Monday, October 22, 2007

Modern Movement II

The move to modernism was not only a shift in styles but also the killing off of others. The art nouveau style, infiltrating furniture, architecture, and fine arts, was planted to grow into a revolutionary movement. Although debatably it did revolutionize design. It never reach its full maturity in growth as it was cut down.
Although it can’t be pinpointed, the short life of art nouveau has been attributed to competition from antique dealers and cheap departments stores. Leading to a deprivation of the exclusive audience wanting and consuming modern style.
In the beginning stages of the art moderne development there was a balance between representing classical and other styles in a more abstract way, often constrained by principles that the style holds. (Abstracted forms, symmetry, and lines) There started to form an appreciation for the function of items and the best form to show that. This was often done by stripping styles down to some basic elements and principles.
That is show well in Henri Matisse’s quote,
“What I dream of is an art of balance, of purity and tranquility, devoid of troubling subject matter, an art which could be, for every mental worker, for the businessman as well as for the man of letters, for example, a soothing balm, a mental calmative, something akin to a good armchair which eases his physical fatigue…”
This brings me to my discussion of conformability and modernism/art moderne/deconstructivism. Is modern design comfortable? That is the overall question I ask. Is the stripping of furniture, for example, to a bare form going to be more comfortable because it eases your fatigue through tranquil, simplified design? Have we sacrificed out comfort for design? To what extent have we or have we not? What fields of design? Examples could include cars, transportation, furniture, and space.


Audrey said...

It is a difficult question. Of course we could probably find examples of modern design that are comfortable but we could certainly find those that aren’t. In a way you have touched on the subject of Ergonomics. I don’t know if ergonomics necessarily equates modernism. Ergonomics deals with human human anatomy. Unlike most early modernism, ergonomic design can be totally organic in order to conform to the human body. Modernism of the internationalist variety often became so INTERNATIONAL that it lacked humanity. It was perhaps Wright's attention to the human scale that allowed him to create comfortable (personal) modernisms. As I once stated in another response, modern design can often appear cold because it fails to recognize religion and history. Thus modernism can fail to recognize humanity and become nothing more than an in-between place (a sterile place)
Ergonomic design is not necessarily comfortable to look at. It’s like those solid black shoes that restaurants require employees to wear. They are designed for optimal comfort and safety yet they are uglier than original sin.
Still ergonomic design is not without a design voice. In looking at the automobile design one could notice a slight sex appeal that many toy cars have while trucks tend to appear rugged and vans seem to be humble and family oriented. In furniture design chairs like the womb chair and the swan chair almost beg to be sat in with their graceful embracing lines and stability. Both chairs are beautiful, comfortable, and most of all modern

J Kan said...

Stripping furniture to a bare form does not necessarily, as Nathan so dramatically put it, “kill off” the designs of others. Of course when most people think of modern design their thought drift towards the extreme. The simple design of the modern style did not spontaneously appear, rather they stemmed from classical influence. Take for example the Empire Side Chair by Robert Venturi. It is a very basic and simple modern chair. Look closer and you might see that it is essentially a Queen Anne Side Chair. Venturi looked at all the design elements that made the Queen Anne chair so revolutionary in its time period and simplified them to make a modern day Queen Anne chair. If you look closely his chair has all the features of a Queen Anne chair. The front legs have a gentle curve much like the cabriole legs of the original and rear legs have the gentle slope of a racked leg of the Queen Anne chairs. The curves of the chair are very ergonomic and form fitting with attention to comfort which is what made the Queen Anne chairs so different from all others of the time. Also the back of the chair features a similar vase shaped back splat. Low relief carving was also a feature of the style but the designer chose not to use any carvings in order to keep simplicity to extreme. Instead the texture comes from the finish on the surface of the chair. The basic elements are still there but just updated and modernized paying homage to its predecessor.

Laurel said...

I think initially we did sacrifice comfort for design and technology. For example, with Henry Ford's Model T. Because we were trying to use all this new technology and the methods of mass production that were becoming available, we had to limit ourselves. It was extravagant and amazing enough that an automobile was available to the general public, Ford didn't want to push the limits too far by offering, say, different colors. Today we are more advanced and our cars are engineered with safety first, but luxury and comfort close behind. Things like surround sound speakers, illuminated cupholders and radio controls on the steering wheel, not to mention flip-down TV screens, were not on Henry Ford's to-do list. As we evolve so do our designs.

While modern design did simplify forms to an enormous extent, it did not necessarily make them bare and uncomfortable. Take the Barcelona chair for example. Just the other day one of my friends (with no design background) saw a picture of a Barcelona Chair and said 'I hate those - there is no way that can be comfortable.' But anyone who has ever sat in a Barcelona Chair will know the difference.

jessica said...

I think everyone assumes that modernism is not comfortable and when it first came about it probably wasn't as it is today. When a new style comes out it takes time to refine the style and over time it takes its true form. (you can't get it right the first time). At first I would say that in today's world things have to be about comfort to be able to sell but after the Chicago trip I have a different thought... shoes...everyone wears them but half the time they are the most uncomfortable things man makes which brings me back to modernism. A lot of the style is about looks(form) and if it can function. Those two elements are key to modern design and if they exists its up to the maker to decide to add comfort. Because some people love the modernism becasue it has a characteristic of hard lines and is straight forward and t they want to express that image and not a cozy one. So I guess it's about who the user is and how that want to use the style in their life and what they want in to say about them.

estee said...

I do believe that many modern designs have definitley been stripped of the comforting "look". Many sleek fine lined designs in furniture probably aren't the most comfortable peices. However, we have to remember that GOOD design should be aesthetically pleasing as well as functional...functionally in this case meaning being able to sit within a design without a back or butt ache.
I feel that overall modern design is usually cold and uninviting. I personally don't enjoy abstract, modern design in my own home, but certainly find it interesting in commercial places. I think an abstract concept works well for certain places. We are currently designing a gallery in my studio and my concept is actually pretty modern and fine lined. I think a gallery for instance is a place this style would work quite well because comfort is not the largest statement one would want to make...its the art! I think the cold, streamlined materials will help the art speak the most in the design.

Kasey said...

Oh my where to start....
If we're talking about "visually" comfortable then I believe that the super functional, rectilinear forms of modernism are comfortable to look at, personally. For example, at the Merchandise Mart this weekend alot of the SOFAS (not couches :) ) and chairs were very low and horizontal and created very restful, cohesive displays. However, others may interpret the simplicity and starkness of modern designs to mean they are rigid and uninviting.
On the other side, deconstructivism, not so comfortable for me. Its very detached, diagonal, exciting, active, and chaotic. So I would call it stimulating in opposition to comforting.
Now, as far as physical comfort goes...I miss La-Z-Boy recliners and big ugly couches that were so plush you could melt into them and almost be enveloped by the cushions around you. So , I have to say yes, we have "designed out" an element of physical comfort, especially in any kind of furniture used for seating. But, on the counter side of that we have "designed in" an awareness of ergonomics which is continually being improved upon. More attention is paid to small details such as the wings on the headrests of airplane seats, and those stools that actually have a butt (for lack of better word) imprint as the seat and things of that nature. So maybe you could say that with modern design we have moved from excessive comfort to efficient comfort.

Megan Funk said...

If you were to look through a catalog today that summarized modern design you would see many shapes, forms, and styles of furniture. Some of these would exude the modern stereotype of being sleek, hard lined, solid, and minimal while others would have qualities of curves, cushion, whimsy, and ergonomics. This shows that although some designers have chosen to go the route of making spaces that are soothing based on the overall design and look of the furniture, there are still many designers who focus on the function and feel of the piece. Even further, some designers have been able to mesh the two. For example, while in Knoll this weekend there were many modern pieces, one which happened to be a chaise lounge that was a single, curved piece of material. This material was hard, but because its curve was made to fit the curve of a human body it was truly one of the most comfortable chairs I have ever sat in. Also important is the fact that one of these chairs on display had a cushion in it. A feature that could have been put there to add an element of color but that never the less added comfort too.
So, some could say that we have indeed sacrificed comfort for design, making pieces that look cool but are unbearable to sit in for long hours. But on the other hand, the pieces that characterize mainstream design or at least the ones you are most likely to see in an everyday setting are the ones by designers who want people to experience their pieces in a tactile kind of way such as sitting in them and enjoying it.

Jenna said...

