Happy Campers Press Release

 — Journalism - Design & Architecture - Journalism - MoMA

“Happy Campers” – an interactive exhibition with young Swedish design groups:


Research and Development


We Work In A Fragile Material

Curated by Fredrik Helander, Johanna Lenander and Brett


May 21 – 23, Skylight Studios

“Happy Campers” is an interactive exhibition/workshop that features some of Sweden’s most exciting young design groups. The show coincides with the ICFF fair and is a part of the off-site Mobile Living exhibition at Skylight studios. “Happy Campers” offers an interesting alternative to traditional design exhibitions. Instead of promoting finished products, it is a creative experiment that will grow and evolve during three days.

Four young collaborative design groups from Sweden: defyra, Research and Development, UGLYCUTE and We Work In A Fragile Material, will build their installations and lead workshops on site with the help of the public. They will create a metaphorical ‘camp ground’ and explore issues of collaboration, social interaction, the Swedish relationship to nature, and mobile living. Visitors will participate in the growth of a 13 feet troll, stuff hot dog pillows by the yard and spend a virtual day in the Stockholm archipelago.

Items from the exhibition will be for sale at Salvor Kiosk May 23 through August www.salvorkiosk.com

Skylight Studios

275 Hudson St (at Spring St.)

New York, NY 10012

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Concrete Canvas Shelters

— Client: I.D. Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

How do you make a refugee shelter that is strong like a house but only requires one hour and two people to assemble it? Well, first you need to invent your own superhero material. British inventors and design engineers Peter Brewin and William Crawford, founders of design company Concrete Canvas, did just that by taking a basic building component (cement), rethinking its properties, and turning it into a new material (cloth). The supremely efficient and innovative Concrete Cloth is a cement-impregnated fabric that transforms into an impermeable tent when you add air and water. As the fabric gets wet, it inflates into an oval structure, and then dries to form a robust, waterproof, fireproof and lightweight shell. Brewin and Crawford first got the idea for Concrete Cloth when they were graduate students at London’s Royal College of Art. The duo entered a competition held by the British Cement Association that called for new ways to use cement. Their aim was to make a resilient and durable disaster relief shelter. “You think of a refugee camp as temporary housing, but people have to live in them for years,” says Brewin. “We wanted to make something that could last a decade.” Their brainstorming process took them to some unexpected places: chicken coops and hospitals. “We were inspired by egg shells,” says Brewin, “It’s a very thin ceramic shell that gets its strength from the support of its structure.” The idea of cloth came from plaster bandages. “When you break your arm, the wet cloth hardens into a strong, protective shield,” says Brewin.

While the shelters have been in production for a year, they have so far only been employed for military use. “The production is still too small to make them affordable for NGO’s,” says Brewin. However, the company recently received a large publicity boost when they won Material Connexion’s Medium Award for Material of the Year. “That’s the kind of validation that helps us get our product out there so we can lower production costs,” says Brewin “It’s a huge help.”

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Sketch Troop

— Client: Surface Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

“We’re constantly searching for knowledge,” says Sofia Lagerkvist, one quarter of ascending Swedish design stars Front. “ We begin most of our projects by asking: Why is a particular object made in a particular way? Can we do it differently?” These questions have led to some pretty interesting answers. In the two years since Lagerkvist, Katja Sävström, Charlotte von der Lancken and Anna Lindgren founded Front (the group met at Stockholm’s Konstfack University of Arts, Craft and Design), they have collaborated with animals, put stereos in glass bottles, designed an ever-changing museum interior and, most recently, used hi-tech animation tools to create furniture. “It’s about exploring what the task of a designer really is,” says Lindgren, “How do we make something new?”

Front’s combination of childlike curiosity and vigorous research has made them Sweden’s most talked about new designers. Their work has been praised by everyone from Women’s Wear Daily to Droog Design, who has collaborated with the foursome since last September. Their latest project, which is perhaps their most radical yet, was shown at design.05 during Miami’s Art Basel fair alongside such industry veterans as Ron Arad, Gaetano Pesce and Ettore Sottsas. Front displayed a set of strangely cartoonish-looking furniture that had been created from their latest self-invented design and manufacturing process.  “We like to merge two completely different techniques that have never been combined before,” says Lindgren, “It’s like a meeting of two separate worlds.” The group’s basic inspiration was exploring the relationship between a sketch and a final product. By hooking up motion capture sensors –the technique used to register actors’ movements for animated film characters- to their index fingers, each Front member was able to literally draw their designs in the air. “Normally, you make a two-dimensional sketch, but these were three-dimensional, like you were creating an invisible object,” says Lindgren. An added difficulty was that they couldn’t see what they were drawing. “You have to sketch very quickly so you can remember what you did,” says Lagerkvist.  The sketches were saved in a computer file and brought over to a Finnish factory that specializes in a type of Rapid Prototyping called Selective Laser Sintering, normally used for car manufacturing. The motion capture file was translated by a laser-beam, which slowly built a prototype from a pool of liquid plastic. The material was applied in multiple thin layers, which were hardened by the laser. After approximately four days the real-life product slowly rose out of the liquid, much like a sea monster rearing its head in a horror film. “It was really strange to see the furniture just appear like that,” says Lindgren, “There was definitely a sense of giving birth.” The limited edition furniture collection (a table, chair, lamp and sofa) is available at Barry Friedman Gallery in New York, and the project may be expanded in the future. Front still seem to be slightly in awe of their own invention. “It’s so fascinating to bypass the whole manufacturing process,” says Lagerkvist, “In a sense, the pieces are made by hand, but no one has ever touched them.”

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Lie Back and Think of Denmark

— Client: Art Review Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

The work of Danish furniture designer Poul Kjaerholm is the perfect embodiment of the Scandinavian Modern era. Its serene lines and meticulously function-friendly forms speak about high ideals and careful craftsmanship, values that triggers an immediate sense of nostalgia in many of us. However, Kjaerholm fans argue that the most important qualities of his work have nothing to do with the past. “The strange thing about Kjaerholm is that his designs looks like they could have been created yesterday,” says the New York-based architect and Danish design expert Michael Sheridan. Sheridan has set out to explore this timeless quality in the first museum retrospective ever of Kjaerholm’s work, which will open in June at the modern art museum Louisiana outside Copenhagen. The exhibition, which features 75 pieces of furniture and more than 150 drawings and sketches, follows Kjaerholm’s career from his days as a young cabinetmaker to international design icon. Kjaerholm, who died of lung cancer at age 51 in 1980 (he smoked three packs a day according to Sheridan), designed furniture up until his untimely death and was a professor of Furniture Design at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen from 1952 to 1956 and at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts, Copenhagen from 1955 to 1976. He is not as well known as his contemporary colleagues Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen and Verner Panton, yet he is revered with an almost religious zeal in design circles. So why do connoisseurs find his ouevres more time resistant and, ultimately, better than the designs of for example Charles and Ray Eames and Mies van Der Rohe? Sheridan thinks that the secret behind Kjaerholm’s greatness was his lack of design ego and respect for his material (he once stated: ‘I’d rather express the character of the material than my own character’). “He came from a long tradition of craftsmanship”, says Sheridan, pointing to the young Kjaerholm’s training as a cabinetmaker. “He saw himself as a furniture architect, not a furniture designer. His work had nothing to do with stylized design. Mies’ and Bauhaus’ furniture was all about form and visual effect. They embody a cold, efficient machine ideal that dates them to that era. But Kjaerholm’s forms were really a product of his material. It wasn’t where he started but where he ended up as a result.” William Lee of New York’s Modern Link, a design collective and retail shop that carries vintage mid-century furniture as well as the group’s own line, finds that its the high quality of Kjaerholm’s work that makes it so desirable. “If you look closely at the work by the American modernists you begin to find flaws,” he says, “But with Kjaerholm and the other Scandinavians, you discover more and more beauty. It’s not a superficial, form driven style.” Kjaerholm’s furniture is known for looking better aged than new as the patina of time adds character to the light and sleek shapes. His vintage leather upholstered chairs and sofas are especially popular. This is a result of Kjaerholm’s almost obsessive attention to construction and detail, which made the stuff practically indestructible. Each component was – and still is – hand made. “In the beginning of his career he was very driven by the socialist ideal of making furniture that was accessible for everyone,” says Sheridan, “But then it ended up being very expensive. But he justified that by saying that it was pretty good value in terms of longevity.”

