Category Archives: vintage design

Techs-Mechs – Steampunk time?

Ulysse Nardin Chairman Mechanical Smartphone

Ulysse Nardin Chairman Mechanical Smartphone

I’ve been following the Steampunk phenomenon with fascination. It’s a stylistical branching out that makes perfect sense to me, bringing as it does the formal exuberance of 19th century excitement at the technological wonders of the industrial revolution, its heavy mechanical seduction, its steam and coaldust manliness, onto the flat, bland and opaque physicality of our own turn of the century electronics: Steampunk is hard at work trying to turn Bill Gates into Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

Until now, Steampunk has been a somewhat tribal affair, developed by cyberpunk geeks intent on beautifying their gear, a labour of love and tinkering. Well, Steampunk is finally crossing over into mainstream consumer electronics – I was wondering when – and with the support of The Long Now Foundation no less… It makes perfect sense. The Ulysse Nardin Chairman hybrid smartphone’s unique selling point? It’s powered by a mechanical thingy that charges its battery through the users’ movements, just like self-winding wristwatches do. And it looks pure Steampunk.

I leave you with a couple of Steampunk beauties, in the hope that I will get a few of you hooked onto the trend.

Laptop by Datamancer

Laptop by Datamancer

Brass USB stick

Brass USB stick

Steampunk'd desktop computer

Steampunk'd desktop computer

And of course the most spectacular of them all, Paul St George’s Telectroscope that linked London and New York, the twin capitals of Steam and Punk, in the summer of 2008.

The Telectroscope, London end.

The Telectroscope, London end.

Go Green? Shop Vintage. Buy Thrift. Recycle.

For the Greenest Office, Buy Vintage. Buy Thrift. Recycle.

With all the hubbub about green products, the point that everyone seems to miss is that the greenest move of all is to buy used stuff. Variously called “vintage,” “thrift,” or “second hand,” its updated name might simply be Cradle-to-Curb-to-Cradle. Stylewise, there doesn’t have to be any trade-offs, as this clever new office redesign by I29, a young architecture firm, proves. All of the pieces were sourced from local flea markets in Amsterdam; they were then given a contemporary, oh-so-Dutch look using environmentally friendly spray paint. The design fits the client—an ad agency called Gummo—pretty well…

(from Fast Company)

Summertime… vintage design auctions are in season

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather Barcelona Chair, 1959.

LUIS BARRAGAN (1902-1988) A Sabino and Leather 'Barcelona' Chair, 1959. Estimate $20,000 - $30,000. Christie's Important 20th Century Decorative Art & Design, 2 June 2009 New York, Rockefeller Plaza.

With the month of June comes the yearly round of summer 20th Century design auctions at all the major auction houses. Sotheby’s ‘Important 20th Century Design’ of June 12 is offering lots for a total lower estimate value of $3.7 million – $5.4 at the highest estimate. This kind of money won’t save GM from bankruptcy, but it still is a hell of a lot of cash. Despite the recession, the relatively young 20C and contemporary design market has been holding its own remarkably well, even if its meteoric rise through to 2007 has been somewhat dampened in the current climate.

Christie’s and Phillips de Pury are also holding June auctions, as are Wright and  Quittenbaum, both specialist 20C Design auction houses. The latter holds a treat for all of you who are interested in Spanish 20th Century design: Andre Ricard’s rare 1973 lamp for Metalarte (pictured below), which I mentioned in an earlier post, is up for grabs at an estimate of €1200. Catch it if you can!

And if you happen to come across other pieces of Spanish design in the auction catalogues, let me know!

A sad day for branding, a sadder day for brandy – Osborne gets a makeover.

The Osborne group has announced that it will stop using the black bull as its corporate logo. The Sevilla-based group wants to signal its shift from being mostly a brandy and sherry producer to its current emphasis on products such as water, fruit juices and Iberico ham. It has commissioned a new corporate logo from a Madrid design studio, which is still under wraps and will be launched later this year.

While the fearsome 14-meter high bulls will remain dotted around the Spanish countryside, they will be even further divested from meaning. One more nail in the coffin for this iconic piece of Spanish advertising design, created in 1956 by Manuel Prieto of the Azor agency. The first bull, 7 meters high and made of wood, went up near Madrid in November of 1957. From the early 1960s the bulls were made of metal sheet and were 14 meters high. By the 1970s there were more than 500 bulls across Spanish territories, not just on the Iberian Peninsula but also in the Canary Islands, the Balearics and North Africa.

