23 February 2009

For the Sake of the Environment: Anish Kapor, Anthony McCall and Industrial Design

In a recessionary / depressionary climate, with work load at an all-time low, we offered our services to a leading European kitchen fabricator to instigate a new product line. With no background in industrial or product design, we parlayed our experience in museum casework to tackle the project.

The directives were for us to come up with a new design direction for a high to mid-range kitchen with efficient design features and unitized configurations, coupled with low impact materials in fabrication and long-term life span of the product line.

At the outset we decided to repudiate some of the standard approachs to kitchen design, which we did not know much of anyway. As the design program developed, it seemed to get harder and harder to jettison them, as the old school thinking of modular design and "Modular" concern for proportion held up to more and more scrutiny. Eventually, we found alloying opposites would best serve the design - and even more, the end-user we had in mind.

What we saw as the sequestered formats of kitchen layouts, were merged with less defined edges to the design; where we saw too much of the robust and angular forms, that have become the industry norm, we countered with curvaceous lines. In this comparative design process, we became keenly aware of the complexity of the kitchen environment and that user-comfort and efficiency could not be sacrificed.
Once the kitchen design passed an early programming phase the Pennisula System, as we called it, was tested against the human body to produce scale analysis and to develop the increments of the design vocabulary. From this we developed a design based on convex and concave curves on the vertical axis to create the paneling forms and surfaces.

We preferred to stay away from the gimicry of double-curature forms that are epoused by most CAD operators, and seek a design based on the simple geometry of an intersecting line and a curve. The artist Anthony McCall's seminal solid-light film from 1974, "Line intersecting a Cone" and his more recent work "Doubling Back" 2003, served as an ideal confirmation of parametric design (not to mention visual and physical awe).
From McCall came the "tear-drop" forms of the upper glass cabinets. From the sculptor Anish Kapor, came the concave base cabinets, that respond to the curvature of the body, as well as efficiently responding to how we lean against forms, reach above, and arch ourselves. Both artists inform our approach to how forms and surfaces are viewed, defined by projected light and in the reflected weight of monolithic materials.

In a sense this design, viewed in a drawing section, is a projected image of the body and efficiently responds to our movement and posture. From a design perspective the inward curve has the added benefit of slightly off-setting the front faces of the cabinets, so that they are less susceptible from springing open by their release mechanisms. (The hands-off hardware, now offered on most high-end kitchens, provide a smooth (and stealth) assistance for all drawer openings, lift and door sliders).
For the free-standing wall cabinet, the design is in the concave surface itself, used vertically as opposed to the horizontal concave forms of the counter base that acknowledges, once again, the visual explorations of the Kapor's work. The very slight visual distortion, very minimal and highly atuned to materials used - both reflective and matt - is a constant source of wonder in his work. Used and transformed in our design, we reinforce the human form and physical experience in the home environment.
The cooking experience must be both a tactile, visual and sensory experience – which informs the materials we have proposed for the kitchen line. Behind a liquid-crytal wall unit -transparent or opaque at a touch - sealed to maintain energy and climate control is a wine storage unit, a dry storage, even possibly a portion of the refrigerator, that allows us to view a healthy diet of choices without opening the cabinet – for the sake of the environment.