The Times They Are A- Moving

I already miss the old New York Times building on West 43rd Street. It may be four years before Renzo Piano’s architectural wonder, the new world headquarters for the Times, is built, but I’m already nostalgic for the place where I have worked for the past 28 years, and where I thought I’d work for just as many more. Most of my colleagues eagerly anticipate moving around the corner to 40th and 8th, but not me. I prefer the small Times lobby with its sweeping marble staircase, Deco-styled appointments, and curtained windows above the revolving door to Piano’s proposed commercial atrium–the so-called democratic space-that will doubtless be less intimate and remind me less of Loretta Young.

This old Times building is my second home. The prospect of a larger, more beautiful, more public building that will accommodate other tenants does not fill me with delight. I like things as they are: worn, venerable, and comfortable. To confirm these prejudices, I stopped by the new Conde Nast building across the street, which is clean, cold, and corporate. It may be fine for a mega-publishing conglomerate, but for not my hometown paper.

The Times is not a faceless enterprise, and our edifice is not a monument to corporate power. In the long-awaited 42nd Street Redevelopment tower-play, the existing Times building, which looks like a Loire Valley chateau, is, admittedly, an anachronism. But as Times Square becomes the electronic media park of the world–the site of Viacom, ABC, MarketSite, Conde Nast, and Reuters–and with the World Wrestling Federation themestaurant on our corner, the building is now an anchor securing tradition and continuity. Moving into Piano’s post-postmodern skyscraper seems almost as unthinkable as eliminating the Latin Condensed typeface from the Times’s front page. Latin, a 19th-century vestige, is the Times’s typographical signature; it has survived many shifts in graphic styles. Similarly, this building with its baroque ornamentation is a symbol of the Times’s continued excellence. Although The Daily News and the New York Post exchanged their historic old office buildings for bland new ones, neither paper has the Times’s legacy of eminence, and both probably benefited from the new scenery (now if only they’d change their editorial policies–but I digress). This old building is filled with so much pride one can feel it in the communal spaces–lobby, elevators, and cafeteria. Here the walls do talk; I can’t imagine what the new place will say.

I am not a cranky opponent of change. I have occupied three offices since joining the Times. The first was in the enormous incandescently lit art department, where waist-high mahogany partitions separated more than 20 long rows of narrow tables punctuated by rusty metal flat files. Void of such amenities as ergonomic chairs and tables, this space remained unchanged from the 1930s through the 1970s and was in desperate need of renewal. From there I happily moved into a renovated semiprivate office that had been carved out of a mammoth old photo studio. Finally, I shifted into a slightly larger modern warren with a sliver of window facing north, where I have remained–and where my belongings have multiplied–for almost 15 years. I was sanguine through the demolition of the hot-metal composing room, elimination of the Museum of the Printed Word, renovation of the now-defunct Sunday department, and construction of the grand duplex newsroom. I am certainly able to accept change without experiencing the existentia l nausea of longing.

But it is not change that makes me object to Piano’s building, it is the anticipated loss of community. No matter how beautiful Piano’s design, the old building, like the fabled TV bar Cheers, is a place where everyone knows your name (or at least your face). In the new quarters I predict there will be such a throng of transient faces that intimacy will be lost. I saw it at the Conde Nast headquarters and at office buildings throughout midtown Manhattan where people drift without a sense of place and the joy that comes from belonging. This is exactly what the old Times building gives me-belonging–whether I’m aware of it or not.

Exchanging our small hotel-like lobby for an exclusive and separate bank of elevators in a shared entryway (or even a separate reception/waiting room as in the Time Warner building) is not my only regret. Community is not shaped by one space alone. There are so many details in this building that collectively define the space. I will miss the staircases with tile brick walls designed so that maintenance staff could easily wipe off the ink soot that once wafted up from the press and composing rooms. I will miss the modest 12th-floor veranda, where on a warm day one can eat lunch or soak up the smog-filtered sun. I will miss the inaccessible balcony outside my own window; the entrance was long ago covered over for safety reasons, but I still imagine being out there. I will miss the recently renovated formal reception room on the 15th floor, which half a century ago was a magnificent photo studio with high-pitched ceiling and skylight (there are still spirits in that room). I will miss the WQXR auditorium and so und booths, abandoned half a decade ago when the Times’s classical music station moved to new off-site quarters. I will miss the delivery room where the newspapers were transported on conveyor belts from the basement and were bundled and thrown into waiting trucks. I will miss all these remnants of things past because the old Times building is an archaeological dig–a chronicle of newspaper history and a link to the city’s rich past.

