Designer Desire: Ron Arad

Montage of Ron Arad designs

Justin was watching an episode of George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces programme on television recently (see below) that highlighted the Design Museum in Holon, Israel. It’s an incredible, one-of-a-kind building, designed in 2010 by Ron Arad.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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Ron Arad studied at the Jerusalem Academy of Art prior to emigrating to London in 1973. In the early 1980s, he founded his own practice in London and set up One Off Ltd with his partner Caroline Thorman, focusing on limited-edition objects.

Throughout his career to date, Arad (b. 1951) has created sculpture, furniture, jewellery and audio equipment using materials including glass, textile, metal, wood, ceramic, marble and plastic.  He is a master of design!

Designers accuse me of being an artist, artists accuse me of being an architect, and architects accuse me of being a designer. But it doesn’t bother me too much; that’s just the way the fragmented world works. Ron Arad

Arad has worked with many leading design firms such as Kartell, Vitra, Driade, Guzzini and Moroso. He has collaborated with Fiat, Swarovski, KENZO, Samsung, Adidas and many more.

His more famous works include the award-winning ‘This Mortal Coil’ bookshelf, ‘Big Easy’ chair and ‘Victoria and Albert’ sofa.

There are over 50 examples of his work in the V&A collection in London and at least half a dozen in MoMA in New York.

Portrait of Ron Aradcredit

Additional image credits:
Bukowskis | Phillips

Designer Desire: Zvi Narkiss

Montage of Zvi Narkiss designs

Born in Romania, (1921-2010) Zvi Narkiss was an award winning graphic designer and topographer.

He emigrated to Palestine at the age of 23, settling in Jerusalem. There, he attended painting classes with Jakob Steinhardt and Mordecai Ardon. He progressed on to study graphic design at The New Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design. He was so considered so talented, he bypassed the first academic year. The following year, he was invited to join the graphics department at the Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael (the Jewish National Fund). Between 1950 and 1955 he was the chief graphic designer of the IDF’s training aids unit and served as head of the manuals’ design unit of the Israeli Air Force.

In 1955, he founded his own graphic design & typography studio where, for half a century, he designed books, exhibitions, stamps, banknotes, coins, advertising posters and logos. Amongst his many projects he designed two biblical books – the Horev Bible and the Hebrew University Bible – Jerusalem Crown for which he created a special typeface. He designed Israel’s very first tourism poster (included in the montage above), the IDF pavilion at the First Decade Exhibition (1958), the Victory Medal (1967), the Peace Medal (1977) and banknotes for the national bank of Israel.

Of all the design genres he practised, his real speciality was type design (fonts). He was the most prolific designer of Hebrew types during the 20th century; throughout his career, he designed a total of 14 typeface sets. Narkis, the book types he created that bear his name (Narkiss, Narkis Block, New Narkis, Narkis Tam and Narkisim), are the most popular and commonly in use in Israel. All in all, he designed five of the ten most frequently used typefaces in Israel.

In 2006, he won the EMET Prize in the design category for his Hebrew font designs.

At Narkiss’ funeral in 2010, the head of the department of visual communications department at his alma mater eulogised that, although the population at large don’t know the name Zvi Narkiss:

…most of us ‘consume’ Narkis’ work on a daily basis, at nearly every moment… Zvi’s letters, the Hebrew letters Zvi designed over many years during his long career, appear and are in use everywhere. Nearly any material printed in Hebrew bears at least one of the typefaces Narkis designed, be it a best-selling novel, a daily newspaper, packaging for cheese, the opening of a television program, a road sign or paper currency. Narkis’ work is outstanding and very unusual. He nurtured and enriched the appearance of the Hebrew letter in a variety of new shapes – Zvi’s work has become the standard relative to which everything is designed.

Portrait of Zvi Narkisscredit

Additional image credits:
Palestine Poster Project | Wikipedia

Art Deco explained

Art Deco explained

When we look at the history of design in art, the late 19th and the whole of the 20th century have quite the story to tell. It was a period of constant flux & change, with many new styles that defied the ones that came just before them. And, in one way or another, all of those styles are beginning to make a comeback, even today.

While they were striking and different in their time, these styles still manage to retain their evergreen appeal. In other words, even the contemporary man can enjoy them with as much passion as the people a century or so ago.

One such style that everyone instantly recognises is Art Deco. The name itself makes us instantly think of jazz, the prohibition, expressionist theatre and the early days of the Great Depression. It was a time of great inter-war prosperity, but also a lot of uncertainty. Furthermore, it was a time when artists tended to move away from purely aesthetic ideas and aimed to combine both beauty and practicality in art. In other words, Art Deco was purposefully modern since its conception, which is why it’s so appealing – even now.

But what is Art Deco? How would you best describe it to someone who’s completely new to the movement? Well, this post is here to help you do just that.

Metal Art Deco doors

The origins of Art Deco: a brief history

First and foremost, we should point out that this style did not originally go by the name Art Deco. When it first appeared, most people simply called it the modern style. In its later phases, during the mid and late 1930s, it had the name ‘New Moderne’ or Streamline Moderne. English art historian, Bevis Hillier, would use the new name in 1968 in his book Art Deco of the 20s and 30s, which popularised the term. However, even he noted that the name was in use several years before he published his book.

