As part of our On Design and Makeshift conversation and event series, we have led discussions on various design movements and schools of thought (like Bauhaus, Arts and Crafts, and Memphis), the business of artisan craftwork, and designers like Charles and Ray Eames. This week’s discussion takes a turn toward a new design arena—Biophilic Design and Terrariums.
The speaker today was Birmingham-based artisan Jonathan Woolley, whose collective—known as Little Forest Design—has given The Factory entrance a facelift by installing a beautiful tableau of terrariums. The effect is transformative; bringing natural elements into our workspace influences not only our work environment, but also our mood and productivity.
Response to the installation reflects the basic philosophy behind Biophilic Design—that incorporating nature into living and working environments can affect mental and physical health, and allow for healthier connections within communities. The design theory presents the idea that humans fundamentally need a connection to nature, but our urban environments have separated us from those elements that might nourish our spirits and physical bodies. Biophilic Design is a way of reconnecting people to nature in a way that incorporates natural elements into current living and working systems.
In preparation for his presentation, we asked Jonathan to give us some background on the theory of Biophilic Design and his design collective, Little Forest Design.
I’ve often described my creative journey as “falling off a cliff,” yet thinking about it recently, I’ve realized — to my great surprise — that my journey has actually been quite linear. I went from design school, to working in the fashion industry, to styling, and then back to fashion with Alabama Chanin. It is unlikely that I would have appreciated how direct my path has been if I hadn’t been asked to reflect upon my journey. Thanks to a few flight delays, day-long drives, and long afternoons spent gardening, I’ve been able to spend some quality time reflecting upon the events of my past. Sometimes it takes a little time to gain perspective.
I am incredibly proud of my company, my amazing team, and everything we’ve accomplished in the past decade. When things are running smoothly in our studio (as has happened once or twice in the ten years since we opened our doors), I feel an unrivaled sense of calm and satisfaction. However, it is the creative chaos, the phones that ring (but cannot be found), the revolving cast of friends and clients, and the unwavering support of my family that are much more invigorating and make me understand that my path has been the right one — for me.
In our week-long profile of designers Charles and Ray Eames, we studied their design aesthetic and philosophy and talked about the various media they used to forward those philosophies. They made hundreds of explorations into film, for varied purposes. Produced in 1977, Powers of Ten is perhaps their best-known film—and includes a book version. In it, the Eamses utilized the system of exponential powers to demonstrate the importance of scale.
The premise of the film is simple, though its scope is wide: a narrator—physicist Philip Morrison—guides the viewer on a journey that begins with an overhead shot of a couple in a park. The camera then pans back to see what a ten-meter distance looks like, then 100 meters, then 1,000 meters. Every 10 seconds, the viewer’s distance from the initial scene of the couple is magnified tenfold. We expand to the point of 100 million light years from Earth, a field of view of 1024 meters—the size of the observable universe.
All of us, at one time or another, have associated the idea of work with a sense of dread. We’ve all had a job we thought was boring, repetitive, mindless, stressful; we’d zone out or procrastinate because, in our hearts, we weren’t invested. In such a situation, we were taught to create a time for work and a time for play: work/life balance.
The downside of this idea of work/life balance is that playtime is often interrupted with thoughts of work; and work time is spent dreaming of play. Mr. Rogers once said, “Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning.” This is certainly true of how the Eames ran their studio and the basis of the important, and playful, work of Ellen Langer.
The last decades have taught us (and our children) that to achieve is the ultimate goal—often to the detriment of play. When we think of play, we think of “time wasting” or “unnecessary.” But play can also meld the possible with the magical. When we play, we aren’t necessarily bound by limits; we are free. Most of us have notions as to what defines work and play – but those categories aren’t independent of one another. Ellen Langer states it so simply, “When we are at work, we’re people; when we’re at play, we’re still people.”
The new saying at my house and at the studio: It’s not hard work, it’s GOOD work. There is a big difference between the two.
The book, Eames: Beautiful Details—pictured above, is a beautiful testament to the playful nature of Ray and Charles Eames. Now available from our online store: Eames: Beautiful Details. (Natalie’s personal copy shown here photographed by Abraham Rowe)
“Eventually everything connects – people, ideas, objects. The quality of the connections is the key to quality, per se.” – Charles Eames
Our first official On Design conversation and event centered on the Bauhaus—founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. This movement’s core objective was a radical concept: to reimagine the material world to reflect the unity of all the arts. The main influences behind the Bauhaus were Modernism, the Arts and Crafts movement and, perhaps most importantly, Constructivism.
The Bauhaus school was closed in 1933 by its own leadership under pressure from the Nazi regime and many of the designers and artists who had been working within the school and those with similar philosophies, moved to the United States. Those of you who were present for our On Design: Bauhaus discussion (or who read about it) will remember that this movement came to change my life (and save my life), because the School of Design at North Carolina State University grew out of Black Mountain College—where some of the instructors from the Bauhaus settled. And, thus I essentially received a Bauhaus training.
The reach of the Bauhaus school is immeasurable. The foundations and design approach influenced designers like Frank Lloyd Wright, Edith Heath, Mies Van De Roe, Le Corbusier, Herbert Bayer, Philip Johnson, Marcel Breuer, and eventually Ray and Charles Eames.
Over the years, and despite the fact that public speaking doesn’t come to me naturally, I’ve lectured at conferences and universities across the country and around the world. Invariably, during the question and answer section at the end of each talk, someone raises their hand and says, “I want to have a collection. What should I do?”
Mother’s Day—a holiday we learned has a deep-rooted history—is a favorite here at Alabama Chanin. Perhaps because we are company that is 100% woman owned and 86% women run (not that we don’t love our men), we like to celebrate a day dedicated to the women who birthed us, the friends who raised us, the aunts who befriended us, and the sisters (true and adopted) who keep us on the right track. Every. Single. Day. If you’ve followed us on our journey, you are likely also aware that Alabama Chanin practices slow design and that we make our products in the most responsible and sustainable ways possible. For this reason, it can take up to six weeks for an item to be made by local artisans, hand-cutting and stitching each piece from seam to appliqué, beaded embellishment to final label.
Also note that while our hand-sewn garments have a longer production time, we have other more readily available pieces such as our A. Chanin garments, books, and some of our home goods.
Call +1.256.760.1090 M-F from 8:00am – 4:30pm CST for help celebrating Mom.
And if you place an order online, let us know if it is a gift for someone special; we will package it beautifully and add a note of thanks.
P.S.: Only after planning our Mother’s Day Gift Guide for this week, did we learn that the United Kingdom celebrates what they call Mothering Sunday on March 15th. Having roots in the church, it is held every year on the fourth Sunday of Lent. Now you know.