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No Loose Edges

by Eyal de Leeuw | 12.10.13

all-of-em

Guest post by Asaf T.Mann.

(Edited by Liran Ben-Ami) 

When connecting the dots between Hedi Slimane’s Skinny Jeans, Steve Jobs’ Apple products, and Rem Koolhaas’s Casa De Musica, a design-determining concept is spelled out: “No Loose Edges”. A notion that has brought the future described by Hollywood’s sci-fi adventures to our doorstep.

This restrained line – which epitomizes the spirit of design of the last decade (plus) – is a mature evolution from Modernism, and a stable answer to the “no-holds barred” Post-Modernism. It is basically a natural flow from the Modernistic wish for control over the functional content, while enhancing 1930s minimalism. It drives at the creation of unified homogeneous entities which express the whole, the “Oneness” of a product.

“Oneness” allows for grasping the complex within one glimpse. Rilke once mentioned that the only moment a daydreamer can fathom the endless urban surrounding, is while looking through a frosty winter window, while the city is covered by a singular snowy blanket.

 

 Part 1: “Oneness”

Jobs united the infinity of bits and chips in the solid “blankets” of the iPhones and MacBooks. The serenity expressed by these shells allows one to focus on, delve through, and creatively contribute to the endless content featured in their monitors. Jobs clearly aimed for such an austere, nearly monastic, sense of aesthetics. The perfection of it was fundamental: when the imprecise development of an internal component breached the envelope, little mercy was shown by Jobs, no matter how important the component’s functionality. Everything could “fit in” with a bit of effort. Thus the calm spiritual sense is omnipresent for the user, relating a meditative composure.

A decade before the onstage iPhone presentation, Hedi Slimane presented the revolutionary Skinny for men at the 01AW Yves Saint Laurent Show, a product he later developed in the house of Dior. The singularity and minimalism – expressed through a denim which does not attempt to “depart” from the body. A slim homogenous cover which accurately incorporates and follows the lower part of the human body on all its components: bones, muscles, tendons, fat, arteries, cells, viruses.

Like Jobs, Slimane created a fashionable everyday envelope with no compromises, folds, or tucked away flaws. In this case, the aesthetic weight also lies on the shoulders of the user – and although one may relate the design to rock n roll heroine-chic for men – its popularity and absolute outreach dictate a popular and widespread control on general physique (for men!), a healthy added value to Slimane’s product. The designer – and user – need to be smarter, more precise. There is little room for “hiding the flaws” with grandiose “lets-eat-it-all” compositions.

 Part 2: Getting a Grip

As to full consumption attitudes – architecturally speaking, the 80s and 90s were all about “grand” compositions which allowed for absolute freedom of escaping from the whole under the masks of intellectual terminology: de-constructivism, theme-park architecture, and what-not. The buildings projected an abundance: abundance of cable channels, abundance of flight destinations, abundance of stocks. This architecture lies in the physical spectrum between James Sterling’s Staatsgallerie in Stuttgart and Gehry’s Blibao.

 

And just when one just couldn’t break it up any further – a book was published, graphically releasing a developing urge: “Get a grip!!”.  In 1995, Rem Koolhaas (OMA) compiled the seemingly endless amount of data from within his office and from the world in general into 1400 pages, which were bound together in a single silent and sparkling hard-cover, headed by 5 capital letters defining a sense of order. Although S,M,L,XL’s envelope is “merely” for literary purposes, one may easily take it as a direct predecessor to the MacBook, and an indirect one to the “Skinny”.

From the 21st century’s opening shot, the architectural field has been aspiring for such simplicity and abstraction, from Saana’s New Museum, to Herzog & de Meuron’s Signal Box, these buildings underlying theme is the external envelope’s “Oneness”: their homogenous cladding – often gradiently transforming, unifying and solidifying a volume or set of volumes into a singular entity. Packaged in a certain quietness, they share a sense of external mysteriousness – less the Eiffel, more the Pyramids. It is the architects’ restraint from “overdoing it” which creates this suspense, the heldback approach allows the subtle simplicity.

