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Accelerating the modern world
A thrilling journey through the history of the car is on show in London
The automobile—a long-time fetish object of architects, the car is arguably the object that defines the 20th Century and one that has perhaps sent us crashing us into the 21st. The development of the car was once fuelled by optimism, able to set people free to go where they wanted, when they wanted. Today, however, its image has been tainted by its contribution to the climate crisis. The car is both personal and global, shaping lives, cities and nations, and it is the subject of the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A) latest exhibition: Cars: Accelerating the Modern World.
There’s no Lamborghini Countach, no Citroen DS or Aston Martin DB5 here, this isn’t that kind of show. Cars is a critique of the automobile and its impact. Expect instead to find posters about workers rights relating to Fordist assembly lines, maps tracking global oil production, the world’s first commercial car designed using wind tunnel testing (the Tatra 77), and Graham, the viral, life-sized latex figurine born from the Transport Accident Commission of Australia that shows how humans could evolve to survive a car crash.
Tucking the exhibition into the new AL_A-designed Sainsbury Gallery at the V&A in London, curators Brendan Cormier and Lizzie Bisley have, through a welcome variety of mediums, given audiences a thrilling ride through the history of the car that’s full of unexpected turns.
With regards to architecture, we’re given Prussian-American architect Albert Khan’s plans for the Henry Ford’s Highland Park plant, the place where assembly lines were first used for industrial production. Next to it is a model of Italian architect Giacomo Mattè-Trucco’s Fiat Lingotto factory in Turin, complete with rooftop test track. But nearby is something more sinister—a letter from a Highland Park factory worker’s wife to Mr Ford. “The chain system you have is a slave driver! My God!” it reads, detailing the perils of the factory conditions.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Ford was a control freak. In 1926 he purchased land in Amazon Rainforest to produce his own rubber. Brazilian workers were banned from smoking, drinking alcohol and playing football, while American customs such as square-dancing in community halls and working in the sun, as well as hamburgers in the canteen, were introduced. The workers revolted and “Fordlandia”, as it was known, was abandoned in 1945.
Factory revolts and angry letters to bosses may be fewer and far between now, particularly as machines usurp humans in factory line production. A lengthy and eerily slow panning projection of the inside of the BMW Group Plant in Munich duly demonstrates this. Here machines do the heavy lifting while humans keep watch.
Cars also delves into the wider spatial implications of the automobile. Le Corbusier, who was as obsessed with the car as any architect (maybe more), designed the Maison Citröhan (1922)—named in the car manufacturer’s honor—to be as efficient as the car. Tire manufacturer Michelin, meanwhile, carried out an exhaustive photographic study of dangerous roads in America in the 1930s, highlighting the need for urgent improvement, and an array of photos from this shows just how poor America's roads once were. Missing, however, is Frank Lloyd Wright’s conception of the garage. The car’s impact on suburbs, roadside architecture (notably the work of Denise Scott-Brown), along with highways and freeways and drive-in cinemas is also amiss, but these do all feature in the exhibition’s accompanying book, which has been beautifully produced.
“In the end we ran out of space,” Cormier told AN. More important to the curators was to expose the rush for oil extraction the car created and the devastating effect this is having on the environment, which is understandable.
Throughout the exhibition, visitors are continually exposed to visions of a future which will never exist. One example: adverts and sci-fi films from 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s show many men in many cars, but none are stuck in traffic. By analyzing the automobile through the rear-view-mirror, Cars highlights how the car and modernity have failed to deliver on many promises. That hasn't stopped the industry, though. In the last room is 'Pop.Up Next', a concept from Italdesign which combines an electric car and a drone that is able to clip onto the pod-like vehicle—or rather, another attempt at a flying car, a never-realized fantasy of old which, like its predecessors, may be destined to forever belong in a museum.
Cars: Accelerating the Modern World runs through 19 April 2020.
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Rocky Mountain High
2019 Best of Design Awards winners for Architectural Representation
This wall mural and collection of models, installed for the 2017 Architectural League Prize exhibition, is a collapsed visual field representative of the monumental Colorado landscape. Six unbuilt projects are collected together in the context that informed and inspired them. In the tradition of the 17th-century capriccio, these works are realized in their grandest form imaginable. As a body of work viewed in total, each project supports the next to create a greater whole. The projects use uncomplicated primary geometries in unexpected configurations to engage with the grandiose landscape of Colorado. The models, made of the same paper as the collage, appear to be torn from the wall and draped over a table.Honorable Mentions Project Name: Manual of Instructions Designer: NEMESTUDIO Project Name: Other Medians Designer: Studio Ames Editors' Picks Project Name: Interim Urbanism: Youth, Dwelling, City Designer: N H D M Project Name: Shaped Places of Carroll County New Hampshire Designer: EXTENTS
Alexandra Mocanu weaves tapestries like paintings
Above The Fold
Yoon-Young Hur channels architecture into her ceramics
Aric Chen is the new curatorial director of Design Miami, the premiere show of collectible design, which features the world’s top designers and architects. The show returns for its 15th edition December 2 through 8, 2019, alongside Art Basel, showcasing a body of work that revolves around the theme of environmental sustainability. Until recently, Chen was the lead architecture and design curator at the soon-to-open Hong Kong museum M+. Long before that, he grew up in Chicago with his Taiwanese mother before studying architecture at Berkeley and then design history at Cooper Hewitt. In 2008, he was the co-creative director at Design Fair Shanghai, and served as the creative director at Beijing Design Week from 2011 to 2012. Chen now lives in Shanghai, where he teaches and works as M+’s curator-at-large.
A former Archpaper columnist himself, Chen recently spoke with AN’s products editor Gabrielle Golenda about the current state of design, the environment, and issues affecting the industry, as well as major changes that will shape the field in the coming years.
AN Interior: How is the environmental impact of humanity on the world affecting design?
Aric Chen: When it comes to issues of the environment, I don’t think we can talk about design as solving problems anymore, as we now realize that the problems are too complex to “solve.” That being said, design offers a way to help change behaviors, to mitigate our impact on the planet, and to adapt and build resilience to what we can’t change. It’s prompting us to rethink the relationship between natural and man-made, raw materials and waste, and production and consumption in exciting and promising ways.
How can platforms like Design Miami influence how we think about these issues? How are you addressing sustainability at the show?
Design Miami, and the work it shows, has always been about more than aesthetics and form. To me, what makes a design “collectible” are the ideas that inform it: the experimentation—in terms of these ideas, but also through materials, making, and, yes, aesthetics and form—that it embodies, and the messages and narratives it communicates. The best design speaks to the issues and concerns of its time, so questions around materials, production, and sustainability in our current environmental condition are naturally finding their way into Design Miami through the work of designers who are pushing the boundaries of experimentation and discourse—and, I hope, finding a market to support their work in doing so. As such, I hope we’re contributing to a cultural conversation while also taking practical steps to make the fair more sustainable—for example, by partnering with the advocacy group A Plastic Planet to eliminate single-use plastics from the fair’s food and beverage.Read the full interview on our interiors and design website, aninteriormag.com.