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.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Ceiling Light #1

My most recent design (ceiling light #1) is inspired by interior designers of the Czech Cubist period. The light fixture (below), by Czech architect Josef Gočár (1913), illustrates the basic form I wanted to use.

The glass shades in ceiling light #1 (below) utilize an inverted crystalline form geometrically distorted into a shape that cannot be found in nature.

The geometry has been deconstructed, such that, when viewed from any angle, the observer can always see more than one spatial face. For example, when viewed from below, all vertical sides are visible, when viewed from the front or back, the left and right sides are partially visible.

The shade mount (below) is the main structural unit. It is an angular form, made from brass, which simultaneously supports the glass lamp and projects it upward.

Detail of a single lamp from Ceiling Light #1

A rendering of the entire assembled light fixture is shown below. Three lamps are arranged together in a triangular pattern then hung from the ceiling by a triple stem. Each shade is 300mm long (about 1 foot), and 150mm wide (about 6 inches) at the top.

The rendering below shows how the light fixture would look when viewed from directly underneath. A triple hexagon is arranged into a triangular pattern. This shape was inspired by the concrete blocks commonly used to pave the sidewalks in parts of the Vinohrady district of Prague.

Below: It is amazing what you can see sometimes in something that you walk over every day...

Thursday, 9 September 2010

"JvH design" Logo

Many typefaces and typographic styles were developed during the Cubist movements of the early 20th century. In Bohemia, from about 1910, influential artists were producing posters and periodicals using and promoting Cubist shapes and forms.

Vojtĕk Preissig's Typeface (1914)

In Italy, the Futurists were overthrowing the establishment and defining a bold new world. Artists such as Fortunato Depero were designing posters, and literary covers and needed a new way to express the written word.

The influential book, Zang Tumb Tumb, fused content, typographic style and layout into a single poetic work of Cubist-Futurist expression.

For the "JvH design" logo I was influenced by some of the Czech Cubists' exploration of geometric forms and their contempt for the right-angle as shown in Pavel Janák's Furniture Fittings (1912) shown below...