Saturday, 4 December 2010


Light shades for the prototype of my Ceiling Lamp #1 design were recently completed at Ajeto Glassworks in North Bohemia, Czech Republic. I submitted design drawings to Ajeto a few months back and the samples were ready for me to pick up when I got to Prague last week. An early winter snow storm delayed that journey but, last Friday I braved the winter snows, drove to the town of Lindava and picked up the first six examples. I am very happy with the results.

Each shade was hand made by master glassblowers. First blowing a layer of clear glass, into a wooden mold made from my drawings, followed by a layer of white glass, then the top and bottom edges are cut and ground flat.

The next step in production of the prototype will be to create the light shade holder structure. This will require machining of oversize blanks that can be used to create the necessary molds. These structural parts will all be cast in brass, then CNC machined for a precision fit.

Thursday, 2 December 2010

Fire in My Belly

This video installation was recently removed from the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. It was part of an exhibit by a group of gay & lesbian artists called "Hide/Seek: Difference and Desire in American Portraiture".

Apple Computers, in its wisdom, has also censored
this video from their otherwise wonderful iPad device.

The work, a video called "A Fire in My Belly" by David Wojnarowicz, features a brief depiction of ants crawling over a crucifix. Wojnarowicz, who died in 1992, created the film which features vocal accompaniment by Diamanda Galás.

The video was removed after an organized campaign of complaints from the Catholic League (U.S.) and U.S. Republican House Minority Leader, John "bastard" Boehner. Politics and religion must never be allowed to dictate artistic expression.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Platonic Forms (1): Lidded Box

Pavel Janák's Lidded Box (1911)

Plato's Forms are the set of archetypes representing the essential "thingness" of each kind of object in the real world. The various day to day objects in real life are mere shadows of the perfect Platonic Form that they represent. Each rabbit, human, fish, chair or box is defective in some way, either in design or execution. The greater the defect, the further the object is from its perfect Platonic Form.

For me, Czech Cubist designer and architect, Pavel Janák's Lidded Box (1911), is the closest thing to a Platonic Cubist lidded box. Any attempt to improve on this design seems futile, it simply is the Cubist Lidded Box.

Top view

Consisting of equilateral pyramids on a cuboid base, the box is white with black lines along each edge. This is reminiscent of a crystal, a motif that was popular at the beginning of the 20th century.

Janák's Lidded Box is produced by changing the natural horizontal and vertical surfaces into oblique ones. In this sense it represented the "abstraction of matter". Janák deliberately avoided verticals and horizontals which he associated with artists of the previous era.

Quality reproductions of Janák's Lidded Box can be purchased from the Modernista design store in Prague, Czech Republic.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Gloomy Sunday

The way it was always meant to be sung. By Diamanda Galás.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Table #1

Computer renderings of my dining table design "Table #1" are presented below...

The supporting frame extends the angular cubist shape of the legs into an interconnected web which simultaneously underlines the profile of the table top (below).

The table top, in turn, follows an angular cubist layout which is designed to wrap slightly around each seated person.

Table #1 was inspired by the Czech painter Antonìn Procházka's Cubist armchair of 1919. Design studies of Procházka's armchair are shown below.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Lampada ad arco

Art or Science?

Recently the (CERN) Large Hadron Collider experiment, near Geneva, published results of an experiment where lead (Pb) atoms were smashed together at such high energies that they simulated conditions in the early universe. How early? Less than one second after the universe (as we know it) began. The so called "Big Bang".

The subsequent image produced by the enormous ALICE detector was stunning. It reminded me somehow of Giacomo Balla's wonderful futurist painting: Lampada ad Arco (1911). This inspired me to combine the image produced at CERN with my study for a ceiling lamp called Octacontagon.

Octacontagon's Big Bang

We Will Kill the Moonlight!

Balla's painting can be seen below. The date shown on the top left corner (1909) refers to the date of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's declaration Uccidiamo il chiaro di luna! which inspired this painting.

