Architectural Spirit

An article I wrote for the Eiger Gallery website … 

‘My main purpose, and feeling really, since I’m involved with man made environments, is to create the most desirable environment to improve human life … It’s not esigning to suit bankers, or building codes or contractors, it’s designing for people.’

These droplets of wisdom are some of the words of the, sadly now no longer with us, John Lautner. They came from a documentary about the renowned architect entitled ‘The Spirit in Architecture: John Lautner’. Lautner is a figure who, after only an hour and half of sitting in a stylish screening room in the Royal Institute of British Architects, I gained a rapid appreciation of, and respect for his ideals and place in the history of design.

I suppose when the majority of people think of housing they think of functionality. About the size of the bedrooms, or the position of the windows, and a place to call ‘home’, without maybe fully knowing what that means. However, timeless enduring space is a term Lautner uses to describe what he saw as one of the most important aspects of all architecture, and an idea which permeates through his designs.

Aside from endeavouring to create a space which does more than just keep your head dry and your stuff safe, what was strongly impressed upon me was another more broader idea of Lautner’s, which is the concept of knowing everything about what you are designing. This involves not just concerning yourself with the end product, but knowing how that end product is constructed and the methods required for that construction, with a specific focus on how this process effects all else that follows.

In one sequence of the documentary, Lautner brightly recalls his time studying architecture as a young man under the tutelage of Frank Lloyd Wright. Lautner tells of how he and the others under the great master’s wing not only learnt how to draft and design structures, but they learnt how to build, on frequent occasions wielding hammer and nail, something Lautner laments is not within the skillset of the average architectural graduate among the youth of today.

The thoughts these ideas provoked within me were simple, and they revolved around the same concepts about design and designing which Lautner spoke of. The first of these was do to with the improvement of life. The concept left me wondering – Is it really possible for design to have an impact on this? Can a pretty building make you feel better?

The second was to do with his words about knowing all about what you do. As you think about it, his mantra makes perfect sense. Does the designer of the latest model of MacBook know how to construct one with his or her bare hands? Are the truly gifted designers the ones who know about the practicalities of their craft? Are experts in the materials used and how to use them? ‘Improving life and suiting the situation …’

Lautner echos his key beliefs on design and architecture throughout the film, and one is left with a resonating calmness when watching pictures, moving and otherwise, of his creations. At the end of the documentary, I was left with more questions, but full of answers. What does design really mean to any of us? Does it make our lives better to live? Or is it just there, noticed sometimes, but ultimately ineffectual against what we really care about? Like most things in life, for me, design plays as large a role in our day to day existence as we allow it to. But when something is touched by a designer such as Lautner, one can not help but sit up and take relevant notice. The elements of the design in these cases will not allow you to do anything less. SH

(article written for eigergallery.com)

Who is Jewellery for, Really?

An article I wrote for the Eiger Gallery website …

I guess what I’ve personally spent on Jewellery over the years doesn’t equate to a dizzying amount of money. But I know what I like, and depending on the person it’s intended for, I don’t usually need much time to make up my mind and secure that purchase. 

But what makes me, or any of us for that matter, buy jewellery in the first place? 

I don’t wear any jewellery myself, so any time I’ve bought a piece of bodily adornment, it’s been for another. In this instance, the act of giving is a strong motivator towards handing over my cash. And in any case, what is the real appeal of jewellery? Is it to look prettier? To show one’s status? Or a simple way to raise our self esteem? Maybe the procurement and possession of jewellery is like any other desire to accumulate and own things, a material whim which governs so many people, and more so, it seems, today than at any other time before. 

To try and decipher who jewellery is really for, my thoughts invariably lead to design and aesthetics. For me, the cost of an object has no real bearing on its significance – ten pounds or ten thousand, the price tag on a piece of jewellery isn’t going to make me like it any more or less – but it is its appearance which strikes that little tuning fork inside and tells me what I like the look of, but more importantly, the feel of. It could be argued that jewellery is essentially just for looks. 

Clothes, indeed, can also be chosen for looks alone, but most all of them end up serving the end purpose of covering our bodies.Shoes are in the exact same boat. No matter how impractical a six inch pair of heels may be, they still complete the task of keeping the feet of whichever brave (or foolish) person who decides to wear them from touching the harsh ground. Any other common accessory provides a function too. A belt holds up your trousers, a scarf keeps your neck warm – what does jewellery do to fill our practical needs and make us more comfortable? The answer is that a piece of jewellery is not an essential item prettied up to look nicer, but a pure work of art. It is there to be there, to represent our expression of what art we like and enjoy. And maybe what it shows most importantly is a feeling we chose to evoke, a message which is exchanged by using jewellery as a vehicle of this message, this feeling, this intention. 

But how does an inanimate object makes us feel anything at all? And how does the person wearing the jewellery feel, versus the person observing the jewellery on the wearer? The design of a piece of jewellery is what sets it apart from every other piece. And while they all have similarities – for example, rings, necklaces, earrings – each design seems to be singing out towards the ones who would hear it most clearly, striving to make that personal connection, to be the one which reaches out and touches the human being who may be moved by its beauty or form or individualism.

