NeoCon Notes

Sept. 1, 2003
Beverly Russell

Neocon Notes

"Navigate with the Stars" expands in a new direction while maintaining its stellar line-up of celebrated speakers from around the world.
The seventh annual "Navigate Your Career with the Stars" program at the NeoCon® World's Trade Fair took a new direction this year, as Kendall College of Art and Design, Grand Rapids, MI, which has presented the course for the past six years, established a relationship with Pratt Institute of Brooklyn, NY. A group of 13 Pratt students, with faculty members Mark Karlen, chair of the Interior Design Department, and professor Jon Otis, joined Kendall's 65 students and their faculty, including interior design professor Erli Gronberg, along with Angie Dow, chair of the Visual Communications department, and her colleague Terry Vanden Aaker.The program, which was held at the Institute of Design, began with welcome greetings from Dr. Oliver Evans, president, Kendall College of Art and Design; Michael McCoy, senior lecturer, Institute of Design; and Katie Sosnowchik, editorial director, I&S magazine, sponsor of the program each year. Otis also greeted the group.The celebrated British-born designer, Ross Lovegrove, principal of Studio X in London, kicked off the first morning talking about his international work for 150 clients in 11 countries. As design director for Tag Heuer, Lovegrove has designed for Apple, Sony, Olympus, Japanese Air Lines, Knoll, Herman Miller, Bernhardt and a host of other high profile companies. Lovegrove is proud of his nickname, "Robin Hood of Design," and spared no punches, showing designs that had never made it to the marketplace. His message for students: "Process—that's what it is all about. You can have a great idea on paper even if it doesn't work. I like to be free as a bird." Of course, Lovegrove has had many successes that do work, such as the Go chair for Bernhardt. He spoke about "logic and beauty, technology and art" blending together. Afterward, in the Bernhardt showroom, he brought out two new plywood chair prototypes from behind the scenes, which didn't quite make it to market in 2003, but demonstrated his agility in furniture design.From Naples, Italy, by way of New York, came Giuseppe Lignano and Ada Tolla, partners in the Manhattan firm, Lot/ek, known for their interior design, architecture and product designs using recycled materials and equipment—including shipping containers, cement mixers, detergent bottles, shipping crates and even a 757 fuselage. Lot/ek's avant-garde, thoughtful work has been seen in a number of museums shows, such as MOMA, Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design and the Walker in Minneapolis, MN. With a swift-moving visual show, Lot/ek reiterated Ross Lovegrove's maxim: "Never underestimate the importance of presentation."Douglas Ball, acclaimed industrial designer from Montreal, concluded the first day with a presentation of his notable achievements, including the Race office system, a revolutionary design introduced in the 1980s for Sunar Hauserman and still produced today by Haworth. His association with Vecta began with the Ballet folding table in 1990. His new Lucy chair for Vecta demonstrates his inventive mind and thorough approach to a project. Its ability to move with the shoulders as they twist from side to side is a breakthrough in seating technology. Students had ample time to study it up close in the Vecta showroom, and enjoyed a special reception generously hosted by the company.Day two began with another blockbuster speaker, Shashi Caan, who stirred the audience for more than two hours with her philosophy about design and its implications for the future. Caan, born in India, schooled in Edinburgh, Scotland and at Pratt Institute, holds degrees in industrial design and architecture, and brings a multi-cultural, multi-discipline viewpoint, so appropriate in the global economy. Formerly a renowned designer at Swanke Hayden Connell, SCR, Gensler and SOM in New York, she currently heads up The Shashi Caan Collective, an innovative practice that integrates creativity with research and projects. She is also director of the Interior Design Program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Caan's presentation included video clips from three futuristic movies: "Sixth Day," "Minority Report" and "The Matrix." She urged the students to consider the messages in such influential films, which lauded technology and suggested a future lifestyle of violence and anarchy. "Do we want to hear all this?" she asked. "Is this where we are going? They are creating scenarios and we don't take it seriously." Her talk prompted much post-lecture discussion during the on-site visits she hosted to Mohawk, ICF/Helicon and DuPont showrooms to see her products and interior design creations.Tuesday continued with two speakers who both helped to reinvigorate Herman Miller's iconic Aeron chair: Don Chadwick and Martha Burns. Chadwick, who heads up his own studio in Santa Monica, CA, co-designed the chair originally with Bill Stumpf. After nine years on the market, some modifications have now been made to its upholstery and back. Chadwick spoke of new Asian markets for his other latest designs, showing specially-scaled furniture for children that is geared to computer activity and adjustable with age. He also showed an ingenious wheelchair for children that sadly never made it to production. Chadwick told how his father, a carpenter, encouraged him to make his own toys at an early age, a pursuit that has led to his life-long interest in creating things.Martha Burns, a weaver, interior designer and architect, runs her own studio in New Haven, CT. She spoke of how working for the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984 shaped her future approach to her work: "We spent four years designing for events that lasted for two weeks and which had to come down in two days." Such rigorous experience prepared her for a wide variety of work and clients, in responsibilities for Jack Lenor Larsen, Fox & Fowle, HOK and NBBJ, before she decided to open her independent studio. Her new upholstery