2 January 2010

I’m in New York briefly before returning to London, and it happens to be the one week where most galleries are closed due to the Christmas/New Years holiday! New Years eve led me to the MoMA, along with the rest of New York. Struggled through the Bauhaus & Tim Burton shows, and by habit checked out the design and architecture galleries which showcase a rotating selection of MoMA’s permanent collection. This never fails to impress. My favorite aspect of this gallery is the central showcase, which is a jewel box of product designs from the past century. Braun always has a substantial line-up of products here, more than not by Mr. Rams.  The “Less and More” show at the Design Museum in London creates such a cohesive time line of his work, and here is was nice to see single specimens alongside products from contemporaries. For the millionth time I realize how wonderfully timeless all of these products are, the work being present for precisely that reason. Most of the participants have lived by the staples of modernist principles, building a roster of manifestos which have yielded decades of iconic design.  To kick-off the New York posts here is some eye candy from the showcase at the MoMA along with some manifestos (take it or leave it!) to inspire the New Year.


Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design,                   Good design is innovative.
Good design makes a product useful.
Good design is aesthetic.
Good design makes a product understandable.
Good design is unobtrusive.
Good design is honest.
Good design is long-lasting.
Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
Good design is environmentally friendly.
Good design is as little design as possible.

Portable Transistor Radio & Phonograph (Model TP1) 1959,Design by Dieter Rams, manufactured by Braun AG, Frankfurt, Germany, Plastic Casing, Aluminium Frame, and leather strap

Rolf Harder, Alcan Foil Pamphlets for Aluminium Company of Canada, lithograph, c.1960-62

Case Detail

David Gammon, Turntable, Polished aluminium, brass, plywood and acrylic, manufactured by Transcriptors Ltd., New York, 1964

Enzo Mari, Timor Perpetual Calendar, plastic,manufactured by Danese S.r.i, Italy, c.1966/ Massimo Vignelli, Max-2 Stacking Cup,plastic, manufactured by Heller Designs Inc. c.1970/ Pio Manzu, Chronotime Clocks, ABS polymer casing and metal parts,manufactured by Italora, Milan, c.1968

Adolph Loos, excerpt, “Ornaments and Crime”, 1908
The change in ornament implies a premature devaluation of labor. The worker’s time, the utilized material is capital that has been wasted. I have made the statement: The form of an object should be bearable for as long as the object lasts physically. I would like to try to explain this: a suit will be changed more frequently than a valuable fur coat. A lady’s evening dress, intended for one night only, will be changed more rapidly than a writing desk. Woe betide the writing desk that has to be changed as frequently as an evening dress, just because the style has become unbearable. Then the money that was spent on the writing desk will have been wasted.

Massimo Vignelli, excerpt ,”The Vignelli Canon”, 2008

Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort. We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless. Sometimes it may need some explanation but it is better when not necessary. Any artifact should stand by itself in all its clarity. Otherwise,something really important has been missed. The final look of anything is the by-product of the clarity (or lack of it) during its design phase. It is important to understand the starting point and all assumptions of any project to fully comprehend the final result and measure its efficiency. Clarity of intent will translate in to clarity of result and that is of paramount importance in Design. Confused, complicated designs reveal an equally confused and complicated mind. We love complexities but hate complications! Having said this, I must add that we like Design to be forceful. We do not like limpy design. We like Design to be intellectually elegant – that means elegance of the mind, not one of manners, elegance that is the opposite of vulgarity. We like Design to be beyond fashionable modes and temporary fads. We like Design to be as timeless as possible. We despise the culture of obsolescence. We feel the moral imperative of designing things that will last for a long time. It is with this set of values that we approach Design everyday, regardless of what it may be: two or three dimensional, large or small, rich or poor. Design is One!

Ladislav Sutnar, Build the Town Blocks, painted wood, c.1940

Ladislav Sutnar, Build the Town Promotional Cards, paper, c.1940

Ladislav Sutnar, Build the Town Promotional Cards, paper, c.1940

Walter Gropius, “Bauhaus Manifesto”, 1919

The final goal of any plastic activity is the building! To decorate it was once the most noble task of the plastic arts; they belonged intimately to the component parts of the great art of architecture. Today, they delight in an autonomy that may, again, lead to a collaboration among all creative artists.

Architects, painters, and sculptors must relearn to known and understand the complex form of the construction as a whole and in its element: Then their works will be filled again with the architectonic spirit that they lost in the art of the drawing room.

The old art schools could not achieve this unity, and, anyway, how could they have done it–art being unteachable. They must turn again to workshops. The universe of model draftsmen and of those who work in the applied arts, a universe where one limits oneself to drawing and painting, must finally rediscover the universe of building. When the young man who feels the call for plastic creativity first learns a trade, as in the old days, then the unproductive artist will no longer be doomed to unfinished works, for he will have a trade, a capacity to excel in something.

Architects, sculptors, painters, all of us, we must return to manual work! For there is no “professional art.” There is no basic difference between the artist and the artisan. The artist is just an elevated version of the artisan. Thank heaven, during rare moments of light that are beyond his control, art flourishes unconsciously from the work of his hands, but the knowledge of the basics of his work is indispensable to any artist. It is the source of all creative production.

Let us therefore form a new union of artisans, free of the arrogance that led to a separation of classes and built a wall of arrogance between artisans and artists! Let’s have the will to do it, let’s conceive and achieve together the construction of a future that will unite everything: architecture, sculpture, and painting in a single formation, and that one day will rise toward heaven, the shining symbol of a new faith.

Diagram of the Bauhaus Curriculum

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “Working theses”, 1923.

We reject all aesthetic speculation, all doctrine,and all formalism. Architecture is the will of the age conceived in spatial terms. Living. Changing. New. Not yesterday, not tomorrow, only today can be given form. Only this architecture creates. Create form out of the nature of the task with the means of our time. This is our work. O F F I C E. B U I L D I N G. The office building is a house of work of organization of clarity of economy. Bright, wide workrooms, easy to oversee, undivided except as the organism of the undertaking is divided. The maximum effect with the minimum expenditure of means. The materials are concrete iron glass. Reinforced concrete buildings are by nature skeletal buildings. No noodles nor armoured turrets. A construction of girders that carry the weight, and walls that carry no weight. That is to say, buildings consisting of skin and bones.