Works of true art are individual, and a crafted piece of jewellery is just that, a work of art.
Could it be that by buying a work of art such as this, we seek to please not only others but ourselves as well? And the mere seeking of this pleasure, no matter its form or intended party, is reason enough to do the looking, do the liking, and then the buying. What happens after is out of the art’s hands, and left purely to the emotion of the people around it. SH

(article written for eigergallery.com)

Shoes

SKIPPING, STEPPING, RUSHING PACKS OF CLOTH AND RUBBER AND LEATHER AND PLASTIC. SHOES ARE EVERYWHERE, AND ALL AT ONCE.

I mean, seriously … How often do you really look at a man’s shoes?

It’s the famous quote from the cinematic masterpiece The Shawshank Redemption. As part of a cunning plot to escape a maximum security prison, a man who has been entrusted to shine the Warden’s shoes, ends up walking out of the prison wearing them.

In the film, it’s a clever line which makes you think — would you have noticed the shoes? If you were one of the hundreds of prisoners or tens of prison guards that saw Andy Dufresne walk along those claustrophobic corridors that day, would you have seen it? Would you have spotted he was wearing shinny black dress shoes instead of his usual dull and worn prison regulation brown kick abouts?

I like the quote. I really do. But when I first heard it, and first though about it, my answer was quite different to those which were expected to come from, and most likely indeed did go on in, the heads of most audience members when watching that great film.

How often do I really look at a man’s shoes? All the time, I replied to myself. All the bloody time.

I suppose I don’t so much as look at them, but notice them. Shoes, for me, are an eye to a human being’s personality. Shoes aren’t like shirts, which you change each day. No siree Bob. Trousers, sure, can last a little longer, but still I’m sure most people have a certain rotation they live by. A simple system that sees most of the bottoms to their outfits never go on show for too long in a row. The same, and even more so, can be said for dresses or skirts or shorts.

Of course, a lot of this is situation dependent, and some shoes are only ever worn when the blue moon doth rise, and then seldom ever again. But the shoes which we chose to wear on these sparse occasions never represent the jangling keys to our soul. Our ‘good shoes’ aren’t exactly our ‘favourite shoes’. No, the ones we love the best are the ones we wear the most.

Not everyone takes their time to select a shoe that will serve them in multiple categories, however. For firstly there are the ascetics to be considered. The look of a shoe is the most important aspect for most of us, and indeed is what first draws us towards a particular type of footwear. Then there is comfort and reliability to be considered — will this shoe survive a muddy day out in the countryside, followed by a less muddy but no less messy night out in the city? Then there is the cost. Some people shop purely with price alone as their guide, and as long as the shoe fits their budget and their foot, then that’s the shoe for them.

But here is where my main point lays. The reasons we chose a shoe are not all generic. The priorities we assign to the purchase of a pair of shoes are often the priorities we assign to how we live our lives. Does it not serve to reason that those who buy a shoe based on practicality and overall thriftiness do too infuse those principals into their daily life? A person who is taken by the pure outlandishness of an explosion of colour which graces a pair of trainers, and then buys said footwear without beguilement of price or functionality, do they also live their lives as impulsively and devastatingly as their shoe buying habits suggest?

The answer is — who really knows. The warden nor the other prisoners in The Shawshank Redemption certainly didn’t. And unless you take the time to notice other people’s shoes yourself, neither will you. SH

Tomoko Azumi

Article I wrote on designer Tomoko Azumi, for the Eiger Gallery website …

The ‘Queen of Chairs’ (as we like to think of her), Tomoko Azumi was born in Hiroshima, Japan, in 1966. Initially she studied architecture at Kyoto City University of Arts, and then worked for a few years in an architectural practice in Tokyo, before later moving to London and graduating with an MA in Furniture Design from The Royal College of Art in 1995. After that, she and her partner formed the AZUMI design studio. In 2005 Tomoko established the T.N.A Design Studio in Hackney, north-east London, where she has been working ever since. At T.N.A she is the head of a multi-cultural design team that operate a furniture, product, exhibition and retail interior design consultancy for multinational clients.

The idea for building up our collective of great people at Eiger is simple – we consider the designers we like and admire, creative minds who haven’t necessarily worked with our materials and manufacturing processes before, and invite them to challenge themselves by bringing the skills and knowledge from their native fields into jewellery. With Tomoko this idea was no different, and she was promptly invited to take part by Eiger designer Terence Woodgate. Happily for us, Tomoko accepted

An image I had at the beginning of this project was from the title of the brand, Eiger,’ said Tomoko, when speaking about what first sparked her interest in joining Eiger. ‘It was an illustrated Finsteraarhorn on a Swiss postage stamp, which represents a simplified visual interpretation of “upheaval”, a disturbance that is created by the movement of the earth’s crust and also by the carving by the glacier. Then we started to look at folding paper techniques to repeat this idea of “when you press both ends of material and the middle goes higher” phenomenon. The transition from paper to silver worked so well.’

