Most municipalities around the world view sewage manhole covers as a mundane part of the urban infrastructure. At best, they try to make these heavy metal plates functional and inconspicuous. Instead, cities and towns focus their civic beautification efforts on creating a broad range of public art installations — murals, sculptures, archways, fountains, and the like. But ignoring the artistic possibilities of humble manhole covers is a missed opportunity. These metal plates, typically 34 inches in diameter, are the perfect size for casting images and decorative patterns that relate the culture, history, industry, and flora and fauna of the area.
At the end of every harvest season, farming communities around the world celebrate with festivals, parades, and the crowning of harvest queens. (e.g., in 1948, an unknown actress named Marilyn Monroe won the title of Artichoke Queen in Castroville, Ca.) These festivals are usually the most exciting local events to happen all year. Except for folks from neighboring farm communities, they don’t draw many out-of-towners, much less real tourists. But in the rice-growing region of Northern Japan, tourists flock in for the Wara Art Matsuri.
Nike opened a new pop-up running track in the heart of Manila, Philippines. Designed by BBH Singapore, the Unlimited Stadium installation is shaped like the sole of Nike’s new Lunar Epic shoe. Lined with LED screens, the 200-meter racetrack invites runners to run alongside their own digital avatar. But first runners must attach a radio-frequency sensor to their shoe to record their initial track time. With this individualized data, runners are challenged to outdo their avatar, besting their own record with each lap. The temporary running track is able to accommodate 30 runners at a time.
Move over Paris, you are no longer the “city of lights.” In the 21st century that title goes to Sydney, Australia. Its annual Vivid Sydney festival transforms the city into a magical wonderland of light art sculptures, cutting-edge light installations, and gargantuan projection mapping extravaganzas. Vivid Sydney engages lighting artists, designers and manufacturers from around Australia and the world to illuminate, interpret and transform Sydney’s urban spaces through their creative vision. A contemporary music program matches the mood of the surreal display. No need to paint buildings in psychedelic colors or shoot fireworks into the night sky. Light is a malleable art form that treats Sydney Harbor as an inviting canvas morphing, evolving and bursting into a kaleidoscope of hues that vanish with the dawn. The 2017 Vivid Sydney festival is slated for May 26 to June 17, and is the largest show of its kind in the world. Read More »
It’s not just Americans who are aghast at this year’s bizarre Presidential election. In Copenhagen, this bus broadside, paid for by Socialistisk Folkeparti (SF), urged the roughly 8,700 American citizens living in Denmark to make sure they vote. Created by Uncle Grey agency in Copenhagen, the bus ad took a neutral public service stance with its “Americans Abroad Vote” message, but slyly slipped in its partisan preference by turning the back wheels into crazy Trump eyes. Read More »
Donor recognition walls are a common feature of museums, schools, public parks, and other places that are made possible by generous benefactors. Unfortunately, most donor displays look like boring lobby directories that list columns of names with no thought to aesthetics. So, it is always refreshing to see a donor wall that can be appreciated as a unique piece of decorative art.