Giacomo Balla, Lampada Ad Arco (1911)

Marinetti published Uccidiamo il chiaro di luna! as a declaration of war against 'old Europe' who, at the time, were critical of the Futurist movement.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Update: Ceiling Light #1

Below are some new renderings of my Ceiling Light #1 design...

I have modified the design slightly. The mounting plate is more elaborate and fits better with view of the lights when looking up from beneath.

The cap screws that attach the shade mounts are smaller and use the same material as the shade mounts. This de-emphasizes the mounting screws whereas the previous design highlighted them.

Meanwhile a mold has been made for the glass shades, I am hoping to have four copies ready to start building a prototype within the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


Stefania Ugolini - senzafissadimora (2010)

Nonostante la base da cui una persona parte la sua vita sarà incentrata
sul movimento, trovandosi a volte in posti sconosciuti o non scelti,
destinata a percorrere strade e spazi che la porteranno a volte lontano,
a volte vicino a quella "casa" che resterà comunque il suo rifugio per sempre.

Così anche l'opera, apparentemente stabile, è destinata a viaggiare
trasformandosi da porta (casa) a "portale".

L'inutilità nell'opera sta proprio nella sua capacità di muoversi
senza essere spostata materialmente.

Può essere vista e conservata anche senza essere acquistata,
tramite il QR Code può essere scaricata in uno smartphone
e condivisa con un numero imprecisato di persone.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Collapsing New Buildings

La Musica Futurista (the Music of Futurism) began with Francesco Balilla Pratella's publication of Futurist Musician's Manifesto (Manifesto dei Musicisti Futuristi) in 1910. Pratella, and other futurists wrote music that promoted disharmony and free rhythm in a deliberate attempt to overthrow the established composers of the time such as Puccini and Umberto Giordano.

In 1913, Pratella's new composition, "Inno all Vita" (Hymn of Life), had its Baptism of fire at the Costanzi theatre in Rome. The performance was met with such hostility that it sparked off riotous rampages.

A leap forward in the development of Musica Futurista occurred with the arrival of the painter and musician, Luigi Russolo.

Russolo's La Musica (1911)

Russolo introduced new sounds with the intent of brushing aside all before him from Beethoven to Wagner. Instead of using traditional instruments, with their pure sounds, Russolo applied sounds from the new, mechanized world the Futurists so revered: moving trams, the internal combustion engine, wild screaming, etc. Russolo, however did not reproduce the actual noises of the industrialized world, instead he invented a series of machines that could reproduce analogues of those sounds.

Large boxes (called Intonarumori) were constructed, each containing a device that produced a specific sound, by rotating a handle or pushing a plunger. A megaphone was attached to each box to project the sound. So was born the experimental, heavy industrial soundscape that has paved the way for a wide spectrum of musicians ever since from Stockhausen to NIN (Nine Inch Nails).

Russolo's intonarumori composition was performed at the theatre dal Verme in Milan in 1914. The performance was ruined by constant interruptions from the audience. The entire episode eventually erupted into a fist fight which was followed by legal action and court proceedings.

The intonarumori later found a better reception in London and Paris. Unfortunately, all were destroyed in World War II during the bombings on Paris.

Recently I discovered this utterly brilliant video by the Berlin-based avant-garde group Einsturzende Neubauten. The perfect epilogue to Russolo and his intonarumori.

"Futurismo, L'avantguarda delle avantguardie", Claudia Slaris - Giunti press.
Jana Haŝková: Thanks for the YouTube link to the Einsturzende Neubauten video.

Monday, 18 October 2010

i = imaginary

Mathematics began when humans needed a system to count objects. We could use our fingers to count 1,2,3,4,... apples, for example. Our numbering system is based on multiples of ten, most likely because we humans have ten fingers (including thumbs). We call these numbers the set of natural numbers. It was the ancient Egyptians who developed a set of distinct hieroglyphic symbols that could be used to represent natural numbers (up to one million).

