This month, Paul Goldberger (www.paulgoldberger.com), the architecture critic of the New Yorker, looks back at terrible architectural predictions—for instance, George Gilder’s claim in 1995 that the metropolis was doomed: “The city, he said, was nothing but a tired relic of the industrial age. If you didn’t have to be there in an age of electronic communication, why would you want to?” But Gilder, an author and conservative activist, doesn’t have a better track record when it comes to the present or the past, as it turns out. He has also said that men “are superior in the workplace” and that Native American culture “failed because it was a corrupt and unsuccessful culture.” Zero for three!
George Lois on Iconic
George Lois (www.georgelois.com), a hard-charging, real-life Don Draper (minus the boozing, the skirt-chasing, and the fog-of-war identity theft), made his name in the 1960s with a brilliant series of Esquire covers: Warhol drowning in tomato soup, Muhammad Ali as Saint Sebastian. As you’d expect, the self-described (and universally acknowledged) “advertising legend” has strong opinions on other design icons. Take, for instance, the Manhattan headquarters of InterActive Corp, the subject of a feature package in Metropolis’s July 2007 issue (“Diller, Gehry, and the Glass Schooner on 18th Street,” by John Hockenberry, p. 122, is the main story). In an interview later that year in these pages (“Text Message,” December 2007, p. 156), Lois tore the architecture apart: “That terrible building—I can’t even remember his name I hate him so much. The building on the West Side, the Gehry building. Jesus Christ! This melting piece of shit!” (What did you expect from a man whose favorite tool is a razor blade?) One icon Lois does like is Mies’s Brno chair. “I purchased it in 1953 a few weeks after I got home from Korea when I was hired by Bill Golden, the great corporate art director at CBS Television, to be a designer at his remarkable atelier,” Lois writes to Metropolis. “I didn’t have bubkes, but I was able to borrow money from the bank to buy this classic chair, and I have sat on it while I work since then.”
David Carson on Localism
For most people, the word localism conjures rooftop gardens or the food mileage of a turnip. For David Carson (www.davidcarsondesign.com), the famed art director of Ray Gun and a “long, very longtime surfer,” it means something different. That led to a bit of confusion between him and our art department, which had assigned him a visual page based on the term. Surfers, you see, are a territorial bunch. “In surfing, ‘localism’ often ends in fights, broken windshields, etc.,” Carson later explained, “so I thought you had given it to me because I surf! ‘Locals Only’ is the sign one sees.” The phenomenon, he says, “involves overprotection of one’s perceived turf.” (Having worn out our copy of Point Break, we think we know something about surfers and turf.) But the miscommunication had a happy result. Carson coined the term locoism to criticize the crazy idea that a patch of beach belongs to anyone in particular, and it turns out to be a pretty universal concept.
Prefab: The Dream That Refused to Die
Christopher Hawthorne is hardly the first Metropolis contributor to question the wisdom of factory-built architecture. In June 2006 (“Bringing Back the Box,” p. 110), Lyle Rexer argued that prefab wasn’t as green as it claimed to be: “The more serious problem with high-design prefab housing is that it is a repack-aging of the American Dream—and that dream may not be environmentally affordable. Although it has a futurist appeal, prefab embodies a bourgeois aspiration no different from 1950s suburbia, of a discreet dwelling for everyone.” So perhaps it’s good news that when the green-prefab firm Michelle Kaufmann Designs closed up shop in 2009, Kaufmann told Hawthorne that she was thinking bigger. “I want to focus on communities,” she said (latimesblogs.latimes.com/culturemonster/2009/05/green-prefab-firm-michelle-kaufmann-designs-is-closing.html).
Social Design: Easier Said Than Done
Is socially minded design just another form of Western colonialism? That was the uncomfortable question raised by Bruce Nussbaum on Fast Company’s design blog (www.fastcodesign.com) last summer. “Are designers helping the ‘Little Brown Brothers?’ ” he asked. “Are designers the new anthropologists or missionaries, come to poke into village life, ‘understand’ it and make it better—their ‘modern’ way?” It’s a harsh lesson to anyone who blithely claims that design can change the world: good intentions aren’t enough. For the conversation the story generated between humanitarian designers and their critics, see www.fastcompany.com/magazine/149/humanitarian-design-or-neocolonialism.html.
Much has changed in the magazine since the late 1990s, but there’s been one constant: Ben Katchor’s brilliant cartoon on the back page. Some readers have wondered: how the heck did this amazing strip end up in a design magazine? Katchor (www.katchor.com) explains: “I had drawn a cover and one interior illustration for the magazine, and at some point the art director, Carl Lehmann-Haupt, asked me if I’d be interested in doing a strip.” Katchor says that he “postponed making a decision for about a year” before finally committing. “From the start, it was great to have the large-sized page with full-color printing—and even better, I was allowed to choose the subject of the strip and, in effect, edit my own page. Having worked at a variety of magazines and newspapers and having dealt with the whims of editors, I knew that it was an incredibly rare situation. In other magazines, my work was perceived as being dense and esoteric, but in the context of Metropolis, it was an accessible and, hopefully, entertaining coda to 100+ pages of serious journalism.” This issue’s special two-page strip marks his 13th year with the magazine. To celebrate, why not pick up his new book, The Cardboard Valise (Pantheon; $25.95)?