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Walter Gropius (Bauhaus Manifesto, 1919): ‘Together we will want, think up, and create the new building of the future, which will be everything in one shape: architecture and sculpture and painting which from millions of hands of craftsmen will rise once towards the heavens as a crystal symbol of a new coming belief.’

Sony Tower (1976)

Kisho Kurokawa is a Japanese architect/town planner most well known for the Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972) and the Sony Tower (1976). He is of interest to me (and should be to everyone) as his concepts make him a predecessor of ‘fluid’ architecture, which is endlessly updated by the occupants’ lifestyle/work, technological developments and the property market. He founded the Metabolist movement in 1960, the key principle being Symbiosis. Moving away form the centralised prototype of the European city (centralised squares for example), it was a radical vision of cities without centres, a web of decentralised cells or modules. Metabolism proposed building spaces and structures in relation to metabolistic structures, which constantly undergo the process of growth, change, circulation and recycling. It was a Symbiosis of culture, design and nature (a biological, relative and variable model) versus Modernism (a mechanical, industrial model). His description of the future of architecture was Abstract Symbolism, the abstract being the global, information society we now live in and the symbolism reflecting local beliefs and culture. Sorry for the long quote below but he makes some really valid points in regards to modernism.

Kurokawa on Bauhaus and Modernism: ‘Bauhaus was a reform movement which introduced Modernism into architecture. It was directed against the then academism, which was dominated by neoclassicism. They continued to fight against the academism as such and in the end their style dominated the architecture of the following period such that Bauhaus itself has now become an academism. Today we present-day architects fight against the new academism or Modernism, which really has become over powerful. This is because with my symbiotic thinking I oppose the fact that the so-called International Style that arose from modernism has to be carried over everywhere throughout the world independent of the culture of the particular country, right into the last jungle.

What academism did later incorporate from Modernist architecture was simply the construction style, which was then spread world-wide in the next generation in the name of Modernism and the International Style. However, that was fundamentally industrialism, having little in common with the original Bauhaus. Since then, this industrial style determines 99% of public buildings, as you can see there outside the window.’

Nakagin Capsule Tower (1972)

The modular construction of the Nakagin Capsule Tower was the world’s first example for capsule architecture built for actual use. Prefabricated capsules were attached or plugged into two circulation towers with built in stairwells and elevators, making it possible to exchange, replace and convert the components according to need. From the outside, the tower looks like a bunch of giant washing machines stacked together or a space station somewhere far away. The interior gives one the feeling of being in a submarine or a space capsule but the important point to consider here is the lack of space in most urban environments. Of course, looking at these structures today, they seem in a state of disrepair even though the highest-level technology and materials were used so the concept hasn’t taken off entirely. The design and feel might seem monotonous but it is the concept of individual elements linked to a single, asymmetrical, free form, growing structure that sticks in the mind.

Kisho Kurokawa: ‘The architecture of Metabolism was based on the image of a living cell. That image encompasses notions of growth, division, exchange, transformation, autonomous parts, deconstruction, temporariness, recycling, rings ad a dynamic stability. Capsule architecture was an architectural expression of the living cell.’

Of course, Kurokawa has been involved in many other projects worth discussing, especially the relationship between architecture and nature in his work. Or man made ‘second nature’, an intermediary space where the indoors and outdoors, past and present and universal and local meet. I think his ideas are very relevant in the 21st century and beyond, particularly the notions of cultural identity and sustainability. I haven’t read it but Kurokawa’s book ‘Each One a Hero: The Philosophy of Symbiosis (1997)’ seems to be the book to get if you want to delve any further.

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Kenji Ekuan

Now here is a time capsule for the serious student of design history, particularly industrial design. I found the book while rummaging through a second-hand bookshop, and what a find! A 1973 lecture series (I guess there’s more?) by Kenji Ekuan. It’s a lecture in which he talks about Japanese culture, history, education, commerce and industry as seen though the prism of design practice.

Of course, some of it will be dated or even alien still, such as the housing pods or capsules, which unlike a lot of Japanese developments, has not taken off in the rest of the world. It is interesting to note that even then, Mr. Ekuan was looking at the world in a global sense. Exchange of products means exchange of culture, the way the east and the west communicated during and before the industrial age. A country sent only the finest products, the best examples of its culture. This then brings us to the question of quantity versus quality, which has still not been properly addressed. What do mass-produced cheaply made goods say about a culture? And how do they represent a culture if they’re made by cheaper labour in another country? This multinational approach has the unfortunate side effect of entirely removing cultural exchange sometime in the near future.

