The Viewing Chairs

tall chairs

The good news is that it was warm enough to wear shorts the weekend. This is especially good news considering that sad patches of snow still littered the ground last weekend. We are approaching that annoying time of year where cold fronts seem cosmically unjust; we’re sick of the layers we were so excited about wearing last fall. The longer days ahead are literally the promise of a warmer and brighter future.

The bad news is that I do not speak Russian, so information on The Viewing Chairs above is scant. Luckily, there’s not much to explain. Designed by Megabudka, the high chairs that make up the project are installed on Vido Island in Greece, where folks can climb up the chairs for a better view. There’s something a quirky and precarious about about the height of the chairs that’s alluring, but I’m not sure that an infant roosting a few meters above the ground in something quirky and precarious is an omen of good news at all. At least the chairs provide a different perspective, and warmer weather is just over the horizon.


Alex Dent

February 21, 2011 / By

Space Suit of the Week

The Space Suit of the Week is the EX-1A! In the video above, you can see Bill Elkins, the man largely responsible for the suit, demonstrating the mobility of his design in the late ’60s. The range of movement in this suit is superior to previous suits because it uses a special kind of toroidal joint. “Toroidal” sounds fancy, but it basically means that the joints are shaped like donuts, albeit really complicated metal donuts… for outer space. The Smithsonian Air and Space Magazine has an excellent interview with Elkins that covers the territory from the time he withstood 16.5 magnitude g-forces while staying conscious to the EX-1A suit.

About the battle between hard and soft suits, Elkins says:

“There are some advantages of the hard suit, although I did not remain a proponent of it. The hard suit had value for being able to go to much higher pressures. The higher you go, the less likely you are to have the bends when exiting a higher-pressure space vehicle. So if you were wearing [a hard suit], you could scramble to do an emergency [spacewalk] because you didn’t have to pre-breathe for four hours. It’s a very mobile little spaceship, if you will. Vic Vykukal, a NASA Ames engineer, also did pioneering work on the hard suit. The soft suit came from a line of pressure suits used by the Air Force and Navy. BF Goodrich’s soft suits for the Mercury project were evolved from a Navy pressure suit… It was a question of cultures and politics within the R&D labs. There was the West Coast technology such as Litton, and NASA’s Ames Research lab; but then the older timers from the East who knew soft suits. Ultimately, soft suits won out.”

Every time I read suit engineers talking about suit design (and the one time I’ve actually asked an astronaut) they say the biggest challenge of the suit is accommodating movement at pressure. Which doesn’t sound very exciting, but has lead to innovative design solutions, including hard suits like the EX-1A.  And even though hard suits never made it off the ground, maybe it’s better that they explore space only in our heads, floating around between the moon and donuts.


Alex Dent

February 18, 2011 / By

RAD Furniture

chairs and a coffee table

Ryan Anderson, founder of RAD

Although it might as well be short for radical, RAD is actually short for Ryan Anderson Design. That is he in the lower photo. Anderson grew up on the west coast during the ’80s, so rad was probably floating around in his head between gnarly and stellar. Graduating from Architecture School into an abysmal job market, Ryan founded his furniture design studio with fellow classmates Katherine and Ruben. As you might expect from an architect, the furniture exploits material properties. In the case of the Barbara Stool (that I am entirely enamored with) the sleek and structural steel is balanced by the warm character of wood. Furniture can also can come powder-coated in some pretty righteous colors with your choice of wood and size. The prices may seem steep to others, especially young architecture graduates, but as Ryan explains in this video by the Daily Texan, that this is not disposable furniture. You keep these sturdy furniture pieces long enough to pass down to other people, in a longer furniture cycle than most of us are probably used to. Cowabunga.


Alex Dent

February 17, 2011 / By

Holl’s Watercolors

Although Steven Holl isn’t the only architect that uses watercolors, he does have a unique way of using these paintings in his design process; not as a means of rendering completed design work, but as a way of generating or developing design. It’s probably the most distinguishing characteristic of his process. He makes these watercolors in the morning, when he’s still half asleep. “I start in a half-wakened state” he says,  “It’s a way of dreaming and thinking, of bridging.” Above his drafting desk, you’ll find stacks of uniform 5″x7″ books full of these watercolors that he’s been making for the past thirty years.

There’s a good article about his watercolors here, which has dozens more examples of his watercolors for the interested. The watercolors I pulled above are from other sources: Architype, Holl’s Website and the NAI.


Alex Dent

February 16, 2011 / By

Steven Holl: A Few Details

bent handrail detail

lighting aligned with seams in the ceiling

Mostly to follow up on yesterdays post, I thought I’d share some snapshots I’ve taken in buildings designed by Holl. Specifically, I thought I’d share some pics of details that, I think, reveal Holl at a smaller scale. I haven’t visited many Holl buildings; still, at each of the three I have visited, I’ve been surprised by something. The great handrail detail above is from the Cranbrook Science Center, as is the lighting aligned with seams in the ceiling. There are also pictures from the Kiasma Art Museum (not a picture of the bathroom details, sorry) and Hybrid Building in Seaside, Florida (triangular balconies)  Below is a gallery of design details that I’ve liked; if you’ve visited a project by Steven Holl, what was your favorite detail?


Alex Dent

February 15, 2011 / By