Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic

The women designers who made Herman Miller furniture shine

Tomoko Miho for Herman Miller. Courtesy Herman Miller.

There’s a famous Herman Miller ad, designed by George Tscherny in 1954, that shows the furniture brand’s marquee designers as “Traveling Men.” George Nelson, leaning against a trunk, is heading to Germany at the behest of the government. Charles Eames, looking at a map, is journeying to Japan. And Alexander Girard, pith helmet at the ready, is off to India to collect material for a Museum of Modern Art exhibit.

Those men—plus later colleagues and collaborators like Robert Propst (inventor of the cubicle), Irving Harper (the Sunburst clock) and Steve Frykholm (those mouthwatering picnic posters—spurred our long love affair with the midcentury version of the brand.

But new material from the Herman Miller archives complicates and expands the narrative of three (or six) male superstars. An article published earlier this week on the AIGA’s Eye on Design site, The Lesser-told Stories of the Women Who Shaped Herman Miller, surfaces less familiar names Peggy Ann Rohde, Tomoko Miho, Barbara Loveland and Linda Powell, along with Deborah Sussman, better known for her sizzling graphics for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Meg Miller’s article includes lots of great examples of their work; a few additional goodies are shown here.

Continues: Curbed

Design within reach

Simple Music Player, 2014. Designed by Lyndon Owen, Maurice Thompson and Bruce Barnet. Courtesy Cooper Hewitt.

The Cooper-Hewitt’s latest exhibition clarifies why accessible design is not a privilege, but a right

They don’t call it a radio, because who has a radio anymore? Yet the brick-like shape; the round, cloth-covered speaker; and the two oversized controls say “radio” to anyone born in the first half of the 20th century.

Even if you have dementia, you can see the box on a countertop, say, and intuitively know that it plays music. And if you touch the box, you’ll find only two possible actions: Press the oblong button (nothing happens) or lift the lid on top.

Voila! Music.

Continues: Curbed

8 buildings we think should get the AIA’s 25-year award

Michael Graves's Humana building (r) in Louisville, Kentucky. Thomas Kelley / Alamy Stock Photo.

Here’s what Curbed editors would have nominated

There are so many ways the AIA 25-Year Award could have gone this year: supporting threatened postmodernism, amplifying diverse voices, expanding the award’s geography.

But instead, the award jury chose not to choose, rejecting the submissions as (reading between the lines) either too populist or too inside baseball. May we humbly suggest that the AIA get more aggressive about soliciting nominations—or that the jury members might have made some late submissions themselves?

Continues: Curbed

2017 in architecture: The good, the bad, and the pink

Rei Kawakubo / Comme des Garcons: Art of the In-Between. Courtesy Metropolitan Museum of Art.

For the eighth consecutive year, Curbed’s own Alexandra Lange and critic Mark Lamster of the Dallas Morning News cover the ups and downs, triumphs, and tragedies of the year in design. If you thought 2016 was hyperbolic, well, you were in for a treat in 2017.

These are dark days in the galaxy. But fear not! Our intrepid critics, the Luke and Leia of architectural criticism, are here, lightsabers drawn, prepared to fight against design evil and restore peace to the urban (and suburban) landscape. Without further ado…

Best Disappearing Act: Apple’s design leadership. From the 11,000-car garage at Apple “Park,” to the company’s claim that stores are “town squares,” the behemoth has lost the plot.

Honk Twice for Sustainability Award: Meanwhile, Toyota dumped plans for their own LEED-rated Texas headquarters in suburbia, with 6,500 parking spaces and effectively zero public transit.

Biggest Disco Ball: Jean Nouvel’s webby, pattern-making dome for the Louvre Abu Dhabi. Good on the critics who visited for not letting the glitter distract from the country’s exploitative labor practices.

Continues: Curbed

Apple Park: The one that got away

Steve Jobs Theater at Apple Park, photo by Recode's Dan Frommer from September 2017.

If I were allowed to visit Apple Park, the first thing I would do is take off my shoes.

In the most famous photographs of Steve Jobs, he sits, shoeless and cross-legged, on the hardwood floor of his Menlo Park bungalow, lit by the glow of a Tiffany lamp. The implication is simultaneously that he is above material things and that only the best will do. Why have an ugly sofa for the sake of having a sofa? Particularly when you have such a nice floor.

Barefoot, you feel the world through your feet. You are far more connected to texture, to transition, to temperature, without resorting to running your fingers along a wall, or leaving sweaty handprints on pristine surfaces.

Apple Park, so they say, has been designed to be seamless: the office building is a circle; the Hilltop Theater, a glass cylinder; the four-story, 440,000 pound glass doors slide noiselessly; a white-tile tunnel takes you to your car. Once you’re inside, nothing should interrupt your progress or disrupt the view. Glass fins protect the glass walls from unsightly streaking.

The triumph of Apple Park, it would seem, is in these obsessive details, which elevate it above the common sorrows of architecture (that concrete pour that went wonky, that threshold that won’t lie flat) and into the realm of product design. Small things can be perfect, big things cannot, they are just too much. Unless, it seems, you have the money of Jobs.

In 2017, I wanted to experience this mirage for myself. But so far, Apple has let in journalists only to ooh and aah, not to pick or contextualize. They want you to admire the glass back of the new iPhone 8 but not drop it.

Continues: Curbed

NYC Best New Architecture of 2017

American Copper Buildings from under the FDR Drive, December 11, 2017.

Did you know that what the skyline needed was a cross between all-in 1960s corporate branding, the Downtown Athletic Club as described by Rem Koolhaas and a lair worthy of Goldfinger? I didn’t, but it did, which is why SHoP’s fraternal-twin, 761-unit rental towers are our 2017 Building of the Year.

We’ve been watching for some time as the copper-clad north and south sides of the two towers, zigzagging within their ho-hum zoning envelopes, rose. First, they were as shiny as copper pennies, then they went dark and streaks appeared, including a stripe of verdigris. “Eventually the whole thing will be Statue of Liberty green,” says SHoP principal Gregg Pasquarelli. “We thought of it as a performance art piece viewed from the FDR Drive.” While other Jenga-inspired skyscrapers already seem old hat, these can still surprise us.

Continues: Curbed