For this installment in our ongoing Five Things series, we asked Alexandra Lange, author of Writing About Architecture, to tell us what’s on her mind.
1. Cooper-Hewitt Collection Database
The Cooper-Hewitt recently launched what they are calling a ‘public alpha’ version of their collections database, as part of the process of digitizing their design collection. The tagline is “This is our stuff, we have lots of it,” and so they do: William Morris wallpaper and Dixie Cup designs, architectural drawings and Russel Wright china. The front page shows three items chosen at random, and you can keep clicking that way, or take a deep dive into a country, department, person or period that piques your interest. I am a fan of both exhibitions from museum collections and museum Tumblrs, and this is like a souped-up, anyone-can-play version of both.
2. ‘I Have Seen the Future’: Norman Bel Geddes Designs America
In 1939, if you wanted to see the future it was obvious where to go: the Futurama exhibit at the General Motors pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. That exhibition, which offered a vision of America in 1960, was designed by Norman Bel Geddes, a self-made designer and consummate self-promoter, who helped to shape (literally, in the case of streamlining) the look of the postwar world. A new exhibition at the Ransom Center (and its accompanying catalog) takes a deeper look at Bel Geddes’ influence and reach.
3. Ramona the Pest
My son just started kindergarten, and I decided it was time to graduate him to bedtime chapter books, starting with this 1968 classic by Beverly Cleary. I read the whole Ramona series as a child, and I have been surprised and delighted by how universal her experience remains. Plus, I’ve decided Ramona may have a future in branding: she names her doll Chevrolet because she likes the way the word rolls off the tongue.
4. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
The 2011 version of John Le Carre’s classic doublecross novel is excellent, tense, well-written, and stocked with just about every current British actor you can think of. But it is also catnip for the design fan, a trove of outdated technology like dumbwaiters, typewriters and switchboards, with a dash of modern architecture, used for its many windows, all rendered in a moody, tweedy green-gray palette.
5. Wired magazine’s October 2012 Design issue
Wired’s October 2012 Design issue is packed with the kind of critical longform design journalism that is becoming increasingly rare. I enjoyed Rob Walker’s take on the rather more industrial future of Etsy and Bryan Gardiner’s look at the past and future of Corning Glass, but I loved loved loved Jason Fagone’s article “How Nerf Became the World’s Best Purveyor of Big Guns for Kids.” Suburban friends have reported to me that the activity of choice in their neighborhood are backyard crossing Nerf battles, and now I understand how that is possible. It is also wonderful to see the deep seriousness with which Nerf designer Brian Jablonski takes his job.