[ Droog ] a statement on design

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Based in Amsterdam, Droog is an enterprise that focuses on the design of home accessories, lighting, and furniture pieces. Their mission is to design innovative products based on concepts that alter the human perspective of common household item. Each piece is said to tell a story about themes such as: memories, nostalgia, re-use, craftsmanship, and nature. In addition to their product development team, Droog collaborates with designers, artists, and architects in all areas of design. Their goal is “to substantially contribute to the international debate about design.”

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The first Droog product I encountered was the Rag chair by Tejo Remy. The chair is made up of layered rags recycled from discarded clothes provided by the designer or user. It combines comfort and structure in the most minimalistic and practical way possible. Because the rags are exposed, each piece is unique and representative of a treasure-chest of memories. It makes for a nice lounge chair for gathering visitors or a solitary reader, but because of its weight mobility may pose a problem for rearranging or migrating. The design also communicates to the user the quantity of material consumption and the volume of waste it may produce. Thus, besides being a functional piece of furniture, the chair provides awareness to its users and observers.

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Weight: 56.00 kg (123.2 lbs)
Material: Rags, metal strips
Size: 60 x 60 x 100 cm
Year: 1991

Another project similar to the Rag chair is this One day paper waste side table. As a reaction to document waste, designer Jens Praet took shredded confidential documents, mixed them with resin and compressed them into a strong MDF mould. This way the office waste can be brought back into the office as a useful piece of furniture.

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Material: resin, shredded confidential office documents
Size: 80 x 40 x 75 cm
Year: 2008


While these products are a reaction of re-use to the habits of everyday consumption, other Droog designs seem to manipulate the human perception of basic home furniture and its fabrication process. Here are some of my favorites:

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Touch wood – treasure chest by Minale-Maeda
Material: silk brocade, multiplex, beech wood
Size: 160 x 50 x 55 cm
Year: 2007


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Push and store cabinet by Chung-Tang Ho / Tong
Material: wood, paint
Size: 101 x 47 x 86.5 cm
Year: 2006


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Do hit chair by Marijn van der Poll
Material: 1.25 mm stainless steel, hammer included
Size: 100 x 70 x 75 cm
Year: 2000


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Table tap by Arnout Visser
Weight: 1.10 kg
Material: Borosilicate, silicone
Size: 17 x 47 cm
Year: 2000


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Slow glow lamp by NEXT architects & Aura Luz Melis
Weight: 2.70 kg
Material: glass, vegetable fat, cork, 25W G9 bulb
Size: 16 x 31 cm
Year: 2004
All Images: droog

Hella Jongerius | artificial flowers

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Images: Jongeriuslab

What:

As part of her new exhibit at Galerie Kreo in Paris, Hella Jongerius will display a collection of handmade artificial flowers and animal tables. Titled natura design magistra, the exhibit is an exploration of fabrication techniques (handicraft and industrial) through the making of nature-emulating sculptures. According to Louise Schouwenberg of Galerie Kreo, “She has taken yet another experimental step within her career: the celebration of the sculptural quality of furniture and the ‘missing link’ of her vases, flowers. A flower has become design, a table has become frog, because they were intimately engaged with the material traces of the handcrafted production process.”

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Images: Galerie Kreo

Specifics:

The flowers are made of metal, wood, plastic, leather, ceramic, glass, blow glass, and tape, and are displayed in vases made of mixed materials like ceramic, resin, wood, fabric and blown glass.

The tables are constructed out of walnut wood, transparent enamel, resins, and polished gunny (a type of coarse fabric often used to make sacks).

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Images: Dezeen

Considerations:

The most impressive part of this exhibit is how she is able to imitate such delicate and organic forms in the series of artificial flowers by using materials and tools of industrial assembly. In creating each piece, she subtly meshes natural elements with the all-to-familiar industrial production process. While I appreciate the experimentation and craftsmanship of this collection, it is upsetting that this is a limited series since they would add a nice touch to any home.

Images:

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Images: Dezeen

The exhibit will continue to May 30, 2009.

WiiSpray : Digital Graffiti

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What:

An interface that serves as a digitized replacement of graffiti art, and operates as an add-on for the Nintendo Wii system.