Art Deco is short for Arts Décoratifs, ‘decorative art’ in French. The name comes from the 1925 International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts held in Paris, France. Many people tend to confuse this style with other popular movements, such as Art Nouveau, the Bauhaus School and Art Moderne. However, this style is quite different. In fact, it came out as a direct reaction to the Art Nouveau tendencies that were popular in Europe and North America at the time.

Characteristics of Art Deco

Art Deco embraced modernity at the time. The style focused on geometric and angular shapes, sharp angles and bright colours. Furthermore, it used new, artificial and expensive materials to its advantage. A typical piece from that era would contain aluminium, lacquer, plastic and stainless steel alongside ebony, ivory and moulded glass. Exotic materials such as zebra and shark skins also became popular fixtures.

The movement took inspiration from Greco-Roman Classicism, as well as other cultures around the world (Aztec, Mayan, Babylonian, Egyptian etc). Triangles and trapezoids dominated, as well as stepped forms, chevron patterns and the sunburst motif. Since the design was so practical and simple it remained popular until the outbreak of WWII. However, while the style itself was simple, it wasn’t minimal… or even minimalist. In fact, the artists and designers often chose elaborate, interesting solutions to design problems and came up with fascinating ideas.

Chrysler Building, New York City

Examples of Art Deco

Art Deco is a style that, once you see it, you’ll be able to recognise everywhere. We’ll list some of the most prominent examples of Art Deco design in the sections below.

Architecture

Most people tend to think of architectural design when Art Deco is mentioned. In fact, the architects of the time embraced the movement, as it fit so well with the contemporary lifestyle. Every type of building had an Art Deco touch to it; from garages to cafés, from cinemas to airports. However, one type of building seemed to fit the style perfectly – skyscrapers. Indeed, it was as if skyscrapers and Art Deco were made for each other.

By far the most famous example of this type of architecture is the Chrysler Building in New York City. It has everything; from smooth, shiny surfaces to sharp edges and ornate, geometric details. It also made excellent use of modern materials. More than anything, the Chrysler showed that a concrete building can be an aesthetic marvel. Other examples of buildings constructed in a similar style include:

  • Chanin Building (New York)
  • The Empire State Building (New York)
  • Houston City Hall (Texas)
  • Cincinnati Union Terminal (Ohio)
  • Kansas City Power and Light Building (Missouri)

Interestingly, the creators of the 1990s television show Batman: The Animated Series chose Art Deco as the dominant style for Gotham City. In fact, many people who decorate their homes in this style today took their inspiration from watching the series as children back in the early ’90s.

Furniture

Art Deco furniture followed the same patterns and motifs as the architecture of that time. Every piece had sharp geometric, symmetrical designs and patterns. Furthermore, the use of striking colours such as bright green, red and yellow was common. Each piece evoked progress and development, keeping up with the technological boom of the time.

In terms of materials, designers experimented quite a bit. They’d use hard, natural materials like wood and leather – all to great effect. And they also experimented with manufactured materials such as aluminium and steel. In fact, you could find interesting furniture that contained heavy metal frames and cushions of natural leather. It was the contrast that attracted people most of all.

In addition, each chair, wardrobe, stool, shelf etc. looked practical, thanks to the modern materials. An item had aesthetic beauty, but it was also one that you could use in everyday activities.

Visual arts and graphic design

Magazine covers, adverts, movie posters, illustrations and other forms of visual art all embraced Art Deco with passion. Visual artists looked for different ways to emphasise the modern spirit of the ’20s & ’30s, with rectangular and square shapes, angular fonts and bold colour palettes.

Sexuality, or at least a celebration of the human form, was also a big part of their works – usually expressed using geometric, modern depictions.

The main motif, however, was moving forward boldly and with pride. Each piece would experiment with straight lines to emphasise the speed of the age, as well as the smooth, modern edges of contemporary buildings, furniture and even vehicles. Because, let’s not forget, the automobile industry was also booming at the time, and the cars reflected the style of the age.

Art Deco car

In conclusion

Of course, there’s a lot more to the Art Deco movement than what we’ve listed in the paragraphs above. With that in mind, we encourage you to explore further. In fact, you may even want to introduce some of these Art Deco ideas to your own home. After all, it’s a style that will always feel fresh and modern, in any age and in any home.

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Designer Desire: Maria Holmer Dahlgren

Montage of Maria Holmer Dahlgren designs

Maria Holmer Dahlgren is a Swedish graphic designer with a distinctive, bold use of colour, shape and font in her creations.

About her city range she says:

The products are my answer to soulless souvenirs of poor quality that look the same wherever you are. Lots of tingles or moose made in China. My souvenirs are filled with personal strawberries and can easily be packed into the cabin bag, flat and durable.

They should be practical utility items at a reasonable price. Folksy and strong without being trendy. Made in Sweden by family businesses. In addition, they are tributes to these cities and my hope is that all the residents of those cities should feel pride, because we live in a fantastic country. The more you travel out into the world and gain perspective, the more you understand it.

She has collaborated with the likes of IKEA and the Tate. Her designs have been used on an array of homewares; serving trays, posters, postcards, notebooks and textiles.

It’s possible to find a few examples of her work available on Abe Books and eBay.

 

 
 
 
 
 
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All image credits: © Maria Holmer Dahlgren