This was great but we also needed to do things like divide two apples among three people. Thus fractions were invented and we could calculate how give each person ⅔ of an apple.

This set of numbers was satisfying to ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians. They argued that all measurable quantities could be expressed as a fraction. Pythagoras showed this was wrong when he proved that the length of the diagonal across a square with unit lengths was equal to the square root of 2.

The square root of 2 cannot be described as any fraction of integers. In fact, using fractions, we can only write down an approximation of √2 such as 1.4142, the actual value simply cannot be written. Hippasus of Metapontum, proved that this was true.

Unfortunately, the Pythagoreans could not accept that any measurable number should be so irrational and thus, according to one legend, they sentenced Hippasus to death by drowning.

Negative numbers began to appear at around 100 BC in China, and much later in the West (around 300 AD in Greece). Negative numbers were also fiercely resisted, although they eventually proved useful to numerically represent things such as quantities of debt.

Taken together, we call this the set of Real numbers. They are real in the sense that each of them can be physically plotted on a horizontal line (above) with zero in the middle, negative real numbers extending to the left and positive numbers to the right.

These numbers give us a powerful tool for performing many calculations, and can represent any measurable, or countable quantity. But there was more trouble on the horizon.

i = impossible

In the 1530's Italian mathematician, Girolamo Cardano, had figured out a formula for solving quadratic equations. In certain cases, however, his formula gave answers with components that were impossible to calculate because they included such values as the square root of -1.

It had long been established that two equal numbers, when multiplied together, always produce a positive number. Thus only positive numbers have a square root. How then could √-1 be considered a number if it is not real. Cardano simply reasoned that his formulas did not always work properly and rejected the cases where the answer included √-1.

i = imaginary

Cardano's contemporary, Rafael Bombelli of Bologna, realized that if you just ignored the fact that √-1 is impossible and represent it with a symbol (say i), then you could work your way through Cardano's rejected formulas, because each instance of i was matched by an instance of -i. By matching them up you can cancel them out (i.e. i - i = 0), and you are left with an answer that is both rational and correct.

Bombelli went on to develop the theory of complex numbers, the set of all numbers that could be represented by adding a Real number, and some Imaginary number (a multiple of √-1). These are now written using the formula a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i = √-1.

In the centuries following Bombelli, mathematicians gradually came to accept imaginary numbers (kicking and screaming in some cases, but at least not drowning anybody) as a serious and useful mathematical tool.

In the beginning of the 19th century, three mathematicians, Carl Friedrich Gauss, Jean-Robert Argand, and Caspar Wessel came up with a clever way to physically represent complex numbers, the Argand Diagram.

Since imaginary numbers do not belong on the horizontal line representing Real numbers, these three independently came up with the idea of plotting imaginary numbers on a vertical line that intersects the real number line at 0.

Now, instead of representing numbers on a one dimensional line, we had a new set of numbers that could be plotted on a 2-dimensional grid. This geometric representation of complex numbers proved to be both insightful and useful. Simply manipulating the geometry of numbers represented in this plane is the analogue of performing arithmetic operations on those numbers.

For example, if you want to multiply a number on this diagram by i, you simply rotate the number on the diagram by 90º.

Above is a geometric representation for the multiplication 
of two complex numbers (A x B) = X.

Einstein and the 4th Dimension

Among other things, complex numbers are useful in General and Special Relativity (I'm walking on thin ice here by the way). The 4-dimensional field equations used by Einstein to represent gravitational bodies in space-time can be represented and manipulated using complex number algebra where the 4th dimension, time, is represented by the imaginary component.

Moving right along from mathematics, to contemporary architecture: In the three dimensional world we live in, how might we represent the geometry of, say, a 4-dimensional cube?

One approach is to use the same idea of projection that we use to draw a 3-dimensional cube on a 2-dimensional sheet of paper. This beautiful animation (below) demonstrates a rotating 4-dimensional cube projected onto 3-dimensions.

