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Frank Gehry’s Three Sided Cube

Today's guest blogger is Scott Johnson, a Design Arts Society Board member and designer at Axiomport in Indianapolis.


Frank Gehry’s drawing for the Guggenheim’s Bilbao museum.

Several years ago, I watched a video about the artistic collaboration between Picasso and Braque that lead to the birth of cubism. Part of that video included remarks by Frank Gehry, David Hockney, and others expressing the influence of cubism on art and design throughout the 20th century. Gehry spoke about sketching his ideas, the innate quality of the loose sketch, and of trying to capture that quality in the final execution of his designs. These ideas began to manifest themselves in his work, especially in such sculptural architecture as the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, the Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and, closer to Indianapolis, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Gehry - three sided cube

Frank Gehry’s Three Sided Cube.

Frank Gehry did not begin his career this way. His aesthetic evolved over many years from traditional architecture to architecture as sculpture. This is an evolution that’s understandable, given the three-dimensional nature of architecture and sculpture, how they occupy space, and the sense that both are considered the embodiment of a place. But when an architect applies a cubist sensibility to a project, with its depiction of a subject from multiple viewpoints rather than a single point of view, giving the subject a broader context, the lines between architecture and sculpture truly begin to blur.

IAC Headquarters

Frank Gehry’s InterActiveCorp headquarters in New York.

I wonder if this isn’t the idea behind Gehry’s design for the three sided cube, an oxymoron of a name that hints at the furniture’s artistic origins. The cube closely resembles his design of the IAC Center, InterActiveCorp’s headquarters, Gehry’s first contribution to the Manhattan skyline. It’s been said that IAC Chairman Barry Diller suggested that his riverside headquarters have “something to do with sailing up the Hudson” and, indeed, the building is the embodiment of that sense of motion and movement. Like its companion easy chair, bench, and coffee table, the cube presents multiple points of view at the same time. Even the cube’s silver finish mimics the shimmer of Gehry’s signature stainless steel structures.

It’s refreshing to see a modern adaptation of an earlier style handled so well. Gehry interprets cubism on his own terms, using his vocabulary and aesthetic sense, giving an early 20th century art form a timeless representation, and adding a great object to the Design Arts Collection.

Filed under: Art, Design, Guest Bloggers


Complexity and Contradiction in Chairs

Today's guest blogger is David Force, an architect living and working in Columbus, IN and a member of the IMA's Design Arts Society board.

With the opening of the new  Design Galleries late in 2013, this stunningly simple Chippendale Chair by the architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown stands out as unique in the incredible compendium of modern design that the IMA has accumulated in recent years.  The chair was manufactured by Knoll International and introduced in 1985 as part of a larger suite of Venturi-designed furniture, including a coffee table, sofa, and eight other historically-themed chairs.

Venturi - Chippendale chair

Chippendale Chair. Image courtesy of

Venturi and Scott Brown reintroduced decoration and historical form to furniture at a time when it was uncommon to do so.  As residents of Philadelphia, a city steeped in eighteenth-century design, the architects no doubt were aware of the importance of the work of Thomas Chippendale, and his popularity and influence on colonial American furniture.  Their use of Chippendale’s signature chair back design forms the basis for the chair, but the materials, techniques, and proportions of the chair are vastly different.  The highly tactile, three dimensional forms inherent in the classic Thomas Chippendale back are reduced to two dimensions, almost as if the original chair had been steam-rolled. The openings in the chair back are cut out of essentially flat steam-bent plywood material and the proportions are like a caricature of the original.  The slender gracefulness of Chippendale becomes heavy and almost cartoon-like.  The richness of the inspirational form is translated into a much more edgy design with the appearance of almost having been extruded and thinly sliced.  The layers of plywood material are revealed at the thin edges of the chair, much in the same fashion that Charles and Ray Eames treated their plywood series of chairs forty years before.  The Eames chairs are much more stridently modern and do not concern themselves with classical forms, but rather focus on the simplicity and comfort of the design.  The old Miesian “Less is More“ cliché does seem to apply in the Eames case, but Venturi, noted for the statement “Less is a Bore” thickly layers on historical form.  The chair imparts a sense of being rooted in history without resorting to the simple translation of a precise historical form into a new material in the manner of the Philippe Starck Ghost chair.

