As drones become increasingly common tools of war and surveillance on the battlefield and in our cities, how are architects and designers responding? Previously, we’ve looked at personal counter-surveillance measures, but it’s likely that future designers will move beyond the scale of the individual to larger projects such as drone-proof architecture or perhaps even urban-scale counter-surveillance. Concerned about what he sees as the improper or unjustified use of drones, law student Asher J. Kohn has imagined how an anti-drone city might look and function. This isn’t a science fiction [cscenario, but a seriously considered urban design strategy. In fact, considering that the speculative plan for what Kohn has named “Shura City” is designed to counter the most technologically sophisticated weapons ever developed, the proposal is surprisingly low-tech.
While walking through the Museum of Art and Design’s exhibition “The Art of the Scent (1889-2012)” my mind was flooded with memories of a nearly forgotten childhood friend, an ex-girlfriend and my deceased grandmother. It was a surprisingly powerful and complex experience, particularly because it was evoked in a nearly empty gallery by an invisible art form—scent. It’s often cited that smell is the sense most associated with memory (both are processed by the brain’s limbic system), and the iconic fragrances exhibited in “The Art of the Scent” are likely to take visitors on their own private jaunts down memory lane. But it might not lead where they expect.
Like any art form or design discipline, the creation of a scent is the result of experimentation and innovation. Yet, perfume and cologne are rarely appreciated as the artfully crafted designs they are. “The Art of the Scent” is the first major museum exhibition to recognize and celebrate scent as a true artistic medium rather than just a consumer product. The 12 exhibited fragrances, chosen by curator Chandler Burr to represent the major aesthetic schools of scent design, include Ernest Beaux’s Modernist Chanel No.5 (1921); the Postmodern Drakkar Noir (1982) by Pierre Wargnye ; and Daniela Andrier’s deconstructed fragrance Untitled (2010). Perhaps most significantly, the exhibition begins with the first fragrance to incorporate synthetic raw materials instead of an exclusively natural palette, thereby truly transforming scent into an art: Jicky (1889), created by Aimé Guerlain. Unfortunately, this fragrant historiography will initially be lost on the average visitor because while scent may indeed be the best sense for provoking memory, it is the worst sense for conveying intellectual content. When we smell something—good or bad—our reaction is typically an automatic or emotional response. Such a reaction doesn’t lend itself particularly well to critical analysis. The greatest challenge facing Burr, who wrote the “Scent Notes” column for the New York Times and the book The Emperor of Scent, was to get visitors to move beyond their initial emotional responses and memories and to think critically about scent design. And the greatest challenge facing exhibition designers Diller Scofidio + Renfro was to figure out how to present an invisible art.
The following post is excerpted from Design Decoded.
The Fisher Space Pen was created by inventor, pen manufacturer, and (brief) JFK political opponent Paul C. Fisher. Fisher had been an innovator in the pen industry for years, even before he started his own company. His mastery of the ballpoint pen can be attributed in part to his experience working with ball bearings in a airplane propeller factory during World War II. Fisher also invented the “universal refill” ink cartridge, ultimately leading him to create the very first “Anti-Gravity” pen, the AG7, which was patented in 1966 and famously used by astronauts during the Apollo space missions. However, it’s a popular misconception that NASA invested millions of dollars into the development of the zero-gravity writing instrument. They didn’t. Nor did the space agency approach Fisher to develop a pen for use by American astronauts. According to a 2006 piece in Scientific American, the truth is that Fisher had been working on the design for years and had invested $1 million into the pen’s development. But Fisher wasn’t dreaming of astronauts writing postcards from Earth orbit, he was just looking to make a good pen that worked without leaking. After years of research and prototypes, he created what he believed to be the perfect pen – a pen with ink that wasn’t exposed to air and didn’t rely on gravity so it wouldn’t leak or dry up; a pen that could write underwater and function at temperatures ranging from -30 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Fisher’s breakthrough was perfectly timed with the space race and he offered the pens to NASA for consideration. After two years of testing, it was approved and Fisher’s pen accompanied Apollo 7 astronauts into space.