In 1988, new national transport legislation makes publicity billboards that are visible from the roads illegal, and the word Osborne that was written in red across the existing bulls is removed. By 1994 the Spanish government wants to bring them all down, but many autonomous communities, municipalities and pressure groups fight to save them. In 1998, the Supreme Court grants them mercy, stating that the Osborne bulls have moved beyond their original advertising meaning, having become part of the landscape and a Spanish cultural icon.

The Osborne bull has also left an interesting trail of political associations. As an icon of Spanishness it has been taken over by the conservative right, and prompted the design of  an alternative animal national icon by Catalan nationalists, in the shape of the Catalan donkey. No Heritage listing in sight for that one!

It was also used by Spanish soldiers posted in Irak, both on the national flag and to decorate the barracks.

There are currently 97 bulls left. And now that they are one of the great stories of Spanish graphic design, declared objects of National Heritage, film icons (in Bigas Luna’s 1992 Jamón, Jamón, the bull shares screen time with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz),  Osborne wants to give them up, because they link the group too closely to its past as a sherry wine producer. Would Nike give up the swoosh? Would Macintosh give up the Apple? And all for the sake of branding bottled water and fruit juice?

The everyday comes to Santa Coloma. Local things for local history.

The Museo Torre Balldovina, a local museum in Santa Coloma de Gramenet, near Barcelona, has asked the town’s citizens to contribute everyday objects from the 50s, 60s and 70s. These will be catalogued by the Museum and will be shown in an exhibition this fall. So far, about a hundred pieces have been collected over a few weeks, ranging from typewriters to sewing kits.

La Vanguardia has a nice video with interviews of some of the donors who explain their relationship to the objects they have given. But I can’t embed it so go watch it here.

Madrid Furniture of the 50s and 60s – An Online Catalogue.

Luis M. Feduchi & Javier Feduchi. Room of Hotel Castellana Hilton, Madrid. 1953.

Luis M. Feduchi & Javier Feduchi. Room of Hotel Castellana Hilton, Madrid. 1953.

The Madrid Architectural Association COAM has a great resource for mid-century Madrid design: Catálogo de Muebles – Madrid de los 50 y 60. The online catalogue of images is based on the research carried out for two exhibitions on 1950s and 1960s design respectively, curated by Pedro Feduchi, which took place in 2005 and 2006. The images come from periodical publications such as Revista Nacional de Arquitectura, Hogar y Arquitectura, Nueva Forma, Temas de Arquitectura, and furniture manufacturers’ catalogues of the time period.

The database is organised by designers, pieces, interiors and trade catalogues, and there is also a keyword search option. The interface is not particularly smooth or user-friendly and it’s time-consuming to have to click on every individual entry to see a thumbnail of the image. Searching by item typologies seems to be the most effective option, as thumbnails are supplied. In any case the collection is structured in a clear way and the material is worth the effort.

[Thanks to Jordi Esteve].

Side-chair. Jose Dodero, 1961.

Side-chair. Jose Dodero, 1961.

Side-chair. Miguel Fisac, 1960.

Side-chair. Miguel Fisac, 1960.

T.D.C. Catalogue, 1956. Designs by Fernando Ramon Moliner.

T.D.C. Catalogue, 1956. Designs by Fernando Ramon Moliner.

Fernando Alonso Martinez & Francisco Muñoz Cabrero. Ceiling light, 1955.

Fernando Alonso Martinez & Francisco Muñoz Cabrero. Ceiling light, 1955.

Reading lamp for the Instituto Eduardo Torroja. Commercialised through Darro. 1959

Reading lamp for the Instituto Eduardo Torroja. Commercialised through Darro. 1959

Saving the Signs

Fundación Signes is promoting a campaign to save old shop signs that are at risk of disappearing. They are encouraging people to send pictures and note the exact locations, and have started building an online collection which already has some beautiful examples. It’s a great initiative and a particularly urgent one in cities like Barcelona, whose obsession with urban face-lifts and modernisation is creating an increasingly sterile environment. My recurrent nightmare, after a few months back in Barcelona, is that very soon there won’t even be a stretch of pavement left that is older than a decade or so. What this city needs is a Campaign for the Preservation of Grime and Urban Patina.

Another wonderful ongoing online project is José Antonio Millán’s Abecedario Industrial y del Comercio, which showcases hundreds of images of letters taken from commercial signs around Spain (mostly in Catalunya). Millán’s selection showcases the best – and worst!- of anonymous design’s creative drive, highlighting letters that try to represent the objects and services advertised. A fantastic overview of outsider typography.