The Egg provides environmental harmony

What is a role of architecture in democracy is a grand question to ponder. First critical question can be directed to the volume of buildings in our urban public spaces. The human scale, people and architecture relationship cannot be taken for granted. Architecture may also be a spoiled industry. The problem is that architecture is sometimes taken as harmless, not harming the environment. It is easier to point to the exploitation of environment by oil and gas industries.

Democracy plays also with massive volume. It wants to show off. Former governor of NY Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a plan to elaborate Albany as a state capitol. Imagine a relatively small town in Upstate New York that has an appearance of a state capitol hosting democratic ideals in architecture. Such is the story of the Empire State Plaza.

The story goes that Nelson Rockefeller drafted himself the basic designs for the Albany’s government campus. Architect Wallace Harrison revised the plan, which included mixed aesthetical styles in it. The aesthetics of Versailles, Indian capital Chandigarh’s urban designs by Le Corbusier (in 1950s), and Brazilian architecture were used as inspirations to create plaza of the democracy: for all the people of New York. Overall, the idea was that the urban massive scale would be visible also as a feature across the Albany skyline. What one can see are the mixed styles of modern architecture and some elements of the baroque style coming from the French palace. Contradictory idea, as this mixture might appeal to people who come to visit the city, yet the city itself is quite small to attract with such a volume. For what reason? To show off the democracy’s playground?

Behind this critical questioning is, in fact, a deeper question about the functioning of the plaza/place. How could the massive buildings be incorporated in the people’s everyday life? The role of public places, which the Empire State Plaza in Albany also is, is to be building democratic societies. Many architectural associations and sustainable development programs have been pondering how to use this type of urban spaces better.

When I was walking on the Albany campus, the buildings around me felt massive. For example, The Egg gives out an exterior, which is changing according to the viewpoint. It looks like a spaceship with a robotic structure from some angles, feeding more an imagination of ‘the off-limits’. The Egg feels too massive and claustrophobic to be inviting as a structure, yet it certainly is full of curiosity, which actually nourishes me with an imagination that the interior might hold happenings that are inventive, new and futuristic. The form gives me expectations.

Then again, The Egg is harmoniously nesting in its environment. It shows evidence of an amazing era in modernist architecture. Despite of its massive sculptural looks it appears actually as harmonizing entity. The plaza’s plentiful atmosphere with all the modernist sculptures looks more peaceful with the Egg.

The Empire State Plaza campus can be a place where you sit down and eat your power lunch, or mingle like a tourist. Yet it would be hard to imagine that public assemblies would take place in it. It is really not a place for Occupy Wall Street– type of events. In fact, Occupy Albany -protestors were arrested quite soon. The place attracts tourists and visitors, and people, who work in the area in administrative jobs. As hangouts for locals who walk by as part of their daily activity, the significance is of course evident. American society of civil engineers nominated the building with The New York Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement in 1979.

The construction of The Egg began in 1966 and it was completed in 1978. Like the plaza, it was meant for all the people of New York State. The Egg hosts a Performing arts center. A quick overview to the program shows it as quite conservative. One would expect the Egg to host innovative programs, workshops, performances and festivals. It houses the Lewis A. Swyer Theatre and the Kitty Carlisle Hart Theatre; the interior is also reflecting the exterior. The walls are curving upward; the theaters provide intimate settings (Swiss pear wood veneer provides both warmth and good acoustics).

Overall, The Egg is made durable. The stem goes deep down into the earth through six stories, and the structure is by a girdle that is made as a reinforced concrete beam. The beam helps to transmit the weight onto the supporting pedestal.

Finnish design pop-up store in the Museum of Arts and Design (NY)

Starting end of this week, we can scan bits of Finnish design in a pop-up store in the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) foyer. The event is taking place soon, in 21-28 of October… Another great chance to get a glimpse to the 2012 World Design Capital…Helsinki and the surroundings. New York is promoting the uniqueness of Finnish design, as 2012 promises to be creating something extraordinary out of the concept thinking that is so true to contemporary design. The materials and products are connecting to the sustainable values, which global north now represents. ‘Arctic design’ is a concept, which will add dimension to Scandinavian design parameters and tradition. Finland’s architectural roots will be visible in Helsinki, so looking back in history is important. What is creating the contemporary presence, yet, is the remaking of the tradition. When looking back in the history of Finnish design, Alvar Aalto (among others) was not only an architect. His Aalto-vases have become well-known products around the world. His glasswork and furniture appear still in North American museums (MoMA, Philadelphia Museum of Art)… The conceptual thinking of adding different ingredients in the pot and then seeing and tasting what is the flavor of the ‘end-product’ describes today’s designs. Urban settings, architecture, city panning, environment, green values, greeneries, food-cultures, music, technologies, and so on, define what has value as a design. What still remains important is the craft and tradition to the content.

As Philadelphia Museum of Art was exhibiting Finnish design classics among its contemporary design exhibition in the summer,  Caroline Tiger wrote for The Inquirer (in May 20, 2011: “Philadelphia Museum of Art to open major contemporary design exhibition”): “Although the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s modern design collection has grown to be the biggest and best-regarded of any general museum in the country, it has lived mostly under the radar” . Saying that this ‘low profile’ exhibition in the Perelman building’s modern design gallery showed several interesting pieces from Finnish design masters, is quite modest. Furniture of Alvar Aalto, for example Armchair Model No. 31 (picture below),  ‘Kilta’ Tableware from Kaj Franck, and a pitcher, glasses and basket combo from Saara Hopea (in the picture above).

Forest echoes

I have recently been thinking the forest in the aesthetics. Patterns and wood structures are back in current interior design. The recent trends have been bringing the nature into our living spaces. This updated, seemingly nostalgic approach can be retrieved into decades of design innovation where arts and crafts were not that far from the  ideas of industrialism and mass-production. Nature, fall colors, flowing trees in the wind, curved themselves into airy designs.

This chair tro is by Finnish Interior architect Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914-1999), exhibited as part of his chair collection in R GALLERY, in New York’s Franklin street in the Spring of 2011. I loved to see the chairs which were so familiar from my own childhood.  Did that red chair ever get to ‘mass-production’, or how do we define ‘mass-production’? The individual craft is still speaking to us its simple organic language.

The R GALLERY’s approach to research and innovation behind their design curating (for 10 years now) is an achievement. They have been picking trends, which have value for the future developments in the industry, giving priority to individual craftsmanship in the design and supporting innovation, which stands for sustainability, form and aesthetics in the works.

(Tapiovaara’s exhibition catalog is available in here)


FALL vitamin time

(Kuplat in different colors by Yki Nummi, the lights displayed in Mbar, Helsinki)

…It is almost fall, although the concept has changed over time. So when does the actual fall begin, when is the late summer? What is sure is that we tend to push the starting of the fall further. Nevertheless, the fall is time for energizing oneself with colors. Vitamin drinks give energy with color, and cocktails in different glass shapes are an important part of the bar designs. The ‘food’ is also becoming more of a matter of design.

…With the colors, then, when it comes to the design-thinking, we need to reconsider the white as a basis for creating interiors. Design Modernism in itself is often taught as to be ‘black and white’. But, in fact, bright colors, would not stand out so much without the basic concept of white in the background surfaces and objects… Some timely and popular classics include remakings of the ‘vintage’ lighting designs by Yki Nummi (Kuplat, Lokki are popular). Then there is Arne Jacobsen’s Ant-chair, which looks great in white, as well as Eero Aarnio’s Ball-chair, with white exterior, and the color splash is found inside…