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Design Observer

WEEKLY EMAIL: AUGUST 03, 2012


De-weaponization by Design

FEATURED THIS WEEK : ROB WALKER

De-weaponization by Design

Brass knuckles, on a functional level, are weapons kitsch. Yet the form remains menacing, and thus potent material for design-riffing. Here are a few of the examples I've collected, and what they say about subverting, and perverting, an object devised for violence.
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OBSERVATORY : ROB WALKER

Secret Lives Of Things

The "alien" isn't located in far-flung galaxies: It surrounds us. That's at the heart of Ian Bogost's book about "what it's like to be a thing." While his enterprise is speculative by necessity, it's rooted in very real-world concerns. Here, I ask him a few questions about why understanding alien stuff really matters.
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PLACES : AARON ROTHMAN, MARISA BAUMGARTNER, GUILLERMO GUDIñO & DAN HOLDSWORTH

Landscape Photography: New Visions

Throughout the month of August, Places is featuring a five-part series on currents in landscape photography. Photo editor Aaron Rothman has assembled 18 contemporary artists who are enlarging the field, moving beyond the lines drawn between photographers who portray the unspoiled beauty of nature and those who have documented its transformation by humans. This opening installment presents three photographers — Dan Holdsworth, Guillermo Gudiño and Marisa Baumgartner — who interrogate the very idea of landscape itself.
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OBSERVATORY : ALEXANDRA LANGE

The Critical Olympics

If gymnastics has become a grim tour of injuries, tell us. If it is all about the points, explain the system. If a gymnast from another country is better, show her to us and describe her skill. It is hard to separate the buzzkill that gymnstics seems to have become from NBC's empty and airy coverage, but I'm willing to try. I just need someone to show me the critical path.
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OBSERVATORY : JESSICA HELFAND

Ezra Winter Project: Chapter Seven

As the gulf widens between the aspirational and the real — between the projected self and the authentic self — Ezra Winter immerses himself in all that is beautiful and lyrical and dream-like, including and especially the women with whom he surrounds himself.
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OBSERVATORY : RICK POYNOR

Pierre Faucheux and Le Livre de Poche

The Atelier Pierre Faucheux’s output of book covers for the French paperback publisher Livre de poche was prodigious. Yet, for a figure of his stature, Faucheux has received surprisingly little attention and the cover designs of the 1960s and 1970s have tended to be overlooked. The most impressive are fine examples of the interpretative skill, graphic invention, and compressed imaginative intensity that a good cover requires.
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OBSERVATORY : JOHN FOSTER

Accidental Mysteries, 07.29.12

In 2008, I was lucky to have spotted several drawings on eBay by an anonymous man who was only described as “having been a patient at the State Lunatic Asylum in Nevada, Missouri around 1905.” Intrigued, I called the owner who eventually agreed to sell me the entire notebook of over 200 drawings. At the time, the only identity the anonymous patient had was a name he wrote on one page, “Ectlectric Pencil.”
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OBSERVATORY : ALEXANDRA LANGE

Hiking the Museum

Ennead Architects’ new Natural History Museum of Utah works to make natural history seem like the ongoing process of discovery that it is, layering geology and topography, paleontology and interactivity. The building and its exhibits operate within a real landscape that continues to offer up museum-worthy specimens. Connections to that landscape are explicit and suggestive: the path through the museum’s exhibits is much like a trail itself, ascending 60 feet via ramps, switchbacks and vertiginous bridges across a main hall is shaped like one of Utah’s distinctive slot canyons.
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OBSERVATORY : MARK LAMSTER

The Barnes Foundation and Corporate Space

Back in 1923, while his gallery in suburban Merion was still a work in progress, Albert Barnes wrote to his architect, Paul Cret, suggesting that he booby trap the place against the "eunuchs, morons, boobs, professional exploiters, general counterfeits" and various other Philadelphia "prominentists" who had rejected him and his art collection. Cret didn't put in Barnes's secret trap to an underground dungeon, but it wasn't necessary.
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PLACES : ENRIQUE RAMIREZ

Journey's End: Wim Wenders in Texas

In "I Watch Slacker to Read Austin in the Original," Enrique Ramirez described how Richard Linklater's indie classic captured the city of Austin at a pivotal moment in its cultural history. Here, in the second of an occasional series on Texas and cinema, he focuses on Wim Wenders and the making of Paris, Texas, and the ways in which the 1984 film catches the elusive essence — the mirage-like quality — of Houston.
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PLACES : WILLIAM L. FOX

On the Road Home

What is the meaning of home? Here William Fox reviews The Prehistory of Home, by anthropologist Jerry Moore, which searches for answers “from Turkey’s Anatolia to Lancaster, California, from Aaron Spelling’s mansion in Beverly Hills to the Kalahari windbreaks erected by the !Kung San.” And which, as Fox notes, is artful in connecting past and present — for instance, in linking the early transition from nomadism to settlement with the contemporary American phenomenon of big houses, overfilled with stuff.
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OBSERVATORY : JOHN THACKARA

