This book brings together a selection of my works, sketches, texts and thoughts as curated and edited by EUG's Roberto Feo and Rosario Hurtado. It's a good introduction to my process of work.
The book was introduced with the show I had at SHOPWORK.
If you want to but the book, you can do so at LULU publishing.
Published in 2011 by Shopwork www.shopwork.net
© 2011 Alon Meron www.alonmeron.com
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Physical design is a process of anticipating and creating for another physical and emotional event that will take place later. It is one of the more performative types of design process and is central to thinking by making.
As thinking while making it is a kind of improvisation, maybe closer to performance. Somewhere in the realms of pushing what you have already done to another level, into a yet unknown brief, it is an act of composing in the time of execution.
Being design it is more often done away from audience, or initially for an audience of one, the maker looking at the process while it unfolds through their own actions. In their mind, and shaping the design, the maker designer is always thinking of another performance altogether, that of the user. As it is not only in the process of the maker, it is very much about the context of use, the situations that the design serves, where the user performer discovers what they can do and what the design can do for them.
At its best Physical Design appeals to makers and users on a stronger physical and emotional level, providing a more immediate and situational experience than traditional design. The making and the using contain an inherent flexibility that allows for discovery.
Designers, like Alon Meron, that make and think at the same time, plan sufficiently to embark on the process not fully knowing how it will unfold. Relishing in the challenge of connecting materials to perform a task. Sometimes defining the task in view of the discovery.
Like in Physical Theatre it is a narrative that comes into being through the execution. Somewhere between a script and an improvisation full of Instructions, constructions, restrictions, constrictions, form follows functions and super-injunctions. Flex, give, push, balance, pull, shove, merge, converge, wedge, edge, verse, inverse, reverse, diverse into an ultra stable flexible environment.
I design and make things around the human scale and that makes me a furniture designer mostly and when I’m feeling brave, a space designer. I develop my work around Human Living Environments; ‘Human’ suggesting a reference point (physical, social, cultural etc.), ‘Living’ describing an active interaction and ‘Environment’ defining a scale. Experimenting with typologies of use is my little manifesto about life. I make objects that need to be kicked, pushed, pulled, wedged and pinched. This is all included in the normal way of using them. I am used to imperfect environments, where things must to be fixed before they work so it’s natural to me to make things that need to be handled manually. I dread the idea of perfection; the quest for perfection is a state of constant disappointment. I see opportunity in imperfection: a wobbly table is where a folded napkin shines.
‘Speakers’ Corner’. Built for the show ‘Mistakes and Manifestos’ as part of Neville Brody’s ‘Anti Design Festival’ in 2010.
Above left: Process model for ‘Twig’ light. Above right: Working model for a balancing table lamp.
I am fascinated by living systems that are parallel to ours yet operate differently. Such systems help, by way of comparative examination, to make visible the links between the human living environments and the physicality of the human body. Here’s an example: The people of Japan traditionally sat and ate and slept and worked on the floor, this is the bodily act. But this is linked to everything from the different curve of their table ware and the use of sticks for eating to the use of sliding doors and the measuring of rooms in units the size of a sleeping mat. It’s even linked to finger socks. I find that tracing the connections between all those is absolutely delightful; it’s a designed process that’s all sensible but creates objects that are completely alien.
This is the kind of otherness that I try to achieve.
An important part of my research process is working with my own two hands and making the pieces myself. Manual operation of tools and materials constantly stirs the progress of the mental process. By making the pieces myself I get to test them first hand and challenge my working assumptions. It can also have a distilling effect on the process, highlighting values like efficiency, resilience and measure which are just as true in mass production design. I get to explore, I am forced to explore different techniques and materials and to simplify them to the extreme. This physical touch imprints a human scale and a human hand print on the outcomes. It’s an analogue approach to design; I measure the design work in units of manual labour in the same way that the output of engines is measured in horsepower and the power of electric lights is measured in candles.
Detail: Yellow table from 8 Bit Collection. The wooden frame is very inaccurate but the top and the jig used to create the recess for it are always the same, ensuring a tight fit. 8 Bit Collection was commissioned by LABORAL, Centro de Arte y Creación Industrial in Spain in 2010 to furnish their education centre for children. All the pieces are mounted on wheels and are easily moved around the huge spaces the museum has at its disposal.
