It’s a Small World by Mary Blair

Last week-end we went to Disneyland Paris. I had mixed feelings about it all. I had to admit that I was just as excited as my daughter but for completely other reasons: mine were more to do with confronting my childhood fantasies to the reality of French Disneyfied suburbs and learn from this contrast. However, I was also quite nervous that when looking at this mysterious reality of my childhood with experienced, objective adult eyes, I’d feel real disappointment. I did not want to kill my dreams! Although aesthetically, I know that as a five year old, I found a lot of beauty in the Disney experience, I feared that my cultured adult gaze, might find it all a bit corny and pinkish. This chiefly centred around one particular attraction: It’s a small world.  This ride used to put tears in my eyes. It’s a sort of ode to universality, in which little dolls, dressed in traditional costumes from all over the world, sing together, in harmony: “it’s a small world after all, it’s a small small world!”. I use to love it and it really shaped my primary vision of world citizenship. Moreover, the façade of this attraction epitomized beauty to me. So I was very happy to note that despite the disappointments that this day out at Disney had (partly due to the hysterical lower middle class crowds from all around Europe, looking like MickeyMouse fundamentalists, with the mouse ears and tails, taking selfies everywhere),  It’s a small world still worked for me. So I decided to do a little research to understand why.

 

Disney designed a first version of it in 1964. He was then missionned by Pepsi Cola to design an attraction for the New York World’s Fair UNICEF pavillion. According to wikipedia, “while other attractions had lines out the doors, there seemed to always be a seat available aboard It’s a Small World. Its high rider-per-hour capacity was recognized as a valuable innovation and was incorporated indirectly and directly into future attractions.”

Mary Blair was responsible for the attraction’s whimsical design and colour styling. Blair had been an art director on several Disney animated features, including Cinderella, Alice In Wonderland, and Peter Pan“.

Mary Blair: it's a small world concept

What Mary Blair brought to Disney’s pictures is all the rigor of the fifties design and the play with contrasts between massive and slim shapes. So let’s dig a little deeper into Mary Blair’s style. It’s really a breathtaking travel into with I find being the best imagination part of the Disney styles. Here are some examples of first concepts.

Mary Blair: PeterPan concept
Mary Blair: Alice in Wonderland concept
Mary Blair: PeterPan concept
Mary Blair: Cinderella concept

The whole Mary Blair experience is now summarized in a children’s book by Amy Guglielmo (Author), Jacqueline Tourville (Author), Brigette Barrager (Illustrator) called Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire. As to why I like it, I think it’s because at least 10 years before everyone else in the design field, Mary Blair assembled all her knowledge of fairy tales and of the 1950s aesthetics to create what can be called the first ever post-modern architecture.

1982: Century Dormeuse by Andrea Branzi

Andrea Branzi - Century 1982

We love this Century dormeuse by Andrea Branzi. To us, hlow team, it is above all one of his first statement solo piece. It was built in 1982, so 5 years before his Compasso d’Oro. Before this piece, his production is perhaps more theoretical, with Archizoom and Alchimia. After this piece, Branzi will be using curves that will precede the trend of organic shapes of the 90s.

In a Designboom interview from 2003, Andrea Branzi answers this while asked to describe his style :

« andrea branzi is a person who deals with theoretical physics,
and sees architecture not as the art of building
but as a much more articulated form of thought.
I work alternating between theoretical research and practical designing. »

To us, this piece is more about practical design, yet it uses such pictural codes and materials that it is also a cartoon piece, that really fits into the Memphis Milano production.

We think that the Century dormeuse is one of the ancestors of many very different mouvements such as the thin tubular colorful trend of Muller Van Severen design, and of the Trampoline chair by Cuatro Cuatros for Missana,

Muller Van Severen
Cuatro Cuatros Trampolin Missana

or the design of efficiency and technology of Konstantin Grcic for Magis and for Galerie kreo.  .

