Issue 10:
Emotion
ISSUE
STORY TYPE
AUTHOR
9
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 22, 2024
Why Did Our Homes Stop Evolving?
by George Kafka
9
ROUNDTABLE
April 8, 2024
Spaces Where the Body Is a Vital Force
by Tiffany Jow
9
BOOK REVIEW
April 1, 2024
Tracing the Agency of Women as Users and Experts of Architecture
by Mimi Zeiger
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 25, 2024
Are You Sitting in a Non-Place?
by Mzwakhe Ndlovu
9
ROUNDTABLE
March 11, 2024
At Home, Connecting in Place
by Marianela D’Aprile
9
PERSPECTIVE
March 4, 2024
VALIE EXPORT’s Tactical Urbanism
by Alissa Walker
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 26, 2024
What the “Whole Earth Catalog” Taught Me About Building Utopias
by Anjulie Rao
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 19, 2024
How a Run-Down District in London Became a Model for Neighborhood Revitalization
by Ellen Peirson
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 12, 2024
In Brooklyn, Housing That Defies the Status Quo
by Gideon Fink Shapiro
8
PERSPECTIVE
February 5, 2024
That “Net-Zero” Home Is Probably Living a Lie
by Fred A. Bernstein
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 22, 2024
The Virtue of Corporate Architecture Firms
by Kate Wagner
8
PERSPECTIVE
January 16, 2024
How Infrastructure Shapes Us
by Deb Chachra
8
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
January 8, 2024
The Defiance of Desire Lines
by Jim Stephenson
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 18, 2023
This House Is Related to You and to Your Nonhuman Relatives
by Sebastián López Cardozo
7
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
December 11, 2023
What’s the Point of the Plus Pool?
by Ian Volner
7
BOOK REVIEW
December 4, 2023
The Extraordinary Link Between Aerobics and Architecture
by Jarrett Fuller
7
PERSPECTIVE
November 27, 2023
Architecture That Promotes Healing and Fortifies Us for Action
by Kathryn O’Rourke
7
objects and things
November 6, 2023
How to Design for Experience
by Diana Budds
7
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 30, 2023
The Meaty Objects at Marta
by Jonathan Griffin
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
October 23, 2023
How Oliver Grabes Led Braun Back to Its Roots
by Marianela D’Aprile
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
October 16, 2023
Can Adaptive Reuse Fuel Equitable Revitalization?
by Clayton Page Aldern
6
PERSPECTIVE
October 9, 2023
What’s the Point of a Tiny Home?
by Mimi Zeiger
6
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
October 2, 2023
A Book Where Torn-Paper Blobs Convey Big Ideas
by Julie Lasky
6
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
September 24, 2023
The Architecture of Doing Nothing
by Edwin Heathcote
6
BOOK REVIEW
September 18, 2023
What the “Liebes Look” Says About Dorothy Liebes
by Debika Ray
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 11, 2023
Roy McMakin’s Overpowering Simplicity
by Eva Hagberg
6
OBJECTS AND THINGS
September 5, 2023
Minimalism’s Specific Objecthood, Interpreted by Designers of Today
by Glenn Adamson
5
ROUNDTABLE
August 28, 2023
How Joan Jonas and Eiko Otake Navigate Transition
by Siobhan Burke
5
OBJECTS AND THINGS
August 21, 2023
The Future-Proofing Work of Design-Brand Archivists
by Adrian Madlener
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
August 14, 2023
Can a Church Solve Canada’s Housing Crisis?
by Alex Bozikovic
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
August 7, 2023
In Search of Healing, Helen Cammock Confronts the Past
by Jesse Dorris
5
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
July 31, 2023
What Dead Malls, Office Parks, and Big-Box Stores Can Do for Housing