Design is child’s play (and it’s bloody hard) -concerning the process of design
Two books I often return to are ‘To Engineer is Human’ by Henry Petrosky and ‘The Craftsman’ by Richard Sennett. In fact, I’ve read their ideas so many times that by now I’m convinced they are my own originals. I return to them time and time again because they discuss in a fluent matter topics that overlap with Design. They help me put it into context in a way I can identify with. In other words, I could cross out the subject in some sentences and put ‘me’ instead and it would make a lot of sense. Both writers relate to children at some points, which I find particularly interesting as my view is that the education of a designer is mostly invisible; more a honing of what’s essentially a very human set of skills and so issues that involve the basic education of a little human being are very interesting to me. Petrosky in his book 'to engineer is human' portraits the earliest stages of childhood as a crash course in physical mechanics and dynamic engineering. He is talking engineering but what he is describing is a set of rules like any other: children learn how simple systems work, how action and reaction relate and so they learn to negotiate the world.
Sennett in his book 'the craftsmen' discusses the role of craft in the creation of a social individual. This brings him to observe the significance of children play. He touches on elements like the recognition of rules, the constant increase in complexity and the spontaneous dialogue with materials as basic life skills that children develop intuitively.
Both writers acknowledge the principle of minimum force, that is, as we become more skilled, in any task; slicing meat, using a pencil or just living, we do things in the way that takes the smallest toll out of us.
(The process of) growing up from a baby to a toddler, to a child and a fully developed adult is a process of narrowing down; from a state of endless potential to a concrete being, from open-ended experimentation to a well-specified vocation.
Foam, as a substance is a very modern thing. It has the quality of being consistent through and through. It is homogenous and will even come with its own skin if you so wish. All you need do is slap a slab of that soft stuff on a frame or better, mould it around the frame construction and, voila, comfort is achieved. The concept of softness is synonymous with the material that is foam. In the world of traditional upholstery, on the other hand things are much more mechanical. An upholstered chair will be built with a frame, woven straps, metal springs, a metal chain mail, some strings, and then some coconut fibres and cotton wool before the jute fabric and final upholstery. That is practically a machine, with thousands of moving metal components. The soft machine.
I admire this approach to upholstery; so much in fact that I adopt some of the simpler elements of it.
The significance of this observation is that in making art or design we are required to be free and creative, to expand our view again and play (and play need not have a clear objective). What we are really trying to do is act like children and that does not come easy, especially when done in a defined space or time frame.
We have all completed the process of learning how the system works. We learned to work with it until we’ve developed a view of the world from within it. You can't underestimate the power of these systems over us; try talking to a military man for example and you'll see the power of a particular point of view. Many of the systems that shape our point of view are very removed from human nature and are culture dependant and so is the point of view they encourage. Design in that sense is very neutral. There is something unbiased about the investigation of materials and the pleasure of creation, something that preceded culture. We were HOMO HABILIS before we were HOMO SAPIENS.
Based on the work of these two men I’ve formulated a list of step-by-step instructions for a successful design process:
Details of the development process of ‘Hammered’ collection and ‘Endoskeleton’.
Details of ‘8 Bit Collection’ lamp and early experiments with yellow strapping for Bloomberg chairs.
In making a sandwich you choose the components to make a composition but the actual ‘cooking’ is nothing but a juxtaposition. All the elements are just there together, next to each other. The ingredients do not go through any process of amalgamation as in pot cooking for instance. There isn’t this magic that turns tomatoes and whatnot into a soup; they remain in their original form. In that sense the finished sandwich is not just the finished product but also the list of ingredients and the instructions for preparation.
Details of the third version of the ‘Endoskeleton’ project in the Andaz hotel in 2008.
The ‘Wasted and Hammered’ collection was commissioned by Bloomberg London, The Hammered tables and chairs are made of metal casings taken from over 60 computers and the wood from dozens of palettes. The tables are composed from the flat shells connected to wooden grid shaped frames. The eyelets punched into the computer cases that were used for fixing the different internal components made them ideal for fixing to the wood so they were reinforcing the grid as they were fixed into it. On the chairs, the computed cases were beaten into a shallow curve with a hammer, to make them more comfortable and the backrest were left with just a little flex in the metal to allow a little give as one leans back into them.
