The bottom line is not a design tool

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Yesterday I finally got to see the inside of the Seaford Surf Life Saving club. The AIA (Australian Insitute for Architects) Award-winning building designed by Robert Simeoni is amazing and after seeing its exterior when first finished, I was hankering to check out the insides and have an delightful coffee in their cafe building, right out on the beach, raising some cash for the Club in the mean time.

I’m not sure how Mr Simeoni feels about it post-occupancy, but there is a big difference between the intentions of the person who designed the space, the person who is running the space and the people who are using it. I can’t speak for the SLSC, but the cafe is such a disappointment – it oozes bottom line design.

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The space itself is all clean and raw materials – joined recycled pine beams, marine ply, stainless steel struts and wooden floors. The kitchen itself looks well-designed and full of potential. But, at 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon, there were 5 tables taken, when it should have been rammed (even with the rain) and it was almost as cold and lifeless as the fake bodies being rescued by the crew next door in their surf life-saving drills.

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The tables were cheap plastic crap inside (sadly, the beautifully-recycled wooden ones stood saturated outside) and the chairs were even worse. There were off-the-shelf salt’n’pepper shakers (I know, small detail, but so obvious when they’re on the table!) – no sense of either cosiness, or attention to detail. Or even community spirit. It was all a little rushed really.

It is painfully obvious that the owners of the beach cafe have seen dollar signs and tried their best to replicate what they think would be a good look, without a sense of connection, passion or authenticity. Hell, even the line protecting the birds from the glass (or vice versa), was a half-arsed line of orange tape, obscuring the amazing horizon. surely they could have found a better way that that?

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When you design (?) with this in mind, you make a cold place and your job difficult. In fact, a place with a little attention to detail, good atmosphere and true spirit – half the effort in running a social environment is taken care of. When people feel comfortable, or welcome, cosy – you know, it’s hospitable – the service, food and quality of coffee doesn’t get quite so much scrutiny and you can afford a bit of leeway.

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In this case, with such awkward spaces and empty feeling, the sub-par food, stiff bunch of staff, bad logos and uniforms at the beach cafe (and that title!) were obvious. In fact, we didn’t even want to stay for coffee and/or sweets, that’s how ‘perched’ we felt. given the acclaimed building exterior – a tourist attraction and worth being proud of – it was disappointing.

Additionally, if you want to design across a bottom line – if you have 5 tables an hour NOT making an extra $12 on upscales, for 8 out of 9 hours’ trading, 5 out of 6 days a week, you’re losing a minimum of $2400. Not to mention the lack of customer retention – the novelty of the beautiful building will wear off soon and you have to sustain them somehow.

some amazing shows

i’ve been to see more shows in the last 3 days than i have in the last 3 months. it’s like mainlining nicotine after being a social smoker – full-fuckin-on. but ace. totally ace.

there are a few stand-out shows for me so far and i just need to rave about them for a bit.

andreas golder, white cube.

more specifically, the sculptural work that is splattered on the carpet on the top floor of hoxton square gallery. it is pretty impressive and quite revolting, in a delicious way. i think if it wasn’t installed in a grey room, with lower lighting – after a pretty innocuous show downstairs, it might not be so memorable for me. but it was and it was. the detail and the gore is great – never has a partly flagellated skeletal form looked quite so luscious.

conceptual models, tate modern.


i’ve been holding off on seeing the rothko, thanks to dear friends giving me free tickets, etc, etc. so when i went the other day, it was really to check out some of the other free shows. conceptual models is one of the most awesome shows i’ve seen in ages. i know that sounds like quite a big call, but for me it really nailed it. it was large enough to get a bit of a scope of the theme (artists working with/within architectural frameworks and ideas), was a theme that i totally dig, because i’m a self-centered gal and love seeing shows about work i make; and was still tight enough to not feel completely swamped by filler and/or overkill.

some of the great works i loved included some white langlands & bell (my new favourite artists) models of ivrea, also known as olivetti-city damian ortega‘s skin works: cow-hide modernist housing plans, strung up like carcasses; ephemeral modelling work, cedric, by koo-jeong, a and thomas demand‘s tavern – sets and photos of the site of (i ♥ thomas demand). they were just the absolute highlights, but there wasn’t really a work in there that i didn’t love.

unfortunately, there was nothing but the suggestion of looking it up on the internet to take home with me. not even a room list/publication thing like there usually is. i was a bit disappointed about that, but thankfully the list of works is on the tate site.

hussein chalayan, design museum.