The following post is excerpted from Design Decoded.
President Obama was in Hawaii when he signed the fiscal cliff deal in Washington D.C. Of course, it’s now common for us to send digital signatures back and forth every day, but the President of the United States doesn’t just have his signature saved as a JPEG file like the rest of us lowly remote signatories. Instead, he uses the wonder that is the autopen – a device descended from one of the gizmos in Thomas Jefferson’s White House.
A precursor of sorts to the autopen, the polygraph, was first patented in 1803 by John Isaac Hawkins and, within a year, was being used by noted early adopter Thomas Jefferson. Known formally as the “Hawkins & Peale’s Patent Polygraph No. 57,” this early copy device was used by Jefferson to make single reproductions of documents as he was writing them. Though obviously less advanced than today’s electronic autopen, and used for a different purpose, the polygraph is similar in that it ultimately created a signature that wasn’t technically written by the President. While both devices are incredibly convenient, they raise a compelling question: is a signature still a signature when it’s not written by hand?
Digital media theorist and architectural historian Mario Carpo has written extensively on the relationship between early reproduction methods and modern digital technologies. In his excellent book, The Alphabet and the Algorithm, Carpo notes that ”like all things handmade, a signature is a visually variable sign, hence all signatures made by the same person are more or less different; yet they must also be more or less similar, otherwise they could not be identified. The pattern of recognition is based not on sameness, but on similarity.” That statement may seem obvious, but it’s important. The variability of a signature denotes its authenticity; it reflects the time and place a document was signed, and perhaps even reveals the mood of the signatory. A digital signature, however, has no variability. Each signature –one after another after another– is exactly like the last. Although the modern autopen includes adjustable settings for speed and and pressure, these options are used for practical purposes and variability is only created as a side-effect. Today, the notion of a signature as a unique, identifiable mark created by an individual, is a concept that may be changing. The signature of a historic figure is no longer a reliable verification of authenticity that attests to a specific moment in history, but a legal formality.
Chris Ware’s Building Stories is ostensibly a comic book chronicling the lives of the occupants of a three-story Chicago brownstone. But it’s so much more than that. At once expansive and intimate, it is a masterpiece of storytelling, a fragmentary collection of sad and beautiful vignettes that began more than a decade ago serialized serialized across several popular publications, including The New Yorker, The New York Times, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.
If there’s a central theme to Building Stories, it’s the passing of time – and our futile struggle against it. The comic book is the perfect medium to explore this idea. After all, what is a comic but sequential, narrative art? Unlike a photograph, a comic panel does not typically show a single moment in time but is, rather, a visual representation of duration. That duration might be the time it takes Superman to punch out a giant robot or the seconds that pass while a failed artist chops a carrot. The manipulation of time and space and emotion is Ware’s greatest strength. He controls every aspect of the page, how the story is told, and how the story is read, requiring true engagement from the reader. At times, the effect is reminiscent of an Eadweard Muybridge photo sequence – except instead of a running horse, the sequence depicts a young couple struggling through an awkward conversation at the end of a first date.
Every volume, every page, and every panel of Building Stories has been carefully considered and painstakingly designed. Ware’s drawings are often diagrammatic and vaguely architectural; his page layouts read like complex maps of human experience. It must be mentioned that Ware writes and draws everything by hand, giving the book, with its exacting precision, a sense of craftsmanship. And though it’s not always clear what path to follow, every single composition, whether clean or cluttered, has a profound effect on how the text is understood and how it resonates emotionally. Ironically, given the amount of detail in each drawing, Ware might best be described as an impressionist. After all, a Monet painting doesn’t show us exactly what the water lilies looked like, but how it felt to see them.
Billboards Are Almost All Right