C&G Partners created this stunning installation for Advisory Board Company, a Washington D.C.- based research, technology, and consulting firm focused on health care and educational institutions. Asked by the Advisory Board to come up with a way to showcase the names of its member clients, C&G created an installation out of thousands of slender, translucent rods, each engraved with a single member name filled in silver. A single silver set screw affixed each rod to one of hundreds of numbered wire strands, which were strung together to form a luminous curved, floor-to-ceiling curtain. The installation in the Advisory Board’s member collaboration space in Washington D.C. creates an aura that is elegant, ethereal, and dynamic. The design offers the flexibility of adding more member names in the future while maintaining the sculptural quality of the display. C&G also assisted those who want to find their names by incorporating a touchscreen directory that accesses a database of member names, quickly matching them to the numbered wires. Read More »
Horse racing fans were on pins-and-needles watching the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs last Saturday, but brand naming experts were probably rolling their eyes and guffawing every time the announcer called out the contenders’ names. The Derby’s naming protocol violates the most basic rules of name development. As anyone in the branding business will tell you, successful names have to be unique, memorable, pronounceable, simple, easy to spell, evocative, and trademark-able. In other words, just the opposite of Triple Crown thoroughbred names. Read More »
Food trucks and pop-up stores are proliferating all over the world, but this is the first time we have heard of a mobile lighting showroom. Created by British designer Lee Broom, the Salone del Automobile is located in a moving van that stops in key urban design districts between London and Milan. From the outside, the vehicle looks like an ordinary delivery van, but when the back door is open, it looks like an elegant Italian palazzo with Corinthian columns and decorative stucco details. The interior is painted a subtle gray with an illuminated floor for effect. It provides the perfect background for Broom’s new lighting collection Optical. The idea of a traveling showroom has many appealing, cost-effective advantages. It literally places itself directly in the path of target customers, can quickly relocate to other promising geographic markets, and limits security risks by offering the ability to park the “shop” in a garage. Read More »
Palmitas, about an hour-and half drive from Mexico City, was like so many other poor, nondescript Mexican villages. The community of about 2,000 residents had suffered its share of youth violence and low employment when the Mexican government decided to spruce things up a bit by hiring local artists to paint the entire town in a rainbow of colorful murals. The village brought in a group of prominent graffiti artists called “Germen Crew,” and put them to work with buckets of paint and brushes. The crew repainted 209 houses covering a 20,000 square meter area. The macro mural project took five months to paint, and when it was done, Palmitas stood out for miles around. The cheerful colors had a positive effect on the community, helping to reduce youth violence, create jobs, and turn the hillside village into a scenic attraction. Read More »
More than 3,000 mourners came to the rural Japanese village of Kinokawa last weekend to pay their final respects to Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station, the last stop on the Wakayama Electric Railway line. Tama was elevated from stray cat to stationmaster in 2007, at a time when the regional rail line was $4.7 million in the red, forcing the layoff of all employees at Kishi Station and leaving the stop unmanned. Reluctant to evict the charming calico cat that hung around the station, the railway’s president announced that he was appointing Tama the super stationmaster of Kishi Station — a position that included free housing in the ticket booth, her own litter box, and an annual salary paid in cat food. For her official duties of meeting and greeting passengers, Tama was outfitted in a tiny custom-made stationmaster cap and cape.
What started out as a playful marketing ploy to raise awareness of the railway’s plight quickly turned into a media sensation with tourists from across Japan and around the world flocking to the village to see Tama at work. Train ridership increased significantly, and Kishi Station itself became a tourist attraction.
The railway’s management capitalized on Tama’s appeal and developed an extensive line of souvenir items bearing a cartoon likeness of Tama, including T-shirts, coffee mugs, stuffed animals, and even a full set of dining room furniture featuring carved silhouettes of cats. In 2009, Wakayama Electric Railway rolled out a train car decorated with cartoon images of Tama, and redesigned the exterior architecture of Kishi station to resemble a cat’s face. Read More »
By the time that you look at this photograph of a paper bridge, you won’t be able to see it in real life anymore. As is often the case with environmental art, the paper bridge that spanned a mountain stream in the UK’s rural Lake District was meant to be a temporary installation. A sharp contrast to the natural landscape, the poppy red paper bridge was so startling and surreal to see that people found themselves looking anew at their surroundings and consciously thinking about the wondrous view.
Conceived by British environmental artist Steve Messam, the paper bridge is a remarkable feat of art and engineering, made without glue, nails, screws, or structural support out of 22,000 sheets of red paper, provided by one of the UK’s oldest paper manufacturers, James Cropper. The structure itself was designed by Peter Foskett who combined the laws of gravity and the pressure between the sheets of paper to build a form strong enough to bear the weight of human and four-legged hikers. Commissioned by the UK’s Lakes Culture for its Lakes Ignite project, the bridge is one of a series of temporary installations to appear in the Lake District National Park through 2015. The paper bridge remained in place for ten days in May, and was then dismantled to be recycled back into paper. Read More »
The Moscow Metro is getting a wayfinding facelift, with a new custom font, pictograms, and maps. Created exclusively for the Moscow Department of Transport, the overall program was developed and directed by UK/US-based City ID, with the typeface and pictograms designed by Henrik Kubel and Scott Williams of the London-based studio, A2/SW/HK, with UK designer Margaret Calvert as type and pictogram consultant. The Cyrillic script was designed in collaboration with Ilya Ruderman.
