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Thursday, April 12, 2007

Design Boston interview with Sam Grawe

I was supposed to meet with Sam Grawe, the Editor-in-Chief of Dwell, last week at Residential Design & Construction. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, but Sam was nice enough to answer a few questions for me via email:

What is your personal design philosophy?
Less is more, except when it isn't. Since I'm not really a designer, I don't really have a design philosophy, per se. If I was an architect, I would make sure every home I designed had a conversation pit.

What is the most recent design object you have purchased for your home?
a couple of beat up eames/alexander girard la fonda chairs

What aspects make up "good design," in your opinion?
There's no real laundry list where you can check off the boxes and pow, you have a good design. I think good design is something special, something well-made, something that you will hold on to, something your kids would hold on to. That being said, good design is also sustainable. A piece of furniture that will last for over a hundred years—that's sustainable. Good design also usually implies that it somehow improves your quality of life. Something like oxo good grips are good design because they help people with arthritis do stuff in the kitchen, and they also appeal to someone without arthritis simply because they make, opening a can for instance, just a little easier.

How do you think Boston fares as a design city?
Boston interests me because of its history. California provided fertile ground for post-war modernism because for the most part there was no historical precedent to work with. But with Boston, on the other hand, basically all you have is historical precedent. With Harvard's GSD and MIT there's a lot of great, forward-thinking architectural minds at work in Boston. But a lot of new construction is too obsessed with cornices, balustrades, and cupolas—mimicing historical details. I had the chance to visit the new ICA, and I thought that was a really great space for art, and also a very fresh space for the city—in part because it is so outward looking. You spend a lot of time in that building looking at the water and at the city.

Critics say that two planned towers in downtown Boston - one in Downtown Crossing & the other in Winthrop Square - ignore Boston's historical qualities as a "brick city" for a more New York-esque glass-and-steel style. In what ways can a city respect its design history while still reaching forward?
There are ways to respect the character of place without the argument getting to the point of whether the designers should be using bricks or glass and steel. Let old Boston be old Boston. It's good. It works. Keep it. I actually feel like its more of a disrespect to the old buildings and the character of place when new buildings try to emulate 'colonial' style or what-have-you. There's no such thing as a modern colonial. It's a farce. It's Disneyworld. Smart designers can look at things like scale and massing, things like how buildings are used, programmatic things which can be duplicated or harmonized without trying to make a new building fit the Boston context simply by making it look a certain way.

You started with Dwell as an Assistant Editor in October of 2000, and shortly after six years, at 29, became its Editor-in-Chief. What's next?
While my title will most likely stay the same for a while, I am always facing new challenges and looking for ways that we can evolve. I'm looking forward to keeping the magazine vital for the next six years and beyond....

Aside from Dwell, you are part of the electronic music group Windsurf . You have a 4-track EP available online. Any chance of a full length, domestic CD release?
We have a cd release in the works with a Norwegian label called Internasjonal. Also, they are going to release that digital ep on vinyl hopefully before summer. My solo project, Hatchback, has a 12" of a tune I did called White Diamond, coming out on this English indie label, thisisnotanexit with a remix by Norwegian producer Prins Thomas on the B-side. I also have another 3-track EP coming out very soon on Sentrall. Also I should mention that my pal Dan Judd, who is the other half of Windsurf, goes by the name Sorcerer, and has a couple of 12" to be followed by a full-length out on a different English indie label called Tirk. Highly recommended listening.

What reading would you recommend for those interested in learning more about modern design(Aside from Dwell, obviously)?
A few titles I would recommend are:

Problems of Design by George Nelson
(Whitney Library of Design, 1979)

Domus 1928–1999, Vol. 1–12 by Charlotte & Peter Fiell, editors
(Taschen, 2007)

Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design by Paula Antonelli
(MOMA, 2006)

Tapio Wirkkala 1915-1985: Eye, Hand and Thought by Marianne Aav, editor
(Helsinki, 1999)

As you can see, Sam is quite knowledgeable about modern design. I look forward to (hopefully) meeting him this fall at Dwell on Design in San Fransisco.

1 comment:

** Terramia ** said...

Great interview... thoroughly enjoyed.