Art and architecture thrive on influence, an asset that knows no boundaries, geographic or disciplinary. It is in this spirit that we welcome new voices, perspectives and interpretations. National Building Museum and Metropolis Magazine contributor, Andrew Caruso, begins the 2013 run of Inside the Design Mind with an emerging voice: Yang Yongliang. At only 32, this Chinese born graphic designer-turned digital artist has come of age in one of the most pivotal (and controversial) times in his country’s history. His digital-collage reinterpretations of China’s cities present explorations of the built environment that are simultaneously critical and aspirational, dark and foreboding yet filled with light. Already showing in galleries from Shanghai to Paris, we think he’s one to watch.
Andrew Caruso: What parts of your childhood influenced the way you approach art?
Yang Yongliang: I grew up and learned about art in an old town that had retained its traditional Chinese character. My teacher made oil paintings and he taught me basic exercises in drawing and watercolor. I remember him telling me on his deathbed that he was thinking about painting. His manner and attitude toward art had a far-reaching influence on me and his death had a profound impact.
AC: You originally studied very traditional forms of art making. Why then did you begin your career with digital media?
YY: My childhood education included traditional paintings and calligraphy and at university I learned graphic design. I began using different software programs and studied photography and shooting techniques. Combining these skills became natural.
In a study he calls The Origins of Architectural Pleasure, architecture professor Grant Hildebrand analyzes how specific responses to architecture, including aesthetic experience, could well have originated in evolved behavior. The details of the research and reasoning he assembles seem to me a clear, persuasive foundation for a more rigorous, more effective humanism. He’s distilled the enormous complexity of a mind and body into concepts usable in day-to-day design, and that’s why my own explorations build on and in a sense grow out of his.
He starts with the idea that natural selection clearly favors those who have imagined, found, and then re-shaped an environment into a “good home.” And, as a result, natural selection has favored “an innate predilection to build in some ways and places rather than others,” adapted to the natural settings where a family would thrive. Drawing on the social sciences, literature, the arts, plus his own observations, he traces the value we place on these selected sites and architectural forms back to biology – to innate survival-based behaviors. Naturally, many of his insights are being applied in our day-to-day practice, though many are ignored or given a low priority, but whatever theory guides a design, he shows ways our publics are most likely to respond and why.
Specifically, Hildebrand points out that a safe, effective habitat must offer both a refuge, providing a microclimate, protection, and concealment – especially for the times when we are least watchful or most vulnerable – and a prospect, a look-out with views over well-lighted open spaces, the places that may offer opportunities – food and water, “provisioning,” exploring, trading – or reveal threats and approaching predators. The natural places that would offer both together – a cave, cliff dwellings, and edges-of-the-forest, with an overlook ahead, protection behind – and ready access to a generous, fertile, natural setting of climate, land, and water – seem like archetypes, found again and again. And he cites examples from a range of cultures over long spans of time – in Japan, throughout Europe, and today’s America.
“We built ourselves into the life of the desert” — Architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Scottsdale
Building ourselves into the life of the land. Hildebrand explores in more depth the design implications of “refuge and prospect,” but first I want to expand further on responses to the component of experience we tend to call “nature” – the interacting processes of climate, geology, hydrology, and biology that go on whether we intervene or not. Our relationship is inherently ambiguous. Surviving and prospering depends on understanding, mastering, and managing its impacts, and our human “dominion” over nature – our separation and superiority – is institutionalized in our biblical and classically based civilizations. Yet in practice, we are an inseparable part of any natural environment we invade, and whether driven by visions of quick exploitation or sustainability, private possession or the public domain, ultimately we rely on an intimate, nuanced collaboration.
Successful, groundbreaking design is more than a mere sum of different parts. It is a synergy of inspiration, fierce dedication, vision, and hard work. Christopher Jenner, head of the multidisciplinary design studio that epitomizes these qualities. We asked him to tell us what drives his process, and discovered that for him, successful design includes a methodical and in-depth analysis of his clients needs, a philosophical approach to the role of design, the nature of fabrication, and even Buddhist practice.
Sherin Wing: You’ve just launched a new furniture collection. What were the inspirations and was this always a part of your design vision?
Christopher Janner: Absolutely, I’m a bit of a style fascist so the idea of designing and making collections which clients could purchase and use to style their own homes was extremely appealing. The ability to help define the ways people appreciate materials, form, structure, craftsmanship, and technology (key themes in our work) is super attractive. I’m very intrigued by this concept of good and bad taste, how does one define it and what are the parameters whereby one decides if something is good or bad, is it about style or taste? It’s very easy to have good taste, it’s dictated to us all the time but style is something else, it’s an ability to create with what you have – similar to making a great meal with what’s left in the fridge.
L’Artisan Parfumeur, Paris, image courtesy Christopher Jenner
I presented the Swell collection at the worst possible time in global economic history – I was conscious of this from the start, this financial crisis has been going on for years. I took all the capital I had, and put my reputations on the line. I’m a risk taker and I passionately believe that by taking calculated risks and pushing yourself to the limit it is possible to achieve extraordinary things.
SW: You say the line contains elements of childhood playfulness combined with design features that hearken English motifs. And then there are the decidedly futuristic themes. How do these elements combine to creative a comprehensive narrative?
CJ: Complexity lies at the heart of my work, (more…)
There’s something about quality that will not be denied. As the new Barnes Art Museum recently opened to great fanfare on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, you couldn’t help noticing the petite Rodin Museum next door, waking up, rubbing the sand from its eyes.
A close cousin of the Musee Rodin in Paris, this crown jewel of the Parkway had seen better days. The fountain and pool were never working, plantings and grounds were shabby, Rodin’s monumental bronze entry piece,“The Gates of Hell” with its writhing figures, was blackened and dull. Still, unmistakably, there stood a beautifully proportioned, limestone treasure.
“The Burghers of Calais”
Photo: Joe Mikuliak
“Lifting the veil – “The Burghers of Calais”
Photo: Joseph G. Brin © 2012
Sometimes they’re more alike than you think, Paris and New York. You just have to be looking, and it helps if you live in both cities, constantly, as does Vahram Muratyan. Growing up in Paris, Muratyan always dreamed of living in New York. These days his work keeps him straddling both the City of Lights and the Big Apple.
In Paris, he uses le metro to visit the Pompidou; in New York, he takes the subway to the Guggenheim. In Paris, he snacks on a macaron while walking up the Champs-Élysées. In New York he munches on a cupcake while strolling down Fifth Avenue. In Paris he grabs a baguette at a boulangerie. In New York he chooses a bagel and a coffee at the deli.
Muratyan refined these juxtaposed moments and translated their essence into charming, minimal illustrations.
Vice President, International Operations
U.S. Green Building Council
My job fascinates me. Obviously because I get to visit interesting places, but more importantly, because of that delicious curl of anticipation that comes with fac…
Photo by Roger Edwards
Photo by Matthew Pillsbury
“We never speak of Tanner in terms of racial difference…The United States is very different from the French way of considering Tanner,” says Sylvie Patry, “conservateur en chef” of painting at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, France. She’s in…