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Seeing design around us

"End of An Area" is a 2008 inlaid synthetic fiber and rubber rug designed by Toadhouse, a.k.a. Allan Graham.  (Courtesy of David Richard Gallery)

“End of An Area” is a 2008 inlaid synthetic fiber and rubber rug designed by Toadhouse, a.k.a. Allan Graham. (Courtesy of David Richard Gallery)

SANTA FE, N.M. — Design envelops us. It’s in the gyms we sweat in and the swizzle sticks we swirl.

Now in its ninth iteration, Design Santa Fe 2013: “Making Things in a Digital Age” will showcase this truth, along with innovation and sustainability, using everything from green design strategies to lighting, packaging and the psychological impact of color.

The program will feature two exhibitions: a juried competition at SITE Santa Fe and an international exhibition celebrating the fusion of form and function at David Richard Gallery. The weeklong event features panel discussions, workshops and an award ceremony.

“Everything around us is designed,” said Irene Hofmann, SITE Santa Fe director and co-curator of Design Santa Fe with Thomas Lehn of Thomas Lehn Designs. “We don’t necessarily see that or appreciate that.”

The purpose of the event is to broaden that awareness, Lehn added.

SITE will host “DesignLAB: Next Nest,” an exhibition of artists spanning seven Western states in both professional and student categories, including New Mexico, California, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, Texas and Utah. The selected works include proposals, videos and finished objects. The designs span everything from lighting to homes to furniture and even a chicken coop.

Albuquerque’s Kenji Kondo Studio created laser-cut wooden lights designed to cast a constellation of shadows on the walls, as well as a triangle-shaped, apple green “urban chicken coop.”

The lamps are designed to pack flat for shipping, Kondo said. They’re made of acrylic or Baltic birch plywood.

“They come apart,” he explained. “It’s generally just designing objects that can create a light pattern.”

He created the chicken coop with his sister in mind.

“My sister’s had chickens, and she wanted a chicken coop,” he said.

He made the avian shelters from two pieces of plywood.

“The triangle shape is so you can maximize the plywood —— use all the pieces,” he said. “I think the paint cost more than the plywood.”

So far, the birds’ response to their new abode has been positive.

“They’re looking good,” Kondo said with a laugh. “They make eggs.”

Santa Fe’s Ben Ortega, a University of New Mexico architecture student, created plans for a “Virtual Pier.” The idea came to him as he considered the steep price of the Internet —— even if you only buy a cup of coffee for wireless access.

“All that data has a price,” he said.

Kenji Kondo Studio's laser cut wooden lights are designed to cast a constellation of shadows on surrounding walls.  (Courtesy of SITE Santa Fe)

Kenji Kondo Studio’s laser cut wooden lights are designed to cast a constellation of shadows on surrounding walls. (Courtesy of SITE Santa Fe)

He conceptualized a blanket over a city —— specifically a New York pier —— providing free Internet.

“It’s kind of like a public library without the books,” Ortega explained. “Instead of material goods, it’s informational goods.”

The plans include a filtering system to act as carbon scrubbers for the Holland Tunnel.

‘They’re not as big with commerce as they once were,” Ortega said of the city’s piers. “This is how that land could be utilized in a more contemporary manner.”

Santa Fe’s Conrad Skinner created “Tablescape (The Board is Spread)” with a wink and a nod to practicality. It’s a flexible eating space with moveable perpendicular planes. The piece spans a staggering 10 feet.

“The idea was to make a table that was almost non-functional —— kind of like a play table,” he said. “It’s kind of a Y shape. It has a cross bar that rolls up and down the trunk. It’s playful in that it’s not a static table.”

Skinner is making a smaller version as a kit.

“The idea is to offer a piece of furniture that’s very nicely made” but affordable, he said.

Sculptural confrontation

David Richard’s “Life Support <->Design Sustenance” showcases nationally-based functional objects that double as artwork.

“It’s sort of a sampling of high design that’s very much rooted in art,” manager and co-curator David Eichholtz said. “Some of them are unique objects (with) very low production.”

All of the works reflect design in a digital age. The futuristic creations encompass a range of things used in everyday life: wallpaper, lighting, an area rug and a room divide. The materials include textiles, wood, PVC, rubber, steel, concrete and electronics.

Santa Fe’s Ted Larsen produced a black steel and salvaged sculpture that Eichholtz said could double as a room divider, although that was never the artist’s intention.

“It’s a welded steel sculpture,” Larsen said.

The piece extends 6 feet from the wall and features the outer skins of cars.

“It’s really more like a framing device,” he said. “It asks you to look through it. It allows you to see both into it and things past it. It creates a formal context for seeing.

“It’s a certain confrontation,” Larsen continued. “Generally, sculpture is on the floor. What happens when something is part of the wall? You have to walk around it. It creates a way of seeing what’s past it.”

Allan Graham originally created his “End of An Area” rug for a 2008 London architectural show, but the exhibition was canceled.

“It’s never been shown,” he said. “It’s made of synthetic fiber; it’s all inlaid. It’s the way they do the commercial rugs. I’ve even seen them on floors in Washington in Congress.”

The 6-by-8-foot black, gray and blue floor covering was all computer-generated, he said.

Graham, also known as Toadhouse, is noted for his humor as well as his use of language.

“It comes naturally to me,” he said. “It has become the dominant thing that I do.”

Design Santa Fe will continue with “Design Dialogue,” a panel discussion at the New Mexico History Museum, from 9:30-11:30 a.m. Saturday. Susan S. Szenasy, editor-in-chief of Metropolis, the award-winning, New York-based magazine of architecture and design, is the moderator. Panelists include Billie Tsien, of the New York-based Tod Williams Billie Tsien Archtects; Jason Pilarski and Steven Joyner of MachineHistories, a Los Angeles-based design collaborative; and Matilda McQuaid, textile director/deputy curatorial director of the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York.