Part 3: The Rejection of Scale

Amongst the endless set of recent examples architectural “wholeness” is the Casa De Musica in Porto. Yet another OMA production, the Casa stands apart by two unique underlying messages which it expresses.

The Casa was initially designed as a house for a family, the Y2K House in Rotterdam, a project which was never realized. Its geometry was developed through tens of blue styrofoam models until a final geometry was agreed upon. Once again it bears a geometry expressing the “Oneness” of the object, restrained and unique. With the commission from the city of Porto, Koolhaas decided to “reuse” the same exact geometry, upscaling it from “Small” to “Big”. With th

at simple measure in effect rejecting the scale of a building. It is as if saying: the formulation of the design is not about square meters, but rather about a certain wholeness which may suffice a variety of programs.

In this monolithic emphasis also lies a certain risk. As the exact geometry was transferred from private house to public building, in such fashion one could imagine an entire futuristic city within that same precise geometric envelope, a switch from scale “Large” to “Enormous”. The fear is then to create massivity on the scale of the Kremlin and the Communistic Blocks, near which man is but a spec of dust.

Herzog & de Meuron have lately completed the new Basel Convention Center which in birds-eye seems as if a substantial part of the city had just been erased. Similar to the above mentioned, the building is also clad in a singularity, using an undulating aluminum detail which is similar to that used by the New Museum – on a different scale. The building works on a new scale of whole vs. human creating a jaw-dropping awesomeness for the passerby at street level. In a socio-economical view, this and other such contemporary buildings echo the merger oriented capitalist “minotaurs”: Time-Warner, Universal, JPMorgan – which simplify our infinite oriented surrounding into singular addresses while creating control mechanisms which determine our lives and behaviors.  User-friendly but with the price of loss of control.

 

Part 4: The future is Now

Through the Casa de Musica, Koolhaas expresses another message – “the Future is Now”. One needs only a quick glimpse at the Casa in order to be reminded of the Sand Crawler vehicle in George Lucas’s “Star Wars”. Lucas and his colleagues defined the character of the future on the screen, developing the vision of a generation in relation to the seemingly faraway future. And although we are presently not all flying through outer-space as “2001: A Space Odyssey” suggests we should, the aesthetics imagined back in the 80s are now here: The precursor to Hedi Slimane’s “Skinny” is Han Solo’s carefully chosen get-up as a futuristic gun-for-hire space cowboy; we were made ready for the iPhone and the upcoming iTouch by Star Trek accessories, and for their zoom-in/zoom-out pinch maneuver by Speilberg’s “Minority Report”; the Imperial Death Star has just remerged – once again by an OMA project – as the Dubai RAK proposal (call the Jedis!!); and of course the forefather of the “heart-felt” dims of the apple-lamp on the MacBooks is the peaceful futuristic heart of E.T.

This line which Slimane, Jobs, and Koolhaas represent is an Echo to that magnificent silence of the endlessness of Outer Space – which we remember from those sci-fi adventures – the skies and the stars above, the small spaceship sailing thru it. It has something to do with the existential focus allowed while surfing the web on a Macbook, headphones on our heads, a general reduction of “noise” allowing us to understand the future which has arrived.

Of course due to the web and the seeding of information, the mutual influences in the realm of design are easy to figure. The spirit of the times has truly created an “International Style”, not by decree of any curator or by a book detailing “how to design” a- la-Corbusier, but through a natural and genuine need for quietness, a border to the overflowing Real, which may open that same border to imagine and create the forming future.

We are a generation in search of the suspense within the whole, something that has to do with the capability for control and restraint. It is with pride to share this moment in the world of design, that first of all does not belong to a specific designer, but is general in character, intelligent, and free of any loose edges.

 

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