Chicago Looks: In Character

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IMG_9345Multimedia artists Louis Hayes (@ulterior_votive) and Ashley Barton (@bubble.tears) were hanging out at the Chicago Alternative Comics Expo (CAKE).

What inspired your outfit? Could you tell me more about what you are wearing?

Louis: This is one of my favorite pieces of clothing—a sort of oversized stretchy shirt with a really cool occult-looking runic eyeball print. I wanted to do something a little different with it, so I put my head through one of the armholes to make it look like a sort of drapey shawl instead of just a t-shirt. I like mixing prints, so underneath I wore a busy button-up that I’d made sleeveless so that the patterned collar would show from under the other shirt. I wear blacks a lot, but almost all of my black clothes have prints or designs on them to make dressing more interesting.
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The State of Detroit: Chicago Design Museum Exhibit Uses Data and Design to Explore the Urban Environment

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The State of Detroit exhibit. Image courtesy of CDM.

The State of Detroit exhibit. Image courtesy of CDM.

Applauding certain types of design is fraught with paradox.

We can appreciate the ideas and craft, we can marvel at human ingenuity, and still remain baffled, even horrified, by the circumstances enabling such creativity to flourish. So it is with “The State of Detroit,” an exhibition curated by Elizabeth Cummings and Morgan Walsh at the Chicago Design Museum.

The exhibit showcases design-oriented thinking and problem solving to address Detroit’s myriad issues: urban blight, food and nutrition access, availability of social activities, employment generation and transit equity across a huge area with a shrinking population.  The exhibit includes displays of digital data maps showing transit, property and food landscapes. It highlights several enterprises involved in empowering the larger Detroit community, such as a barber shop that offers business mentoring and panel discussions on social issues along with haircuts, a makerspace providing vocational skills to youth, and a media organization designing communications strategies “for a more just, creative and collaborative world.” A pop-up yoga studio encourages wellbeing among lower- and middle-income Detroiters outside the metro area, and a bike store offers bike maintenance, “earn-a-bike” classes, and refurbished bicycles so Detroiters can have mobility beyond the insufficient transit system. Read the rest of this entry »

A World Designed: Inside Victor Margolin’s Epic, Global History of Big and Small “D”

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World history of design

By Toni Nealie

Writing the “World History of Design” is a Herculean task. Design historian Victor Margolin felt some concern when the project started ballooning. He had no idea that the book he began fifteen years ago would explode into an encyclopedic multi-volume set.

The first two volumes published this year contain almost 800,000 words and 1,000 images. No other design work covers such a wide arc, geographically, chronologically and incorporating different areas of the discipline.

“It really lays out the entire scope of the field,” says Margolin. Read the rest of this entry »

Furniture Frenzy: A Walk Through the Wilds of NeoCon 2015

Architecture, Designed Objects, Events, Furniture No Comments »


By Philip Berger

I’ve always had an issue with the way people abbreviate the name of the Merchandise Mart’s signature annual event. Most of the 50,000-plus people who attend “NeoCon”—how Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. has usually written it—have little idea what the name means; it stands for the National Exposition Of Contract Furnishings. Technically, the acronym for the largest commercial interiors show in North America should be NEoConF, which looks and sounds funny and probably would cause even more confusion than distinguishing between the current spelling and the political label it shares.

However you style it, it’s the biggest gathering of a $13.1 billion industry, according to the Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association, and took place this year June 15-17 at the Mart.

Most businesses who exhibit at NeoCon are unknown entities by name to the general public, but their wares—the conference tables, task chairs, storage systems, work stations and commercial flooring, to highlight a few—make up much of the furniture design people interact with in offices every day. Read the rest of this entry »

Maker Beat: Community Rules

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planning O+

By Michael Workman

There has always been a side to maker and DIY culture that eschews commercialism. Cultural fests like Figment and other similarly minded affairs step outside the standard corporate model, often employing a politicized slant.

I’m interested in the undergrounds of these types of events, especially ones expanding the range of cultural inclusiveness, often a diametric opposite to purely commercial events. That includes groups that organize around issues of sustainability, like the World Naked Bike Ride, the monthly Full Moon Jam and the litany of regional Burning Man events that take place across the country. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Looks: Minimal Minami

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IMG_9148Art director Yumi Minami was running errands downtown.

What’s your approach to color in general? Do you usually go for neutrals?
I like shape and texture, more than color.

Who are your style icons?
Kate Moss—she does it so effortlessly. Read the rest of this entry »

Liberated Surfaces: The Patternbase is Not Your Grandma’s Design

Fashion, Interior Architecture, Reviews No Comments »
Ingrid Johnson's "Magic Mushrooms"

Ingrid Johnson’s “Magic Mushrooms”

By Toni Nealie

A girl clutching a toy rabbit in one hand and removing a tampon with the other is one of the more provocative and intriguing images in “The Pattern Base,” a design sourcebook by Kristi O’Meara and Audrey Victoria Keiffer.

The girl, surrounded by a pink piñata, a red cardinal in a tree and a green snake is a repeated motif called “Rupture” by Chicago artist Kelly Parsell. It is one of 550 textile, surface, fashion and print designs featured in this razzle-dazzle book of 697 crisp photographs showcasing work from 150 designers from around the world.