The Piano building will be a showpiece, not a home. Yet given the inevitable relocation, I must make one humble request. Rather than raze the old building, or as has been suggested, turn it into a hotel, consider the option of converting it into assisted-living quarters for old Times-persons, like me. For a while, at least, it would be one hell of a living museum.

Alias Garth Brooks

Booked Up

The myth of Selling out

Color construction

Trips to India in the late 1980s convinced architectural partners Louisa Hutton and Matthias Sauerbruch of the power of color. “We saw strong pinks, red, oranges and saffrons in the natural spices and the red of the earth, some artificial and some natural dyes,” Hutton recalls. “What impressed us was that the colors were used in a completely everyday way. Someone will wear a beautiful sari to milk the cows-welt, not to milk the cows,” she laughs, “but every day.”

Since that Technicolor epiphany, the couple, both Architectural Association-educated, have tried to inject whole families of hues into their work-most often aqueous groupings of pistachio, turquoise and cobalt or Schiaparelli-esque sets of peach, crimson and cerise. They’ve painted concrete, powder-coated steel, lacquered wood and tinted glass, exploiting new technologies to embrace a heartily artificial palette.

Fear of color, Hutton says, “is the legacy of modernism. It’s still seen as something quite frivolous to do. We don’t see it that way. Architecture should be enjoyed by the senses.”

At the beginning of their practice, Sauerbruch and Hutton applied a lively palette to London’s 15ft. row houses. “We’re always trying to overcome the fact that the house is like a little tower, two rooms and a staircase,” Hutton says. “Through color, one can liberate the space.”

As they transformed houses in London, they entered, and won, multiple competitions to build in Sauerbruch’s native Berlin. Their Photonic Center, with its color-tinted glass optical labs, opened in 1999; and their 30,000sq.meter GSW Building-located just blocks from Checkpoint Charlie-has managed to steal some of the architectural press from Daniel Liebeskind’s Jewish Museum.

The GSW, a four-part composition of the couple’s favorite amoebic shapes, features an ovoid aluminum “pillbox” glittering with various greens, a reception desk lacquered indigo, and a tall, slim glass office tower with powder-coated shades. “The red and pink shutters are all made of steel sheets with very tiny perforations, so they have a scale,” Hutton says. “They’re not a uniform abstract color.” From afar, however, the double-layered glass facade resembles a constantly changing abstract composition, a painting in progress by hundreds of hands. An everyday task, like opening your office shutters, becomes part of a larger aesthetic project.

