Prayers and Pachinko (and Fish)

Prayersandpachinko

Three images taken in Tokyo during my visit to Japan last month to make a presentation as a keynote speaker at the Universal Design Conference in Kyoto. More to follow.

A Banner Year

banner

“The Urban Forest Project presents the work of 185 celebrated (that’s nice) designers, artists, illustrators and photographers from 21 countries. Each banner uses the form of a tree, or a metaphor for the tree, to make a powerful visual statement. Together they create a forest of thought-provoking images at the crossroads or the World, one of the planet’s busiest, most energetic and emphatically urban intersections”.

So reads the official introduction to the Urban Forest banner project, just installed in and around Times square. We are proud to have been invited to design one of the banners. Our banner is located on the North side of 41st Street at 6th Avenue, facing directly onto Bryant Square, by coincidence in the same block as my old penthouse studio at 42nd and Broadway. We have also included three favorites by other designers, from top to bottom: Walker Art Center, Donna David, and Seymour Chwast.

Following their display in and around Times Square, during September and October, the banners will be recycled into tote bags and be sold at auction. You can find out where and how at the Urban Forest website, where you can also order some nifty tee-shirts.

Walking on Water

Bridges

Photographed in London last month, these two new footbridges over the Thames are very much worth checking out and have really made access to the newly developed South Bank of the Thames more inviting. The Millennium bridge, by architects Foster and Partners with sculptor Sir Anthony Caro ran into some early bouncing problems and was closed until the installation of monster shock absorbers. Leading directly from St. Paul’s to the Tate Modern and the Globe Theatre it provides some wonderful vantage points of the River and the City. The new Hungerford footbridges, one on each side of the rail bridge, by architects Lifschutz Davidson replace an old, dangerous, and creepy footbridge I often used during trips back and forth from the National Film Theatre when a student. Take the tube to St. Paul’s, walk over the MIlennium Bridge to the Tate Modern, then west along the embankment, and return to Trafalgar Square via the new Hungerford bridge (the west side is best). Great views and some stimulating modern design. All paid for by a publc lottery. Is this a way to go for paying for much needed public space improvements in the US?

CoverFlow: Better Digital Music Navigation

Cover art

Remember the days when you’d long to listen to music by the album? You went over to your shelves and looked at the album artwork to find the music you wanted to listen to. With the invention of MP3s and digital music players, the concept of album covers as navigational aids got lost (along with shelves full of records). Suddenly looking for a song meant you had to know the artist, album, or song name. As a visual thinker, I can easily tell you what any album in my music collection looks like from memory, but have a real problem with knowing what album a given song is on.

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Friends of the Arts

friendsmontage

One of the great perks of being a designer, particularly of identity and branding programs, is that you become closely involved with some wonderfully interesting people you might otherwise never get to meet. A case in point is with an identity program we are just starting for Brooklyn Friends School. Last week, Ben, Saki, DK Holland and I spent a sweltering but fabulous day visiting the School, and were amazed that the entire building was packed with art projects of a level that was difficult to believe came from lower/middle/upper school students. It was no easy task to choose the three pieces shown here, a puppet, a mosaic, and a mural, from literally hundreds of equally accomplished examples. This work is done by kids just like any others, who, with the proper encouragement and nurturing were capable of achieving extraordinary results. The sad thing is that this is extraordinary where in fact it should be ordinary. All high schools could demonstrate the same achievement and vision if they wished. Art programs, including both the visual and performing arts, cut from one curriculum after another, are an essential element in the development of fully balanced and fulfilled individuals. It is a tragedy that so few other schools in New York or elsewhere aren’t following this remarkable example.

