Friday, April 29, 2016

For Culture’s Sake by Constantine Boym

A version of this article originally appeared in Metropolis magazine in November 1995. The text was included in the book Curious Boym: Design Works, published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2002. Reprinted with permission.

Constantine Boym & Laurene Boym (SVA MFA Designer as Author faculty) are principals of Boym Partners, an industrial design studio whose souvenir-like "Buildings of Disaster" and "Missing Monuments" series have received international acclaim and earned a loyal following of collectors.

A strange incident took place in the city of Seoul on September 2, 1994. Dozens of angry South Korean students attacked an exhibition of traditional Japanese ceramics at a prestigious museum, smashing display cases and destroying valuable artifacts. The protesters were demonstrating against the Japanese government’s past policies toward Koreans, and they had nothing against Japan’s arts and crafts. So why did they take on a cultural institution to express their anger?

Their choice would probably not surprise some of today’s leading political scientists. According to Samuel P. Huntington, a professor of government at Harvard, the great boundaries that used to divide humankind are no longer primarily ideological or economic—they are cultural. Throughout most of the twentieth century, conflicts between communism, fascism, and Western liberal democracy formed the basis for human history. The confrontation between communism and democracy, for example, drew boundaries across almost all continents, with the Berlin Wall as its most visible manifestation. But with the end of the Cold War, the globe can no longer be separated out into first, second, and third worlds. It is more meaningful now to group countries in terms of their shared heritage of language, customs, and values. “The Velvet Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology in Europe,” attests Huntington. Indeed, contemporary developments on either side of Europe illustrate in different ways the validity of culture as a political concept. In the West, the leaders of the European Union invoke a homogenized culture as they pursue the abolition of borders and the establishment of a common currency. On the other hand, tragic events in the former Yugoslavia showed how the elusive line of cultural difference could easily become a front line of bloody confrontation. As the world becomes a smaller place—people now move around the globe as refugees, laborers, entrepreneurs, students, and travelers with great dexterity—and interaction between many different peoples increases, these closer contacts can intensify feelings of cultural identity.
Moreover, in the “soft” postindustrial economy of ours, culture is what provides the backbone to strategic economic development. Most developed countries have already witnessed an economic shift from production-based manufacturing to knowledge-based industries like software, telecommunications, entertainment, and tourism. Culture is soon expected to become the world’s largest industry. In the last decade of the twentieth century, American cultural exports, such as popular movies, music and information, constituted a large part of our economical well-being. From theme parks to museum stores, there is a market direction to meet a worldwide public demand for culture-related merchandise.

One could argue that design as a discipline is supposed to related to the world at large. And if the world is changing, so should design. Since the spread of the Industrial Revolution, design has internalized the century’s reigning economic, technological, and social influences. The entire vocabulary of the design language reflects this: We talk about practicality, cost-effectiveness, new materials and manufacturing processes, and human benefit. Good design is often synonymous with design that “works.” Nonfunctional objects, on the contrary, are automatically banished from the field. Such a view, however, may no longer be adequate. In a new world where culture has become a major determinant, design will have to find a new paradigm, a different mode of “working”—one based less on performance and more on communication, emotion, and joy.

