Archive for the ‘Design’ Category

Usain Bolt and His Predecessors

August 5, 2012 Leave a comment

I was glued to my computer mid-day today, watching the men’s 100 meter Olympic semi-finals and then, two hours later, the final. The semi-final performances suggested this would be a four-man race, and so it was: Jamaica’s Usain Bolt and Yohan Blake, the US’s Justin Gatlin and Tyson Gay.

Despite difficulties over the last two years, Bolt confirmed his greatness today by pulling ahead at about the 50-meter mark, steadily opening up a gap on the field, and winning in the second fastest 100 meter in history. Only his extraordinary world-record time at the 2009 World Championships was faster (though we’ll never know how fast he might have run the year before at the Beijing Olympics, where he set an earlier world record while slowing down at the finish).

However, today’s race, great though it was, is not the point of this post. If you want to know more about it, you can read the coverage. For instance, see Richard Williams’ piece at The Guardian, accompanied by the photo below, which shows Bolt crossing the finish line with Blake, Gatlin, and Gay behind.

[Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images]

Instead, I want to draw your attention to a fabulous graphic at the NYT website. I can’t embed it, so you’ll need to go here. In fact, do so right now. Click on the link — here it is again — and watch the 2 3/4 minute video. It puts Bolt’s performance in the context of the medalists’ times for all Olympic 100-meter races since 1896.

I’ll admit, I’m not convinced that the information conveyed by the video is all that interesting. Times have gotten steadily better over the last 116 years.* If there’s a deeper message, it eluded me. But the graphics are brilliantly done, and that’s why I’m recommending that you have a look.

*Then again, if one wants to find out about improvements in Olympic times, the 100 meter is the race to study. The competitors can’t mess around. They have to run their best, and generally they do. No room for tactics, such as those that occur in the 1500, 5000, or 10,000, with concomitant slow times. The 100 meter consistently produces record or near-record times, as it did today.

Categories: Design, Track

Design and Culture of Parking

January 8, 2012 1 comment

It won’t be news to regular Ron’s View readers that Gail and I love Nantucket. Imagine my delight, then, when I came upon a photo of a Nantucket parking lot last night in a NYT slide show illustrating the good (Nantucket) and bad (Disney World, below) of parking lot design. The slide show accompanies Michael Kimmelman’s article, the front page story in today’s Sunday arts section. Kimmelman begins with the premise that

we ought to take these lots more seriously, architecturally. Many architects and urban planners don’t. Beyond greener designs and the occasional celebrity-architect garage, we need to think more about these lots as public spaces, as part of the infrastructure of our streets and sidewalks, places for various activities that may change and evolve, because not all good architecture is permanent. Hundreds of lots already are taken over by farmers’ markets, street-hockey games, teenage partiers and church services. We need to recognize and encourage diversity. This is the idea behind Parking Day, a global event, around since 2005, that invites anybody and everybody to transform metered lots. Each year participants have adapted hundreds of them in dozens of countries, setting up temporary health clinics and bike-repair shops, having seminars and weddings.

Disney World

[Yann Arthus-Bertrand/Altitude]

Kimmelman continues with several interesting examples. The article is well worth reading. He also draws attention to ReThinking a Lot: The Design and Culture of Parking, a book due out in March by MIT professor of landscape architecture and design Eran Ben-Joseph. The Nantucket photo that drew my attention in the slide show is credited to Ben-Joseph, so I assume it makes an appearance in the book, which I have just now pre-ordered from Amazon. Here’s the book’s MIT Press blurb:

There are an estimated 600,000,000 passenger cars in the world, and that number is increasing every day. So too is Earth’s supply of parking spaces. In some cities, parking lots cover more than one-third of the metropolitan footprint. It’s official: we have paved paradise and put up a parking lot. In ReThinking a Lot, Eran Ben-Joseph shares a different vision for parking’s future. Parking lots, he writes, are ripe for transformation. After all, as he points out, their design and function has not been rethought since the 1950s. With this book, Ben-Joseph pushes the parking lot into the twenty-first century.

