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IBM and the Transformation of Corporate Design, 1945–1976
In February 1956 the president of IBM, Thomas Watson Jr., hired the industrial designer and architect Eliot F. Noyes, charging him with reinventing IBM’s corporate image, from stationery and curtains to products such as typewriters and computers and to laboratory and administration buildings. What followed—a story told in full for the first time in John Harwood’s The Interface—remade IBM in a way that would also transform the relationships between design, computer science, and corporate culture.
IBM’s program assembled a cast of leading figures in American design: Noyes, Charles Eames, Paul Rand, George Nelson, and Edgar Kaufmann Jr. The Interface offers a detailed account of the key role these designers played in shaping both the computer and the multinational corporation. Harwood describes a surprising inverse effect: the influence of computer and corporation on the theory and practice of design. Here we see how, in the period stretching from the “invention” of the computer during World War II to the appearance of the personal computer in the mid-1970s, disciplines once well outside the realm of architectural design—information and management theory, cybernetics, ergonomics, computer science—became integral aspects of design.
As the first critical history of the industrial design of the computer, of Eliot Noyes’s career, and of some of the most important work of the Office of Charles and Ray Eames, The Interface supplies a crucial chapter in the story of architecture and design in postwar America—and an invaluable perspective on the computer and corporate cultures of today.
Two Lives, One Vision
Lella and Massimo Vignelli: Two Lives, One Vision is a portrait of two important twentieth-century designers whose careers intertwined since the 1950s. The Vignellis promote a modernist philosophy of designing for a better society: resourceful use of space and materials, clear communication, lasting quality, and logical functionality. Through a mix of archival research and personal interviews with Lella, Massimo, and their many colleagues and clients, Jan Conradi documents the Vignellis’ nuanced approach to “cleaning up” an often chaotic and messy society by adhering to a minimalist and structured design method. The Vignellis’ lifetime commitment to a world of design is marked by vibrant client relationships and unwavering attention to detail. With wit, grace, focus, and finesse, the Vignellis’ sustained pattern of working and living has influenced, and continues to inspire, generations of designers worldwide.
A Thai Temple in Wimbledon
Sandra Cate's pioneering ethnography of art-making at Wat Buddhapadipa, a Thai Buddhist temple in Wimbledon, England, explores contemporary art at the crossroads of identity, authority, and value. Between 1984 and 1992, twenty-six young Thai artists painted a series of temple murals that continue to attract worshippers and tourists from around the world. Their work, both celebrated and controversial, depicts stories from the Buddha's lives in otherworldly landscapes punctuated with sly references to this-worldly politics and popular culture. Schooled in international art trends, the artists reverse an Orientalist narrative of the Asian Other, telling their own stories to diverse audiences and subsuming Western spaces into a Buddhist worldview. In her investigation of temple murals as social portraiture, Cate looks at the ongoing dialectic between the "real" and the "imaginary" as mural painters depict visual and moral hierarchies of sentient beings. As they manipulate indigenous notions of sacred space and the creative process, the Wat Buddhapadipa muralists generate complex, expansive visions of social place and identity.
One hundred years ago, architects found in the medium of photography—so good at representing a building’s lines and planes—a necessary way to promote their practices. It soon became apparent, however, that photography did more than reproduce what it depicted. It altered both subject and reception, as architecture in the twentieth century was enlisted as a form of mass communication.
Claire Zimmerman reveals how photography profoundly influenced architectural design in the past century, playing an instrumental role in the evolution of modern architecture. Her “picture anthropology” demonstrates how buildings changed irrevocably and substantially through their interaction with photography, beginning with the emergence of mass-printed photographically illustrated texts in Germany before World War II and concluding with the postwar age of commercial advertising. In taking up “photographic architecture,” Zimmerman considers two interconnected topics: first, architectural photography and its circulation; and second, the impact of photography on architectural design. She describes how architectural photographic protocols developed in Germany in the early twentieth century, expanded significantly in the wartime and postwar diaspora, and accelerated dramatically with the advent of postmodernism.
In modern architecture, she argues, how buildings looked and how photographs made them look overlapped in consequential ways. In architecture and photography, the modernist concepts that were visible to the largest number over the widest terrain with the greatest clarity carried the day. This richly illustrated work shows, for the first time, how new ideas and new buildings arose from the interplay of photography and architecture—transforming how we see the world and how we act on it.
In eighteenth-century America, fashion served as a site of contests over various forms of gendered power. Here, Kate Haulman explores how and why fashion--both as a concept and as the changing style of personal adornment--linked gender relations, social order, commerce, and political authority during a time when traditional hierarchies were in flux. In the see-and-be-seen port cities of Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, fashion, a form of power and distinction, was conceptually feminized yet pursued by both men and women across class ranks. Haulman shows that elite men and women in these cities relied on fashion to present their status but also attempted to undercut its ability to do so for others. Disdain for others' fashionability was a means of safeguarding social position in cities where the modes of dress were particularly fluid and a way to maintain gender hierarchy in a world in which women's power as consumers was expanding. Concerns over gendered power expressed through fashion in dress, Haulman reveals, shaped the revolutionary-era struggles of the 1760s and 1770s, influenced national political debates, and helped to secure the exclusions of the new political order.
Design, Fiction, and Social Dreaming
In the first decades after independence in 1980, kastom--indigenous knowledge and practice--became a key marker of ni-Vanuatu identity. However, it was almost entirely concerned with men. Then in 1991 the Vanuatu Cultural Centre initiated a project that focused on women's knowledge and skill in producing plaited pandanus textiles (mats) on the island of Ambae in north Vanuatu. This acknowledgment that "women have kastom too," widely welcomed by rural ni-Vanuatu, was a significant step in establishing women's kastom. Lissant Bolton's account of this important but undocumented period considers the circumstances that led to these events and analyzes their effects on Ambae. Her ethnography of women's production and use of plaited pandanus textiles shows a changing world whereby colonial and missionary ideas about the position of women and feminist discourses on women's rights have engaged with specific, kinship-based constructions of gender to create contemporary ni-Vanuatu views on the position of women.