The real high point for me has been the insight into Japanese education, ceremonies, architecture and arts/crafts. Practices such as flower arranging and calligraphy are instilled as ‘organisational creativity’ in people, giving them a more refined sense of beauty and functionality. Creativity becomes a part of daily life. The ‘organisational’ part instils a sense of self-discipline early on. We can still learn a lot from this approach. While the lecture is obviously not as thorough as a book written on the subject, it does give one an insight into design practices and thinking in 1970’s Japan.

I’ve finally found an office chair, or the ‘director’s chair’ as I call it! Another item from a hard rubbish dump, this time without the arm rests. There was a bit of cracked varnish that needed removing, but this time the timber was restored with oil. It also needed re-upholstering so I took other chairs apart to see and learn how it was done. And voila, its new!

I finally got a hold of a couple of timber cable spools and decided to tackle one! All three are different sizes, but the largest one could be used as a dinner or outdoor table. What inspired me is the fact that local cafes and community spaces have been utilising these ‘industrial waste’ products to great effect. It’s usually super cheap (or free!) and relatively easy to fix depending on how fancy you want to get.

The biggest changes I made is cropping the bottom of the ‘table’ for more leg space and adding wheels since it might be a little too heavy for carrying. Its also been reinforced with used plywood for greater strength, sanded back and varnished. I chose not to hide the old colours, cracks or puttied holes.

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This is where things got interesting, in terms of construction and using found materials. First up was what I assume is a wooden rudder handle from a small rowing boat (someone correct me if it isn’t). Pieces of the boat were strewn all over the sidewalk, and I’ve got the rudder as well! You never know what you can find out there. I had the idea of making a coat hanger out of it, but the curvature would make it an interesting object in itself. What holds it upright is not only the custom built stand but the sheer weight at the bottom. The hooks came from a used coat rack.

The spice rack is built from one of my old shelving units and custom built (bent and cut?) hooks. The entire thing is held by glue and wire. The only real problem was how to hang it on a wall but keep it from swinging from side to side. I’m still working that one out, any suggestions?

In this project, I assembled a sideboard from used construction timber and boards which came from the back of an old sign. It has a very ‘cabin in the woods’ rustic feel. The boards are so heavy (maybe Jarrah hardwood?) that I didn’t have to use any screws or bolts or nails to hold it together.

Now here are a couple of lamps I tried to restore, the lampshades being particularly difficult. From a technical point of view, they’re still a little too time consuming but I’ll get the hang of it. Using self adhesive kits is much easier than glueing the fabric on yourself ha ha ha. The floor lamp was rescued from a hard refuse pile and stripped completely of paint and fabric. The table lamp was made from an old tree branch and a second hand lampshade for a more organic look. Add to that about a square metre of new fabric and you got yourself some new lamps!

Ok folks here’s where I need your input, suggestions, comments, ideas etc. I’ve been toying around with the idea of starting a recycling/ restoration business, dealing mainly with household goods such as tables, shelves, lamps, chairs and whatever else comes to mind. I have already made several pieces using materials found in junk shops and hard rubbish dumps, but this can be extended to restoring goods that people dont want to throw away. Here are a few pix, there will be more examples posted over the next few weeks. Let me know what you think.

A shelving unit made from recycled plywood boards and book shelves made from old speaker boxes I found on the sidewalk.

Well this was a discovery made through a music video of all things. Every now and then (and this is true of tv ads as well), you see something that sticks with you and you want to investigate further. The video is ‘Tonto’ made for the largely instrumental group Battles by a British based collective United Visual Artists.. They seem to be concerned with modifying space and light through installations and live performance. This includes many different disciplines such as architecture, fine art, engineering, graphic and communication design. I’m guessing that many European music and art festivals feature their work.

 

The video is an LED installation synchronized with the audio to create a multimedia experience which wouldn’t look out of place on the set of ‘2001, A Space Odyssey’.  The installation functions as a light symphony and I think it complements the music so perfectly, one hopes it gets used on tour. The alien/ lunar landscape is actually an old Welsh slate mine.

 

Obviously, I could have included other examples of UVA’s work, but this is a good place to start discovering the rest of the portfolio for those who are interested.

 

The website is here: http://www.uva.co.uk/

 

The making of the ‘Tonto’ video can be viewed here and is highly recomended if you want to see the creative process of the collective: http://www.vimeo.com/15299797

“This series is about how those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy.”

— Adam Curtis

Well here is another documentary I recently discovered, it is a four-part BBC production from 2002. And since the focus here is on the creation of the mass production and consumer society of Britain and America, it will definitely be of interest to any serious student of design history. Especially in the management and marketing fields, or more specifically, creating and satisfying needs through psychology. As tedious and tiresome (and to many quite damaging) these concepts may be, they were used to grease the wheels of industry and brought us the portable radio, affordable car, personal computer and other status symbols. I’m pretty sure you can view it online on google video or youtube. It is worth going back to where it all started…

 

 

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