In this respect, it is worthwhile to look at souvenirs. These objects represent an important part of our civilization’s material culture. They can be found in every home, regardless of a person’s economic or social status, and they can be as different as a miniature marble leaning Tower of Pisa and a monkey made of coconuts. Not surprisingly, the sale of souvenirs amounts to big business—more than $20 billion annually in the United States alone. Yet the entire phenomenon of the souvenir is largely excluded from the high culture of design and completely ignored by the design professions. If we accept that design is a way of communicating ideas, then souvenirs are quintessential design objects. They can carry complex layers of information, from “programmed” messages to personal sentiments. Beverly Gordon, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin, makes a distinction between souvenirs and mementos: The former are commercially produced, universally recognized, purchased objects; the latter are individually saved or found objects that have a deeply personal meaning. It is the first category that provides an interesting case study for product designers. A souvenir is manufactured to serve as a reminder (the word, in French, means “to remember”) of a non-ordinary experience, place, or culture. The object works metonymically, as a part or a fragment that evokes larger places and events. Its partialness, however, is always supplemented by a personal narrative or recollection. The popular appeal of souvenirs is rooted precisely in this combination of material object and immaterial, fleeting sentiment. Unlike many “serious” products or appliances, the souvenir always contains a built-in emotional value, such as a memory of a past journey or the affection of a faraway friend. Preservation of memory serves as profound motivation for a lifetime passion of collecting. Once in New York, I visited an apartment of two elderly Holocaust survivors. They met in Europe shortly after the Liberation, and soon got married, but could not conceive a child, her health being seriously damaged after years in the camp. One day, he gave her a small toy bear, a touching souvenir of the family they were never to have. Collecting and giving each other bears has become their life-long tradition . Eventually, their spacious apartment became home to over a thousand bears of every conceivable material, size, and look. These are not functional useful objects, and most of them have little or no “artistic value”. Yet how is it possible not to take this collection seriously, not to treat it with a proper affection and respect?

People’s attitudes toward souvenirs, though, can best be described as a love-hate relationship. Everyone has and buys them, but they are easily dismissed and thrown away. Designers are the most critical, instantly relegating these keepsakes as kitsch—but you can always find them in designers’ own homes. Often, they try to find the tackiest, most outlandish souvenir possible to bring home for the amusement of their peers. Why is it that a certain silliness and tastelessness prevails—and is even appreciated—in this product genre? According to Beverly Gordon, such objects help to accomplish an “inversion of the ordinary”—just as when fun and recreation briefly substitute for the realities of everyday life. When on vacation, people tend to go to the extremes of good taste, spending money on strange, whimsical, nonfunctional items precisely because they wouldn’t do it in their daily existence. In this sense, a souvenir’s emotional, accessible, funny design is essential for it to function properly. “Inversion of the ordinary” puts souvenirs in opposition to objects of “good” design, with their characteristic usefulness, seriousness, and value. Instead, souvenirs offer the option of different attitudes and aesthetics—for people who are, at least temporarily, not practical, serious, or thrifty.

Traditionally, souvenirs have been manufactured exclusively for the tourist market. But in a new, shrinking world—as the mobility of the population exponentially increases—souvenirs, in a different form, are among the few objects from home that can accompany a person to a foreign land. Souvenirs, then, have the potential of being transformed from a superfluous product of consumption to an object of emotional survival. Instead of a tourist cliché, a souvenir can serve as a proud representation of a person’s cultural identity. Think of all those souvenirs that multinational New York City taxicab drivers display on the dashboards of their cars. In the aftermath of the September 11th events, many of New York ethnic shops placed American flags and souvenirs next to symbols of their own cultures as a message of peace and understanding. In a world divided along the lines of culture, such object-symbols can no longer be marginalized. Almost always, souvenirs are designed anonymously—no well-known designer, it seems, would ever attach his or her name to one. And designing a new souvenir is rarely given as an assignment in design schools. So there’s been little progress in the genre; all the design movements of the past few decades have just passed it by. But, hopefully, these attitudes will change. The world needs a lot of new souvenirs—for culture’s sake.


The estate manager Wah was buried in a small tomb near the imposing one of his employer, Meketre, an important official who began his career under Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into early Dynasty 12. Wah's burial was found intact by the Museum excavators and the objects came to the Museum in the division of finds. In 1939, the mummy was unwrapped and many fine objects were discovered. All three of Wah's scarab and bead bracelets (40.3.12-.14) were found in wrappings over the wrists of Wah's mummy. This large silver scarab is of exceptionally fine workmanship. It was cast in several sections that were soldered together. Details on the legs, head, and wing cases and the scroll meander pattern on the base were chased. A gold suspension tube runs through the length of the scarab. Inlaid hieroglyphs on the scarab's wing cases are of electrum, an alloy of gold and silver. Their light color renders them almost invisible unless the scarab is tarnished. The inscription on the left wing case identifies Wah as the estate manager of Meketre whose name appears on the right wing case.