However, longevity notwithstanding, how come the common image of modern Scandinavian design is still firmly attached to those dearly departed mid-century masters? Furniture that was conceived five decades ago is clearly no longer “modern”. So why hasn’t any real new talents emerged since then? It’s interesting to note that to many design fans, Kjaerholm and his contemporaries are still the most radical creators to come out of Scandinavia. While countries like Italy, France and Holland have moved on to produce contemporary design innovators, Scandinavia seems stuck in Wegner, Kjaerholm, Jacobsen and Aalto. Is the shadow of Nordic Modern movement so over-powering that it has stifled the design climate in Sweden, Denmark and Finland today?  Michael Sheridan thinks the greatness of Kjaerholm et al was partly due to social and political forces. “I think its important to realize that the rise of Danish design, and

Nordic Modernism in general, occurred due to a convergence of social forces. It was really a historical accident that resulted from a unique moment in history and the overlapping of different ways of seeing the world,” he says, referring to the swift transformation of Scandinavia from agriculture-based economies to industrialized, urban societies that took place in the first half of the 20th century. The Swedish artist Jonas Nobel, who also belongs to the experimental and performance-oriented design collective Uglycute, makes a similar point: “The Scandinavian Modern aesthetic was an expression of the political climate of the time. The social-democratic governments were busy creating a “new’ society. The modernists’ furniture fit in with that ideal.” But, he says, that large-scale, collective vision is no longer relevant. “Today our political life is scattered and there are a multitude of influences from all over the place, which I personally think is healthy.” Sheridan has the outsider’s perspective: “The idea of Nordic Modernism is rooted in a Nordic culture that is different from everyplace else and today that difference has largely been eroded.” But if the Scandinavian societies have changed, how come their design scene hasn’t changed with it? Because the aesthetic norms and expectations have stayed the same, according to Nobel. “There is this prevailing attitude that when you create a new object, you are prescribing a new way of living for everyone. A reaction that Uglycute often gets is: ‘Is this how our homes are supposed to look now?’ People don’t understand design as a suggestion and form of experimentation.” Since that kind of mass-market theory is pretty much the only design ideal that is taught in design schools, there has been little room for progress. “Why should you try to make the ultimate ‘modern’ chair when the modernists already perfected it?” he says. “There is no reason for it. Design has to be created as an expression of its time. It’s a way of communicating an idea.” However, Nobel, who also teaches at Stockholm’s College of The Arts, Crafts and Design Konstfack and Beckman’s School of Design, says that the modernist ideology has finally started to subside in the classrooms, giving way to a whole new wave of Scandinavian Expressionism. “A lot has happened in the past 5-6 years. There are a lot of new designers out there who are examining new ways to work with craft and material. It’s partly because people like me are beginning to show up on school faculties. And then in twenty years we’ll have a rebellion against that. Which is exactly the way it should be.”

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Something to Sing About

— Client: I.D. Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

With its recent sea oil revenue and late urbanization, Norway tends to play the role of Scandinavia’s nouveau riche cousin from the country. The postwar urban aesthetic of this small and sparsely populated country (4,7 million) has (with the exception of Pritzker Prize winner Sverre Fehn) been stuck in a time warp, giving it rustic patina rather than Scandinavian Modern gloss. This is set to change, however, with Oslo’s new opera house. The elegantly expansive structure, which was inaugurated on April 12, is expected to pull the Norwegian capital out of its cultural obscurity and put it on the map as an architectural hot spot.