The Danish architect, Johann Otto von Spreckelsen, understood this when he designed the wonderful La Grande Arche de la Défense building in Paris in 1985.

While considering these projections, their connection to complex number theory and Argand diagrams, I decided to design a 4-dimensional projection where the inner cube is rotated by 90º along the vertical axis. The resulting shape is shown below.

Taking this a step further, I added a square to the center of the inner cube and rotated that a further 90º. This modified cube is shown below.

That is interesting, but I want to develop some practical Cubist forms that I can use for such things as a supporting column. The blue shape shown below uses the same geometry as the cube above, but it makes a solid of that shape's hollow core, I then cut away the exterior edges...

That's a pretty cool shape whose geometry has meaning, historically, philosophically and mathematically. I think it has a lot of potential and so I plan to be using this in some future projects. As John of Salisbury wrote in 1159, "we are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants".

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Sofa #1

The concept behind the design for Sofa #1 is to project clean, minimalist lines while also to giving the impression and feeling of strength. The frame which carries the base is over-engineered to the point where it would support the weight of a medium-sized truck, yet it can easily be carried by two people.

I struggled for quite some time with the design for the back and arm rests. In the end, I realized that if it was minimalism I wanted, then I should go all the way. There are no arm rests. Instead, a stiff padded cushion sits at each end. These serve as arm rests but can also be moved or removed completely. The back is formed by three straight lines that are neither connected with the base nor each other. Instead they bolt directly to the wall aligned at the correct angle to provide a comfortable recline.

Sofa #1 fits into the overall theme for the furnishings of the apartment where it is installed. That is the theme of 'suspended objects' and the use of strong colors against a plain background.

Music to enjoy while seated...

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Octacontagon (reprise)

I spotted this ceiling lamp inside a men's barber shop in Lisbon's old city center last weekend. This is probably the image that was floating in my subconscious as I developed my Octacontagon-shaped ceiling light design (as shown in in an earlier post).

It is the 'Taraxacum '88' chandelier by Achille Castiglioni.

Taraxacum '88 is composed out of a single basic element, a polished aluminum equilateral triangle fitted with either 3, 6, or 10 electrical sockets. A number of these are hinged together to form an icosahedron, the Platonic form closest to a sphere. The sockets are filled with transparent 40 watt Globolux light bulbs, 60 for the smallest version, 200 for the largest version.

Castiglioni said of Taraxacum '88: "It is a bit of a blow to energy-saving but a big chandelier is meant for community areas, lobbies and and rooms that need a lot of light for special occasions and so it also needs to be decorative."

La Macchinetta (reprise)

A small footnote on the La Macchinetta post from a few weeks back. I recently dug up this interpretation of the coffee maker by designer Alessandro Mendini.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010


Between 1972 - 1984, the New Zealand New Wave band, Split Enz, formulated an artistic style encompassing all facets of their musical expression. Split Enz were perhaps unique in that they had their own art director in percussionist Noel Crombie.

Noel Crombie directed every artistic aspect of the band including: stage costumes, hair styles, sets and stage designs, posters, badges, promotional photos, tour programs, and album covers. He also directed most of their music videos.

Some of Noel Crombie's finest costumes are now part of the collection of the Victorian Museum of Performing Arts (source Wikipedia).

Split Enz were active and at their most creative during a period when Futurist themes and designs were experiencing a resurgence. It was a phenomenon, perhaps not recognized outside of artistic circles in their native New Zealand. However the band, and their stage and video performances, were well received locally and this eventually translated into international success.

Split Enz evolved across at least three musical genres and styles of performance. They started out as something like a glam-rock band, then developed musically and artistically into something unique, and experimental. Somehow, Split Enz's performances intrigued rather than alienated their fan base.

