Something Fishy Going On
When it comes to Belgian manufacturer Modular Lighting Instruments (www.supermodular.com), no one questions whether their stand will
be an eye-catching event, but how. Nothing seems too far out for the firm from Roeselaere, which proved once more at Interieur Kortrijk
that attracting attention is what its all about. This time, as in the past, their trade-fair display was the result of a collaborative effort that included
two sister companies: Rotor came up with the concept, and Fractal Building Systems literally got the project off the ground. The ingredients:
plenty of thermal-formed acrylic sheets, neoprene, aluminium section, steel framework, Plexi, rubber and, of course, lighting.
Less predictable components of the stand were lots of water, lots of oxygen and lots of fish, dead and alive. The idea was to make a
gigantic deep-sea capsule of this exhibit. Visible at quite a distance were the white side walls of the structure, illuminated in green
light and resembling from afar enormous rolled-up, blister-pack strips of vitamin pills. Stepping through the transparent façade brought
you face to face with a rather complex-looking piece of equipment: a would-be oxygen generator. As you continued, unsure of what to expect,
the following confrontations featured one fish after another. These were not only living examples housed in an aquarium, but also marine
animals in a virtually skeletal state that popped into view behind several portholes. At the top of the stairs a large, white, rectangular volume
bathed in blue light turned out to be the bar. Close scrutiny revealed the occasional lamp, but these products seemed to be almost an
afterthought. Will this surrealist structure drop anchor in some other harbour? Answer unknown.
This article will appear in Frame 18, the January/February issue.
Okay, you can get through the front door at Four Times Square in mid-Manhattan. Once inside,
however, youre up against corporate America. Dont even dream of getting past the guards and taking the lift to the fourth floor,
where the master has left his latest mark on the world of design. Frank O. Gehrys Condé Nast cafeteria
(four separate dining rooms are intended for use on more exclusive occasions) is as in-house as it gets.
Admittance is highly restricted. You wont get in unless you know somebody who knows somebody.
If not, you havent missed much. The Gehry cafeteria is an attempt at sober elegance based on materials that are not at all sophisticated.
The floor is a simple ash plywood, and wooden laminated tables are painted a 70s yolk-yellow.
The most spectacular feature is a number of large glass sheets that encapsulate the space from floor to ceiling.
Panels of blue titanium affixed to walls and ceiling are also worth a mention. But overly geometric seating arrangements
in fake leather reminiscent of the average diner or the old Royalton are detrimental to the design as a whole.
My interest in the project was awakened by the free-form glass panels I saw in Gehrys office last year.
He explained that although its not that difficult to mould large glass panels, the steel or Styrofoam forms
previously needed for the process are expensive. His solution is an adjustable bed of nails mould:
a hydraulic grid of pins controlled by CAD-CAM technology. Every panel is unique, the blue-green aquatic glass looks great and,
admittedly, the method has advanced the frontiers of architecture.
The application is disappointing, however. Gehrys cafeteria is too rigid and stylish to express
the contemporary culture that motivates Condé Nast, the media corporation whose prize publication is the American magazine Vogue.
Undulating stainless steel in the corridor outside the cafeteria reflects the contorted images of those passing by
(seems to be a big hit with the ladies). But how am I to interpret these free forms? As a reference to nature?
As a contemporary version of Art Nouveau? My guess is that Gehry is embracing the permanence of sculpture here rather
than continuing his tectonic exploration of forms caught in the clash between chaos and order.
Even though an adoring market continues to clamour for Gehry designs, the architects heroic gestures must struggle
to rise to the occasion time after time. No easy task. Perhaps Gehrys work marks the end of a grand era.
The crossroads at which we stand demands a new definition of the very essence of architecture,
which must no longer be sought in form but in typology.
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