The level of comfortability in modern design relies heavily upon the materials used, as well design elements and principles such as color, line, texture, and light. The first thing that pops into my mind is a discussion that I had with Laurel in the Herman Miller showroom in Chicago. While many times modernism can be considered cold and uninviting, we briefly discussed how the H.M. showroom served as a great example of modern design. It showed pieces that were designed not only to be functional, universal, and modular (characteristics often seen in modernism) but also… warm and friendly. -Done so in a way that says “come sit down.” Had you placed these pieces under abrasive fluorescent lights, stuck in the middle of the floor, in a large metal warehouse, I don’t think they would have appeared so warm and friendly. However, because the design team at H.M. dropped the ceilings into a grid-like pattern and accompanied them with track lighting, suddenly modern design became comfortable to me.
More examples of this comfortability include their use of drapery to soften corners of large glass walls, plush rugs that sat under the hard edge of metal tables, softly frosted glass wall panels, and the incorporation of elements found in nature… such as wood and sand.

While modern design may be thought of as simple, the relationship between the architecture of the space, furnishings, as well as the small details found on those pieces, is quite complex. Take for instance - the tufting in Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair, or the overlapping joints of Rietveld’s red/blue armchair. It is details like these that make modernism visually comfortable when we see it. It’s something for us to look at, think about, and connect to. The stripped down, bare form of modern furniture, vehicles, and even communication/ mp3 devices are often considered beautiful in the unveiling of their geometry. One might even consider that because a lot of modern and deconstructive designs are restrained in their decoration, they have a presence of sophistication and luxury.

If anything, we have gained time AND money through the easy, often standardized production methods of modernism, as well as the capability and education of using recycled, renewable, and sustainable materials in the designs. The style therefore gains a wider audience. More people are able to live easier lives and perform day to day tasks because modern design is so adaptable and created to suit people’s needs. There’s evidence in the Schroder house and it’s track-sliding walls. Not to mention, modern design’s smooth surfaces and absence of decoration are guaranteed easier to clean. There’s evidence in such task-oriented space called “The Frankfurt Kitchen.” - Now that’s definitely a gain. :) Overall, the simplified design, simplifies our life. It could symbolize organization to some… bringing clarity, a nice contrast between the chaotic world and peaceful living/working space. To me, we haven’t sacrificed much.

Melanie Ormerod said...

Moderne design certainly has its share of comfortable and uncomfortable designs. There are the extreme moderne designs that look so uncomfortable that when you sit in them, you might not be able to get up out of it, or it has a very hard feeling just form looking at it because of its 90 degree angles and the lack of pattern or fabric to make one feel at ease when they sit down. But even though there are these uncomfortable looking pieces, there are some comfortable ones as well. these pieces are, as nathan describes, "more comfortable because it eases your fatigue through tranquil, simplifies design."

Lauren Fleming said...

Hmmmmm...I do believe that modern design can be comfortable, but most often it is not. The hard lines, geometric shapes and patterns make it difficult to accomplish the aesthetic qualities as well as being comfortable. When comfort as well as style is successfully obtained it is a true accomplishment.
For modern desin to be comfortable the slightest thing can be altered. Such as the angle of the flat plane on the back of the chair. All it needs is a slight tilt and/or wave in the plane. Sometimes even though these details are present they are not ergonomically correct.
The ergonomics are neglected because of the style or concept of the piece. How far can we really go in designing something that has "never been seen before?" Shape and texture play two of the main roles in designing of furniture. Today it is simple shape and simple texture that are in demand. This can be seen everywhere; cars, trucks, airplanes, busses, auditoriums,restaurants, movie theatres. Modern design is pretty much seen and experienced everywhere. Whether or not it is a good/comfortable experience is up to the individual.
Looks can be decieving. Touch never lies.

Audrey said...

In designing which do we seek to answer first: 'How do we make a product?' or does it begin with; How do we make a product look good?
This is a chicken or the egg first debate for many designers. All design is the same. It is a marriage of form and function. Perhaps primitive or early design sought merely to decorate crude utilitarian machines. Later design recognizes more the importance of functionality. Industrial design and interior design are in some respects the same. Design is design is design. Design is a problem and a solution. As far as the impact of industrial design; it has become such a part of my every day life that I find it almost impossible to categorize. I find it ugly, at times (overly functional). The most beautiful industrial designs (in my opinion) are apple products. It is apparent that industrial design has remained modern where as interior design has not.

This blog is intended for the interior design students in the college of design at the University of Kentucky. It was created with the intent to present students with information, providing them with a channel for contemplation and discussion.