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i had been looking forward to seeing this exhibition for a while – i bought advanced tickets from oz, that’s how excited i’ve been about it. and i didn’t even really know that much about the designer before then, but i just knew it would be a good show.

and how.

the works are fantastic – chalayan is into multi-disciplinary design and story-telling is a major aspect of his collection. and that collaborative/wholistic approach has been taken into the exhibition design too – done by an architectural firm, the whole experience is amazing and a little blade-runner-esque (do all good architects like blade-runner). each room is a difference ‘illustration’ – fig. A-R of the fashion work, but is an installation in itself. chalayan also does fantastic films, several of which are showing at the museum, including one featuring the amazing tilda swinton. born in cyprus, working in london, chalayan’s work, and especially this show, has the feel of exactly those two places – absolute high-density innovation and sparse romanticism. in fact, there was something about the show that reminded me of australian artist hussein valamanesh.

if you’re in london between now and may, and have even a passing interest or understanding of fashion/design, go see this show. it’s brilliant.

UPDATE: great essay on ortega’s skins here

image credits:
andres golder, surgite mortui venite ad judicium, from the white cube site.
thomas demand, tavern, from the telegraph website

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the third place and vicarious taste

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while i was showing will some of my fav. places about melbourne, i mused about the importance of the third place. i know, it’s quite an old theory now, and i’ve gone on about it a bit in the past, but i had a new revelation in its relevance to design, aesthetics and identity.

following on, i guess, from the musing about designing for places to eat, i was wondering why i like my favourite cafes, restaurants and the other social public places i frequent, noticing their decor.

take one of my regulars – kent st, for example – it’s a complete mashup of stuff – amazing light fittings, second-hand furniture, sit down arcade game, numbers and signage, photographic mural and pink walls. there’s some stuff that i would totally have in my home, and other stuff that i love, but couldn’t live with it.

which i think is a vital part of the third place (and an area that i’d be interested in pursuing some more – especially with design/interior stuff in mind.) it is these places in which we get to experience an aesthetic that fulfills us, or challenges us, or resonates with us, but in which we can’t participate in our own environments. that we need places to be lavishly decorated, or quirky, or completely sparse, over the top or completely minimal – so that as a society we can take some of that with us, own it without possessing it.

and that communal places – cafes, bars, clubs, restaurants – hell, even swimming pools, gyms, shops – are the places in which we need to invest a level of innovation or courage or outlandishness (in terms of interior design/decoration). that, as well as feeding, entertaining and socialising us – the third place, the social space – teaches us an aesthetic, or perhaps provides us with a range of aesthetics from which we can then discern our own. the third place, it seems, is in the business of taste, on all accounts.

image credit: the fabulous barista miss browne at brother baba budan, taken by janey on flickr

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from swiss miss, via a cup of jo

how awesome is that poster!

and the irony of it doing the blog rounds whilst there there are two design festivals on in melbourne at the moment. ha! although, perhaps i don’t get the last laugh, because instead of being able to get out and about and check all kinds of nutty stuff, i’ve been indoors all weekend, flat out with a sore back. stupid back.

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blatant prostration

as some of you may know, i’m kind of into design, art and architecture. in melbourne next week is the design capital conference and i no longer have a ticket [minor detail of having to still work for an organisation in order to take advantage of the professional development opportunity].

anyone got a freebie? or not able to make any of the days? i’d love to check out lots of the speakers on day 2, but hey, i’m not fussy! or subtle.

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airports, design and emotion

i wrote here a while back about my particular relationship with airports and air travel. in fact, i discovered a hot book called airplane the other day at gemma’s place – all the cool stuff about airplanes. naturally including ms penelope-inspired hostess outfits from the 70s. swoon!

but this is not a post about pan am. or pam ann

when i was at the RMIT architecture open studio thing, i was checking out the lower pool concept drawings and projects – quite a few at docklands (yawn), a stadium and and one which caught my eye about airports. while the sketches and mock-up didn’t altogether float my boat, there was a strategy diagram which underlined the whole reasoning behind her project which was amazing – focusing on the sad, happy, lonely and waiting places of airports. yes, that’s right kids – emotions! the intangible, but incredibly real element of human-ness in airports. i can’t tell you how pleased i was to see this appear in the working docs for the plans.

i’m not an iconoclast. i like a building to look beautiful. but i also firmly believe that architecture has to work. it has to support the process for which it is intended. it has to respond to the brief (which, interestingly, i heard as the main difference between craft and design). what i think happens a lot of the time is that the brief can easily get swallowed up in the tangible: on time, on budget, OH&S standards, building codes, material considerations, door widths, step heights, dimension, depth, reflections, etc, etc. of course those things are important, but and then don’t forget about the fact that within that space, somebody is going to feel something.

this is the bit that keeps me thinking about place and looking at space, is this consideration for how somebody feels somewhere. and perhaps good architectural design – be that exterior, interior, landscape or urban, is the best possible consideration for our emotions.*

*which just got me thinking again about empathy. hmm. spaces for empathy.

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