Nov 17, 2009

My Pressure Cooker Fascination

Listen to me talk about pressure cookers, or download the file. (4.22 MB .mp3)

1. The ubiquitous aluminium Hawkins pressure cooker
2. The Hawkins Futura, introduced in 1985, became an instant design classic.
3. Typical publicity material that always comes in the pressure cooker carton: in this case, a recipe book for a Futura.
4. How do you open a Hawkins pressure cooker? Opening pressure cookers is never easy for first-timers, no matter what pressure cooker you buy.

Nov 16, 2009

Revolution on a Keyboard

IBM’s place in history is secure, as one of the 20th century’s largest drivers of technology and purveyors of the most advanced products in electronics and computing. But their consumer products, even acclaimed seminal ones such as the Selectric typewriter or the IBM PC, never achieved the cult status accorded to the Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter, or the Apple iMac G3. How did these objects, from much smaller competitors, create their cults?

Nov 1, 2009

The Japanese Total Design Idea

My conception of Japanese Society has been shaped mainly by films. For images of the traditional, rule-bound, society of aesthetes, there were Akira Kurosawa’s brilliant films, set in the age of the Samurai. To get the essence of a rapidly modernizing society that still retained its gentle traditional core, I saw Yasujiro Ozu, especially his masterpiece Tokyo Story (1953). For an outsider’s view of contemporary Tokyo, there was Wim Wenders’s Tokyo-Ga (1985); and for an insider’s conception of a fantasy Japanese world, there is, of course, Hayao Miyazaki. But to find an object that encapsulated all these ideas in one compact envelope of cuteness was completely beyond my expectations.

When I entered the Sanrio store on 42nd Street in New York, I was prepared to encounter a cult that I did not understand. Sure, I have little cousins who have Hello Kitty lunch boxes, and who tote tiny pink Hello Kitty bags, but I could not conceive how people of all sizes, ages, and genders found something they liked on shelf after shelf of Hello Kitty madness. Yet, there they were: picking out not just toys and stationery, but laptop cases, iPhone covers, and even rear view mirrors with a mouthless Kitty saying ‘Hello!’ to them.  I joined them, scanning every item, not willing to believe that anything in all this madness could possibly appeal to me. But on a shelf right near the entrance to the store, I found it: a Hello Kitty Dairi-bina.

The New Park on the Old High Line

For a park so young, the High Line Park, built on an abandoned freight train track that runs from Gansevoort Street in the Meatpacking District to 34th Street, between 10th & 11th Avenues, has already created a mythology of sorts for itself. Reviews of the park in various publications, a packed events calendar and a multitude of blog posts ‐ such as the one claiming that the park is a ‘babe magnet’ ‐ have given it a larger‐than‐life presence. Other American cities are queuing up to emulate it: on the Bloomingdale Trail in Chicago and on the Skywalks in Morristown, Tennessee. But the High Line Park is a very particular product of the people and circumstances that brought it into being.

The Friends of the High Line, a non‐profit group formed by concerned members of the community, wanted to find a viable way to preserve what was essentially a defunct piece of urban infrastructure. The last train ran on the High Line track in 1980, carrying, as they are strangely pleased to remind you, a load of cold turkeys. A small piece of urban wilderness soon took root on the track, beautifully documented in the photographs of Joel Sternfeld. Property owners in the area began to lobby for tearing the whole thing down, but by 2002, a resolution was passed reserving the High Line for reuse as a public space.

When the firms Field Operations and Diller Scofidio + Renfro took on the challenge of re‐imagining this iron behemoth as a public park, they were handling a bristling set of contradictions. They had to make people believe that they were strolling in a park while they were actually walking on a train track thirty feet off the ground. The park had to be modern, clean and sophisticated, but it also had to serve the purpose of historical preservation: both of the rusted, outdated High Line, and the wilderness that had grown on it. It had to deal with convoluted zoning laws while maintaining its integrity. The architects initially proposed to achieve these lofty aims with semi‐transparent concrete threaded with fibre optics, snaking between plantings designed by the Dutch designer Piet Oudolf. What finally got built isn’t as futuristic, but it preserves the contradictions of the design brief, creating a taut solution that is stretched along those lines of tension.