"Rupture" by Kelly Parsell

“Rupture” by Kelly Parsell

The first six sections of the book highlight illustrative, abstract, geometric, floral, representational and digital designs. They include vivid tessellations, squirmy amoebas, bright kaleidoscopes, monochromatic cityscapes, tumbling lilies and dreamy hummingbirds. There are startling patterns that play upon ethnography, such as O’Meara’s rows of Kachina dancers and drawings of Mesoamerican idols, and “China Girls” by Bebel Franco.

The Pattern Base book coverSome are risqué, like the naked pinup redheads; some mesmerizing, like the digital images of Ian Addison Hall’s “All That Trash Goes Somewhere.” No two designs are alike, even though they may have elements in common. For example, three patterns feature mushrooms—one a sensuous black-and-white line pattern, one has mushroom caps dancing on Barbie legs and another features colorful magic mushrooms interspersed with giraffes.

The seventh section of the book focuses on fabric swatches, photographed to show texture, weave and detail. The final chapter features design artists from the United States, Spain, Iceland, Finland and China. Included is the genteel work of Abby Thomas, who studied at the Art Institute of Chicago, and Ohio artist Jonah Jacobs’ recycled creations, which look like delicate coral reefs.

Authors O’Meara, a painter and graphic designer, and Keiffer, an interdisciplinary artist and writer (and occasional Newcity contributor), are the founders of the Chicago-based textile design studio, The Patternbase. They curate an online pattern archive, allowing artists and designers to promote themselves via Tumblr and other social media. With the support of a Propeller Fund they are translating their virtual presence into a physical gallery space this year, where they aim to encourage collaborations between textile and fashion designers and fiber artists.

Below is an excerpted transcript from an email interview with the authors.

Kristi O'Meara

Kristi O’Meara

What was the impetus for the book? Why did you feel it was needed?
We created this book because we are fascinated by patterns and passionate about their creation. The use of pattern within the fashion and interiors industries is particularly of interest to us, as it is all around us and is constantly evolving with the progression of technology.

Who is the audience and how will they use the book?
The publication is intended for anyone interested in the study of pattern and textile design. It is a resource that caters to and can be used by design enthusiasts, emerging and established designers, and by students of art, fashion and design.

Audrey Victoria Keiffer

Audrey Victoria Keiffer

How did you select the designers?
The pattern designs selected for inclusion in this book were chosen with a very specific set of factors in mind. We were looking for designs that were on point with current trends in fashion and textile design. They had to show a keen sense of how digital technologies today are influencing the way that designs for print are being created. They had to demonstrate originality and imagination in subject matter. The designs needed to be thought-provoking, in that they reveal something about their creation and construction process. They needed to exhibit a complex understanding of print construction and the layout of repeats.

The thirteen designers spotlighted in the book were artists that we discovered on Tumblr. We felt their work was pushing the boundaries of textile and fashion design, and held a similar aesthetic connection to our own. Many of the designers had already received many awards and publicity in various magazines. We wanted to connect with them so that we could learn more about their practices and journeys as designers, while helping to push their careers further, by spotlighting them in our publication.

“The Pattern Base: Over 550 Contemporary Textile and Surface Designs”
By Kristi O’Meara, edited by Audrey Victoria Keiffer
Thames & Hudson, 368 pages, $35

Walk Stars: Showcase Designers from The School of the Art Institute’s Annual Fashion Show

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“The Walk,” The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) annual student fashion show, takes place during the heart of the spring’s hectic schedule of thesis presentations and graduation festivities.

Although Chicago might be better known for producing comedians, candy and corrupt politicians, SAIC churns out some of the most innovative fashion designers in the world, and “The Walk” highlights their presence with an exhilarating multimedia runway show. Read the rest of this entry »

All Wright: Offerings from the Leading Auction House’s Latest Sale

Designed Objects No Comments »


By Philip Berger

Attending the preview of a Wright auction is like visiting a design museum, but one where you can sit on the furniture and open all the cabinet doors.

It’s also a great educational experience. Its selections range from examples of iconic design classics familiar to many observers to extremely rare and obscure items that even the wonkiest design geek might not recognize. The whole experience is even more edifying if you get Wright’s senior vice president Michael Jefferson to walk through the showroom with you and elaborate on the goods, which I was lucky enough to do last week in advance of their upcoming June 11 sale. Read the rest of this entry »

Stream of Consciousness: Meandering the Riverwalk, Chicago’s Newest Big Plan for Public Space

Urban Design 2 Comments »
River Theater

River Theater

By Aaron Rose

Chicago has some new bragging rights when it comes to public parks and public space.

Among the cascade of openings of public places this year—The 606 Trail opens on June 6 and the official opening of Maggie Daley Park will be this summer—is the much-anticipated opening of the Chicago Riverwalk. The city takes a huge step forward with the construction of this three-and-a-half acre, six-block area of new public space along Wacker Drive from State Street to Lake Street.

Speaking to an eager audience at the Chicago Loop Alliance “Leadership Forum: The Park Effect” event on May 6, Michelle Woods, project manager of the Chicago Department of Transportation, described how an Act of Congress and cooperation with the US Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers were required to build the additional fifteen feet of land that extends into the river to create the twenty-five-foot-wide Riverwalk, with seven vertical feet allowing for annual flood dynamics. The buildout transforms a narrow ten-foot passage interrupted at each bridge into a continuous six-block walkway. CDOT is directing the design and construction of the project, expected to cost $100 million. Read the rest of this entry »