The cornflower and ball beads in this necklace were made by soldering wire rings of several different diameters into the desired forms. The piece is an early example of the technique known as filagree. Discovered with a cache of jewelry in the Valley of the Kings, the necklace is thought to have belonged to Tawosret, wife of the Seti II and regent for her husband's successor Siptah. Tawosret, who reigned Egypt in her own right for several years at the end of Dynasty 19, was one of the few female rulers of Egypt, the most famous of whom are Hatshepsut and Cleopatra VII.

These sandals were part of the funerary equipment belonging to one of three foreign wives of Thutmose III. They are made of thin sheet gold that would not have withstood normal wear; they were intended for funerary use only. The sandals are decorated with details intended to imitate the decoration on leather sandals.

Inflatable Plates, Mina Song, Designer

Monday, April 25, 2016

Moleskin Game of Thrones, CO.Design


Final Video


Making of the video.

Ashley DeLoach, Student Work, Architecture Relief

In process

In process.


One bit of inspiration. 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Traveling Structure Assignment Guidelines

Using limited materials construct a sculpture inspired by architecture. The sculpture is required to move through space via remote control. 

Expose students to historical time periods. Challenge the student to observe and analyze elements and principles apparent in three-dimension. Expose student to the processes needed to develop an individual idea. 

In order to solve the challenge of the sculpture being mobile, you will be building the sculpture to fit on top of a remote control monster truck. 

The following materials MUST be used to build the structure. The materials MUST appear as design elements in the final solution. The materials MUST be used with innovation.  Some suggestions are listed under each material. You do not have to use my suggestions – you may invent your own innovative solution. No colored ink, paper, markers, etc… The amount of each material is your choice. Mark the checklist so I am aware of how you used each material and turn in with your final solution. 

1.  White Foam Board (in your kit). Option – purchase additional at any thickness. Can also purchase black foam board.
                        Score it
                        Stack it
                        Sew into it
2.  White Rives Paper (in your kit). Option - purchase black paper.
                        Fold it - to transform or use creases as an element
                        Stack it 
                        Weave it
                        Sew it
                        Cut into it (paper cutting)
                        Peg and Hole
                        Build a three-dimensional form
3.  Balsa Wood (in your kit). Option – use another wood besides balsa – tons of scrap in woodshop.
                        Cut it
                        Carve it
                        Sand it
                        Sew into it
                        Stain it
                        Sew into it
                        Emboss it
4.  Clear Packing Tape (in your kit) AND/OR Trace Paper (in the studio, cabinet left of computer). 
                        Roll it (inside out and stick together to make another form)
                        Roll it into a long, tubular form
                        Twist it (into a linear form)
                        Layer it
                        Put something in-between it
5.  Elmers Wood Glue AND/OR Gel Medium AND/OR Gesso (all three in your kit). Hot glue is also you can build up layers of glue to create form. 
                        Mix it with ink for marbling effect
                        Paint layers, peel off for another plane (wood glue and gel medium work best). 
6.  Black Ink (Winsor Newton brand in your kit) AND/OR Black Ballpoint Pen/Sharpie. 
                        Dye it (paper or wood or string)
                        Drip it
7.  A linear material such as white/black/grey thread, wire, string, skewer sticks. Hot glue can also be used in a linear form.
                        Sew with it
                        Dye it in the ink
                        Use it to wrap
                        Embed in glue/gel medium
                        Put in-between clear tape or trace paper
                        Allow to extend beyond main form and onto/into wall/floor
                        Hang objects (that you make) from it
8.  Mask Tape (in your kit). 
                        Twist (to make rope/string)
                        Layer it
                        Wrap it
                        Shred it
                        Roll it
                        Make another form out of it
                        Use it to make graphic shapes/lines
                        Crumple into balls
                        Cut a pattern into it

The following materials are necessary for construction:
    1. Straight pins (with a flat head).
    2. Box cutter/utility knife (must use to cut foam core and balsa).
    3. Can use glue to attach elements as long as it does not show. Use the Elmers Wood Glue. 

