The winner and two finalists of the Corporate Achievement category are, together, quite different from the winners of the past. As a whole, they represent what is possible at a smaller scale. The Walker does its amazing work in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Heath Ceramics has been handcrafting tiles and tableware in the same way for over fifty years in Sausalito, California. Dwell magazine tells stories about smaller spaces and the people who design and inhabit them.
In the architecture category, the two finalists represent two very different types of practices. ARO (Architecture Research Office) produces beautiful buildings that are somehow able to communicate the intelligence of their practice. A research-driven practice whose two principals both came from Steven Holl’s office, Adam Yarinski and Stephen Cassell are also great critics who have taught at numerous schools of architecture, a fact that is not unimportant when considering their influence. My favorite project of theirs is still their Times Square Recruiting Station, a project that takes on the vernacular of its site and the gravity of its client with one simple move. Michael Maltzan’s practice is probably best known on this coast for MoMA QNS, with its brilliant treatment of the mechanical boxes on the rooftop, spelling out the name of the building but meant to be seen from a 7 train in motion. The work of Michael Maltzan Architecture – whether because of their Los Angeles location or the large-scale nature of their commissions – is more explicitly dedicated to the reconceptualization of open space and the relationship between architecture and its public.
The Communication Design finalists include – for the first time in NDA history – a firm that is dedicated to the design of typography. Hoefler & Frere-Jones have been making some of the most recognizable fonts in recent memory, including Gotham, used by Senator Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. Typography literally changes the way that we understand the world. If you have any doubts, you should watch this movie. Project Projects is a relatively young practice with the same exact office address as another one of our other NDA finalists. From their office on Ludlow Street, Prem Krishnamurthy, Adam Michaels, and their team design just about everything with a large roster of cultural clients. There seems to be a rash of new websites because they, too, have redone theirs since I last visited. Be sure to spend some time there – in addition to the work that they do for institutions like MoMA and the CCA, the site includes some of their very interesting independent projects.
I was lucky enough to get a seat at Rodarte’s Fall 2009 RTW show a few months ago and was totally blown away. Their work is absolutely stunning. The sartorially consistent Thom Browne is given credit for saving the suit with his intelligent reflections on business attire. It is not a look for the meek of heart, but a recent collaboration with Brooks Brothers has at least made it more possible to join Thom in baring your ankles this spring (or any season, really). In the Interaction Design category, Lisa Strausfeld is a partner at Pentagram. A pioneer in the field of interaction design, Strausfeld’s recent work includes the incredible new website for Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Potion believes that every surface is a potential display. At the Clo Wine Bar in the Time Warner Center, patrons sit at an interactive table where they can research their pours, an innovative interactive experience for wine novices, future sommeliers, and everyone in between.
The Interior Design category has lately been populated by architects. I don’t know what this says about the traditional field of interior design, nor what it says about architecture firms who end up in this category, but this year’s group of honorees does work that could rightly be honored in either. While it has seemed in the past that the Interior Design category has tended to award younger architecture practices that, by default, did not yet have an extensive portfolio of freestanding buildings, the same cannot be said for the honorees this year. Ali Tayar has done equal amounts of work in architecture, furniture design, and product design. An inveterate multi-tasker, the breadth of his work demonstrates his ability to work with any type of client and within the parameters of any type of budget – a degree of flexibility that is increasingly an asset in the design world today. WORKac is a practice that is known for the humor, wit, and intelligence that they bring to design (full disclosure: they are old friends). Their Public Farm 1, installed last year as part of P.S.1’s Warm Up series, was made entirely of recyclable materials and powered by solar energy. In addition to being a great spot for a summer party, the farm produced over 50 varieties of fruit, vegetables, and herbs and also had a chicken coop. (I have wondered what happened to those chickens, though…)
Lastly, in Product Design, the honorees represent the full spectrum of the discipline (a debate between them would be very interesting). I think it is fair to say that this was a very contentious category, perhaps revealed by the broad differences between the honorees. Smart Design makes difficult products simpler and is unafraid of tackling the redesign of products in industries that are typically resistant to radical reinvention. Their work in the medical industry is an excellent example of Smart’s willingness to use design to create broad change. Ross Menuez of Salvor Projects has one of the more interesting biographies that I have read in quite some time. He even designed an airplane while still in high school. I admittedly didn’t know his work very well before this year’s awards cycle, but I now find myself coveting just about everything he has ever done.
Next time – a shorter post.