Alexandra Lange
Architecture & design critic
Friday
November 30

When Fake Is Better Than Real: Laminates and the Modern Interior

What is luxury? Is it rosewood and leather, silk and lacquer, marble and gold leaf? Or is it the freedom from the cost of installing, then maintaining those fine natural materials? Is luxury the off-limits living room and the war against fingerprints, or the anything-goes feeling of a house where wet feet, even wet bathing suits are fine. From its first adoption by American designers in the 1930s, Formica’s decorative plastic laminates were sold as inexpensive and hard-wearing but also fashionable and fun. Like vinyl, fiberglass and melamine, introduced to the home market during the same era, laminates offered modernity with an old-fashioned touch of class. Sequin, introduced in 1952, scattered irregular gold flecks across a colored ground. My grandmother’s countertops, installed in the early 1970s, were in one of the most popular colors: aqua.

This talk will survey the high points of the marriage of plastic laminates and design, from Manhattan’s Radio City Music Hall in the 1930s; to Brooks Stevens’s iconic Boomerang pattern, seen on dinette sets across the United States; to a World’s Fair house of the future; to Ettore Sottsass’s totemic Superboxes, which suggested that all you need in your home is a bed and a laminate closet. Whether it looks realer than real wood, or as fake as supersize neon bacteria, laminate does not deserve its current reputation, beige and utilitarian, consigned to the kitchenettes of cheap motels. We do, however, have to contend with its environmental cost. Once upon a time, it meant glamor.

12:45PM, The Berlage Center for Advanced Studies in Architecture and Urban Design, Delft University of Technology.
Free.

Tuesday
November 13

Design Conversations: Playing Architect

Playing Architect: Frank Lloyd Wright liked to tell the story of how his interest in form was piqued by early encounters with wooden blocks. In this lecture, Alexandra Lange will discuss why kids play wooden blocks, what lessons they teach, and how designers and educators including Caroline Pratt, Anne Tyng, Isamu Noguchi and Charles and Ray Eames tried to improve upon them in concrete, plastic and cardboard.

4:45PM, University Gallery Level 2, Booth Hall 7A, Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Rochester, NY.
Free.

A link to this lecture can be found here.

Thursday
October 11

A Modern Education: Learning from Froebel, Wright, Tyng, and Noguchi

Hear from Alexandra Lange, architecture critic for Curbed, at this lecture based on her new book, The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids.

Frank Lloyd Wright liked to tell the story of how his interest in form was piqued by early encounters with wooden blocks. In this lecture, Lange will discuss the origins and development of wooden blocks, why they came to dominate American kindergartens, and how designers and educators including Caroline Pratt, Anne Tyng, Isamu Noguchi and Charles and Ray Eames thought they could improve upon them.

Presented in conjunction with the exhibition Serious Play: Midcentury Design in America.

6:15PM, Lubar Auditorium, Milwaukee Art Museum.
Free for members or with museum admission.

Tuesday
October 9

Preserving Childhood

Childhood is fleeting, but its structures are monumental, both in memory and in urban life. In this lecture, “Preserving Childhood,” Alexandra Lange will discuss the history, design and civic legacy of key spaces for children’s education and recreation, with cameo appearances by Booker T. Washington, the Saarinens, Robert Moses, Paul Friedberg, Buckminster Fuller, Josep Lluis Sert, and the wrecking ball.

This talk is sponsored by MAS Context and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and supported by Perkins + Will.

6PM, LeRoy Neiman Center, 37 S Wabash Avenue, Chicago.
Open to the public, no RSVP required.

Video of this lecture can be found here.

Sunday
October 7

From Page to Screen: Netflix’s Hilda

Join creator Luke Pearson, head writer Stephanie Simpson, and head of content acquisition at Netflix Kids, Dominque Bazay, for a discussion about the newly released Hilda series on Netflix, moderated by Alexandra Lange.

Hilda follows the adventures of a fearless blue-haired girl as she travels from her home in a vast magical wilderness full of elves and giants, to the bustling city of Trolberg, where she meets new friends and mysterious creatures who are stranger – and more dangerous – than she ever expected. Join the creative team behind the show as they discuss adapting the comic book series into this animated fantasy adventure for older kids.

I first wrote about the Hilda books (among my kids’ favorites) here.

12PM, Room 1A21, Javits Center, as part of New York Comic-Con.
Badges can be purchased here.

Tuesday
September 25

Glass House Presents: “The Design of Childhood”

Join design critic Alexandra Lange for a free reading at New Canaan Library from her new book The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids, which reveals the surprising histories behind the human-made elements of our children’s pint-size landscape.

6PM, New Canaan Public Library, 151 Main St, New Canaan, Connecticut.
Free. Please register by emailing rsvp@theglasshouseorg.