The Other Green Economy

Brazil's large-scale green energy initiatives aim to support the growing need for more power in Brazil, but at a large environmental cost. There is an alternative. Regional economies that support communities, respect existing ecosystems, and are nourished by local knowledge, do exist. In the north of Brazil, a rurual development group has created a project to build one million cisterns by 2020, and they are well on their way.
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OBSERVATORY : JOHN FOSTER

Accidental Mysteries, 07.22.12

This past week I had the great fortune to spend some time at The Gregg Museum of Art and Design at NC State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. There I was able to peruse a magical exhibition entitled Barkcloth, Bras, and Bulletproof Cotton: The Powers of Costume. The diversity of the show was intoxicating. One minute I was mesmerized by a Thai gangster vest, covered with mystical, tattoo-like drawings, and the next I was viewing a 1960s hot pants ensemble.
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OBSERVATORY : MARK LAMSTER

The Once & Future Library

The future is now, the saying goes, and for those of us who live and work in the world of letters, that maxim rings especially true. Tablets and e-readers and the overwheming availability of digitized content are transforming the way we consume information, the kinds of information we consume, and—not least of all—the places in which we do that consumption.
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OBSERVATORY : CLAUDIA RANKINE AND JOHN LUCAS

"Situation 5"

Although it looks for the most part like an ordinary roadside, the landscape in "Situation 5" is filled with the history of racial oppression. "We are all caught hanging," says the voiceover: "the rope inside us, the tree inside us." If Jim Crow is inside the landscape and the landscape is inside the speaker, so is the prohibition from it — prison. "Prison is no place," and when "we open our mouth to speak — blossoms, o blossoms," there is "no place coming out."
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PLACES : ANISHA GADE

Olympic Urbanism: The Athletes' Village

When the Olympic Games open next week in London, showpiece venues like Zaha Hadid’s Aquatics Centre and Populous’s Olympic Stadium will be the center of the world’s attention. But when the lights are turned off and the spectators have gone home, the greatest impact on London urbanism will be from the 2,800 new apartments converted from athlete housing. In this slideshow, we look back at the history of Olympic Villages, from derelict ruins in Berlin to suburban townhomes in Sydney to a large public housing development in Athens.
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OBSERVATORY : JOHN THACKARA

Why Bill Gates Needs To Listen To More Gamelan Music

Balinese farmers have been growing rice in terraces since at least the eleventh century. Because the island’s volcanic rock is rich in mineral nutrients, water running off mountains fills the rice paddies to create a kind of aquarium. This has enabled farmers to grow two crops of rice a year year for centuries. But in order for this all to come together there is a unique form of cooperative agriculture that enables farming to flourish despite water scarcity and the constant threat of disease and pests.
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PLACES : STEVEN BOYD SAUM

Accidents Will Happen: Lessons on Honey, Smoked Pig Fat, Atomic Disaster and the Half-Life of Truth

Steven Boyd Saum, a teacher in the U.S. Peace Corps, is hiking in the forest outside Lutsk, Ukraine, when he hears about an accident at a nearby nuclear power plant. Has he been exposed to dangerous levels of radiation? Should the area be evacuated? The mayor holds a press conference to announce that it's all a rumor. But this is Wonderland — ten years after the Chernobyl explosion — and nothing is quite as it seems. “How could you, poor innocent American,” asks Saum's dinner companion, “know what is real and what is not?”
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OBSERVATORY : JOHN FOSTER

Accidental Mysteries: 07.15.12

Bill Traylor was born a slave in 1854. He lived on George Hartwell Traylor's plantation in Benton, Alabama long after he was freed, eventually migrating to Montgomery in the mid-1930s. It was there that Traylor began to draw, always from memory — the animals, people and events he recalled in his life. With a sure hand and a minimalistic style, Traylor developed a self-taught visual vocabulary that has been applauded, written about and collected by major museums.
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PLACES : KAREN PIPER

Revolution of the Thirsty

When Tahrir Square erupted in the winter of 2011, the news media proclaimed a “social media revolution” sparked by pro-democracy Egyptians. But in Cairo and throughout the country, citizens were agitating not just for political freedom but also for the right to such vital resources as water. As Karen Piper argues, "The January 25 Revolution was not just a revolution of the disenfranchised; it was also a revolution of the thirsty.”
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CHANGE OBSERVER: PROJECT ARCHIVE

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DesigNYC, Round 2

Report on second round of pro bono design initiatives fostered by DesigNYC.
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PLACES ARCHIVE: WINTER 2001

The High Line

High Line photographs from Joel Sternfeld.
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