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Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Housewares by Modern Architects


The designs of modernists like Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright are like the classics of rock ’n’ roll: groundbreaking works that inspired legions of followers.
That’s what Alexander Gorlin believes anyway, and as someone who has spent his career practicing and writing about architecture, he has reason to know. Mr. Gorlin’s credits include the 2011 book “Tomorrow’s Houses,” about the roots of modernism in New England, as well as a completed addition to a Louis Kahn synagogue in Chappaqua, N.Y., the coming transformation of Eero Saarinen’s Bell Labs building into a mixed-use town center for Holmdel, N.J., and the design of Daniel Libeskind’s Manhattan apartment.

Modern architects, said Mr. Gorlin, 59, have a unique way of looking at the world that is reflected in their design of smaller-scale objects like furniture and accessories. “There are more spatial and structural aspects to products designed by architects,” he said, in a generalization that furniture and industrial designers might take issue with. “I know that’s a blanket statement, but I actually do believe it.”

To prove his point, he set off to find some examples. At Molteni & C in SoHo, he pointed out a reissued chest of drawers by the Italian architect Gio Ponti. “I like his furniture because it doesn’t immediately look like furniture,” Mr. Gorlin said, noting that the handles were made from different types of wood, creating an asymmetrical checkerboard pattern across the front. “It’s decorative functionalism.”

He was equally impressed by Mr. Ponti’s angular hair-on hide rug. “It’s geometric, but every part is a different shape,” he said. “It’s like a mysterious puzzle.”

At Design Within Reach, he admired the exaggerated sensuality of the Pelican chair by the Danish architect Finn Juhl. “It almost looks like a caricature of some creature,” he said. “I love chairs that are animated like this.”

On the other end of the aesthetic spectrum, he praised a door handle designed by the German architect Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus, not for its sensuality but for its clarity of form. “It’s a simple intersection of a cylinder and a cube,” he said of the piece, which he found at Katonah Architectural Hardware. “It’s such a classic, and I always return to it.”

A pair of minimalist objects from Suite New York, designed by John Pawson, the contemporary British architect, appealed for similar reasons. A bronze bowl with a rounded bottom was “a perfect object, but slightly off,” he said, and a crystal carafe with a thick base made the liquid inside look “suspended in air.”

“They’re both twists on familiar objects,” he said. “That raises them from the ordinary to the sublime.”


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