Button brigade

AS LONG AS THERE HAVE BEEN POLITICIANS who have sought the office of U.S. President, there’s been a colorful trail of political buttons commemorating their campaigns. When George Washington was inaugurated in 1789, more than 40 varieties of pewter, brass and copper clothing buttons were available. By 1848-when the Whigs’ Zachary Taylor battled for office against the Democrats’ Lewis Cass-photographed images of candidates were carrying the likenesses of political candidates to the American public. . As grassroots campaigning took hold in U.S. political races, candidates flooded voters with posters, pamphlets, mugs, plates, snuff- boxes, cigars, crockery, walking sticks and razors-a sheer avalanche of political memorabilia- but the granddaddy of collectible political trinkets has always been the political button. . Around 1870, American John Wesley Hyatt perfected celluloid, a material that had been discovered in 1839 by French chemist Anselme Payeu. The refinement of celluloid led to the creation of the pin-back button. Amanda Lougee of Boston perfected the pin-back’s design in I893-crafting a thin, metal disk, enclosing a graphic under celluloid, holding it together with a metal ring, then inserting a pin into the back. Her patent was quickly snapped up by Whitehead and Hoag Co., an advertising-novelty printer in New Jersey. The company used its promotional know-how to make the low-cost button a staple of the 1896 presidential race between Republican William McKinley and Democrat William Jennings Bryan. . The pin-back button’s popularity was immediate. Even in its initial year, more than i,ooo versions were produced, each aptly reflecting its particular candidate’s platform. For the next two decades, political buttons enjoyed a heyday, collectors say, due to the fabulous graphics made possible by celluloid and the resulting multitude of designs created for every candidate. Many of the buttons virtually enshrined candidates, their portraits framed by exquisitely detailed American flags and eagles in a manner that brought tears to the eyes of patriots everywhere. * In 1920, the celluloid button was replaced by a lithographic version that enabled images to be printed directly on the metal; by 1952, acetate became the material of choice. But besides an evolution of materials used to make them, political buttons haven’t changed much throughout American history. * The flag-waving red, white and blue has generally dominated the button scene over the past century, but a few innovators– such as Jimmy Carter and Barry Goldwater-bucked tradition and employed “wild” color schemes, such as green and white, or black and gold, in their campaigns. * Other standouts include Teddy Roosevelt’s campaign pin in the shape of his famous pince-nez spectacles. Portraits of him and running mate Charles W. Fairbanks were inserted into the wire-rimmed frames. A plethora of Rough Rider and teddy-bear themes also marked Roosevelt’s campaign button trail. * Celluloid buttons were phased out in the 1920s with the arrival of lithographic buttons, which were less expensive to make and easily mass-produced. The major drawback of the lithographic buttons was that the designs that could be printed on the button’s metal surface were much less elaborate than those that could be printed on paper. In fact, the In fact, the quality of lithographic-button images has never matched that of the celluloid-button era. Perhaps that explains the general lull in imaginative graphics seen in buttons produced between the late ig2os and the late ig6os. 9 Button designers became experimental again in the 1960s, probably because of the social consciousness of that era, says Steven Elkin, now a New York Citybased financial investor but an avid button collector from 1968 to 1982. “The whole counter-culture movement brought about a change in button graphics,” says Elkin, whose collection includes more than 12,000 campaign and political-cause buttons. “Before 1968, most buttons were pretty staid; after this, they became much more fun.” e Although modern-day candidates spend only a minuscule amount of their promotional dollars on buttons, new designs crop up with every campaign. A recent peek at the popular Web site revealed nearly 3o different designs for Democrats and more than 50 for Republican candidates, showing that buttons remain a favorite vehicle for visually promoting politicians in their electoral pursuits.

Boys in the hood

MORNING RAIN HAS momentarily washed the grime from Houston Street outside the showroom of Dune, New York City’s up-and-coming furniture design and manufacturing firm. Inside, between slurps of iced coffee at the Dune conference table, president Richard Shemtov (above left) and newly hired design director, Nick Dine (above right), are discussing their plans to make a big splash on the New York City furniture scene. They’re just about to sign a lease on a new 2,500 sq.ft. showroom and design studio space in the TriBeCa district. Their Urburbia line of furniture, which won the Editors Award for “New Designer” at the International Contemporary Furniture Fair, is now being manufactured to order, and they’re stirring up plans to expand the line by collaborating with young designers in Europe and the United States. “If you look at other companies in New York, there’s nothing like this,” Dine says. “I think this is really going to kick some major ass.” One refreshing characteristic about Shemtov, 30, and Dine, 35, is that their remarks aren’t measured or even rehearsed, as is often the case with older, more experienced designers and business owners. Their fight talk is fearlessly hurled around, each bold attack interrupting the next in a kind of stereophonic indictment of the stodgy furniture industry.

“There are a few New York showrooms that carry nice products, but I think the ones that get a lot of play really have no competition,” Dine says. “If they were anywhere else in the world they would not be regarded very…

“Most of the furniture in New York is imported from Italy,” Shemtov interrupts. “We don’t knock the Italian furniture. The problem is you have to wait 14 to 20 weeks to get it.”

