Tom Vanderbilt writers about architecture, design, technology, science and other topics for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, Wired, The Financial Times, Smithsonian, Slate and Metropolis..


Tom Vanderbilt writers about architecture, design, technology, science and other topics for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, Wired, The Financial Times, Smithsonian, Slate, and Metropolis. He most recent book is Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us). He tweets at @tomvanderbilt.

Tom Vanderbilt
Interface Time

Review of "Talk to Me" at Museum of Modern Art

Tom Vanderbilt
Significant Objects: Marines (Upside-Down) Logo Mug

Significant Objects is a much-discussed experiment conducted by Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker. The second of five stories is by Tom Vanderbilt...

Tom Vanderbilt
Fanfare for the Common Commuter

I’ve become a regular morning commuter on the city’s splendid Metro — the first in the world to employ only rubber tires on its cars. It didn’t take long for me to notice, as the trains departed, a curious trilogy of tones that echoed, along with the hum of the engine, through the concrete-chambered station. The notes, I realized with a start, were the beginning of Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man.

Tom Vanderbilt
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do

Tom Vanderbilt
Blast-Door Art: Cave Paintings of Nuclear Era

Welcome to the mordant, jingoistic and occasionally crude world — but rarely before seen world — of “blast-door art�? — the cave paintings of the nuclear era.

Tom Vanderbilt
Discipline and Design

On a sweeping and fully realized scale, Richard Ross's photographs probes the disciplinary dynamics in the cruel hidden places you would expect them, and in the banal everyday places you might not have even noticed them.

Tom Vanderbilt
On the Squareness of Milk Containers

Do you know, or have you ever wanted to know, why milk containers are square and soft drink containers are round? This and other questions of design are answered in Robert Frank's new book The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas.

Tom Vanderbilt
Small Worlds

One of the first things I like to do upon visiting a new city is to visit the scale-model version of itself. From Havana to Copenhagen, I've hunted down these miniature metropolises in dusty historical museums and under-visited exhibition halls. Surely one reason for their ineluctable allure is that simple Olympian sense of being able to consume as large as entity as Beijing or New York in a single eyeful.

Tom Vanderbilt
Wacky Packages of the Global Economy

Why had this one-time Wacky Package, decades after the fact, landed in North Africa (I would later learn you can buy Crust in Libya as well) as a knockoff? Who was behind this strange bit of design deception? Welcome to the funhouse-mirror-lined vortices of the global economy: The Knockoff Zone.

Tom Vanderbilt
The Darwinian iPod

But for the sake of a late summer day's argument, I wonder what the Intelligent Design "controversy" would look like in the world of design.

Tom Vanderbilt
Material Issue

Tom Vanderbilt
Leisurama: Design Within Reach

"Leisurama" was the name of a model second-home community, in Long Island's Montauk region, designed by members of the Raymond Loewy Corporation. The model house was sold by Macy's, which exhibited it in the basement of its flagship New York City store. Buyers of the house, which ran around $12,000, got not only a house, but all the trappings — right down to the toothbrushes.

Tom Vanderbilt
A Pictograph Is Worth a Thousand Words?

As I wandered the streets of Seoul, noting any number of (male) symbols, it got me to thinking about the staggering ubiquity of — and inevitable limits of — pictographic communication, and what it suggests about globalization (and its discontents).

Tom Vanderbilt
Rise and Fall of Rock and Roll Graphic Design

Has heavy metal graphic design run its course? Is the band logo as a species dead? And is there much of a future for the graphic representation of popular music itself?

Tom Vanderbilt
A Review of a Show You Cannot See

A review of the planned, but closed, "Terminal Five" art show at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport, featuring art installations houses in the former iconic terminal designed by Eero Saarinen.

Tom Vanderbilt
Pleasures and Pathos of Industrial Ruins

An account of a visit to the abandoned site of Bethlehem Steel, Pennsylvania.

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