Norway’s ministry of culture held the international competition for a new national landmark eight years ago, and local breakout firm Snøhetta—which is best known for their future visitor’s center at the WTC Memorial and the 800 000 square foot Alexandria Library in Cairo– but has never built a similarly grand-scale project before on its home turf—was a natural choice for the weighty commission. “We were given the task to create a monumental building that would represent the abilities of contemporary Norwegian society,” says Snøhetta’s Tarald Lundevall, who was the project’s architect together with his colleagues Kjertil Thorsen and Craig Dykers.

Although the white stone and glass building itself has already radically transformed the city’s coastline  —with its sweeping roof platform that descends into the fjord on one side and extends into a plaza on the other, it looks like an immense formation of ice floes rising out of the water—Snøhetta’s interpretation of “monumental” was focused more on usage and Scandinavian ideals of public access. All aspects of the building are designed for public use, even the exterior. The roof ramps over the entire building, functioning like a panoramic park as it rises above the glass encased foyer and offers an impressive view of the Oslo cityscape and then slides down the other side into a waterfront terrace. “We wrapped the building in a carpet of widespread planes that are open for everyone,” says Lundevall. “You can sit on the roof and take some sun, you can stroll around and dip your toe in the water.”

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Frost Produkt

— Client: I.D. Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

Three years ago, when the Oslo design collective Frost Produkt first laid eyes on their future studio—a two-story, late 19th-century building that once served as a stable for the city’s brewery—it wasn’t promising. “It looked like hell,” says Sondre Frost, 28, who together with his brother, Jann, and partners Sindre Widerberg and Thomas Jenkins, have created everything from Norway’s official mailbox to 2004’s Alta Bike, a lightweight, single-speed bicycle that in 2006 became the bike of choice for Smart Bike, an urban rental system similar to Zipcar. (Already implemented in four Scandinavian cities, the system will debut in Barcelona this spring.) “It was raw and dilapidated, with no bathroom or water.” Undeterred, the group rebuilt the interiors, filling the building with friends, food, and music and creating a work environment that borders on domestic bliss.

Frost Produkt’s aesthetic credo is “warm minimalism” and they decorated accordingly, with bright, clean, functional rooms broken up by craggy walls and personal accents like the designers’ own Alta Bikes and a collection of kitschy religious objects that includes a ceramic golden Ganesh, a waving Japanese cat, and a picture of the Pope. In the renovation, they added a workshop for building prototypes next door; shaped like a black cube, it’s a sharp contrast to the original all-white structure. (Currently, the group is cranking out models on their beloved Colchester lathe for an upcoming collection of ski gear. The ground floor is rented to designer friends and colleagues, and Frost Produkt’s members work at a communal desk on the second floor to the sounds of German techno or Norwegian folk music blasting from a restored Bang & Olufsen stereo. “Music is very important to us,” says Frost.

So is food. The designers cook and eat lunch together every day in their big kitchen. (They even have a little bell that calls everyone to the table.) “Since we often work late, it’s important to have a good lunch,” says Frost, sounding very much like a sensible Scandinavian. The home cooking also attracts visits from neighboring design groups like Norway Says, with whom the group collaborated on the Alta Bike. “We have a small, close-knit network of young designers in Oslo,” says Sondre, “Together, we’re changing the face of Norwegian design.”

Square footage: 1,600

Number of workers:

Décor element that says it all: “The warm minimalism of the whole building, especially the new extension, which combines the new with the old, clean, functional, and charming.

First thing to rescue in a fire: “The old Colchester lathe would probably take us 20 men and a whole day to get out, but we bought it at a foreclosure sale six years ago and the previous owner told us it was used for the construction of the bobsled track at the 1994 Lillehammer Olympics.”

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Kirnauskis 2.0

— Client: I.D. Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

Two years ago, when art director Nora Illoranta took over the Finnish advertising firm Kirnauskis –founded in 1991 by her mother Sirkka Knutila- she began the slow shift from warm and fuzzy family business to cutting-edge corporation. “We’re known for treating our clients with loyalty and respect, which is still our core value, but we wanted to focus more on innovation and renewal,” Iloranta says. After adding to the company’s name the tech-boom-sounding “2.0” – the original “Kirnauskis” is taken from a fairy tale about a group of friends working together- Iloranat and managing director Annuska Arponen changed the company’s colors from “soft amnd warm” to black and cyan, commissioned a new logo and visual identity and in 2007 moved into freshly designed headquarters.

