“It makes me feel guilty that anyone should have such a good time doing what they are supposed to do.” –Charles Eames
While Charles and Ray Eames took their craft seriously, they approached it through playful experimentation. “Toys are not really as innocent as they look. Toys and games are the preludes to serious ideas.” And it was that approach that resulted in a portfolio of toys and furnishings that blurred lines. Construction toys that encouraged architectural creativity in young minds, and colorful adult furnishings that were whimsical yet purposeful. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of the Eames credo is the application of their experimental, cutting-edge technology of molded plywood for the creation of a child’s chair in the shape of an elephant. While the production of the Elephant Chair was too complex to create a viable commercial product, it ultimately became one of the most charming and “unforgettable” contributions to the American MCM tapestry.
“Jung did not want to give any artistic responsibility to the loom.” –Päivi Fernström
Dora Jung (b.1906) was a nationally-recognized Finnish weaver and textile artist. As a child, her father gave her a loom to keep her occupied during frequent illnesses. This early introduction was the catalyst for her lifelong passion of weaving and textile artistry. In 1932, Jung graduated from the School of Arts and Crafts in Helsinki and immediately established Dora Jung Textil, which she operated out of an extra room in her parents’ house, using the family bathtub to dye yarn. In 1933, Jung brought home her first award from the Triennale de Milano Esposizione.
Not one to shy away from difficult techniques, Jung chose the complicated damask weave for her projects, but being an artist at heart, she moved away from the traditional, symmetrical patterns of subdued colors that damask was known for, and wove asymmetrical patterns and abstract imagery in atypical colors. Jung approached her weaving as a painter would a canvas. She applied “rule of three” principles to her projects; a technique typically used in photography or landscape painting. Her weaving method became widely known as the Dora Jung Technique.
Jung was known to be devoted to her craft, so during the 1940s, when linen yarn was reserved for the military, she used wound paper yarn for projects. During this time she collaborated with the Finnish textile company Oy Tampella Ab making household products, such as lampshades and draperies. This collaboration would continue until the 1970s.
In 1951, Jung won her second Triennale de Milano Esposizione award — the top honor of Grand Prix for her Kyyhkysiä’ (Doves) tapestry; in 1954, a second Grand Prix,, and again in 1957 for her iconic tablecloth, Viivaleikki (Play of Lines). That same year, Jung had her first major exhibition in Finland at Artek, the Aalto’s design studio in Helsinki.
From the 1950s onward, Jung received worldwide recognition and accolades, including Sweden’s 1961 Prince Eugen Award and the 1963 Danish Cotil Prize. In 1969, Jung worked with FinnAir to design a line of linens that would be paired with dinnerware designed by Tapio Wirkkala for first-class passengers on the new transatlantic flights to New York. Dora Jung’s work is included in the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection.
“She ate life with a fork and spoon.” –Walter Gropius
Jane Drew (b. 1911) was an English “Tropical Modernist” architect best known for her many international projects, including the development of Chandigarh, the capitol of Punjab, India. She is considered one of the most prolific international architects of the 20th century.
Born Iris Estelle Radcliffe Drew, Dame “Jane” Drew was encouraged by her mother, a teacher, to pursue her appreciation for the arts. Her father, an inventor of medical instruments, was a humanist that felt patenting his inventions would be against public interest. This introduction to humanism would influence Drew throughout her career.
After developing an interest in architecture in her late teens, Drew was accepted into the Architectural Association School of Architecture, the only architecture school open to women in the United Kingdom and the first school to teach modernist ideas. In 1933, Drew became one of the founding members of the Modern Architectural ReSearch Group (MARS), an organization formed for architects interested in the modernist movement.
After completing her architectural studies in 1934, Drew married James Allison, and together they opened their first architectural practice. Their marriage, and practice, ended by 1940 due to Allison’s “narrow social outlook,” so Drew accepted a position with the British Commercial Gas Corporation (BCGC), since the war made architecture jobs difficult to find. In her new job, Drew studied modern products such as enamel and Formica and and how these products could be employed in domestic settings. Drew also designed ergonomic kitchens and products, and is credited with formulating the standard height for ovens still used today.
In 1942, Drew married fellow architect and MARS member, Maxwell Fry; a marriage that satisfied Drew’s thirst for adventure. Shortly after they married, Fry, who worked with the British colonial authorities, was posted in Ghana. During his absence, Drew set up her own all-female practice. Having known the difficulties of securing work in the male-dominated architectural field, Drew made it a point to hire only women. In addition to Drew’s architectural practice, she took government work designing fake factories to be used as decoys during German bombing missions. Perhaps it is this work that spawned the rumor that Drew was an MI6 agent. A rumor that Drew neither confirmed or denied.