    RESEARCH, Part I:
    • Select at least three architectural time periods. 
    • I have started the research process for you regarding time periods.  You can find the information in the right column under "Traveling Structure Research" or "Architecture Research". 
    • Find an image for each time period/style. Print out all three images and bring to class. Option, bring laptop to class and present research on your laptop.
    • Important - Research Imagery due the day after I assign the project. We will discuss each student's research in class. 
    • Site sources for all info images.

    RESEARCH, Part II:
    • Complete the Elements and Principles Assignment. You can find the guidelines in the right column, under "Elements and Principles Assignment Gudielines". 


    • Find at least three different artist's whose work you find inspiring.  
    • See the artists I have listed under "Traveling Structure Research" in the right column.
    • I have a Pinterest board entitled "Sculpture Line" that can be helpful. Here is the link.
    • Print out research and bring to class. Option - bring laptop to class and present research on your laptop. 
    • Important - Research Imagery due the day after I assign the project. We will discuss each student's research in class. 
    • Site all sources and clearly label each piece of research accordingly. For example, "Traveling Structure Inspiration 1 of 3". 

    Step 1:
    Complete Research Part I.
    Step 2:
    Complete Research Part II.
    Step 3:
    Complete Research Part III.
    Step 4:
    In class demo on how to score foam board, cut balsa wood, use straight pins and a few other tricks.
    Step 5:
    Present research in class and discuss. Jot down notes/ideas/sketches. 
    Step 6:
    Begin construction of base/foundation. 
    Step 7:
    Continue to build up (vertical). Be mindful of the height and width ratio.

    The following information is required for the Digital Journey Assignment:
    • Photographs
      • At least one in process photo. 
      • At least three professional photo's of the final solution. Include at least one detail shot. A video is helpful for this assignment since the sculpture is able to move via remote control. 
    • Research (particular to each assignment)
      • Research Part I. Architecture Time Periods.
      • Research Part II. Elements and Principles Assignment.
      • Research Part III. Inspiration Images. 
      • Photographs of any notes or sketches are optional. 
    • Artist Statement
      •  Writing must demonstrate collegiate writing skills. Writing demonstrates time and effort. Writing demonstrates content, reflective thought and intellect. Writing is free of grammar, punctuation and spelling errors.

    Chance Powers, Student Work, 3D to 2D Assignment

    Chance used the soap carving as a prop.  

    Sam Taylor-Wood, Artist, 1967, United Kingdom

    Still Life


    Sam Taylor-Wood talks about her work. 

    Tilda Swinton, Artist, United Kingdom, b. 1960

    Fishing Prescription, Hand Out, Colle McVoy


    As an unexpected way to motivate boaters and casual fisherman to cast their reels more often, we actually prescribed a day on the water to people attending fishing and boating shows. 

    Arch of Hope, Hot Tea

    M + D, Design Company

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    Patssi Valdez, Artist

    Wearable Technology

    Studio XO

    From Lady Gaga to Azealia Banks, fashion tech lab Studio XO discuss bringing couture to life through technology, the future of digital skins and smart textiles, and bringing tech fashion to the masses. 

    Careers in 3D

    Design and Thinking Official Trailer

    Museum of Natural Science, North Carolina

    I Love My Job: Exhibit Designer
    Alvaro Amat

    Set and Exhibit Designers Job Description

    Museum Inside Out: The Exhibition Designer
    Milwaukee Art Museum

    Theatrical Sculptor
    American Theatre Wing

    Special Effects Designer
    American Theatre Wing

    Ming Cho Lee
    Set Design

    Scenic Designer
    Riccardo Hernandez

    FIT Graduate Exhibition Design Program