“Even for Ligne Roset, which is supposedly accessible and designdriven, you have to wait a tremendous amount of time…” Dine adds. “It’s a very staid company,” Shemtov says. “They don’t change their designs often, they don’t innovate…”

And so on. American furniture manufacturers, at least in Shemtov’s and Dine’s eyes, have been lulled into complacency by allowing the contract market, with its giant orders and conservative aesthetics, to call the shots. This leads to marketing-driven manufacturing, which-as Dine puts it-was destroying the American car industry until Chrysler finally woke up and broke the compulsive pattern. Dine and Shemtov say the creative deficit in contract furniture is evident in the standard “cookiecutter” cubicles that predominate American offices. It’s exacerbated the split between domestic and contract furniture design.

Dune, though only two years old with one manufacturing facility in Brooklyn, attempts to correct that division by creating furniture that’s equally suited for the home and office-and by pursuing a design-driven approach to innovation, where quality, not cost, is the bottom line. Dune furniture will be made to order, and the business will be bolstered by revenue from the kind of retail-, restaurant- and bar-interior design and fabrication projects that have sustained Shemtov and Dines respective businesses to date. Eventually, however, Shemtov hopes to be presiding over a company the size of Knoll.

BOTH DINE AND SHEMTOv have benefitted from the legacies of their fathers. Shemtov’s father is a mechanical engineer whose ferocious entrepreneurial drive spurred his son to start a New York City-based furnishings and fixtures manufacturing business, I.D.S., at the tender age of 21. Dine is the youngest son of the renowned American pop artist Jim Dine, a relation which, among other plusses, gave him the opportunity to live rent-free in the center of London for two years, where he honed his design skills after graduating from the Royal College of Art. One of Dines father’s patrons, Peter Palumbo, owned a large apartment on a site scheduled for demolition, and simply handed over the keys on the understanding that Dine vacate the premises when the bulldozers arrived. “I had a studio and a parking space in the center of London,” Dine says. “It was totally incredible. I had to take an elevator and then walk up two flights of stairs and over the catwalks over all of these buildings to get to this apartment. It was like James Bond.”

In 1994, Dine won a commission to redesign a bar and launched his own interior-design firm, Dinersans. While looking for an outfit capable of prototyping fittings for one particular job, he was introduced to Shemtov and his fixtures-manufacturing firm LD.S. Shemtov liked Dines aesthetic approach, and Dine liked Shemtov’s quality control. They discussed the idea of launching a line of original furniture. Shemtov, who had studied interior design at Parsons School of Art, took action. In in 1998, he formed a subsidiary, Dune, and began developing ideas for a collection of pieces for the ideal urban home, which became the Urburbia line. This past August, Dine signed on as design director.

The spirit of the Urburbia collection is youthful and optimistic, capitalizing on the contemporary taste for the dean lines of mid-century modern furniture, though with a more lavish and less utilitarian feel than, say, the classic Eames pieces. The designers’ inspiration comes from organic forms and materials, and exploration and refinement of such post-war Scandinavian and Italian designers as Ame Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Carlo Mollino.

Urburbia’s prices are definitely way beyond the Ikea set-as much as five times more-but Shemtov has a rationale for this that fits neatly with the minimalist zeitgeist. “Instead of fim-lishing your whole house from Ikea, maybe you buy one or two quality pieces that will last,” he says. “We find that people today would rather own fewer pieces and have a more minimal place with good stuff.”

Whether the young, fashionable furniture shoppers Shemtov has in mind will be willing to fork out up to five times as much as they’re used to paying at Ikea for an Urburbia chair remains to be seen. The hope is that the healthy economy, the rising interest in high-end design and the burgeoning of young design talent out there will drive the demand.

Urburbia’s crowning achievement has been to bring together the work of not two but six up-and-coming designers (Shemtov, Dine, Harry Allen, Jeffrey Bernett, David Khouri and Michael Solis) and still achieve a cohesive whole. Shemtov gave each designer an object and a premise-to create pieces for the limited spaces of a city dwelling-and then unified the results with a distinctive toolbox of materials. Steel, walnut and white lacquer predominate.