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Filed under: Art, Design


Meeting Gaetano Pesce

It was 3 pm when I met Gaetano Pesce at his New York office in January, but the moon was already rising, courtesy of the Notturno a New York sofa which he designed and where he sat.

Nighttime in New York

Gaetano Pesce on the Notturno a New York sofa. Image via


This vintage promotional image of the UP chairs shows numbers 1-6 with their original packaging. Image via

As a designer and architect, Pesce’s long career is distinguished by his creative use of modern materials to fabricate utilitarian objects that communicate socially and politically conscious messages. His most famous design is probably UP5 and UP6, a chair and ottoman combination designed in 1969 and widely known as “The Mamma” or “La Donna”.

These pieces were originally sold in flat, vacuum sealed packages. Once the package was opened, the compressed polyurethane foam expanded into a fully formed chair.  Watch it grow! But this playful design is also meant to convey a darker message about the condition of women as victims of prejudice and oppression, where the ottoman forms a prisoner’s ball and chain attached to a shape that recalls a prehistoric fertility figure.

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Filed under: Art, Conservation, Design


Mario Botta’s Tesi Table

Our guest blogger today is Eric Rowland, who is a board member in the Design Arts Society. He continues a series of blog posts on acquisitions for the IMA's new Design Arts galleries, opening in fall of 2013.

Mario Botta, Single-family house in Ligornetto,Ticino, Switzerland, 1975-1976.

Mario Botta, Single-family house in Ligornetto,Ticino, Switzerland, 1975-1976.

My first project in architectural school was drawing a house designed by Mario Botta. It was an exercise designed to teach us how to draw isometric images, and I think the Botta house was selected because it was such a simple form.  It was a long narrow house that looked like a shoebox on its side, with irregularly shaped openings cut out of it and stripes across the sides. I loved it! I had never seen a house like this and I was immediately interested in finding more of his work.

Botta’s roots in Lugano, Switzerland certainly reveal themselves in his work. Lugano is in a mountainous part of the country, with tranquil lakes and an amazing alpine skyline. The proximity to Italy no doubt allowed him to be exposed to the work of Carlo Scarpa, an architect whose attitudes to masonry, geometry and precise detailing seem to be reflected in Botta’s work. While the majority of his work is in his native region and includes single-family houses, vacation houses, offices religious buildings and even warehouses, his best known work in the United States is the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Mario Botta, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992-1995.

Mario Botta, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1992-1995.

I think Botta is a good example of an “architect’s architect.” His work is precise and tailored, sensitive to context, but bold and self-assured. Symmetry and texture play an important part in his work, and his vocabulary generally consists of a masonry shell, cracked to reveal its jewel-like contents as though you took a band-saw to a geode. Strong striping and simple geometric forms define its character.

Mario Botta, Tesi table, 1985.

Mario Botta, Tesi table, 1985.

This table acquired by the IMA is an evolution of that architectural vocabulary and an extension of his materiality. Like the center of a geode, the Tesi materials are multifaceted and shiny. A simple metal triangle extrudes to create a minimal base. Bold metal stripes articulate the support of the rectangular glass top. The Tesi table is a great piece of interior architecture that fittingly represents Botta’s bold body of work.

Filed under: Design, The Collection


A Brand New

Today, the IMA launches it’s first major refresh of its website since its initial launch in February 2010. The refreshed site includes an updated information architecture, a minimal, responsive design, and loads of new content.


The new

The redesign centers around a more structured hierarchy of information as well as a renewed simplicity around the site navigation and a refreshed appearance throughout. With mobile traffic on the rise, the responsive design makes the site accessible across a broad range of screen sizes and devices and provides a more seamless digital experience. Through the collaboration of the IMA’s digital production team, the site was built entirely in-house.

Though the refresh has been applied to most major sections of the site, some additional sections will continue to be updated over the next year, including areas devoted to the IMA’s collection and blog.

We’re excited to bring you expanded and more timely content on your favorite devices through our new website. Check it out and let us know what you think!

Filed under: Around the Web, Design, New Media, Public Programs, Technology


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