In 1944, Drew joined her husband, Maxwell Fry, in Ghana as assistant town-planning adviser. This move would launch an international career that spanned the globe. Over the next several years, Drew and Fry would, together and individually, build housing, hospitals and schools in “tropical” climates, including Ghana, Nigeria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Kuwait and Singapore. But perhaps, Drew’s greatest contribution to Tropical Modernism, is Chandigarh, India.
In 1951, familiar with Drew’s work in colonial West Africa, the first Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, approached Drew with a request that she assist in establishing a new capitol in Punjab, India to replace the former capitol that was lost during the partitioning of India and Pakistan in 1947. The new capitol, Chandigarh, would be home to thousands of Pakistani refugees and Nehru’s goal was to create a modern “model city.” Drew, due to prior commitments, enlisted the help of Le Corbusier, whom she knew through Congres International d’Architecture Moderne (CIAM). Over the next three years, based on Le Corbusier’s layout, Drew, Fry and Le Corbusier’s cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, would design and build a new capitol city complete with housing for 15 income levels, schools, clinics, parks, open air theaters and swimming facilities.
It was in these developing countries that Drew was able to combine her passion for architecture with her deep commitment to humanitarianism and social justice. Drew would spend long periods studying each country’s climate, ecology, culture and traditions before designing a project, always making sure to incorporate local colors and references into each project. She was a gifted linguist and learned to speak to the locals in their native languages. She insisted on hiring local architects where needed and campaigned for fair wages and privileges, when she was sometimes paid less than her male counterparts, simply because she was a woman.
Jane Drew was also an ardent feminist. Once, while being introduced at a lecture, the speaker incorrectly referred to her as “Mrs. Maxwell Fry,” at which point she quietly corrected the speaker and he then told the audience that “[he was] sorry. Mrs. Fry can’t be with us tonight. Instead Miss Jane Drew has kindly accepted to replace her.” But prior to her death, she used her married name to the surprise of a hospital receptionist that was well aware of her insistence that her given name be used at all times.
63 Gloucester Place was the home and office of Jane Drew and Maxwell Fry for over 60 years. Drew, an assertive, business-driven, rain-maker for the firm, could be polarizing to some, but generous, supportive and kind to others, housing young architects and friends in need from all over the world.
Although Fry was awarded the 1964 Royal Institute of British Architects Royal Gold Medal (awarded by the Monarch in recognition of lifetime achievements in international architecture), for projects in which Jane Drew worked side-by-side, Drew was never honored with this recognition. Dame Jane Drew died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 85.
“Architecture should provide a space in which human beings can flourish both physically and spiritually.” – Jane Drew
“… arguably the single greatest omission of design history.” –Nina Stritzler-Levine
Marsio (b. 1894) was a Finnish architect and industrial designer, and the first wife of Alvar Aalto. In 1920, Marsio earned a degree in architecture at Helsingin Suomalainen Tyttökoulu (Helsinki University of Technology), and four years later took an assistant’s position with a young architect by the name of Alvar Aalto. In 1925, Marsio and Aalto married and would begin a collaboration that would influence the design world for many decades to come. In 1935, the Aaltos, along with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahlin, co-founded Artek Oy, a Finnish design firm with a storefront in a busy shopping district in Helsinki. There, the Aalto’s introduced their Functionalist masterpieces to Finland. In 1936, Aino and Alvar collaborated on a vase that was inspired by the dress of indigenous Lapland women, which was coined the “Savoy Vase” after it was displayed at Restaurant Savoy, a tony restaurant in Helsinki designed by the Aalto’s firm. The Savoy vase design won a competition by Karhula/Iittala and was subsequently shown at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. That accolade, however, went to Alvar alone. And again, in 1939, Alvar won 1st prize for Aino’s Finnish pavilion design at the New York World’s Fair. But one of Aino’s must enduring contributions may be her simple, but iconic Functionalist pressed glassware for Iittala. Designed in 1932, it was inspired by the ripples that form on the surface when a stone is thrown into the water. While Aino Aalto’s contributions to the Artek legacy may never be fully know, her talents are unmistakable and the ripple effect created by her known classic designs has lasted for nearly a century. Aino Marsio-Aalto died in Helsinki in 1949.