Many of the pieces are multifunctional, aesthetically evoking the spirit of the 1960s spy movie while satisfying some of the practical requirements of city living. Harry Allen’s room divider contains a flip-down bed; Dines compact Cyborg sideboard eschews all knobs and handles for push-activated secret drawers and doors; and David Khouri’s half upholstered Bosco chair doubles as a plain dining chair. The piece de resistance is 31-year-old Michael Solis’ ingenious Four Forty coffee table, which features a secret compartment (in walnut) that’s revealed by sliding the two white lacquered wings of the tabletop open; it holds 440 CDs or all the magazines, coffee cups, ashtrays and paraphernalia you can sweep in when an unexpected guest buzzes the building’s intercom.

The fact that six different designers responded so harmoniously to Shemtov’s call clearly reflects their familiarity with the aesthetic challenges of living in tiny digs. It also reflects Shemtov’s strengths as an art director. Although Urburbia isn’t revolutionary, it does demonstrate that American furniture can be well-made and cool-looking, fashionable and utilitarian.

The Dune ethos is perhaps to purvey an aesthetic in which, to paraphrase a now-hackneyed Le Corbusier phrase, “less does more.” It’s tempting to conclude that somehow this is tied to the Internet boom, that the generation embracing smart, miniaturized, multifunctional technology is looking for the same values in its furniture. Solis-who recently moved from New York City to his native stomping grounds in Dallas, where he will continue to contribute to Dune’s line-even speaks the same language. “I like the interaction of objects,” he says. “All of my work plays the same role in that it must be touched, moved and changed.” As an example, his Defender stool for Dune, named after the vintage video game, is hexagonal in shape so that a group of stools can be maneuvered like pixels to form different shapes.

THE MORNING MEETING AT DUNE is curtailed as Shemtov and Dine hurry off to inspect their new premises and negotiate the terms of the lease. They disappear down a side street, amid tweeting cell phones and a “My car or yours?” debate. They have all the marks and manners of Silicon Alley pioneers, except that their product isn’t virtual.

Beyond the chair

ONLY A HANDFUL OF DESIGNERS-Eames and Breuer, for example-are so inextricably linked with the word “chair” that their names immediately spark images of chairs in our minds. Since it hit the market in 1967, the Panton Chair has been one such indelible image of furniture design: a deep-colored, plastic cantilever, cast in a single piece, a long train that seems to grow out of the ground, the bold dynamic curve of the ergonomically shaped seat. Its form is as elegant as it is extravagant; its gently flowing contours underline its sculptural character. Verner Panton’s plastic pile-chair is one of the most important designs of the 20th century. . But the Danish-born, Swiss-based Panton had already stopped traffic-literally-once before with a remarkable chair design. His 1958 ConeChair, taking its form from a cone placed on its point, caused traffic jams when it was first exhibited in a Manhattan shop window in 1960. Panton’s extensive and innovative oeuvre continued to excite international attention in the 1960s and early ’70s with innovative furniture pieces and experimental interior designs. In the last two decades, however, Panton’s work and his importance to 20th-century design have been neglected. . Now a new exhibit is rekindling interest in Panton and his design legacy. Building on a renewed interest in Panton’s work-which is fueled by the recent revival of ’60s-era objects and designs-the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, organized a comprehensive retrospective on the designer earlier this year. The exhibit, which celebrates Panton’s fertile imagination and love of experimentation, will tour Europe (Vienna in spring 200 and Lisbon next fall) before reaching U.S. shores in 2002.

BORN ON THE DANISH ISLAND of Fynen in 1926 and educated at the Academy of Art in Copenhagen, Verner Panton based his work in Basel, Switzerland, from 1963 until his death in 1998. What makes Panton so interesting for a new generation of designers is his experimentation and the radical zeal with which he approached his work. Experiments were Panton’s passion–the goal and most important method of his work. He took chances with forms and materials, manufacturing technology and construction, interior design, color and light. Both of his famous chairs were results of his experimental inclination and eternal search for novel design solutions.