Rye is best or any other with some substance.
2. Sesame Tahini.
Don’t bother with the works; you can use the stuff raw. Best bought from a Middle Eastern grocer.
Make a nice thick layer; this is an equal ingredient, not just seasoning.
Cut into flat slabs and pave the surface.
6. Parsley. A lot of it.
Like the black pepper, this is an equal ingredient. (It also counteracts the after breath from the salami).
7. Bread again.
I like design that works this way; you look at the finished object and you can see all the different elements and how they work together. The techniques and tools that were employed in the process make themselves known with the marks they leave. You can see a piece of wood that had been sawn and then had its corners chamfered and then stuck on with screws, whose heads are visible. No hidden joints, no chemical reactions. There are objects that make you think ‘how did they do that?’ Mine mostly make you go ‘hey, I can do that’.
And that is not a bad thing.
Part of the ‘Wasted and Hammered’ collection, commissioned by Bloomberg for their offices in London, to replace a casual seating system and to furnish an open meeting area. The brief dictated that only waste materials from the Bloomberg branches were used. The ‘Wasted’ collection is made of wood from palettes taken from their recycling facilities and the upholstery materials from an older seating system. The fabric was stripped and reassembled and keyboard keys were used for buttons. The backrests are made from the double screens used in the Bloomberg workstations.
I was thinking about manifestos and whether I actually have one. I was thinking about people and spaces and got to looking at the DaVinci drawing of the Vitruvian man, THE symbol of a-man-in-a-space, a classic of proportions and good measure in Architecture and art since forever. If you look at it for a little while, though, what you really see are two shapes not quiet fitting together and some bits that are left hanging out. It’s actually a symbol of things not quite fitting together. The Vitruvian man makes a nutshell introduction to the subject of square and round forms, straight lines and curved. When we see a square form (with straight lines) we’ll associate it with the vertical plane whereas a round form (concentric) we’ll associate with a bird’s eye view of something horizontal. That’s because vertical lines are the natural creation of gravity. That’s the only scenario in nature where you’ll find a line truly straight and vertical. Anything that straight is necessarily associated with gravity. In a similar way, a perfect circle in nature will most likely be something like the expanding waves around a stone thrown into water. A centre applied force. A centrifugal, hinged type of motion will also leave arched marks.
These forms in nature are the unique graphic signature of forces and this is the way our physicality affects the way we perceive forms.
This is a starting point to all sorts of discussions: The construction of the human body that moves around pivot points and the reach of our limbs that is drawn in arches as opposed to the space efficiency of the square. Square is efficient; squares can be divide into more squares without any leftovers. Circles can’t do that. Squares suggest human intervention; no squares in nature. Geometric shapes only naturally appear in crystals and those are hard and brittle, like ‘square’ patterns of thought. Geometric shapes appear where space gets scarce and efficiency matters. Circles are efficient, but in a completely different way: they are dynamic and distribute pressure well, both internal and external.
Round shapes are often found where a membrane is negotiating forces from within or from outside (think a soap bubble or a geodesic dome). The strength of square shapes (they offer a flat, horizontal surface that are good for stacking) has shaped our dwellings: tents and igloos use the strength of the circle, bricks and stones are square. Man has stopped building in mud and moved to square blocks. Square blocks let you build higher but if you want to let some air and light and lightness in to the structure, you must use arches and the qualities of stress distribution that only round shapes posses. Squares are stable, circles are dynamic.
Roundness and squareness make a discussion in linguistics too, as metaphors for attitudes towards life; a ‘round’ personality is good thing; a ‘square’ person not so much. ‘Rounded’ is also a synonym for ‘complete’, hinting to something like a cake diagram, which in turn raises the question of why cakes are round. Makes you think of how dough rises and takes a round shape (rising dough is a force within a crust) and also of the subject of pottery and kitchen vessels which are traditionally round. This would be because of the ceramic turning wheel (and the ceramic turning wheel gave birth to the lathe, this is yet another branch of the discussion). And the wheel is but an improvement of older hand techniques for making round vessels. They were always rounded because round shapes are less likely to crack in the kiln than shapes with corners.
This brings us to the issue of a corner.
