UCLA might be the prime attraction of Westwood Village, but increasingly becoming a focal point is the Hammer Museum on Wilshire Boulevard. It almost always has a provocative exhibit on display, as was the appealing genius of Thomas Heatherwick and his London-based Studio, which in a rare creative trifecta pursues art, architecture and design in an array of projects.
The exhibit was entitled Provocations, and it indeed provoked both the attending professionals and the public to recognize that at the core and calling of design is problem solving, not the look of something, however au courant; it is taking the complex and making it simple, not taking the simple and making it complex, as some of our star architects do.
It is not surprising that Heatherwick is quoted as saying when he was a young, inventors commanded his attention. “They don’t have style,” he said, “They look for ideas.”
And as I taught for years at the Art Center College of Design and at various architecture schools, design is the honest expression of function, while fashion and fad though occasionally appealing, is the fleeting mother lode for celebrity practioneers.
That the true test of design is how it serves the user, and if attractive and inventive, all the better.
These appealing qualities were very much on display in both small and large commissions the studio has been challenged by since its establishment 20 years ago.
They have included personal and household items, such as handbags, and rotation-molded chairs , as well as large public and private architectural projects around the globe.
These include several bridges, a distillery, a school, and a contemporary art museum, created within a historic grain silo. All dazzle, exuding an inventive approach to design, often combining novel engineering with new materials and innovative technology to create often sculptural forms.
To emphasize the studios user orientation, the projects explanation were presented as questions and answers, in effect literal provocations:
To quote: “How do you give individuality to the skin of an inexpensive building?”, “Can you squeeze a chair out of a machine, the way you squeeze toothpaste out of a tube?” “Is it possible to make a bridge out of glass?”
If you missed the exhibit at the Hammer, it is headed next to the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Museum, in New York. .
This commentary was aired on 97.5 KBU FM May 9, 2015.