Tuesday, November 14, 2006

STL Design Challenge

My first look at the Arch was as a kid, speeding along the interstate, crossing the river, en route to Colorado. My mom woke me up to see the Gateway to the West. I was 11, tired after driving from the east coast, and I just wanted to get to the west, less interested in the gateway there. For my mom, it was different. Her first trip to St. Louis was in the late sixties, right after the Arch was erected. To her, it was still a marvel. It would take me longer to think about it in any real terms.

When I moved to England, the only thing people knew about St. Louis was

1.) it was somewhere in the middle of the country, far from anything of worth or interest
2.) the movie "Meet Me in Saint Louie"
3.) the Arch

Upon returning, I began to think more about it. I have always loved architecture, but what I love consists of the character of old buildings, the brick and stories that built them... and the creative problem solving of new architecture. The genius of Samual Mockbee and the Rural School, Fallingwater which I saw for the first time at 8 years old after begging my parents to take me there, the crazy dream-like structure of Gehry's Experience Music Project, the stunning design of the Oklahoma City Memorial with all its chairs. Lately though, I think not just of buildings, but of design.

A couple of weeks ago, I had one of those days where everything centered around design. I had just read a long article in Fast Company about design-centered business thinking. I had gone to Target in the morning (the mecca of egalitarian design), read Sarah's blog about her frenzied trip to Seattle's IKEA store, and then ended up talking with Toby after a work function about possible design innovations in schools and prisons. In a time where design is everywhere these days, dotted along DIY cable shows and imbedded in all marketing campaigns, I began to wonder, where was design in St. Louis? There are, without a doubt, beautiful places-- parks, buildings, neighborhoods. But moreover, I wondered where is the transcendant design within our city? Where are the places that are made so thoughtfully as to make us think and feel differently? Where are the places that make us comfortable, that are designed for our ease of usage? Where is good design in this city, not just aesthetically, but functionally? Do we have enough of it, or are we missing the mark?

Here are my first contemplations for some STL Design Awards. I am completely open to, and in fact, want, your comments.

This is green space that seemed to be designed with everyone and every purpose in mind. It's beautiful and provocative, accessible to all, free, with plenty of fields for frisbee or picnicking or reading, as well as paths. Every time I go there, I think about that place and this city differently.

Now, here's a space designed with the user in mind. It is constantly evolving and changing. When you walk through it, it's as if moving through a dream where you encounter the things you feel or want intuitively, not necessarily expecting them to be there in reality. It's like a peek into all our secrets and our subconscious, mapped out and delivered.

Obvious, to some degree. But this place changes and flows, moving from one type of landscape to the next, almost seemlessly, from sun to shade, from inside to outside, from wide open spaces to small nooks of privacy. It can be packed, and you still feel amazed that you are in such a small corner of the city because it will take you so many hours to move through the grounds, with minimal disruption from other visitors.

For obvious reasons of proximity, I use TG Park more than FP, but I also think it is just big enough to contain what I need, while maintaining distinctive differences in its parts, and it's easily navigable by car or foot. After seven years living in this city, FP still confuses me and I get lost, no matter what I do.

BRENNAN"S Wine Bar and the Maryland House
This is my huge shout out to Kevin Brennan, who has a wicked sense of humour (despite my thinking he did not have one for years) and a keen sense of detail. Kevin puts a lot of thought into his space, thinking about beauty, comfort, design, product, and how his customers use the space. He thinks about how you want to feel and how you want to eat and drink so that you can just show up and enjoy yourself. When I started thinking about bars, his place immediately came into my mind. And the great thing: though he does put effort into it all, it's also intuitive to him. So his building seems natural and the experience there un-forced. He might have the most user-friendly establishment in STL, though I am sad that he took down the polaroids in the ground floor bathroom.

Obvious, yeah, yeah... But it looks different every single day, every time I walk by or drive past. It's reflective-- in every sense of the word, and that's why it's good design. Instead of taking a stance, it allows itself to be what the visitor sees and projects-- and that my friends, is good design. Oh yeah, and I guess it's some kind of architectural feat-- whatever...

SKIF International
Yep, I still always think of the Matrix when I think of their sweaters. But there is something fantastic about beautiful clothes that look so different from other things we can buy. And there's something great about the same sweater looking different on every person who wears it. Rather than giving you style, their products seem to blend into your own personal aesthetic in a fairly amazing way.

52nd CITY
It's pretty, people. And well-written. It's that simple.

So, I'm opening the floor. Where else do we have good design? What immediately comes to your mind? That's the stuff we need to talk about, and it's certainly something to celebrate.

No comments: