Thursday, June 08, 2006

How Architectural Ideas Spread

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I've always been fascinated with how architectural ideas are transmitted from building to building. One day, you're admiring the way that an architect used a certain corrugated metal panel or tangerine colored wall, and the next day you see the same techniques applied in another building. Call it plagiarism - or call it borrowing, appropriating, quoting, or the sincerest form of flattery. These days, quoting starts before the paint is even dry.

Just three months ago, I was standing in Stephen Starr's just-opened New York outpost of Morimoto, admiring architect Tadao Ando's clever spin on the traditional Japanese water element. Instead of incorporating a fountain or a reflecting pond in the $11 million Chelsea restaurant (sublime architecture, lackluster food), Ando created a wall-sized steel armature that holds nearly 20,000 plastic water bottles. The water-filled bottles are arranged horizontally and screwed like lightbulbs into the armature, which is suspended from the pleated and gessoed canvas ceiling. The bottles sway slightly as you walk past. Backlit with twinkle lights, they emit a soft glow the gives you the feeling of being somewhere deep underwater. Posted by Picasa

Obviously, I wasn't the only one to admire the effect. Walking past the Anthropologie store on Rittenhouse Square, I was stopped by the sight of a window display featuring suspended water bottles, softly backlit with twinkle lights. A couple of summer dresses complete the tableau. But while Ando used his soft plastic bottles to sculpt a dense, solid wall, the Anthropologie window dressers kept to the company aesthetic, which prizes the appearance of accidental quirkiness. The bottles are arranged as if they were flung over a telephone wire like a pair of sneakers, in the Philadelphia graduation-day ritual. But the antecedent seems clear. Is three months a record for transmuting high art into low? Clearly these design minds think alike. Before Ando came up with the idea of pleating canvas with gesso to soften Morimoto's ceiling, Anthropologie was using the same technique to wrap the walls at its Naval Yard headquarters.


Anonymous Caryn Hunt said...

Check out Diane Landry, sculptor and performance artist. She's done a lot of work with plastic bottles.

8:20 AM  

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