The Cone-Chair marked the beginning of his collaboration with the Danish furniture manufacturer Plus-linje, for which he created what is still considered an avant-garde furniture collection. Panton’s work with Plus-linje also showed his interest in trying new industrially produced materials. He developed the first inflatable furniture out of transparent plastic foil, several years before such designers as Scolari, Lomazzi and De Pas popularized the idea at the end of the ’60s with their “Blow” armchair. Panton’s cubeshaped inflatable seat pillows could be combined into a couch; they were light, flexible and could be stowed away to save space. But his inflatable creations were stymied by the reservations of a public skeptical of furniture that strayed too far from traditional forms and materials. More critically, these designs were plagued by inadequate materials; the plastic foil produced at the time was brittle, leaked and quickly lost its elasticity.

It wouldn’t be the last time an idea of Panton’s came before its time. The designer was also tempted by Plexiglas, a material scarcely used in furniture production in the ’60s, but which provided transparency and the impression of lightness. He designed two chairs in Plexiglas: a lounge chair and a basic chair, both drawing strength from the optical illusion in which a person sitting on a Plexiglas chair, in the right light, seems to float on air. But in contrast to their optical lightness, his Plexiglas chairs-as produced in the 1960s-were physically heavy, prone to scratches and not very comfortable. Because only a small number were manufactured, the Plexiglas chairs carried a high price tag, which also contributed to their failure on the market.

With the creation of his inflatable seat pillows, Panton realized his design vision for light, versatile, easy-to-store furniture. Unfortunately, the furniture’s success was compromised because the plastic foil available for manufacture was brittle, often leaked and quickly lost its elasticity.

Panton’s Plexiglas chairs are nonetheless seminal in design history because he was one of the first designers to work with the idea of a modular system. By having a number of standardized parts that could be combined for individualized solutions to a design problem, the modular approach offered a flexibility in responding to different kinds of needs. Functionalism in a pure form, though socially motivated, also allowed for less expensive production costs.

By the end of the ’60s, Panton had created a modular furniture system based completely on a square grid for Kaufhof, a German department store. Besides different seating elements, the system included different colored carpets and wall coverings in pyramidal shapes, all of which could be combined to form various interior landscapes.

Panton was a pioneer in search of new forms that could provide a more relaxed way of living, far from the stiff bourgeois conventions that were being questioned by the rebellious culture of the ‘ 60s. As he once said, “I can’t bear to come into a living room and see the sofa with its coffee table and two armchairs and realize that I’ll be stuck there all evening.” So he created furniture on wheels, which could be moved easily throughout a room. He designed 3D carpets out of long wave-like shapes, which invited people to lounge on them directly on the floor, halfsitting and half-lying down, but always comfortable.

He sought to activate the entire space of a room for living purposes-even the space off the floor. His Flying Chairs-banana-shaped, upholstered aches hanging from the ceiling on ropes-could be moved up and down using a pulley block. His explained, was to give the chairs’ occupants s different view on the surroundings and on life in general” Presented for the first time to the public at the Cologne Furniture Fair in 1964, the Flying Chairs caused a media sensation. In spite of thie press popularity, they never went into series production.

Phanton continued to explore the idea of a seat that could open up and make a vertical line of space accessible. The Living Tower, introduced to the market in 1968, was his most mature disign on this theme. An organically shaped furniture sculpure, it consisted of two parts that could be combined to create seating in different positions on four levels. It was recognized as one of the most ingenious furniture designs of its time. Produced up until the mid1970s in limited edition, the Living Tower has since become a sought-after collection piece.

AT THE HEIGHT OF HIS POPULARITY, Panton was known not only as a designer of innovative and spectacular single objects, but also for his interiors. Although they were a central aspect of his work, his interiors have long been overlooked. Panton’s interiors represent the climax and synthesis of his entire career, fusing elements of every discipline he exploredfurniture, light, accessories and textiles-into a kind of gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.