Mouse V Gherkin

Iconic architecture

The cultural differences between the UK and the US still astound. On recently visiting London, I noticed that Charles Jencks’ new book, Iconic Architecture, was bedecked not with mouse architecture as in the US (Frank Gehry’s Disney thing in LA), but with a highly amusing and pyrotechnic rendition of Norman Foster’s St. Mary Axe building in London, (known as the erotic gherkin to Brits) about to go into orbit. Are we in America taking ourselves too seriously? As a book designer among other things, I am sad that Rizzoli could not entertain such an entertaining (and Iconic) cover here. (On the subject of two cultures divided by a common language, gherkin in English translates to Pickle, like the thing you put in sandwiches, in American.)

Jahee Yu

jahee Painting 4

There are so many talented artists who go largely unrecognized by the public for no reason other than they have not managed to be at the right place at the right time. Jahee Yu is such a talent, and although she is hardly unrecognized (she has had or contributed to many major exhibitions in New York), her work is not as widely known as it deserves to be. Her iconic images explore multicultural faces and figures with an intensity that is both moving and at times haunting. Let us hope she is exhibited again soon. We will keep you informed.

Her Website

Mad as a Bat

George III

OK you guys, as an expatriate Brit I listen every year to all this independence stuff with resigned stoicism. But dare I say we’re not the only country with an embarrassment called George. Barking madness is not confined to the UK, even mad cow disease has now been confirmed beneath these spacious skies. The thing that really gets me is that each year National Public Radio recites the Declaration and ends up sniggeringly with ‘on that day, George III entered into his diary, “nothing of importance happened today”‘. While we are on the subject of self-evident truths, how the hell did you expect poor old George to know that you lot had suddenly got all uppity. An MSN newsfeed? In fact he did not learn of it for several weeks until the first ship returned with the news. What he in fact wrote in his diary on that day was “Shit. I guess we screwed that one up royally”. What the hell. Happy birthday America. They can’t stay in power for ever.

(One of) My Favorite Architect(s)

Lois Kahn
Louis Kahn at the AA.

I discovered this while rummaging through my computer this morning. I think I must have taken the photo in 1962 or thereabouts, when Kahn visited the Architectural Association and reviewed our fifth year projects. I can’t remember now what he said about my particular attempt (a utopian and megalomaniacal redevelopment of the South Bank in London), but I recollect it did go on to be ‘stored’, which meant it was put into the AA archives. In any event it was a wonderful experience to have been able to meet the author of some of the most sensitive and significant examples of modern architecture. He was a certainly a profound influence on my architectural work (before I defected into graphic design).

I have since donated the negatives of this and a companion shot to the Penn Architecture Archives in Philadelphia.

Ashes and Snow and Sonotubes

Ashes and Snow

Having seen the elephant photo all over the place for some time, Saki and I hurried over to Pier 54 to have a look at Ashes and Snow for ourselves before it closed and were amazed. What most impressed was Shigeru Ban’s structure. I was expecting a pile of shipping containers with some photos on the wall. Instead I found one of the most exciting and awe inspiring spaces that New York has ever had to offer, and like the Central Park Gates project, it wasn’t around for long (it is now all being shipped to California). First of all, this thing is huge! On entering you found yourself in a fabulous, dark, ethereal, and seemingly endless cathedral space stretching a full City block out into the Hudson. While constructed of shipping containers, sonotubes, canvas, and steel cable, with a floor of wooden planks and river stones, it has all the authority and majesty of any cathedral nave you have ever visited. Truly wonderful and a must-visit if you encounter it on your travels.

The photos I was less enthusiastic about. While there is no denying that many of these images are stunning, the more I saw the more I felt uneasy about the apparently contrived posing and what to me seemed an intrusively “arty” presentation. If these had been paintings (which they nearly are) I think they would seem the epitome of Shmaltz and the fact that they are photos does not ultimately redeem them in this respect. One would love to think that the child had innocently happened upon the elephant and stopped to consider it, and that the photographer had innocently (or purposely) happened upon both. But that not being the case what we end up with seems somewhat unsubstantial.

But that’s just my opinion. Do not miss out on the chance to see for yourself.