Housed in a Helsinki apartment building that dates from 1896, the new offices are a mix of old-world domesticity and sleek corporate design. Fellow Finnish designers Jarkko Kallio, Harri Helorinne and Nanna Kinnunen converted a maze of dark ornate flats into a bright, clean office space with communal design and production rooms, making sure to incorporate Kirnauski’s credo of tradition and renewal: Hi-tech minimalism (the space is dominated by white walls and the furniture is illuminated by bulbs that imitate natural light) contrasts with carefully preserved historical details, such as an Art Nouveau ceiling and a richly decorated black ceramic fireplace in the former dining room , now a multi-desk production space. “Before we painted the walls white, the ceiling actually seemed kind of dark and depressing,” says Iloranta. “Now it looks like a beautiful crown for the whole room.”

The firm moved into the new digs last summer, but it didn’t have to go very far: Kirnauskis has been based in the same building since its inception. “We started out with one room, and as the company grew, we spread out to different rooms on different floors,” says Iloranta. Moving the 21-person staff has not only proved more efficient, it has also improved company morale. “It’s a good space to breathe in and let ideas come to you,” says Iloranta. “And people respect the space more. They don’t let their desks get so messy.”

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Those Fabulous Finns

— Client: T: The New York Times Style Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

Finland is a sparsely populated country whose most famous exports are supermodels, textiles, glass and furniture — though not necessarily in that order.

Like its neighbors Sweden and Denmark, Finland has always had its own design personality, blending Nordic traditions with irreverence and daring. It’s clean and bold, functional and avant-garde. The exhibition “Straightforward: New Finnish Design,” which runs May 14-17 at Chelsea Market, alludes to this quality.

“The name has a double meaning,” explained Paola Bello, a designer who curated the show with Teemu Oksanen, an architect. “It refers to ‘honest’ and ‘frank,’ but also to ‘looking ahead.’”

The Bello-Oksanen exhibition is the third installment in a three-year, government-sponsored project by the International Contemporary Furniture Fair — the previous two were “Hardcore” and “Playful.” It aims to showcase the Finnish mix of pragmatic and radical thinking with designs like Tapio Anttila’s Tuohi wall panel, constructed of interlocking pieces of ruggedly textured birch bark (a reclaimed material that is normally wasted in wood processing).

Another example is the Skin tablecloth by Teija Losoihttp://www.lostdesign.fi/. Made of a hi-tech stretch fabric, it’s a kind of sleek stocking for the table.

But the exhibition is not just about showing off clever, good-looking products. “We hope to create a real connection between the designers and the audience,” Oksanen said.

The designers and curators will be present throughout the show’s run, and an on-site pop-up store will sell the featured objects. But the most direct interaction will be the “speed-dating” events, where visitors can have three-minute, one-on-one discussions with the designers (sign-up is required).

How did that idea go over with the famously reclusive Finns? “They are used to the idea now,” Bello said with a laugh. “But when we first mentioned it, we saw a few faces of panic.”

A free, pre-show lecture by Bello and Oksanen, “Perspectives on New Finnish Design,” takes place Tuesday night at 7 at Scandinavia House. For reservations, e-mail event_reservations@amscan.org or call (212) 847-9740.

Do-Gooders! – Google Creative Lab

— Client: HOW Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

When a brand name becomes a verb it indicates two things: The name stands for an innovative product that outperforms the competition (i.e. “Hoover” or “Xerox”), and it’s so ubiquitous that we’ve stopped thinking of it as a name. In little more than a decade, Google has become such a part of our lives that we hardly notice it. Yet, at the same time the name evokes comforting familiarity, it also generates excitement and a kind of brave new world mystique. We know that a global army of brilliant young tech nerds are riding their bikes to work, eating Google lunches and working on cool new things. (Are they making a phone? A new PC operating system? A global redistribution system that will end world hunger?)

Google clearly wants to be everybody’s friend. The company has built its business on giving people things for free. But it’s easy to feel skeptical of a company that’s so big, knows so much and has so much power. Do they really mean it when they say, “Don’t be evil”?

Feeling good

The Google Creative Lab serves as evidence that they do mean it. The Lab is Google’s in-house advertising and branding unit that was founded in October 2007. It’s a small group of 25 talented people based mainly in New York City who have the large task of staging company messages on Google’s global platform. “Our charter is to remind the world what it is they love about Google,” says Andy Berndt, the Lab’s managing director, an advertising power player who was copresident at Ogilvy before joining Google. “We take bits of stuff that are floating around the company and make sure people know about them and understand why they exist.”

This may sound obvious. But it’s about more than promoting products through clever marketing. “The Creative Lab isn’t exactly an agency, but we’re not an internal marketing department either. We’re more like a rogue creative think tank that floats around and identifies areas where we can make the biggest impact,” says creative director Jeff Gillette, a writer with a background in psychology. The Lab is experimenting with ways of doing advertising that aren’t really advertising at all. “A lot of what we do is more educational than it is advertising or marketing,” Berndt says. “I often feel like we’re doing public service announcements.”

And like public service announcements, Google’s messages intend to serve the greater good. “I initially became a designer and got into communicationsto try to positively impact people as much as I could,” says Robert Wong, the Lab’s executive creative director, who runs the operation together with Berndt (his past experience includes award-winning stints with Arnold Worldwide and Starbucks). “And in the past, I felt like I hijacked marketing dollars to do good. And now I actually don’t have to do any hijacking— the thing itself is good.”

This seems to be a collective feeling among Lab employees. Wong and Berndt say the team is part of a mission: “It’s not just us. Every single person that we hired seems to have that same belief in this mission. And it’s not like it’s Google’s mission; it’s individual missions that ended up being exactly the same as Google’s,” Wong says.

The other Lab employees concur. “When I first met with Andy and Robert I was won over by their desire to use advertising and branding to change the world. I decided it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up,” Gillette says.

The fact that a bunch of seasoned advertising whiz kids sound like starry-eyed Obama campaign volunteers when they speak about their jobs may be the truly revolutionary thing about the Lab. The team displays an almost evangelical sense of commitment. “We all work together toward the same goal. It’s not about winning awards or becoming famous. It’s about spreading the best of Google,” says Ji Lee, a graphic designer who is another of the Lab’s creative directors. “And because the products and projects we promote are free and helpful to many people, we feel that we actually make a positive difference in the world. It’s the main reason why everyone’s here.”

Sounding good

One endeavor that fulfilled this mission was Project 10^100 (pronounced “10 to the 100th”), a competition that commemorated Google’s 10th anniversary in September 2008 by awarding $10 million to up to five inventions that the company feels will have a positive impact on the world. (As an example of a socially beneficial design, Google cited the Hippo Water Roller, a barrel-shaped container with a handle that holds 24 gallons of water and is easy for a child who’s fetching water on foot to transport.) More than 150,000 ideas were submitted.

But not every message is about saving the planet with fanfare. “It’s about the small stories,” Berndt says. One of the Lab’s most publicized feel-good projects is the YouTube Symphony Orchestra, which raised the profile for YouTube’s content and provided a handson example of how the site can serve more complex purposes than uploading and watching videos. (Google purchased YouTube in November 2006.)

In December 2008, Google and YouTube launched a worldwide competition for classical musicians (both amateurs and professionals) to form a virtual ensemble that would perform at Carnegie Hall for one night. The musicians auditioned via a YouTube video of themselves performing repertory staples as well as a new work composed for the occasion. Out of 3,000 submissions, 200 finalists were selected by 22 of the world’s most prominent orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra. The finalists’ audition videos were posted online for a public vote to fill the final 96 slots. Google flew the winners to New York City to rehearse together for the first time a few days before the concert. The optimistic and moving message worked on several levels. The musicians, who hailed from 30 different countries, became a living, breathing example of how a wildly diverse group—including a Polish farmer, a Vegas poker player, a high school student from California and a Korean surgeon—can come together in seamless collaboration.

And then there was the underdog aspect. “A bunch of people who didn’t go to the best schools got a shot at Carnegie,” Berndt says. “These guys became local heroes. I met a lot of them, and they had just died and gone to heaven.” And finally, it gave a badly needed boost to classical music. The event generated about three times more press than Carnegie Hall’s previous blockbusters. And that was a big boost to the Creative Lab, too, which wanted the event to positively impact both individual musicians and the classical music industry as a whole.

Berndt says the project was his most satisfying experience at Google’s Creative Lab so far: “At a personal level I was just over the moon when it happened,” he says. “And yeah, we showed the world how you can use YouTube beyond just posting a video, but it wasn’t the main story. YouTube and Google have always been about giving people access, and this was another variety of access.”

While the Creative Lab was in charge of realizing the YouTube Symphony Orchestra project, it didn’t come up with the original concept. Three years earlier, a London-based Google employee and classical music aficionado named Tim Lee envisioned a You- Tube orchestra formed exclusively from people who had auditioned online. He submitted it through an internal pitching system where it gained traction and was developed as a mock-up. In 2008, Berndt picked up the project for the newly formed Creative Lab and made it happen.

Looking good

Idea generation like that exemplified by the You-Tube symphony is a cornerstone of Google’s culture. Employees are encouraged to devote 20% of their work hours to dreaming up and submitting ideas for new projects. “You source ideas from everywhere,” Wong says. “There’s the whole Google-wide e-mail list where anyone that has an idea posts it. It could be about products or what we should do for the Google picnic, literally anything. Good ideas get voted up so you can see where there’s buzz.”

There’s also constant sharing among departments. Ideas percolate up the corporate ladder even as business strategy flows down from the top. “Everyone is very excited about passing along cool things,” Berndt says. “It’s different than any place I’ve ever seen before. The entire place stays creative by being quite messy and innovative.”

This seems to be true also for the Creative Lab. The Lab’s work process flows among departments, continents and methods. “We’re starting up something new, so we’re keeping things very organic,” Gillette says. “And we encounter so many different kindsof issues that every one of them almost requires an entirely new process. But as we figure things out more and more, we’ll figure out which process works best for which project.”

While the bulk of the team is in New York City, one of the creative directors is located in San Francisco, and there’s a small satellite office in London. Collaborators for each project are sourced from within different Google units (and on occasion outside the company) according to the project’s needs. “In general, the structure is really flat,” Wong says. “Everybody does everything. Everyone we’ve hired on a senior creative director level has a very small team of one, two or zero people, even though in the past they’ve run big global things with huge teams.” The Lab seems to thrive on being the little engine that could. “We never set out to build some big department that would have walls and where we would have complete control,” Berndt says. “It’s just not that kind of atmosphere here. People are drawn to different projects by the quality of the idea and the excitement of possibilities.”

One such project is Chrome Experiments, a website that promoted the latest version of Google’s Chrome web browser through a series of technically impressive and playful experiments designed by more than a dozen red hot developers and designers such as REAS, Mr. Doob, Ryan Alexander, Josh Nimoy, Mark Mahoney and Toxi. Each project turned the browser window into an interactive application, game or piece of art. For example, Mark Mahoney’s “Browser Ball” creation features a ball that bounces back and forth through separate browser windows.

Gillette says the idea came out of a brainstorm he had with art director Ed Kim and creative programmer Aaron Koblin. “We were thinking about ways to show off the powerful stuff under the hood that no one can see. So we asked the question, ‘what if we created a cool experience out of the browser itself, using the browser as a medium for art rather than just the frame?’” says Gillette, who was one of Chrome Experiment’s creative directors.

So what does cool browser technology have to do with making the world a better place? According to the Creative Lab team, it’s all about keeping the internet ecosystem healthy. “The best part of this project was the fact that we’ve added something positive to the web. A lot of these experiments will get web developers to think differently about what’s possible and will help the entire web evolve,” Gillette says.

And keeping the cyber universe in shape ultimately benefits the physical world. “Before deciding on a project, we always ask ourselves how interesting it is and how much it would help people,” Berndt says. “It’s a good pressure that brings a different kind of thinking and a different kind of scrappy resourcefulness.

“So many of our products have such scale around the world and reach so many users,” Berndt continues. “Helping them learn how to master them can really benefit a lot of people. If we make something that helps nonprofit organizations run their businesses through Google docs and spreadsheets so more of their donated money actually goes to the people they serve, then everybody wins. We’re incredibly lucky to have that situation.”

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Seoul Patrol

— Client: Surface Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture

After decades of rapid urban expansion, Seoul is experiencing concrete fatigue. The densely populated city of 11 million people aspires to attract foreign capital and tourists by beautifying its cluttered and monotonous landscape. “They’re trying to brand the city with design,” says architect Minsuk Cho, principal of local firm Mass Studies, whose elegant and innovative work comments on the current changes in Korean society.

Cho spent most of his professional life in Rotterdam and New York, where he founded the firm Cho Slade Architects with partner James Slade in 1998. But Korea’s makeover movement prompted him to return to his native Seoul in 2003. “Seoul is an exciting place for an architect these days,” he says, noting that he felt working in New York was frustrating. “It was hard to get projects where you were able to build from the ground up.” Cho discovered the creative possibilities of his homeland when he and partner Slade were invited to create a home from scratch in the upscale experimental art community, Heyri Art Valley (see “Double Booked,” issue 67). The result was Pixel House, an asymmetrical brick residence for a young family with a playful and airy layout that served both as a communal daycare and private residence. Since then, Cho has gained a reputation as one of the most exciting forces in Korean architecture. “We’re quite selective in choosing our clients,” he explains, “We’re not interested in the large-scale developer projects that are built just to make money. There should be a genuine interest in architecture.”

One such project is the recently completed Seoul flagship for Belgian fashion designer Ann Demeulemeester, which has received a lot of attention for its plant-covered facade and off-kilter shape. The green exterior is a recurring theme in Mass Studies’ work, as it brings a tiny slice of lush nature into Seoul’s brutally urban cityscape. It also creates the illusion of a soft, overgrown patina, according to Cho: “We would like the city to look more ancient, like Angkor Wat.” Another project that features a vertical “garden” is their futuristic proposal, Seoul Commune 2026, which consists of 15 bulbous residential towers covered in perennial plants and featuring a honeycomb grid of small, capsulesized studios and larger communal spaces. The towers are designed for individuals, since one-person households are the most common in Korea. “In the future, you’ll live and work in a minimum of space and share larger leisure areas with others,” says Cho, who claims he’d like to retire in the Commune. But before then, there’s a lot of work to be done – Mass Studies’ increasing notoriety has generated lots of work for the firm. “We used to be known mainly for creating interesting proposals, but now a lot of our projects are being realized,” says Cho, who likens his output to pop music. “We used to have a few hits here and there, but now people want to buy the whole album.”

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Now Booking – Dutch Treat

— Client: T: The New York Times Style Magazine — Journalism - Design & Architecture - Travel

“I don’t like anonymous hotels. I want people to wake up and immediately know where they are,” says Wilfried van Winden, the architect of the new Inntel Hotel Amsterdam Zaandam. He needn’t worry. The 160-room property is probably the most memorable example of gingerbread cottage architecture since Hansel and Gretel. Its quirky façade consists of nearly 70 irregularly stacked wooden houses fastened onto a concrete cement frame.

The hotel is the latest and most high-profile building in the ongoing radical revamp of Zaandam’s city center. The Amsterdam suburb, a 15-minute train ride from the central station and a popular day trip for travelers, is better known for windmills and quaint street lined with traditional green wooden cottages. It is these old-fashioned structures that are replicated in Winden’s hotel, which as part of the redevelopment plan, will bring some much needed whimsy to that area of post-war monstrosities around the train station.

The plan’s master architect, the veteran urban transformer Sjoerd Soeters, will draw on local history for inspiration, restoring a long buried canal and creating municipal buildings that incorporate stylistic features of the traditional cottages in macro scale.

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