Panton’s interiors have been neglected in part because today most of them can be experienced only through pictures and plans. Some ofhis important designs, including the two Visiona exhibitions for the Bayer chemical company, in 1968 and 1970, were perceived as temporary. Others, like his Restaurant Astoria in Norway and the Restaurant Varna in Denmark, were destroyed years ago. Another factor sidelining Panton’s interiors has been his preference for deep colors in large square dimensions, a style that didn’t fit with the changing tastes of the 1980s.

This style was part of his approach to interiors known as “entirety,” first realized with the design of the Astoria restaurant in the Norwegian town of Trondheim in 1960. Panton covered the entire room with an op-art-inspired pattern in similar tones of single color. Abolishing the classical tripartite division of domestic space-floors, walls, ceilings-he created a total, homogeneous environment in which the dimensions fused together. It was a radical concept, unmatched in the history of modern design, which Panton applied with a variety of means in his later interior designs.

For these later works, he initially translated the 2D geometric patterns into 3D figures-turning the wall surface into a plastic relief. A good example is the modular lighting elements called “Spiegel amatures” with which he covered some of the walls and ceilings in the Spiegel publishing house in Hamburg in 1969. In the ’70s, Panton created designs for carpets and fabrics, developing a 3D optical effect through a aD medium. In 1973, for instance, he covered the floor and walls of the canteen of the Gruner & Jahr publishing house in Hamburg with a rippling “wave” design.

Color was important to Panton not only for blending spatial dimensions but also for its impact on mood. His virtuosity in dealing with the emotional impact of colors was demonstrated in a colorroom installation in a Basel gallery in 1996. Panton immersed the viewer in a bath of color through a series of eight round chambers, each painted in a strongly glowing tone, demonstrating the varying degrees color could radiate and the moods each could create. Although this installation appeared late in his career, it showed how experimentation remained at the core of Panton’s work.

“He’s different. He’s just like a big kid,” the great Danish designer Hans Wegner once said about his friend Verner Panton. “He’s like a glimpse of the sun in the humdrum of everyday life.”

Back to the future

Think flying cars, lunar colonies and glassdomed cities-the stuff of science fiction. Think space rockets, tangled cities and winged airships-all ofwhich have become facts of modern life. Out ofTime, a new book by Norman Brosterman, has inspired a traveling exhibit by the Smithsonian Institute Traveling Exhibition Service (SITES) that captures an early 20th-century view of the technological tomorrow.

Released in November, Out of Time catalogs illustrations of futuristic concepts that wowed the public from the 1890s to the 1960s. It was a period of “geewhiz” optimism as the world waited for its wildest techno-dreams to leap off the drawing board. The vivid futuristic art, which appeared mostly in popular magazines, made those flying cars seem just around the corner. “it became the group memory ofthe future because it was portrayed so many times,” Brosterman says.

SITES will bring this original artwork to cities across the country. “[The art] is beautiful and wacky and thoughtprovoking,” says SITES project director Katherine Krile. “Especially now in the year 2000, a lot of people have been thinking about the future. We thought it would be really interesting to look at past visions of the future.”

Many of the collection’s pieces come from the covers of popular-science and pulp magazines. Artists such as Chesley Bonestell, Alexander Ledenfros and Frank Paul grabbed readers with bright, detailed drawings of towering cities, floating airports and populated moonscapes.

The art fed the public’s future fever but also changed people’s expectations Brosterman says. Before Manhattan became, well, Manhattan, artists planted the concept in the vision of the Amer ican people. “Everything flew and now everything flies,” Brosterman says. “Everything was huge and now everything’s huge.”

But the artists drew inspiration from their own surroundings, too. Brosterman writes that Frank Paul’s conical and crystalline towers look “suspiciously like grandiose versions of 1930s hardware and household appliances.” Similarly, Krile says the Capri satellite is “a cross between a 1950s American car and Sputnik-a spherical car with no aerodynamic advantages to it. The artist was pulling together postwar car design and combining it with this new world of rockets and missiles.”

The Out of Time book and exhibition are resurrecting the bedazzlement of these futuristic concepts and designs, starting with audiences in Tacoma, Wash., in November.