by Ian Volner
5
PERSPECTIVE
July 24, 2023
A Righteous Way to Solve “Wicked” Problems
by Susan Yelavich
5
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
July 17, 2023
Making a Mess, with a Higher Purpose
by Andrew Russeth
5
ROUNDTABLE
July 10, 2023
How to Emerge from a Starchitect’s Shadow
by Cynthia Rosenfeld
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 26, 2023
There Is No One-Size-Fits-All in Architecture
by Marianela D’Aprile
4
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
June 19, 2023
How Time Shapes Amin Taha’s Unconventionally Handsome Buildings
by George Kafka
4
SHOW AND TELL
June 12, 2023
Seeing and Being Seen in JEB’s Radical Archive of Lesbian Photography
by Svetlana Kitto
4
PERSPECTIVE
June 5, 2023
In Built Environments, Planting Where It Matters Most
by Karrie Jacobs
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 30, 2023
On the Home Front, a Latine Aesthetic’s Ordinary Exuberance
by Anjulie Rao
3
PERSPECTIVE
May 21, 2023
For a Selfie (and Enlightenment), Make a Pilgrimage to Bridge No. 3
by Alexandra Lange
3
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
May 8, 2023
The Building Materials of the Future Might Be Growing in Your Backyard
by Marianna Janowicz
3
BOOK REVIEW
May 1, 2023
Moving Beyond the “Fetishisation of the Forest”
by Edwin Heathcote
2
ROUNDTABLE
April 24, 2023
Is Craft Still Synonymous with the Hand?
by Tiffany Jow
2
OBJECTS AND THINGS
April 17, 2023
A Historian Debunks Myths About Lacemaking, On LaceTok and IRL
by Julie Lasky
2
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
April 10, 2023
How AI Helps Architects Design, and Refine, Their Buildings
by Ian Volner
2
SHOW AND TELL
April 3, 2023
Merging Computer and Loom, a Septuagenarian Artist Weaves Her View of the World
by Francesca Perry
1
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
March 27, 2023
Words That Impede Architecture, According to Reinier de Graaf
by Osman Can Yerebakan
1
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
March 20, 2023
Painting With Plaster, Monica Curiel Finds a Release
by Andrew Russeth
1
PERSPECTIVE
March 13, 2023
Rules and Roles in Life, Love, and Architecture
by Eva Hagberg
1
Roundtable
March 6, 2023
A Design Movement That Pushes Beyond Architecture’s Limitations
by Tiffany Jow
0
THE BUILT ENVIRONMENT
February 7, 2023
To Improve the Future of Public Housing, This Architecture Firm Looks to the Past
by Ian Volner
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Radical Potential of “Prime Objects”
by Glenn Adamson
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 20, 2023
Xiyadie’s Queer Cosmos
by Xin Wang
0
CHRONICLES OF CULTURE
February 13, 2023
How Michael J. Love’s Subversive Tap Dancing Steps Forward
by Jesse Dorris
0
SHOW AND TELL
February 7, 2023
Finding Healing and Transformation Through Good Black Art
by Folasade Ologundudu
0
BOOK REVIEW
February 13, 2023
How Stephen Burks “Future-Proofs” Craft
by Francesca Perry
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 27, 2023
Making Use of End Users’ Indispensable Wisdom
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The New Lessons Architect Steven Harris Learns from Driving Old Porsches
by Jonathan Schultz
0
PERSPECTIVE
February 7, 2023
The Day Architecture Stopped
by Kate Wagner
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects
by Adrian Madlener
0
ROUNDTABLE
February 7, 2023
A Conversation About Generalists, Velocity, and the Source of Innovation
by Tiffany Jow
0
OBJECTS AND THINGS
February 7, 2023
Using a Fungi-Infused Paste, Blast Studio Turns Trash Into Treasure
by Natalia Rachlin
Untapped is published by the design company Henrybuilt.
OBJECTS AND THINGS
02.07.2023
The Overlooked Potential of Everyday Objects

