen terminal but also in continuing JetBlue’s tradition of great, low-cost design and customer loyalty. Elsewhere on the BW site, in an article called “Designed for Loving,” Gianfranco Zaccai asks, “What sells better than quality and is more precious than good value? A product engineered to create a great emotional experience.” So far, JetBlue has that market down pat, but messing with the Saarinen terminal is a tricky gambit. We’re going to be very interested to see the results. (Photo via Lightning Field)

JetBlue’s Terminal Takes Wing [Business Week]
Designed for Loving [BusinessWeek]

Granny Chic

robots.gifAre the elderly the hot new design demographic? First came a small FOB item in the June issue of I.D. about SenseChair, a stylish prototype that uses 12 sensors to monitor vital signs, sleep patterns, and activity levels and rouses seniors who have been sitting too long in one position using motor, sound, and light alerts. (The same team of Carnegie Mellon researchers and designers also unveiled the “Hug” prototype, which uses heat, light, and sound signals to mimic human interaction.)

Now ReadyMade alerts us to Yumel and Ifbot, two new Japanese dolls that act as interactive companions for the senior set. Yumel, says ReadyMade, “is essentially a chatty life monitor, detecting pulse and breathing rate and cautioning against overexertion. Irregular heartbeat after an early-morning golf game? ‘You are working too hard,’ Yumel cautions.” Ifbot (made by Business Design Laboratory, it sells for more than $5,000) is equally talkative and will even play games and generally act like an “inattentive grandchild.”

We applaud the SenseChair for keeping seniors healthy, but these dolls sound over-the-top creepy. When we looked further into Yumel’s origins, we found this quote from the project leader: “If you lead an orderly life, Yumel will be in a good mood, singing songs or pleading with you to do something like buying him toys.” This sounds bad enough, but what happens if you become depressed, overweight, and let the dishes pile up? Does Yumel throw tantrums and make bitchy, passive-aggressive comments? What if you abandon Yumel completely? Will he act out and take your car out for a joyride like Durrell on Six Feet Under? We suggest you get your lonely grandparent a loving Lhasa Apso or something and call it a day.

Haven’t We Seen You Here Before?

WWD reported this morning that creative director Richard Christiansen is leaving Radar and taking his entire art staff with him to form a new ad agency. To be honest, we’re a bit relieved. Christiansen is known for many things—his work on Colors, the award-winning ABC Carpet & Home campaign, etc.—but we started tracking him full-scale when Suede debuted last year with one of the boldest and most fun designs of any magazine we’ve ever seen. The mothership described it thusly:

A beauty and travel story showcases products floating in faux snow-globes; the calendar section is a photo of brightly colored pencils with events printed on them; the letters page is a bright green bulletin board mock-up with reader missives tacked to it; and Suzanne Boyd’s editor’s letter pops out of typewriter that looks like the lovechild of Emilio Pucci and Jackson Pollack.

The visual language of Suede was feminine and urban and completely original, and we were in love. Christiansen’s work on the most recent issue of Radar, however, has trouble rising above the level of pastiche—a problem which seems to plague the entire magazine. Kurt Andersen, sounding particularly disappointed in his New York review, has already called Radar “a wholly recursive exercise in recombinant magazine-making” and a “sampled and remixed cover version of another magazine,” taking pains to point out Radar‘s appropriation of Spy‘s famed floating photographic heads. But Radar‘s design borrows far and wide, from sources that extend from Andersen’s own turf (New York‘s undulating “Intelligencer” collages ) all the way to ELLEgirl (slanted cover text, masthead, and editor’s letter). (Click to enlarge)

Perhaps the first issue of Radar would have worked as a cultural commentary if it was obvious Roshan and Christiansen knew they were cribbing from their contemporaries. (We would have especially liked to see even more inspiration from ELLEgirl, with Chris Tennant confessing things like “When we’re working late, we make paper dolls” and Mim Udovitch revealing her fave nail polish picks). But as it is now, the design seems lazy.

Like Andersen, we are withholding final judgment on Radar, as it’s unfair to judge a debut (remember the first episode of Seinfeld?) However, we’re hoping that editor tweaks and a new vision will bring Radar to the heights to which it obviously aspires. (We’re intrigued by the news that the second issue’s cover was designed by George Lois.) And as for Christiansen, well, we can’t wait to see what’s next.

Palatable Platables

orange.gifWe have a dilemma. We, too, have known the horror living in bedrooms like this, where the mattress extends nearly wall to wall. Even now that we’ve upgraded, we still have a mere seven inches of bedside space to work with. We have a similar problem in the living room, where our rascally 71-inch futon constantly edges its way into the hallway. Even if we broke down and bought an extremely guest-unfriendly 65-inch loveseat, we’ve found that end tables rarely come fewer than 14 inches across. We know you feel our pain. So what do you do if you can’t afford to go built-in?

Enter the platable. (Yes, we made up the word.) We normally leave DIY prescriptions like this to outlets like ReadyMade, but this weekend we saw such an elegantly simple (and cheap!) solution to the problem of space-saving side tables that we had to share. A friend of ours combined a four-legged metal table base like this one (scavenged for on the curbsides of the Upper West Side, but we’re sure one could be found for cheap with some basic Googling) with the colorful square plates you can find at Pottery Barn, Crate & Barrel, and elsewhere, to make a totally customizable end table for cheap, cheap, cheap. We were fooled; it really looked professional. And did we mention it was cheap? (That CB plate is only $6.50!) Go forth and craft!

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