“The nostalgic part of this is so rich,” Brosterman says. “The future became much more complicated than anyone imagined.”

Of course, we’re still waiting for those flying cars.


FOR 15 YEARS, NewYork’s upscale East Side restaurant Rosa Mexicano has seduced diners with famed table-prepared guacamole and “nuclear-powered” pomegranate margaritas. When the opportunity arose in for its owner, Josefina Howard, to open a second location on Manhattan’s West Side, she approached the Rockwell Group, the architectural team behind some of NewYork’s most fashionable eateries–including Nobu, Vong, and Ruby Foo’s. The design firm’s principal, David Rockwell, who had lived in Mexico for seven years, recognized a chance to translate his close-range observations of Mexican culture into a vibrant contemporary restaurant.

The main drawback was the narrow 6,000-square-foot site, which, despite its location opposite the tourist-magnet Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, had seen little success under previous owners. Part of the problem was a duplex layout: a staircase hidden at the rear of the restaurant led to the upper floor, effectively dividing the space in two and preventing a unified, festive mood.

Rockwell first knocked a hole in the center of the upper floor and built a grand central staircase–alongside a double-height blue-tile wall with a surface of constantly trickling water-that swept down to the ground-floor entrance. The restaurant “had to be striking from Lincoln Center, and I wanted people who came in to be somewhat amazed,” says Rockwell. The 30-foot-high waterwall and the dramatic staircase, he hoped, would entice passersby from the street. He also proposed a design that was a “collision” of traditional and modern Mexican elements, bringing together the clean lines and vibrant colors of architects such as Luis Barragan and the folk-art styles found in Mexican street markets.

After gaining Howard’s approval, Rockwell began acquiring and commissioning art. The highlight is a work by Guido Grunenselder and Francesca Zwicker comprising 200 diving plaster figures pinned to the waterwall, a reference to Acapulco cliff divers who regularly plunge 100 feet into a rocky tidal channel. Around the interior walls are corn-husk-and-rose–themed mosaics by Michael Palladino (each made from 63 photographs on wax-coated tiles) and wallboxes of hammered metal tiles by Brad Oldham (containing images of pomegranates, beans, and pineapples), among other commissioned pieces.

Throughout, the restaurant is accented with vivid slabs of color and handcrafted details. In the ground-level bar and cafe area, a poured concrete floor of earth-colored squares gives way to backlit wall panels of rose petals embedded in translucent resin. In the ground-floor dining area, booths upholstered in striped fabrics are separated from the waterwall by perforated metal screens. Upstairs, to maintain low noise levels, the design team specified window fabrics and a carpet, both with brightly colored stripes.

Although the owner had requested that Rockwell tie the restaurant’s design to its festively decorated East Side counterpart, the architect felt that aping the 15-year-old original’s beguiling but more haphazard interior would have seemed self-conscious. His only concession is in the shrine-like niches in the upstairs walls, which are bathed in vivid colors and glowing light reminiscent of the cross-town precursor. Despite its distinctiveness from the original home, the new Rosa Mexicano seems to have no problems attracting customers: five months into operation, the restaurant, according to management, operates consistently at full capacity.

Peter Hall is a Brooklyn–based freelance writer. His feature on London’s Millennium Dome appeared in the September 2000 Interiors.

MELER WILSON I Rosa Mexicano maitre d’


What do you like best about the space? The waterwall.

Which part of the design makes your job easier? Actually, the color aspect of it, it’s very bright. It lightens your day as soon as you walk in the door.

What would you change about this space if you could? There’s nothing I’d change. I think it’s a perfectly designed restaurant.

Well, how does it compare to other restaurants you’ve worked in? Everything is at your fingertips. Although it’s a two-story restaurant, it’s very easy to operate. If you’re upstairs you can view thew hole room from the maitre d’ stand. There’s not really a bad table in the house. Sometimes when I come in, I sit in a table to get a view of what the customers see.

What sort of reaction do you get from customers? “The waterwall is incredible!” Stuff like that. A lot of people like the cliff divers. A lot of people ask, “Who’s the architect? Is it David Rockwell?”