Can’t parking lots be aesthetically pleasing, environmentally and architecturally responsible? Used for something other than car storage? Ben-Joseph shows us that they can. He provides a visual history of this often ignored urban space, introducing us to some of the many alternative and nonparking purposes that parking lots have served–from RV campgrounds to stages for “Shakespeare in the Parking Lot.” He shows us parking lots that are not concrete wastelands but lushly planted with trees and flowers and beautifully integrated with the rest of the built environment. With purposeful design, Ben-Joseph argues, parking lots could be significant public places, contributing as much to their communities as great boulevards, parks, or plazas. For all the acreage they cover, parking lots have received scant attention. It’s time to change that; it’s time to rethink the lot.

I look forward to learning more.

Categories: Automobiles, Books, Design

Jet-Giant Conversion

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

It’s not news to readers of this blog that I don’t care too much about football. I mean, I follow it and all. Yes, I know that Michael Vick replaced Kevin Kolb for the Philadelphia Eagles and did pretty darn well. Yes, I know the Giants so far suck this year, and the Cowboys kept their hopes alive of playing at home in the Super Bowl with a win yesterday over their cross-state rival Texans. But really, I’m sick already of these story lines — Vick, Giants, Cowboys. And Favre. I don’t want to think about football until Thanksgiving. There’s enough else in sports to occupy me.

Yet, something did get my attention a week ago yesterday, when I watched a small slice of the Jets-Patriots game at the New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. You may recall that the Jets began life as the New York Titans in 1960 in the old American Football League, playing in the Polo Grounds. They would soon move to Shea Stadium, which they shared with the New York Mets baseball team, and changed their name to the Jets. Then they decided to leave Queens (and new York City) behind for the meadowlands of New Jersey, joining the Giants in 1984 as tenants in Giants Stadium. After a failed effort by the team, New York City Mayor Bloomberg, New York State Governor Pataki, and others to get a new Jets stadium built over the rail yards on the west side of Manhattan, the Jets agreed with the Giants to jointly build a new stadium in the meadowlands. It opened for football two weeks ago, with both teams playing at home that inaugural weekend.*

What caught my eye a week ago, as I caught glimpses of the new field during the Jets broadcast, was that the stadium was trimmed out as a genuine Jets home stadium, something the Jets had to do without during all those years as tenants of the Giants. How did they do it? I figured that the week before, when the two teams played at home on successive days, it must have been quite an operation to turn the stadium over from a Giants home to a Jets home.

Well, sometimes you get what you wish for. The New Yorker’s Samantha Henig was on the case. Two weeks ago she observed the conversion, and last Friday she shared the details in the New Yorker’s blog. The post even has a slide show to help the reader visualize the process. An excerpt:

It was five o’clock on a damp Sunday afternoon in mid-September: four hours since the New York Giants christened the new Meadowlands stadium with their first game of the season; thirty-seven minutes since they locked down their victory, thirty-one to eighteen, against the Carolina Panthers; and twenty-three hours until the stadium would begin admitting Jets fans for their turn at a season opener in the new space. That meant less than a day to transform the 1.6-billion-dollar stadium from the Giants’ quarters to the land of the Jets. In Giants Stadium, which both teams shared from 1984 until last year, that was easy enough: as the name implied, it always had a bit of a visitor’s feel for the Jets. At the more even-handed “Meadowlands Stadium,” lights, banners, flags, and artwork all coördinate with whichever team is drawing the fans. Luckily for the forty-six workers orchestrating the night’s quick conversion, this stadium is made to morph.

Even the clothing store had to be converted: “Inside, twenty-five workers in dark gray shirts and black pants wore the glazed expressions of Internet gamblers on an all-night binge. But their marathon was more tedious: stripping the Giants shirts from mannequins and dressing them in Jets gear; restocking three hundred T-shirts, three hundred sweatshirts, and five hundred caps; and, as a final flourish, switching the store lighting from blue to green.”

Forget football. Let’s televise this.

*Maybe I should point out that I grew up going to Giants games at Yankee Stadium and Jets games at Shea Stadium. Those were the days.