designs for the Aeron chair were colored in silvery grays and blue black, with distinctive shadow patterns, which matched a new silvery-colored frame. She is also designing new textiles for Creation Baumann and Carnegie for both the European and American markets. Students were exposed to her interior design expertise in the remodeled Carnegie showroom.To cap off the day, Chuck Saylor hosted a reception in the Izzy showroom to celebrate an exhibition of multi-disciplinary student work from Kendall College of Art and Design. Featured were student proposals for a task light for the office, a project developed by Tom Edwards, chair of the Industrial Design Department, while interior design students produced ideas for five fictitious companies manufacturing the task light, furnished with Izzy furniture, and the visual communications and illustration students contributed their graphic ideas into the group efforts.On Wednesday morning, the audience greeted William Sklaroff, a famed industrial designer in the office furniture field for over 40 years. Based in Ardmore, PA, Sklaroff's affiliations include Spinneybeck, Baker, Herman Miller, Roffman, Halcon, Howard Miller Clock, Hardwood House, Gunlocke, Vecta, Cumberland, Kron, Smith Metal Arts and Harden. Unlike the previous lecturers, Sklaroff spoke without illustrative material, but he nevertheless held the audience's attention for more than an hour as he reviewed the state of the industry and what lies ahead in the future. While he lamented the loss of the big "patrons" in design, he nevertheless painted a future of opportunity, noting that new innovations in lighting and floor coverings were on the way for the "office habitats of the future," as well as increasing interest in "alternative modalities." Students picked up on this aspect of his talk immediately, asking for examples. He cited a personal experience of healing after a painful fall, administered by an Inca native in Peru, and a new aromatherapy technique for hospitals—the burning of orange peel as a healing method in use today. Sklaroff believes that students will reap the benefits of a new millennium and a new era. "We are in a state of transition. There are no answers, but we must live in the moment and absorb like sponges. It's a good time to strive outside the box."Before meeting up with Sklaroff in the Harden showroom to see a presentation of his new Puma chair (along with lunch graciously hosted by the company), John Berry, a consultant to Herman Miller at The Greystone Group in Grand Rapids, gave an informative talk on "Authenticity." Berry adroitly summarized the differences between an original piece of furniture and copies that come so close to the original that differences are hard to perceive, as well as cruder "knock-offs." His graphic illustrations were helpful in leading the students through these variables and the reasons why they should be aware that a true original has the added value of authenticity and history. He concluded his presentation with a lively new Herman Miller DVD called "Get Real," which had students clamoring for copies afterward.Don Killaby was on hand on Wednesday afternoon to discuss his product designs for CCN, a small, up-and-coming firm in Rochester, NY. He is described as a polymath designer, having received a degree in architecture, followed by studies at the Thames Polytechnic Institute in London, England, which led him to practice interior design, space planning and lighting design, as well as product and graphic design. He recalled how his father taught him to weld, thus shaping his career in "making things and blurring the boundaries between art and craft." Students were invited to see his words translated into reality in the CCN showroom, furnished with his elegant corporate office wood furniture, and enjoy a lavish reception hosted by the company.The final day's speaker was Karen Alexander, president of KKA Architecture in Salisbury, NC. Her talk encompassed the need for the future generation to include sustainability in all their projects, whatever they may be. "This is not an alternative way to design, it is the only way to design," she insisted, "It is about wholeness." At the same time she stressed that this idea is not new and that Vitruvius in 110 BC had stated, "We must take note of our place," alluding to geography, natural habitat and site specifics. She walked the students through her award-winning architectural project at Catawba College, a new Center for the Environment, based around the seven Da Vincian principles. The timbered structure integrated geothermal heating and cooling, on-site recycling of timber debris, sustainably manufactured furniture, all in the quest to "conserve and preserve." When students inquired about the economic differences in sustainable building, she explained that this building cost about five percent more than a conventional building (the geothermal aspects were the most expensive components), but achieved the most saving in the long-term. She hoped it would become the standard for the future.The group then visited Teknion to view its new standard in sustainably designed furniture, followed by Collins & Aikman, Forbo and Shaw, all companies dedicated to sustainable products.The program concluded with graduation certificates being presented to all the students by Dr. Oliver Evans, an event held in the loft residence of Sally Pemberton, where students enjoyed an alfresco lunch on the deck overlooking Grand Ave.Memorable quotations from the week include:
"Strangeness is a consequence of innovative thinking."
(Ross Lovegrove)"Imagination is the power which makes the achievement of aims . . . the attainment of desires inevitable." (Neville, quoted by Shashi Caan)
"Imagination is more important than knowledge."
(Einstein)Beverly Russell is an international author, educator and certified labyrinth facilitator. She organizes and conducts the "Navigate Your Career with the Stars" program for Kendall College of Art and Design at NeoCon each year. She can be reached at (213) 687-7740 or via e-mail: [email protected].

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