“My role as an artist is to discipline the chaos regarding information…” Abraham Palatnik
Brazilian kinetic pioneer, Abraham Palatnik (b. 1928) originally studied mechanics and physics with an emphasis on internal combustion engines at Tel Aviv’s Escola Técnica Montefiori, perhaps with the original intentions of working at his family’s furniture and porcelain businesses. Palatnik, having always been a talented artist, also honed his skills in painting and sketching under the tutelage of local Israeli artists, including the painter, Aharon Avni.
By 1948, having developed great skills in fine art painting, Palatnik returned to his homeland of Brazil, not to begin a career at his family business, but to begin his journey as an artist. After his return to Brazil, Palatnik accepted an invitation to visit Dr. Nise de Silveira’s groundbreaking occupational therapy classroom for schizophrenic patients at the Pedro II Psychiatric Hospital. Being amazed at the abilities of the doctor’s artistically untrained patients, Palatnik soon understood that artistic abilities were sometimes intrinsic capabilities and completely subconscious.
Upon this revelation, Palatnik abandoned his fine arts focus and began experimentation with light and movement. Over the next two years and using his training in mechanics, Palatnik created Aparelhos Cinecromáticos, a series of paintings that used moving light as paint. Aparelhos Cinecromáticos made its debut at the 1st São Paulo Biennial in 1951; however, that which took two years to create was not well-received. Relegated to a side room, it was excluded from the catalog due to the inability of the judges to categorize his work. However, a visiting international jury “considered it to be an important manifestation of modern art.” His experimentation went on to garner critical success and was called “the true art of the future.”
Palatnik went on to create more moving sculptures with his Objetos Cinéticos series, which comprised metal rods, wire and brightly colored wooden discs that were moved about by motors and electromagnets.
In 1954, along with his brother, Aminadav, they opened the Arte Viva, a modern furniture factory that remained open into the next decade. But perhaps Palatnik’s most well-known works are his series of lucite animals created by the duo’s art object company, Silon. Palatnik, now 90, continues to create and exhibit throughout the world.
“Sensations of the ordinary” – Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison
In 1967, Olof Bäckström designed the iconic orange-handled scissors for Fiskars of Finland. Called “sensations of the ordinary” by industrial designers Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison, the “cutting edge” plastic ergonomic handles enabled the user to cut with ease and precision. Far better than the heavy steel scissors that were typically available. Using plastic also reduced the cost of manufacture thereby making scissors more accessible to all.
Originally meant to be produced in black, green and red, the first batch of scissors were produced in orange, as a plant employee chose to use some leftover orange plastic so as not to waste the material. When the Fiskars employees voted for favorite color, orange won the majority vote. So, it is a coincidence that created the iconic orange handles. Fiskars trademarked “Fiskars orange” in Finland in 2003. And before a pair of Fiskars leaves the factory, professional “listeners” ensure the blades make that distinctive “snip” before they are packaged and shipped around the world. Fiskars scissors celebrated their 50th birthday in 2017. To date, the most widely-spread Finnish product has sold over 1 billion units.
“Her building is one of a kind… heroically sized in every way: the biggest span, the most prominent location. It’s a brave building, amazing and gutsy.… I don’t like overly designed, overly gestured work. In MASP, the building has a sweeping sense of movement, but also a neutral feel. The art is the star, not the building.” Mark English on the Museu de Arte de São Paulo
Achillina “Lina” Bo-Bardi (b. 1914) was an Italian-born, Brazilian modernist architect and designer.
After earning an architecture degree in 1939, she moved to Milan and opened Studio Bo e Pagani with fellow architect, Carlo Pagani. World War II made obtaining work as an architect difficult, so Bo took additional work as a journalist and illustrator for newspapers and magazines, including Gio Ponti’s critically successful magazine, Domus. While at Domus, Bo and Pagani, along with a photographer, toured war-torn Italy to document the destruction for Domus. This, along with the loss of her office in Milan due to aerial bombings, greatly influenced Bo’s political involvement in the anti-fascist, Italian Communist Party and, ultimately, her architectural vision. This made her life in Milan during the war anything but ordinary. Bo-Bardi once said that it was “a miracle” she escaped unharmed, as her activities with the resistance and a noticeable affinity for “new art,” caught the attention of the Gestapo.
At the end of the war, Bo married Brazilian art critic, Pietro Maria Bardi, and immigrated to Brazil where she and Giancarlo Palanti opened Studio de Arte e Arquitetura Palma, a modern furniture design firm that emphasized affordability and traditional Brazilian craftsmanship. And it is In Brazil where she would eventually establish her rationalist style in which she “put people in the centre of the project.”