Categories: Design, Sports

O’Hare Eames Chair

May 18, 2010 2 comments

When I think of the famed designer couple Charles and Ray Eames, what first comes to mind are their iconic lounge chair and ottoman, pictured below.

Two such chairs and the ottoman graced the house we moved into when I was ten, and are there still, decades later. I was unaware of the Eames at the time. (I’ll confess, once I learned of them, I imagined they were brothers. It hadn’t occurred to me that Ray was a woman and that they were, in fact, a married couple.)

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal page one feature article, Daniel Michaels reported from the Passenger Terminal Expo 2010 in Brussels on the latest in terminal seating. Pictured inside the paper were some newer options, but I was stunned when I saw on page one the drawing at right of that most familiar of all terminal seats, with the caption, “The Eames seat.”

I had no idea. Is there a chair that has been sat in by more people in history than this one? Probably not. And it’s yet another Eames chair.

It turns out, as everyone in the trade must know, that the Eames designed this chair for the opening of the expanded O’Hare Airport in 1962 (at which point O’Hare became the principal Chicago airport and Midway was relegated to minor status). The chair is still available. At the Herman Miller website, it is called Eames Tandem Sling Seating and given the following description:

Eames tandem sling seating serves millions of travelers every day and does it comfortably and reliably.

Designed for O’Hare International Airport in 1962, the sleek, contemporary design remains in style for all kinds of public transportation stations. Around the world, people find it a comfortable, inviting place to wait. And terminal operators appreciate its space-saving flexibility, durability, and easy maintenance.

I’ve never been a fan of the Eames tandem. It looks inviting enough, and I suppose it’s comfortable enough, but not when I’m about to sit on an airplane. I’ve had enough back problems over the years that the last thing I want to do before being locked into a plane seat for hours is lie way back in a chair with minimal lower back support. Often, when confronted with the tandem, I have chosen to stand, or walk around. I eventually succumb and take a seat, but after a few minutes I force myself to get up again, more out of fear of what the position I’m in might to do to me than any actual discomfort.

Eames. I still can’t get over it.

I can’t write about the Eames without mentioning my favorite of all their work, their mathematics museum exhibit. I first saw it in 1966, at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. I had always assumed it originated there, but yesterday I learned (here) that it was initially commissioned in 1961 by IBM for the new Science Wing at the California Museum of Science and Industry (now the California Science Center) in Los Angeles. A duplicate opened later that year in Chicago. The Museum of Science and Industry considers its opening sufficiently important that it is listed as one of the highlights in the museum’s history, the only highlight between 1956 and 1971.

The California Science Center re-mounted the exhibit temporarily in the summer of 2002, as explained at the time in a press release, which notes that “the exhibition . . . won the hearts of several generations of teachers and students during its tenure at the California Science Center (formerly California Museum of Science and Industry) from 1961-1997.” The New York Hall of Science installed a permanent version in 2004, and a case study of the mounting of this exhibition is provided here, along with photos. Below is one of the photos, depicting the famous history chart.

If you have a chance to see the exhibit, please do.

I’ll conclude with one more Eames production, the powers of ten documentary from 1968, which you can watch below.

Next time you’re in New York, after visiting the Hall of Science, head to the Rose Center for Earth and Space at the American Museum of Natural History and see Scales of the Universe, a wonderful exhibit that shares the theme of depicting relative scales from the sub-atomic to the extra-galactic. And next time I find myself waiting for a plane in an Eames tandem, I’ll be thinking about those scales.

Categories: Design, Math

What Type Are You?

January 8, 2010 2 comments

Two evenings ago, my friend Chris was kind enough to pass on to me the wonderfully clever What Type Are You online test from Pentagram. Pentagram is a design services company. As they explain in their 12-23-09 entry on the webpage here, “Every Christmas since 1971, Pentagram has designed and published a small annual greetings booklet and sent it to our friends, colleagues and clients. Usually designed around a game or activity, these small books are intended to provide a diversion during the hectic holiday period.” The online test is this year’s game or activity.