Back in our homes, what happens in the corners? Things get amassed there, out of the way, out of the flow that travels in rounded paths when we move about in the space. Like the debris and silt that collects in a sharp river bend until it changes the flow itself. (And in the corners lives a funny little breed of furniture, corner furniture, but only on the inside of corners). An interesting thing about corners, from the inside they are the dead spot where things get lodged from the inertia of movement, but from the outside it’s a different story. From the outside corners are points of maximum accessibility; on a square grid a corner is where you are aligned with two axes; where you can see in many directions and be seen as well. This is where the prostitute will stand, where the corner shop is. It’s a good place to speak; People can see you and you can see who’s coming for you.
A corner is a powerful place; where directions change, where cracks appear. It’s only the attempt to square the circle that makes the corner into a little domestic black hole.
I’ve made a speakers’ corner that is not in the corner at all. I’d like to think of it as a state of potential. It’s a group of elements and mechanisms that can be arranged in the space to act out the concept of ideas being voiced. There are variations to the levels from which one can speak and to the locations in the space. There are megaphones, weapons of mass disruption, hovering overhead and there is a balancing mechanism that spans the space. It seems appropriate to me that a manifestation of the concept of balance, of equilibrium, should be present in front of your eyes in the place where people are voicing their minds.
WEAPONS OF MASS DISRUPTION
The choice of materials; untreated wood and army green sand bags gives a somewhat militant appearance to the installation. This was a coincidence, or rather an unconscious statement. It is a reminder of the forceful nature of this act of public speech. There are implications to consider and an omnipresent potential for violence. The ‘Speaker Gallows’ makes you assume the position of the soon-to-be-hung in order to reach for the megaphone.
Axes of significance
These are the imaginary lines between the fridge and the living room, the bathroom and the bedroom, the TV and the sofa etc. You can walk these paths with your eyes closed and make the right turns even when it’s the middle of the night and you’re drunk. If you empty your house, these will be the worn paths on the floor. The best way to detect these lines in a space is using a cat.
What looks like the map of a poorly planned train network are the axes from my flat with the flat removed from around them.
Endoskeletons and Exoskeletons
Our own bodies are supported by an internal skeleton and yet our notion of shelter and safety is often manifested in the word 'shell'. Abstract ideas of safety and security are dependent on the being of the physical body surrounded and encapsulated, as if inside shell, an Exoskeleton. The houses we live in are a representation of this idea. The way we occupy our houses reveals some things about this relationship. We live inside shells. When we move into a new house we get an empty container, we put down our belongings and find a place for every thing and in doing so we draw the map by which we'll live our lives, moving from room to room, from one thing to the other. By the time we leave, we will have left trodden paths in the floor; between the T.V. and the sofa, between the fridge and the living room. These paths represent axes of significance on which our lives have moved. I have taken these axes and drawn them in material; linking together different functions of the house and positioning them on a skeletal structure. I’ve built a system that operates on the same principals as our bodies, with an arching movement governed by pivot points. Different components can now be coupled in new configurations; the fridge and the sofa can now be brought together, I can have my library in the toilet and my lounge outside. The space is now drawn around the function rather than contain it. The resulting structure has its own dynamic character; every movement of one part makes the space react with a movement of another. The motion is nearly controlled but not quiet; the mechanism is familiar enough to encourage you to fit into it.
The living house becomes an extension of my limbs rather than a series of containers for my life.
Born: Israel, 1975
Education: RCA London (MA), Bezalel Jerusalem (BA)
I am a designer and a maker. I’ve been a designer for a decade now and a maker since I was five. I design and make things around the human scale and that makes me a furniture designer mostly and when I’m feeling brave, a space designer.
I design furniture where they ask for things to sit on and lamps where they ask for light. I design installations where there’s a point to be made and art where they need nothing in particular.
A great big thank you to all the people who lent themselves for the project: Roberto Feo and Rosario Hurtado, Stuart Bannocks, Nicholas M. Stevenson and Daniel Charny. Gaby and Gideon Meron.
Special thanks to my wife Reut and my boy Enosh for their patience.
Nicholas M. Stevenson www.heymrnick.com
Roberto Feo Rosario Hurtado
Shopwork is an outlet for works that question, explore, research and advance ideas on design.
EL ULTIMO GRITO www.eugstudio.com