A New York City real estate developer is drawing visitors and attention to his new Madison Avenue building with an exhibition of successful unconventional design solutions, featuring Smart Cars, going on now.
Smart Cars -- the fuel-efficient mini autos from Europe that, at slightly over eight feet long, can be parked perpendicular to the curb -- are being showcased as an archetype of daring and innovative design. Also integrated into the exhibit are other iconic objects of the twentieth century, and the architectural transformation of 340 Madison Avenue, Macklowe Properties' newly redeveloped and redefined Midtown Manhattan office building. The exhibit was designed by the New York-based Graham Hanson Design and developed in collaboration with Macklowe Properties.
Harry Macklowe, President and CEO of Macklowe Properties, became fascinated by the Smart Car's design and infrastructure several years ago, during a trip to Italy. To acquire the Smart Cars, which manufacturer DaimlerChrysler has not yet made available in the U.S., Macklowe flew Sheldon Werdiger, his company's Vice President, along with Graham Hanson, Principal of Graham Hanson Design, to Montreal. There, they purchased the vehicles, had them driven over the Canadian border, then placed on a flatbed truck and shipped to New York - just in time for 340 Madison's inaugural event.
In the exhibit, five different Smart Cars are displayed on floor-standing or ceiling-suspended platforms, emphasizing the "iconic status" of each. One of the cars has been "exploded," or deconstructed, to highlight the interchangeable body parts, and show off the details of the industrial design, while another has its door removed to invite visitors to participate by sitting behind the wheel. (Images attached)
Oversize scrims at the show's entrance illustrate unexpected perspectives of otherwise ordinary items and imagery, including industrial structures, human forms and natural objects. Here, the curators begin to introduce the idea of changing paradigms and ask you consider the hidden and subtle design qualities of everyday things.
The exhibit likens the impact of the Smart Car today to those of several design innovations in the twentieth century, such as the Vespa, Concorde, Bullet Train and Panton chair, all of which are displayed in miniature on Plexiglas platforms. In postwar Europe, the Vespa, manufactured with the expertise of the aircraft industry, became the most admired and imitated scooter in the world. A generation later, the unprecedented speed of the Concorde, with its graceful design and luxurious interior, turned an ocean into a pond. The Shinkansen, Japan's aptly named bullet train, linked distant cities with speed and style. The Panton chair, along with many other innovative twentieth century chair designs, used unconventional materials and daring technology to change the way we think about interior and industrial design.
"The idea behind scaling these objects down to fit in the palm of your hand, and exhibiting them on a suspended platform, was to take the objects outside of their usual context so the viewer can focus on their design details instead of the everyday context in which the objects ordinarily exists," said Hanson, who curated the show together with Macklowe.
But the exhibit clearly positions the Smart Car -- the only object to be shown in full-size -- as the most contemporary example of out-of-the-box thinking. "Design has rarely been more ingenious than the Smart Car, which addresses the environment with its fuel efficiency; safety with its compact Tridion steel housing; and urban crowding with its compressed wheelbase, explained Hanson. "Products like Smart-with function and form reinvented in tandem, prove that designers who ask out-of-the-ordinary questions can arrive at out-of-the-ordinary solutions that improve the way we live. The exhibit illustrates the importance of unique design development approach paradigms in order to achieve revolutionary results."
Indeed, the rethinking of car design embodied by the Smart Car parallels the story of 340 Madison: In a remarkable engineering and architectural feat, owner/developer Macklowe Properties recently transformed an obsolete 22-story, 550,000-square-foot irregularly shaped building in the heart of New York's midtown business district into a breathtakingly modern 750,000-square-foot glass office tower.
One of the key elements of the building's design plan, which was carried out through a collaborative effort by the developer and two New York architectural firms - - Moed de Armas & Shannon and Gensler - - was the challenge of creating a signature identity for the property by expanding what was once a small lobby into a spectacular limestone paneled "grand space" suitable for events and exhibits. The multi-purpose Exhibition Area now boasts 18-foot high theatrical ceiling as well as the latest Broadway lighting effects and showroom technologies.
"The Smart Car calls into question the status quo, improves form and makes us rethink function, much in the same way we envisioned 340 Madison," said Werdiger. "The synergy between the design paradigm of 340 and Smart Cars makes them the ideal first use of this unconventional building and lobby space."
More About the Exhibit
"Smart Cars" is taking place now in the grand lobby area of 340 Madison Avenue, on the entire westerly block of Madison Avenue between 43rd and 44th Street.
The exhibit is open weekdays, 9 am - 6 pm; Saturdays, from 9 am - 1 pm, and is expected to continue throughout most of 2006. Exhibit closed Sundays.