When you go to the webpage to take the test, you’ll need to sign in with your name and a password. Chris let me in on the password. As far as I can tell from looking elsewhere on the web, it’s not really a secret, so I’ll let you in on it too. It’s the word ‘character’. Go take the test. You’ll be asked four questions about your personality, each requiring a choice between two alternative types. Thus there are 16 possible ways to respond to the four questions, or 16 personality types. This may sound like a Myers-Briggs Type test, and in a way it is, but there’s a clever twist. I don’t want to spoil the twist, so I’ll say no more, other than that you should be patient, as the test takes a few minutes.

Oh, one more thing. I took the test two nights ago, then watched Gail take it yesterday morning. On all four questions, we chose different types. I’m not entirely sure that was surprising, but it was fun to see the outcome.

Thanks, Chris, for sending me the test.

Categories: Design


August 6, 2009 Leave a comment


On the heels of my finishing Fred Kaplan’s new book 1959: The Year Everything Changed (about which I blogged last week), the NYT had an article in this past Sunday’s automobile section on the peak of the automobile tailfin craze, yet another 1959 highlight.

Inspired by aircraft of the 1940s, tailfins inched upward through the ’50s to reach their zenith on the 1959 Cadillac. That car and many others presented a comic-book vision of travel — over the earth and through space — that was to evolve in the early ’60s into less fanciful designs more attuned to the actual spacecraft that were by then putting Americans into orbit.

“Tailfins embodied a feeling of prosperity and jet-age excitement,” said Jeffrey Leestma, president of the Automotive Hall of Fame here. Last weekend the Hall of Fame made tailfins the theme of its annual classic car show, which included 40 models.

This Sunday, another collection of fins will command attention at the Meadow Brook Concours d’Élégance in Rochester Hills, Mich. A display called “Fins and Chrome: The Convertibles of 1959” will feature 14 models, including one of each of the Big Three’s car lines.

“General Motors and Chrysler became involved in a game of one-upmanship in fins,” Mr. Leestma said. “And they grew to a huge extent by 1959. By 1963 or so they were completely gone.”

Despite my two trips to Dearborn this past winter, I didn’t make it to the Automotive Hall of Fame. Too bad. I sure would have enjoyed the show two weekends ago. As a substitute, be sure to see the slide show that accompanies the NYT article.

Categories: Automobiles, Design

Hobbes and Small Cars

July 21, 2009 Leave a comment
Ford Aspire

Ford Aspire

I’ve discovered Eric Felten. Felten wrote the weekly column How’s Your Drink for the Saturday Weekend Journal section of the Wall Street Journal until last month. Since I essentially never drink cocktails, I hadn’t paid much attention. I happily read Raymond Sokolov’s Eating Out column and Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher’s Tastings column. But cocktails? Nah.

Alas, I now realize that I’ve been missing the work of a fine writer. Read more…

Categories: Automobiles, Design, Movies, Music

Warm Logos

May 31, 2009 Leave a comment


The Week in Review section of today’s NYT has an article by Bill Marsh about companies changing long-standing logos to warmer, fuzzier ones.

Behold the new breed of corporate logo — non-threatening, reassuring, playful, even child-like. Not emblems of distant behemoths, but faces of friends. … Bold, block capital letters are out. Their replacements are mostly or entirely lower case, softening the stern voice of corporate authority to something more like an informal chat. … Letterforms in many new emblems are lighter and rounder

Last year’s top influence, green for sustainability, remains; leaves still sprout across the corporate landscape. … blue was also gaining as a stand-in for the environment (think of earth’s blue orb as seen from space, or clear blue waters) as well as for fresh optimism. But please, make it a joyful sky blue — not dark, corporate-titan navy.

A graphic accompanying the article shows old and new logos for a variety of companies, along with a short discussion of the nature of each change. I was working my way through the examples, starting with Wal-Mart and Kraft (and ending with Blackwater, which has changed its name as well as its logo), when I stumbled on an example close to my heart. I didn’t even realize Sysco had introduced a new logo. As the accompanying text explains, “The old Sysco box logo — cleverly spelling out the food supplier’s name — made way for three newly popular features: sky-blue type, a green leaf and a warmly worded tagline.” I do miss that cleverly hidden name.

Categories: Business, Design