April 20, 2011
by Kristen Richards Hon. ASLA Hon. AIA

(Continued from above)

KR: What are the difficulties caused by operating out of a building designed originally for a different purpose, a different time, a different world? How does the renovation address these problems?

BM: When Charles Eames was interviewed by Mme. Amic [in 1972], she asked: “Does the creation of design admit constraint?” He replied, “Design depends largely on constraints.” In response to the constraints, our building helps us solve design problems with a little more rigor than a modern alternative might.

The renovation will give us more flexibility, with 60% more space for exhibitions, and a new “white-space” gallery on the third floor, providing a large open area for major shows without altering the fabric of the building.

KR: What are your plans for expanding the audience of the Cooper-Hewitt? In a 2010 New York Times Museums supplement, Julian Zugazagoitia, director of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, suggested that it is good to build upon one’s core constituency, but necessary to go beyond it. Do you agree, and if so, what are you doing about it?

BM: Our core constituency includes the professional design community, design educators, and students, as well as all the people who are interested in our collections and the mansion. As we develop as more of a national design resource and international design authority, we will expand our audience to include leaders from both companies and organizations and a greater percentage of the general public.

KR: Last year, when Jason Schupbach was new to his role as Design Director at the National Endowment for the Arts, you convened the leaders of all the architecture and design organizations in NYC. Was there a purpose to the meeting, other than introducing Jason to colleagues? What, if anything, was achieved during the discussion?

BM: We have established a collaborative partnership with Jason at the NEA, as we can help to explain design in different ways. The NEA can support projects through funding and we can help with content and expertise.

KR: I’d like your take on three questions posed to architecture critic Paul Goldberger, Hon. AIA, in a recent interview in The Atlantic. First, what new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on the design world?

BM: Increasing connectivity due to the Internet and cell phone networks. The world seems much smaller as we are so much more connected to each other.

KR: Second: what’s an emerging trend that you think will shake up the architecture world?

BM: The context for architectural practice is expanding from the design of the built environment to the design of social innovation.

KR: And third: what is an architecture or design trend pushing designers to change?

BM: Our solution space is getting more and more complicated, leading to increasing specialism. This in turn tends to isolate designers from the full scope of problems and solutions. This trend can be balanced by more collaboration across specialties and disciplines.

KR: IDEO.ORG is launching in fall — are you involved? How important is socially responsible design — in architecture and products — in your book? Do you think there’s too much “lip-service” about it, or is it being taken seriously?

BM: This initiative was put in place after I moved to NY, but IDEO was working in the social innovation space before that. See for example the “Human Centered Design Toolkit,” a free innovation guide for social enterprises and NGOs worldwide, sponsored by the Gates Foundation. There is a lot of talk about social innovation, but as with most ideas that are recently popular, there are not so many successful practitioners yet. Let’s hope that the expertise grows over time.

KR: What is your favorite work of architecture — and why?

BM: When arriving in London after an overnight flight, I usually go straight to the Tate Modern, approaching the building by crossing the delicate and elegant Millennium Footbridge, designed by Foster + Partners, Arup, and Sir Anthony Caro. As you walk across, the grand simplicity of the original power-station architecture gradually looms higher, with the subtle glass rectangles of the renovation designed by Herzog & de Meuron complimenting the brick. It is worth entering down the pedestrian ramp from the ground level, to fully enjoy the expansive atrium and treatments of the windows of the gallery floors, followed by the long escalator ride up to explore the art. This combination of the engineering design of the bridge, the scale and power of the original building, and the delicate but also strong detailing of the conversion add up to my favorite work.

KR: What is your favorite product design — and why?

BM: The spoons designed by Ettore Sottsass for Alessi. You can enjoy the appearance of the voluptuous curves as you see the spoon on a surface. As you pick it up, the arch of the handle presents itself as if waiting for you, and the balance is perfect between bowl and handle. The details of the shaping are smoothly rounded, with none of those harsh edges so common in flatware. As your lips touch the leading edge and you smell the contents, you realize that the design of this spoon enhances multi-sensory pleasures.

KR: What is your favorite thing about living in NYC? What do you miss most about living in CA?

BM: Everything! NY is so amazing because you can always find something happening here about everything that you can think of. I miss friends, countryside, and climate from California.

KR: How much did the 1982 GRiD Compass weigh?

BM: 11 lbs.

KR: How much does your current laptop weigh?

BM: 5.6 lbs.

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