This project originated from students Martin Lihs and Frank Matuse who developed Prototype One at the Bauhaus University Media Department. As part of his Master Thesis, Martin Lihs established a new prototype known currently as the WiiSpray 2nd edition. It features a user-friendly design facilitated by the “Nintendo Wii” technology that allows anyone, even children, the ability to experience this typically messy art form on an unrestrictive, virtual canvas. The Wii Spray Can has a variety of colors with interchangeable caps, and works by snapping the Wii Remote into the can. Advantages that formed the basis for this project are its ability to surpass the restrictions of space and time, and its ability to allow the exchange of thoughts and ideas with multiple users and possible observers.

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Images: WiiSpray


Specifics:

– Buttonless design, easy use for left-and-right-handed persons. Wii Spray uses an input interface similar to the Montana donut system.

– Pressure sensitive valve, up to 128 Values.

– Up to 128 different caps – inexpensive technology (less than 40 cent) and build to resist!

– Interactive color display with the possibility to show the color level in six steps!

– USB port for charging the battery and load the latest firmware.

– the Wii Spray 2nd  edition controller is able to sense its distance to the wall you are spraying on.

Considerations:

In reproducing all the abilities of a real-life spray can in a digital interface, the project is simultaneously promoting graffiti art. While graffiti may be seen as a trendy element of pop culture, it is has also been considered an act of vandalism punishable by law. With the probability of having a wide-range of public appeal, the WiiSpray will likely encourage modern graffiti outside of its virtual boundaries – a type of commercialization frowned upon by many authorities. On the other hand, the WiiSpray could also promote an alternative to graffiti and work towards the legitimization of such street art.

Live Demo:

The Masdar Initiative

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Images: Masdar


Rich in oil and natural gas, the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.) has developed into a prosperous federation gaining most of its wealth from foreign oil investments. With one of the greatest per capita ecological footprint, larger than that of the United States, the U.A.E. is also one of the most unsustainable places in the world. In addition to the petrodollars they are making, they are investing in a $22 billion government project known as the Masdar Initiative, which is helping to build the foundation for the Masdar City. This city is currently under construction in the capital of the U.A.E., Abu Dhabi. Its goal is to create “the world’s first carbon-neutral, zero-waste city,” as advertised by their site and sponsors. Abu Dhabi will then be transformed into a world-class research and development hub for new energy technologies. But along with this visionary idea comes its skeptics. Among issues such as ‘greenwashing’ and unclear motives, most of the uncertainty comes from the fact that the U.A.E. is making money off the very industry that has become the environment’s biggest enemy.

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By definition, sustainability is the ability to conserve an ecological balance by avoiding depletion of natural resources. Then, isn’t it surprising that the U.A.E. is continuing to deplete its land of oil and natural gas, while simultaneously helping to further human expertise on sustainability? With these contradicting ideals it is not unexpected that the public will judge. While some believe the project is a step to genuine sustainable research and development, others find the U.A.E.’s plan doubtful, especially if it conflicts with their current unsustainable path.

The term ‘greenwashing’ is nothing new in the corporate realm. It describes a business practice where companies market themselves, in exaggeration, as environmentally friendly and responsible, but in reality put in little or no genuine effort to pursue such endeavors. For instance, a common example is food products that promote an environmentally friendly image while no attempts are made to reducing their environmental impact of production. In the case of Masdar, it is difficult to determine whether they are truly dedicated to the research and development of sustainable science and technology, or are they trying to build an image to offset their existing unsustainable path. Gil Friend, CEO of Natural Logic, a sustainability consulting company based in Berkeley, CA, shares, “I’m not able to ascribe motives to people I don’t know (or even people I do); the only worthy test is results. If Masdar stands alone as an isolated green jewel while the rest of the U.A.E. proceeds along its current bigfoot path, you could call it greenwashing. If it instead serves as an active laboratory that inspires the U.A.E. and other regions the follow the paths it blazes, then it could make a real contribution. (The reality may well be a mix, and the judgment in the eyes of the beholder. But wouldn’t we prefer that they use their massive wealth in the support of initiatives like this over business as usual?” from TreeHugger.

Another factor to consider is the influence of branding. In the same article, “Ecocities of Tomorrow: Can Foster + Partners’ Masdar City in U.A.E. be Truly Sustainable?”, Professor Peter Droege, Chair of the World Council for Renewable Energy and Asia Pacific and Senior Advisor to the Beijing Municipal Institute for City Planning and Design, expresses his doubt in Masdar’s ability to fulfill the goals of energy and water consumption, and states, “We must remember, though, that Foster and Partners have long been a world leader in post-fossil architectural innovation attempts.” Foster + Partners may be the most publicized collaborator in the project, but others like GE and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have become partners in this project as well. While I can understand how the identity or name of an institution may be a way for the public consumers to compare status and quality among other existing establishments, but it is still important to consider the possible outcomes and the extent of human abilities. With a project at such a large scale and such utopian vision, perfection seems like the only goal; an unrealistic one given that humans are prone to mistakes. This may explain why they have decided to build the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology as part of the first phase in the master plan. That way, if anything goes wrong, a solution can be worked on. Is this an insurance plan for any future difficulties, or is it a precautionary measure to ensure the best methods are practiced.


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Images: Masdar

When imagining the kind of city Masdar will be, we can refer to the many renderings and videos that have come out into the press. In brief, “Masdar would appear to be an extremely commercialized city populated by imported foreigners and totally disconnected from its local surroundings (TreeHugger).” Therefore, it is not surprising that this city has been associated with a utopian vision. The master plan boasts of solutions for transportation, energy use, and water and waste management. As part of their description, the city can be largely seen as neighborhoods where the environment is highly controlled, monitored, and adjusted as needed. Massive solar energy could eventually lead to artificially contained environments for the inhabitants, agricultural food sources, and more. However, is this desirable? Author, theorist, philosopher, Richard Register says no. In the article he states, “But the kind of synthetic life there would seem unbearable to anyone who love natural animals or plants. Very weird.” He raises a good point. It doesn’t appear like the best suggestion to virtually isolate a human population from natural resources all together and create a miniature self-sustaining environment. It’s just not how nature works.

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Image: Masdar

In addition, its ability to mesh and grow with existing cities may become a future obstacle. Dr. Sahar Attia, Professor of Planning and Urban Design at Cairo University, claims, “If Masdar is completely isolated, then wit will face severe growth problems. It will remain a physically utopian model, but not a real city (TreeHugger).”

Another critic who finds the Masdar City a bit unrealistic is Christopher Choa, architect and principal with EDAW. In the same article he argues two main weaknesses in the city’s scheme. That is, its expense personal rapid transit program and lack of flexibility in the city’s development. He claims that the city seems to rely a great deal on the transit system development and a highly engineered infrastructure network. Without one or the other, the city will fail as a scheme. The infrastructure will make “it very difficult to collaborate with sub-developers and deliver the scheme in a way that responds flexibly to phasing, market demand, and developer capabilities.”

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Image: Masdar

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Images: TreeHugger

With so many issues at hand, it is hard to predict what will happen with the Masdar Initiative and its city. But since construction has begun, we can take a look at the beginnings. In Ivan Watson’s “Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Worker,” he describes the city as a place for the wealthy foreigners at the cost of poorly paid workers. “They say the city’s economic miracle would not be possible without armies of poorly paid construction workers from the Indian subcontinent, most of whom are forced to give up their passports upon arrival in the U.A.E. Some workers say they haven’t been home in years and that their salary has been withheld to pay back loans.” While this does not create much of a concern for the U.A.E. since the project is still underway, it does bring up the question of who is the U.A.E. really trying to help? This disparity between the rich and the poor is not a new concept in societal systems, but it would help their good cause if they could somehow incorporate a humanitarian clause to their vision. Instead of a “triple bottom line” where the provisions are good for business (money), people (the social good), and the planet, they could reinforce it with a fourth line of helping those in their country that need help the most.