Konstantin Grcic - Magis - Traffic
Champions by Konstantin Grcic for Galerie kreo

Adolf Loos in Pilsen

Pilsen is a little town of Czech Republic half way between its capital, Prague, and Nuremberg, in Germany. At the beginning of the XXth century it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and some of its elite had had echoes of the trends in Vienna, among which, was the work of the architect Adolf Loos. Here is what you can read on Pilsen’s website: “Adolf Loos worked in Pilsen in two periods, between the years 1907 – 1910 and 1927 – 1932. His clients were primarily the families of entrepreneurs from the rich Pilsen Jewish community.  They lived in the area of today’s Klatovska Street – a part of the city which was then considered a locality for luxurious living. The clients of Adolf Loos were a closed group of friends for whom his designs provided certain sign of social status and they recommended his work one to another.  The Jewish origin of the Loos Interiors owners at the beginning of the 30´s of the 20th century tragically marked the fate of the families, as well as of the apartments which they were later forced to leave. Some of the apartments were transformed into offices; others were later demolished by their tenants. Only recently the work of Adolf Loos in Pilsen has been rehabilitated and one after another the apartments are being renovated to acquire their once lost splendour. At this time thirteen realizations form the collection of work of Adolf Loos in Pilsen, eight of them remained preserved up to now. Three of the interiors have been partially or fully reconstructed; the other apartments are in various degrees of damage and wait for their future modernisation. In comparison to other places where Adolf Loos worked, in Pilsen he was never awarded a project to design a whole new building. Mostly, he dealt with apartment adaptation design of the city houses which were in no way exceptional regarding their building structure. Therefore, an uninitiated observer cannot know that some of the ordinary houses hide real gems of world-class interior design. ” Three guided tours have been organized to visit all of these gems, and this could be the ideal pretext for shortbreak or a continental European week-end, don’t ou think? There is a very active community in Pilsen which is taking care of this inheritance, their incredibly cool website (here) features all the flats, with great pictures and explanations. They went as far as reconstructing the missing parts in cardboard, which gives an insolite contemporary render to the patrimonial project.

Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen
Adolf Loos - Pilsen

Antonin Kybal: Of Carpets and Geometrics

Antonin Kybal was a significant Czech textile artist and educator, founder of the Czech school tapestry. Kybal along with his wife Ludmila Kybalová, became a leading figure and pioneer of modern Czech textile art. After World War II, he founded in the Academy of Arts in Prague, “Kybalova textile school”, whose activities were focused on tapestries and carpets, became an academic professor and taught two generations of textile artists.

 

Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal
Antonin Kybal

George Sowden, a fundamental member of Memphis

George Sowden was one of the founding members of Memphis Milano, together with, among others, Ettore Sottsass, Michele de Lucchi, Martine Bedin, Andrea Branzi and, of course, his wife, Nathalie du Pasquier, the great Memphis pattern designer. The name of this design mouvement, Memphis, came from the Stuck Inside the Mobile with The Memphis Blues Again song, by Bob Dylan. The idea was to juxtapose in this name two paradoxical symboles: ancient Egypte and American pop culture. Their idea was to recreate an affective link between the man and the object (filled with historical references, humour and colors). The mouvement was actively supported by several firms, fist of which was Artemide and its director, who was also a designer, Ernesto Gismondi. The Wikipedia page about Memphis is very interesting. We at HLOW highly recommend it.

George Sowden was the British designer of the group, he had started working with Sottsass for Olivetti in the 70s. Nathalie Du Pasquier and him are still living and working in Milano today. But at HLOW, we are more interested in the pieces of furniture he has produced in the early 80s than in the very long list of collaboration Sowden has had for the industry since then.

We are especially fascinated by two pieces in his long carreer:

  • The first is a piece Sowden has designed for Nestor Perkal (the French/Argentinian designer/gallerist who was one of the first to support Memphis in his Parisian gallery). It is very light and looks like a book that you would have opened in a cartoon.

 

 

Saragoza Chair for Perkal 1984
  • And the second is a clock Sowden has produced even earlier, in 1973. This is a research project he has done out of wood. Sorry for the bad quality but this image is very hard to find actually, so consider it as a little treasure from the past.
Clock / Georges Sowden / 1973