Mogu Chair

“Looks like something coming from another planet, the shape is endearing and unique, good job” -Dezeen comment

mogu-chair-ma-yansong-sawaya-and-moroni-furniture-milan-design-week_dezeen_hero-1 (1)I am trying hard not to let me aesthetic preference for blobs win out on this one- but you have to admit, from a purely visual perspective, they look very interesting and very unique. The shapes are meant to be clumped together like fungi (muogu is “mushroom” in Chinese) and they do indeed go well together. Originally designed as a prototype for a public art installation, I imagine the benches would make an exciting impact in whatever space they occupy, indoor or outdoor. I do like the idea that the benches are meant to live somewhere between public furniture and sculpture.

mogu-chair-ma-yansong-sawaya-and-moroni-furniture-milan-design-week_dezeen_2364_col_6-852x555Which brings me to its function, as an actual piece of furniture: I am having a harder time imagining where/how to sit on the bench. It would be slippery to sit on, no?

Ma Yansong says that the surfaces of the benches “form an organic landscape that allows people to respond with their bodies and encourage a variety of social interactions…”

I think I would enjoy sitting right in the middle and feeling like I’m in a sea of space fungi-blobs. Fun!!!

A River Walk in Seoul

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The old Cheonggyecheon stream was originally a stream, then central road, then elevated highway that ran through the center of the city. The restoration project from 2003-2005 was complicated and difficult (as one could imagine), from redirecting traffic from the major highway (!), to restoring bridges in the Han river, to pumping the tons of water to actually fill it up. Compare it to the Big Dig in Boston…

Somehow, Seoul managed to pull it off, and it is one of the most beloved public places in the whole city. Families, couples, friends all go there to stroll along the river walk. When I was there it was filled with holiday lights.

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Knowing what I know now, it’s problematic that the design makes no reference to the environmental consequences of pumping water from the Han river. It could have gone farther in bridging awareness of urban ecology instead of masking the complex engineering that makes it function.  But the value of properties in its vicinity has increased double the amount of other areas in Seoul. It brings people outside and brings them together, where families, couples, seniors, and tourists all mingle in a vibrant public space. And of course, it has brought great joy and pride to its citizens, right in the center of the city.

While I was there, it really struck me that Seoul is very committed to providing comfortable public spaces to its citizens. In small, unexpected places, like the bathrooms of subway stations or inside department stores, there are often sitting areas that are designed to provide a resting place within the busy city.  The 27 bridges that cross the Han river are lit up every night, and there are light shows for major holidays and celebrations. Even the bus system is well-organized and clear (!). I was amazed to see so many resources devoted to the pleasure and convenience of its citizens. It was a special place to visit, and I hope to go back soon.

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Perez Art Museum, Miami

I recently visited the Perez Art Museum in Miami. The museum, designed by Herzog and de Meuron, had a beautiful large entrance deck with wood paneling to provide shade, lounge chairs scattered nicely, and hanging plants lending a sense of scale and drama.. all these things together made the deck a great public space, just very striking  to visit and the design features made it comfortable all around.  But I really enjoyed the the parking garage in particular, perhaps because the experience of parking is generally not thought of as especially pleasant.

The open-air parking garage is on the ground level, with stairs leading up to the museum which sits above the surrounding bay. The smooth concrete combined with the naturally sunny landscape made it feel clean, open and comfortable. The openings of the garage were positioned to offer windows of the surrounding plant life. The natural textures of these plants, next to the smooth concrete, made it feel especially nice. I felt surrounded by the best of Miami sunlight and diverse plant life, even though I was in a parking garage.

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The openings brought in the outside plant life, and the light filling up the concrete space made it one of the nicest parking experiences I’ve ever had. Such a pleasant view with a hint of blue sky.

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Zen in Playground Design

In Kichichoji, a small city in Tokyo prefecture, there is a playground with an area of simply rocks and dirt. When I passed by, I saw more kids playing in that area than the swings or the jungle gym. And I can’t blame them- the way the kids were playing there, the rock space seemed filled with infinite possibilities to clamber over, climb on top of, run around, hide behind. The idea seems very zen, to integrate nature and rocks into playground design for kids. Not overly done or overly intentional, but simply a natural space for kids to play in.

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As an extension of nature, the kids were drawn to the rock space, provoking imagination as well as playfulness. The (real) rocks may have been deliberately designed to be flat and smooth for the kids’ safety, but beyond that were not overly designed nor haphazardly placed. Shizen, the idea of striking a balance between being “of nature” yet distinct from it, is exactly this idea of having the big rocks as part of the playground design. Good design seems effortless. After spending a few weeks in Japan and experiencing their fluid ideas of space and function, this playground design made a lot of sense to me. It was super refreshing compared to the complicated (and dangerous-looking) plastic structures that American playgrounds consist of.

Does this not look terrifying? Is it just me?

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Art for Play

Hakone, small town in the mountains, is home to one of the most beautiful and impressive open air museums I’ve experienced. Truly impactful to see such large whimsical sculptures in the mountain air. I cannot put into words how it felt to stand in the middle of that incredible collection of sculptures, while feeling the openness of the mountain landscape around me. Utter happiness and delight and wonder and awe.

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And there were so many places for children to play. The egg benches were possibly one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Anything egg-related makes me filled with happiness, and combined with the kids’ excitement, I stayed there for a long time, just soaking it all in. All the kids loved them so much and they kept singing, “Gudetama, Gudetama,” (the little Japanese egg guy that Sanrio created) while they were playing. So wonderful…

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I love that a museum like this would be such an incredible space to experience art at such a grand scale, but every part of the experience had a playfulness and lightness to it. It was such an experience to walk around surrounded by such beauty. Seeing many of the art objects at play, with such joy, just heightened the entire experience.

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Curved Space Diamond Structure, Peter Pearce