In the end, we still have a combination of issues that are hard to judge without results. Although they may have a convincing vision for the future of Abu Dhabi, its success and virtue are equally questionable.  However, maybe it is better for such a powerful group, with sufficient funds, to work towards a progressive, green initiative, instead of neglecting the need for them altogether.


Informational Links:
Masdar
Lara Setrakian
Dubai Economic Boom Comes at a Price for Worker by Ivan Watson
The World’s First Zero-Emissions City…In the Middle East? Posted by Rebecca Sato
The Economist – Masdar plan
A Zero-Emissions City in the Desert
Oil-rich Abu Dhabi is building a green metropolis. Should the rest of the world care?
By Kevin Bullis
Ecocities of Tomorrow: Can Foster + Partners’ Masdar City in U.A.E be Truly Sustainable?

The Pedestrian Project by Yvette Helin

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School Zone traffic sign / Photo: photo2c

The Pedestrian Project ” is an ongoing performance piece in which performers wear entirely black costumes modeled after the “School Zone” traffic sign people symbols. The pedestrian characters are silent and faceless, communicating through choreographed and improvisational works including interactions with existing public sculptures, architecture, people and situations as well as everyday activities, such as shopping, riding the trains, going to work and other mundane pursuits. The pedestrian character is of a certain personality, mostly lacking one. The roteness of its personality adds to the mystery of the pedestrian and creates “an expression of the anonymity we experience as individuals in a large systematic society.”

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Church Street and Vesey, New York, June 26, 1996 / Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer

Helin’s public display of these ‘blank’ characters proposes the question of identity. Each individual carries out their interactions in the most robotic sense, making us question the monotony and predictability of the way we behave. However, I can’t help but relate this project to mime artists. Both are public performances that involve the acting out of a story through body motions without the use of speech. It is a very interesting contrast, however, since each entity is virtually a dumb-downed version of a human; a doll that does what it’s supposed to, not what it wants to.

This project began in 1989 in the Court District of Manhattan, but was temporarily deferred after 9/11 since Helin felt that dressing in black disguise somehow seemed inappropriate after the attack. The art piece resumed in October 2008 after an invitation to the Art In Odd Places event called “Pedestrian.”

Pedestrian Project © Yvette Helin

Coney Island Boardwalk, NYC, June 1995 / Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer

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Photo: The Gunk Foundation

Pedestrian Project / Yvette Helin

Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, New York, August 2008 / Photo: Gabe Kirchheimer

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Photo: Toxel.com

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Photos: Trend.Land

Peter Freund: Nightwriter

As part of Core77’s Cologne Design Festival 2009, Peter Freund presented his Nightwriter wall fixture at the Rhein Triadem during the Cologne Passagen. In contrast to his Daywriter that appears to be a mere reinvention of the classic chalkboard, the Nightwriter is like a florescent glow-in-the-dark variation that produces a glowing word or image when the surface is scratched.

The ideal furniture for night owls of any kind, allowing for creativity while burning the midnight oil by writing with light. Happily the wilder flights of late night fantasies are erased by the following morning.

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Photos: Freundliche Erfindungen von Peter Freund

A video of the Nightwriter in action can be found at Core77.

Matt Carr: can’t get enough HEARTS

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Photo: MoCo Loco

As a Director of Design for Umbra, an international home product design company, Matt Carr teamed up with fashion artist Joyce Lo for an installation in the Come Up To My Room 2009 exhibit at the Gladstone Hotel in Toronto between Februrary 5th-8th. Come Up To My Room is an alternative design show focusing on the diverse practices that work outside the norms of traditional design: multidisciplinary, independent, emerging and self-taught, all within the backdrop of our historic 120 year old hotel. It was founded by Pamila Matharu and Christina Zeidler and is currently being curated by Katherine Morley, Caroline Saheed, Jeremy Vandermeij and Deborah Wang.

Their feature in room 205 involves the manipulation of tube lights bent to spell out the words “can’t get enough” when observed through the hanging lenses. What the viewer sees is the shape of heart around each individual light bulb (or city light if one looks out the window). A very unique installation. I would be interested about how the lenses was constructed.

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Matt Carr

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Hearts through a lens.

Photos: MoCo Loco


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