In 1951, she designed her first project in São Paulo, her home, “Casa de Vidro”, a glass house that hovered on the edge of the rainforest. But it was in 1958 that Bo Bardi designed what many consider her most significant design, the Museu de Arte de São Paulo. Considered by many to be a leading example of Brazilian modernist architecture, the main body of the museum appears to be suspended from brilliant red columns and beams creating an open space underneath so as not to obscure the vista beyond the museum. The main exhibition room, unlike most museums, had floor to ceiling windows that flooded the room with natural light. The museum also implemented Bo Bardi’s unique method of displaying the art by which the art pieces were fixed to glass panels allowing visitors to move amongst the art instead of observing from a distance.
As a preservationist, which was not a popular notion at the time, Bo Bardi, was acutely aware of the relationship people have with the buildings they inhabit. About the historic district of Bahia, she said ‘[It] is not about the preservation of important architectures, but about preserving the city’s popular soul.’ So, after the coup in 1964, and once again finding it difficult to obtain commissions for new projects, she refocused her work on “adaptive reuse;” turning buildings and factories in need of rehabilitation into cultural and leisure centers. This work would continue until her death in 1992.
While never gaining the recognition of her Brazilian contemporary, Oscar Niemeyer, nor being a native-born Brazilian, Bo Bardi’s love for her adopted country and the people that lived there, inspired her to create masterpieces that were accessible to all, making her a beloved master of Brazilian Modernism.
“I was too much of an individual to fit into their mold.” – Jack Lenor Larsen
Jack Lenor Larsen’s lifelong devotion to fabrics started early. He left the University of Washington’s School of Architecture after one year and moved to Los Angeles to focus on weaving. Eventually, with a Masters of Fine Art form the Cranbrook Academy of Art, he moved to New York and opened his studio, Jack Lenor Larsen, Incorporated. While he found great success quickly, it wasn’t without disappointment; in 1951, Florence Knoll turned down his designs as too “individualistic.” By 1953, however, Knoll had commissioned Larsen for other projects.
Larsen, known as one of the most prolific textile craftsmen of the mid and late twentieth century, has designed for many, including Marilyn Monroe, David Rockefeller, Frank Lloyd Wright and Marcel Breuer. And perhaps his most famous collaboration was with Braniff International Airways.
Since the 1950s, the award-winning textile designer has designed thousands of fabric patterns and has been instrumental in innovations in the textile industry.
Jack Lenor Larsen is 91 and resides in New York City.
Dieter Rams (b. 1932) is a functionalist German industrial designer known for his work with Braun and Vitsoe.
In 1947, having recognized Dieter’s talent his father enrolled his 15-year-old son in Wiesbaden School of Art to study architecture and interior design. After two years, Rams left the school to take a three-year carpentry apprenticeship after which he returned to the school and completed his degree with honors in 1953.
During his absence, the school took a decided turn toward modernism. It was then that Rams was introduced to German modernism and the Ulm School of Design. After graduating, he worked with Otto Apel’s architecture firm and was further exposed to modernism through the firm’s association with modernist colleagues in America. These brushes with modernism would prove fateful two years later when Rams accepted an in-house architect and interior design position with Braun to design new office space for the company.
Rams went to work planning a new space that included a wall-mounted shelving system. With this design, his collaboration with Vitsoe was born. With the approval of Edwin Braun, Rams took the idea to Vitsoe. One year later, the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System was launched.
In the early 1960s, Rams used his architecture background and began work on a planned community in Kronberg for Braun employees. “Roter Hang” is a community of grouped and terraced bungalows that line a sloped hillside. There can be found his only fully-realized architectural design;his L-shaped dopplebungalow. Although Braun delayed the project, it was eventually completed by Rudolf Kramer in 1974. The community, as well as Dieter Rams’s personal home, which is a testament to his personal credo of “less for more,” due to its modest footprint and sparse decoration, have been granted protected status and designated a cultural monument.
Rams is known for his “10 Principles of Good Design,” one of which is “environmentally friendly.” In a 1976 speech, Rams said, “there is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources.” He has long believed we must “move away from the throwaway habit” and “[that] it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams products fully embody his 10th principle – simplicity and purity.
Dieter Rams retired from Braun in 1995, but continues to work for Vitsoe. He and his wife still live in the Roter Hang bungalow in Kronberg.
“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
― Dieter Rams