One of Tomoko’s more iconic pieces is the‘Table=Chest’ for Röthlisberger in 1995, which exhibited in the new Furniture Gallery at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This not being her only such recognised piece, Tomoko has works displayed in other UK collections, as well as at the Stedelijk Museum in Holland.

In 2004 she extended her prowess even further, designing for the prestigious Italian brand La Palma with the chair Avia. Although she has designed many chairs, all of her works of seating art meld perfectly with each of the brands they are produced for. And as well as more than meeting their purpose, they all maintain a distinct uniqueness from one another when considered individually.

Tomoko’s work has a creative knack for using the visual aesthetic of an object to enhance everyday life for its owner. But it is her ability to combine beautifully formed pieces with flawless functionality which really gets our juices flowing when thinking about her work, and how pleased we are to have her as a part of our team. SH

Event City

How to Eat, Drink and Educate Your Way Around London for Free

Tower Bridge

Know anything about JavaScript? Expert on financial planning? Well versed in coding? Me neither. But hey, why let that stop you from dining out and glugging one or two or three or four or more beverages for free in our fair London Town?

Truth is, your lack of tech or business or creative knowledge won’t stop you. There is a wealth of events and talks and meetups in this wide city of ours, and all you need to be good at is finding them.

But opportunities don’t just drop into your lap. It’s a craft, I’ve discovered, but not one that can’t be easily picked up by the dedicated of body and mind. In one particular week, used here for pure example, I was participant at evening events for seven days straight, where you were able to consume all the booze you could drink, all for no more than having your name ticked off on a list. Now, this isn’t to say I took part in a seven day drinking spree, far from it, but the point is that the opportunity is there. If you want to get a little tippled every day of the week, you can. And for nothing. Nix. Naught. Nada.

Food too, although in my brief experience not in as large quantities as alcohol, was still in plentiful enough supply that you could forget cooking for at least a couple of days a week, and fulfil your snacking needs at just about every place you enter.

What’s the secret? You have to own it … It’s not exactly the same as being dressed up in your best suit, ambling into a function room alongside Vince Vaughn in a scene from “Wedding Crashers”, but sometimes it feels pretty close. You have to walk enough walk so you can at least manage a little talk. Be genuine. Meet people and enjoy it. As long as you never forget to be open, you’ll never lose. Even a free glass of Tesco bought wine and a handful of Kettle crisps is still a win, in anyone’s books.

However, as much as the idea of free drink and munch has no doubt got you all in a thrifty frenzy, the true wealth on offer here is the enlightenment and education you have before your hopefully open eyes. Since I prised my own squinted eyelids open and embraced the positive experiences on offer, I’ve learned more about new ideas, inspirations, products, opportunity and endless other subjects of knowledge in the last month than I had done in the year previous. Once you cut away the brambles of habit and expose your spongy brain to what is out there, and how your access to it all is no more than a tube journey away, your mind opens innumerably.

So here I am, on a chilly Tuesday night, and on the menu today lays not fine wine, nibbles or craft beer, but access … Free access, into somewhere that you otherwise need to cough up towards the pointy side of eighteen pounds to gain entry into.

Sat comfortably so in the centre of St. Paul’s Cathedral, the bowels of London awash all around me, the ambling chatter gradually rises to its now rumbling murmur. What was upon my arrival a sea of empty brown seats, is now full of people. It indeed costs a pretty penny or two to get this close to the fine stone work and elaborately painted ceilings, on a normal day. However, all of us are in here for free. We’re awaiting a talk on Postcapitalisim by someone or some such who has written a rather long book about it all. I must admit I am intrigued, and enthusiastic to learn yet something more that a day before my knowledge was close to bankrupt in. But in truth, with total bleak honesty now spilling from my mind and off of your computer, table or iPhone screens, right now they could be in the revealing climax of a wet t-shirt contest, and my attention would still be locked to the immense nature of the innards of the grand structure I now sit in. This place is vast. And as they say about sensible cars and single share rooms on spareroom.com, it really does look a lot bigger from the inside that you would have first imagined. The far end of the ceiling ahead of me, in the ‘pointy top-of-the-cross bit’ of the cathedral has become my favourite feature within this great structure. It is the most colourful, and sparkles now like a Jeweller’s bazaar, in predominantly darker shades of green and crimson. With my vision all a flutter, small polite applause spurt into life, and the speaker begins to talk. The words sink into my head, but the echoes of his voice wash over me. In the distance a bell tower chimes. The place, the building, the setting steals the show.

Because that is what it’s all about. When you live in a city such as London, you must grab it firmly in both hands and turn that bugger upside down, like a freshly prised open piggy bank, shaking every last rattling penny out of the guts of it, until the spoils clatter onto the kitchen table in front of you. The opportunity is there. The opportunity for experience. And here I am telling you it’s there to be spent, right down to the last ten pence piece. Because after all that’s what London is, a city to be plundered, however you see fit, but plundered it must be. And as long as you do it in a nice way, you might even be able to do it for free. Sometimes at least … It is London after all. SH