This artistic period defined the band and it is this period that interests me the most with respect to the way they pushed forwards an interpretation of Futurism/Modernism. Popular at the time, I suspect their success would not be possible now. Indeed, in the later years the Band's music and artistic style softened and turned decisively towards the mainstream. The band's guitarist and singer, Neil Finn went on to form the phenomenally successful pop band - Crowded House.

Whether deliberate or not, Noel Crombie's creations are clearly derivative of the resurgent Futurism movement that was underway during this period. This work by Alessandro Mendini - "Set da uomo, scarpe (1983)" (below) so closely resembles Noel Crombie's costume designs it is hard to guess who was influenced by whom...

Alessandro Mendini's: Set da Uomo, scarpe (1983)

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Bookcase #1

Unfortunately, where I am currently living, I don't have access to my tools or enough space to construct large installations. Over the next few weeks, therefore, I will be posting photos from some earlier installations starting with Bookcase #1.

Bookcase #1 is interesting in terms of its scale and minimalist structure. It is integrated into a wall cavity measuring 2.5m (high) by 3.2m (wide), that's about 2.5 x 3.2 yards.

Each section was constructed from solid beams 65mm (thick) by 330mm (deep). These beams were created by laminating rows of thin planks then planing back to the correct thickness. This process emphasizes the bookcase's "linear" appearance and sense of strength and solidity.

In truth, these beams are very strong. Much stronger than if made from a single solid piece. Laminating thinner strips like this also stabilizes each beam against warping.

Before assembly, the beams were sanded, polished, stained to the desired color, then polished again. This gives the wood a deep, natural look with a medium gloss that is far superior to using a plastic varnish. It is also a remarkably well-wearing finish that is easy to repair if scratched.

The main sections were bolted together prior to being inserted into its final home.

Even without shelves, the bookcase was heavy enough to require three people in order to be lifted into place. Next, the shelves were inserted creating the twelve main cavities of 720 by 540mm. Finally, a row of black lacquered doors were fitted across the base (as shown in the top photo). These swing upwards when opened to provide a row of covered spaces.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


The old town center of Bologna, with her narrow winding streets, city gates and overhanging porticos, at times feels tight and almost suffocating. Some locals say that the city pulls you in with its arms, like a mother gathering together her children. After 7:30, the shops close and draw down their graffiti-covered shutters. Walking the streets at this time you are, at the same time, enclosed by the city's streets but cut-off from its inner beauty. The real beauty of this city lies in its interiors and closed court yards. This is the beauty that is reserved for the privileged, or those who have well-positioned apartments (not me unfortunately).

On one such evening I peered into an open courtyard entrance and glimpsed this shape hanging (as a light fixture) from the Gothic lines of the ceiling.

As a large light fixture it didn't look out of place against the curved Gothic ceiling lines. Indeed the early cubists in Bohemia were heavily influenced by the geometric vaulted ceilings of the late Gothic period.

After staring at this Gothic entrance for a while, I decided to memorize the shapes and render them when I got home. After playing with the geometry it occurred to me to transform each of the protruding square pyramids into light bulbs (as shown below...)

It was in interesting exercise, but the results are not very original I'm afraid. I'm sure I have seen something similar at a design studio in Milan a few years back.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

La Macchinetta

Whether you knew it or not, the legacy of Italian Futurism can still be seen today in the shape of everyday objects.

After living in New York for a period, futurist Fortunato Depero, returned to Italy in 1930. In 1932, he designed the iconic Campari Soda bottle (below). Used in bars and cafe's the world over, you can also pick up a pack in any well-stocked supermarket (especially in Italy). Whether you enjoy the bitter alcoholic beverage or not, every fan of modern design should have a row of these sitting in their refrigerator.

Another beautiful example of Futurist design is Alfonso Bialetti's "Macchinetta" coffee-maker. I bought one of these last year from a local coffee shop and painted it to add emphasis to its angular futuristic form. It is now part of my collection of interesting objects.

Bialetti designed the Macchinetta ("little machine") in 1933, and its distinctive shape is instantly recognisable today as an icon of industrial design.