Designers who make incremental refinements to ordinary items can offer clever commentary on the status quo—and profoundly enhance our lives.

A drawing of designer Aldo Bakker’s Salt Cellar
A drawing of designer Aldo Bakker’s Salt Cellar (2007), created by the author. (Courtesy Adrian Madlener)


Throughout the history of design, innumerable proposals have set out to improve how we live. While some have had widespread positive and negative impacts, others have served as formidable provocations. 

Humans are as malleable as slabs of wet clay. Think about the past three years: Particularly in the early days of lockdown, many of us found ourselves falling into new habits and modes of interaction. In some ways, the pandemic brought to light what such a paradigm shift could do to our daily lives—and how quickly we can adapt to new conditions. Design can have a similar effect on our collective experience. Seemingly innocuous at their inception, historic innovations such as the wheel, the airplane, and the tablet have consistently changed our behaviors. As portals of prescribed cultural practices, objects carry an incredible amount of agency over how we accomplish everyday tasks. They can dictate how we sit down, eat, sleep, work, and more.

As famously expressed by ecologist and designer Victor Papanek in his seminal 1971 book Design for the Real World, design is one of the only means of interpreting nature’s innate force. As he puts it, the discipline inherently strives to mimic the natural world’s “economy of means, simplicity, elegance, and essential rightness.” While it’s a powerful tool in implicitly or explicitly governing everything around us, he continues, design is primarily concerned with improvement, executed in the hopes of ameliorating our comfort, safety, and sociability, among other factors. And objects are constantly reengineered to address our most basic exigencies as they evolve and become more complex over time.  

But how often does the act of redesigning—not simply restyling—everyday items result in experiences that genuinely benefit our existence? The question might bring to mind futuristic inventions created to aid in mundane tasks, such as cleaning, cooking, and working out, that purport to create more time for work and play. Yet as a number of historic and contemporary designs reveal, the betterment of our lives doesn’t always fall in line with apparent progress. Society’s fervent sprint toward the “new” often leaves people’s actual needs in the dust.

As portals of prescribed cultural practices, objects carry an incredible amount of agency over how we accomplish everyday tasks.


Consider ergonomics. Popularized by renowned American industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss in his 1960 book The Measure of Man, the study centers on the idea of defining human proportions as they relate to various industrial products in workplace environments. The problem with ergonomics, however, is that it aligns with the tenets of efficiency and productivity codified as part of Machine-Age thinking. To a certain degree, it also promotes the Modernist principle that one size fits all.

Or consider the iPhone. Apple’s paradigm-shifting introduction of the instrument, in 2007, completely changed what many thought mobile communication devices could achieve. On the whole, we’ve since become complacent in knowing that we can answer emails, post to social media, and order groceries whenever we want—and along the way, become so absorbed in these actions that we usually don’t stop to question if doing them via a hand-held computer actually benefits our schedules and mental health. 

The latter circumstance echoes the thinking of sociologist Richard Sennett, who, in his 2009 book The Craftsman, notes that continuous innovation has a peculiar way of altering our expectations of function, and of making us beholden to requirements that didn’t previously exist or might have seemed frivolous before. It also brings to mind French philosopher Gilles Deleuze’s Society of Control theory, which holds that the constant need to make machines more efficient—the impetus that has especially defined our world since the Industrial Revolution—has ultimately sped up our collective conception of time. In turn, Deleuze believed, we anticipate needing to give more of ourselves when it comes to productivity, normalizing the pressure to extend ourselves ever further in order to more swiftly reach the bottom line. As suggested in author Jonathan Crary’s satirical 2013 book 24/7, sleep has become a standing barrier to meeting these increasingly demanding requirements.

Parsons & Charlesworth’s “Catalog for the Post-Human” at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale
Installation view of Parsons & Charlesworth’s “Catalog for the Post-Human” at the 2021 Venice Architecture Biennale. (Courtesy Parsons & Charlesworth)


Various works by the Chicago art and design studio Parsons & Charlesworth playfully confront that absurdity. Its ongoing Catalog for the Post-Human project, first shown at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale, in 2021, riffs on the extreme realities that Deleuze and Crary suggest as potential futures. In it are numerous proposed objects—what philosopher Marshall McLuhan might have dubbed “appendages”—described on the firm’s website as “tools to help workers cope with circumstances in which their bodies may be pushed to the limit.” Actually, the items just reinforce subservience: An apparatus called NootDial dispenses “smart drugs” to achieve a desired cognitive state for a given task; an inflatable IV Apparel jacket delivers vitamins intravenously while one toils away. 

Let’s be clear: Technology isn’t all bad. It’s done a lot to enhance our world. But like other powerful forces, it needs to be reined in and carefully employed. There is an ever-growing call to reconcile our bonds with physical objects—not just to make life more efficient, but to accommodate physical and emotional ease, and to bring a greater awareness to our actions and surroundings. Curator and scholar Glenn Adamson underscores this concept in his 2018 book Fewer, Better Things, in which he argues that our material intelligence—which he defines as “a deep understanding of the material world around us, an ability to read that material environment, and the know-how required to give it new form”—has waned in the face of new mediums and an increasingly digital world, and shows readers why everyday objects, and our interactions with them, are critical components that inform our lives and shared human experience.