Replacing a hodgepodge of fonts and styles implemented over the decades, the new signage is standardized around a custom font called Moscow Sans, which has letterforms for both the English and Russian Cyrillic alphabets. Accompanying Moscow Sans is a full set of universally recognizable pictograms.
Simple and modern, the new signage brings uniformity and clarity to the wayfinding system. Equally important, the signage doesn’t clash with the amazing interior architecture of stations built in the 1930s by some of the USSR’s leading architects and artists. Referred to as “Stalin’s people’s palaces,” the early subway stations are worthy of being museums, with art that includes bas-reliefs, friezes, bronze and marble statues, stained glass windows and lots of mosaics. The styles of the stations range from Baroque to Classicism to Art Deco. The new signage fits right in. The program is being implemented in all Moscow stations during 2015. Read More »
Numbers rarely have emotional power; they usually don’t move us viscerally. So,especially people born after World War II find it hard to comprehend the enormous loss of lives on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Seventy years ago this month, 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed during the infamous landing on Normandy beach, which marked the turning point of the war in Europe. British artists Andy Moss and Jamie Wardley put this loss into perspective by creating a tribute that they called “The Fallen.” For International Peace Day last September, the two launched a project that took two years in the planning. With the help of some 200 volunteers, the artists etched silhouettes of the 9,000 soldiers who died that day on the sands of Normandy Beach. The commemorative project took more than five hours to complete, and was washed away all too soon by the incoming tide. But this is a sight that is hard to forget. “All around us there are relics of the Second World War,” Wardley explained, “but the one thing that is missing are the people who actually died. We’ve very quietly made a big statement.”
Of all the sections in a supermarket that have design display potential, the produce section is number one. Unlike branded packaged products such as cereal, ice cream and canned goods, fresh fruits and vegetables are set out loose without wrappers. They come in bright colors, different shapes, textures and sizes, and change frequently with the season. Speaking personally, I tend to judge the quality of a supermarket by the freshness and diversity of its produce. Nothing is a greater turnoff than limp leafy greens and overripe brown bananas. Artfully arranged displays emphasize the natural beauty of the fruits and vegetables, help shoppers instantly see the difference between each item to quickly pick out the red leaf lettuce from the Bibb, the onions from the radish, the bitter melon from the cucumber, etc. The marvels of nature’s bounty are a joy to explore. With a little effort at design, the produce section can become the star attraction of any food market. Shown here are a display of chard and bell peppers (photo by tretorn) from ICA in Tyresö, Sweden, and a display (photo by cool hand lucas) from Zupan’s in Portland, Oregon.
The exhibition poster features the ancient Chinese character for kome.
A fascinating exhibit is currently on display at 21_21 Design Sight in Midtown Tokyo. Created by renowned Japanese designer Taku Satoh and anthropologist Shinichi Takemura, “Kome: The Art of Rice” presents 35 design pieces by leading Japanese artists and experts in rice cultivation. What makes this show so intriguing is that a food staple as humble as a grain of rice (or “kome” as the Japanese call it) could be shown with such aesthetic sensitivity and with such a thoughtful exploration of the role that rice played in the historical, cultural and spiritual traditions of Japan.
Sometimes a literal visualization of a message is the most effective one. These billboards by creative agency Extra Credit Projects in Grand Rapid, Michigan, promote the services of Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, an 80-bed rehab center in Grand Rapids. On the all-text billboard ads, the ailment to be treated is clear; nothing more need be said or shown to improve understanding.
As an aside, the name of the hospital itself has a fascinating origin. In 1891, a group of women in Grand Rapids sought to provide medical care for people with limited financial means by asking everyone named Mary, as well as those who knew anyone named Mary, to donate money to secure a free bed in one of the local hospitals. The so-called Mary Free Bed Guild went on to raise funds for convalescent and orthopedic centers for disabled children. In 1966, the program, expanded to care for spinal injury and stroke adult patients, was renamed Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital.