Design as Problem Solving

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.

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Parallel careers as an urban planner and a journalist, principally at present airing commentaries on pubic radio 99.1 KBU.FM The many arrows in my quiver have included Emmy award winning reporter/ producer for local Fox Television News, design critic for the Los Angeles Times, urban affairs reporter for The New York Times, an editor of The New York Post, contributor to various popular and professional publications, news services and broadcast outlets, including Reuters, NET, NBC, CBS, NPR and the BBC. Founding editor of the East Harlem (NY) Independent. A diversity of professional positions and consultancies in the private and public sectors, (Metro, Disney Imagineering, Howard Hughes, M. Milken, NYC Educational Construction Fund, US Comptroller of the Currency etc,) assorted academic appointments (UCLA, USC, CCNY, Art Center etc.), and always open to new challenge. And let us not forget fashioning sand castles and acting on 90210, crafting TV docs, design reviews, master plans. Books: "The Dream Deferred: People, Politics and Planning in Suburbia," "L.A. Lost and Found," an architectural history of Los Angeles, "L.A. Follies," a collection of essays, and co-author of "The New York City Handbook." Writings have appeared in academic texts, commentaries on the web, scripts for TV, and wherever, latest the Architects Newspaper, The Planning Report and Planetizen.

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