Karl Lagerfeld’s Monte Carlo apartment in 1983
Karl Lagerfeld’s Monte Carlo apartment in 1983, featuring Masanori Umeda’s Tawaraya Ring (1981). (Photo: Jacques Schumacher)


Nuanced alterations can change our perception of conventional objects we might otherwise take for granted. They might even make us more conscious of the importance of the tasks they’re used for. Designers might take a cue from postmodernists, who sought to challenge the status quo on multiple levels and, not in the least, common object typologies. Memphis group member Masanori Umeda’s 1981 Tawaraya Ring seating unit, like Verner Panton’s psychedelic 1970 Fantasy Landscape, was meant to challenge the social norms associated with standard living room set-ups. People were encouraged to use the reconfigured designs in unexpected ways, and in turn, engage in new, freer forms of interpersonal interaction. 

Inroads can be made on a very small scale, too. Take Kirei (2019–2020), a line of gold-toned rings and thimbles developed by German designer Birgit Severin with research incubator Schloss Hollenegg that seeks to reestablish the restorative, even meditative, chore of cleaning. A result of a series of experimental workshops, the adornments aim to transform picking up trash or wiping down surfaces into an enjoyable, noteworthy, and memorable act.

Jewelry from Birgit Severin and Schloss Hollenegg’s Kirei collection
Jewelry from Birgit Severin and Schloss Hollenegg’s Kirei collection. (Courtesy Studio B Severin)


When it comes to typologies such as crockery and cutlery, rethinking contours can prove advantageous. Look at Aldo Bakker: The Dutch designer has spent a good part of his career exploring the metaphysical qualities of shape, continuously seeking to perfect the portions, curvatures, and massings of sublime forms, and introducing his discoveries within various functional applications, from pouring milk to arranging flowers.

In his 2007 Salt Cellar, the elongation of an operable handle makes the process of dispensing the substance more tenuous yet unhurried. The gesture removes any sense of passivity, and requires that the user is viscerally engrossed in act. “I’m obsessed with form and daily things because they’re always there,” says Bakker, who apparently intuits the forms that might work for others based on what works for him: “Slowly they enter into my system, and it’s not a matter of willingness anymore. At a certain point, I make my interpretation. It’s more personal than trying to influence someone else.” What he’s describing is a quality expressed in both Umeda and Panton’s ingenious propositions: the freedom to adapt how an object is used based on personal preference. 

Tim Parsons, co-principal of Parsons & Charlesworth (the firm that showed those hair-raising wearables in Venice), has long believed that design can transcend a given object. “I’ve never [been] content to accept the limitations of standard products, especially electronics,” he says. “I understood early on that there’s all manner of different potential experiences that people could have from them, but that they needed to uncover them on their own.”

A side table from Gregory Beson’s Tenderness collection
A side table from Gregory Beson’s Tenderness collection. (Courtesy Gregory Beson)


Another way in which objects can aid their users is by imbuing them with personal narratives. New York–based furniture designer Gregory Beson focuses his craft-led practice on the idea that well-made objects gain worth through wear and tear as they get passed down from generation to generation. His recent Tenderness collection of textured wood- and metal-surfaced furnishings stems from an exploration of material sensuality and spirituality, while earlier projects such as his 2016 sensor Open Ritual: a light emerged from exploring daily rituals. In these examples, interchangeable components allow users to define an object’s use for themselves, a direct path to the rewarding acts of slowing down, making more considered choices, and enjoying the ease of a personalized design. 

Perhaps designers should be far more focused on aiding users in creating their own solutions than imposing their own aesthetic postulations on them. Their overall goal ought to be pinpointing ways in which they can better meet their immediate needs, achieve renewed relationships with their physical surroundings, and reclaim a sense of biological, rather than mechanical, time. That’s design for the real world. 

Zooming out, far beyond our homes and routines, presents an even bigger benefit to the types of tweaks outlined above: In a world mired in so many struggles, adaptation can be a viable tool of defiance and survival. If we can improve upon our deep-rooted habits and behaviors, we have an approach for tackling seemingly insurmountable social, cultural, and ecological challenges as well. Shouldn’t we be able to scale up that same intuitive pragmatism, learn from the seemingly insignificant, and combat the all-important challenges of our time? 

Introducing small effectual fixes to everyday devices that reflect our individual needs today can improve our lives tomorrow. Is there an inherent correlation between how we deal with the nagging clumsiness of a standard clothes hanger that always seems to fall off the rack, and mitigating the convoluted crisis that is climate change? By recognizing the significance of refining matters like the former, we just might find out.