Recently, I’ve been paying attention to those moments when I lose sense of time and place because I am so immersed. The following is one such time: I participated in a book review organized by the Boston chapter of AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Artists) in which Ellen Lupton’s Design Writing Review was discussed. Although I was familiar with the author – to say she is well known in the design world would be an understatement – this particular book was new to me. Nevertheless, the title had caught my eye and I went, so that I could learn a little something, perhaps even absorb by osmosis. Meeting in a local pub, the group consisted of graphic design freelancers, a journalist slash painter, a professor of graphic design at Boston University, and myself. The conversation began with a discussion of the merits of the book, followed by the value of graphic design, touched on the vastly different formats of New York Times vs USA Today, and the inevitable decline of newspaper circulation in general in this digital age (a topic bound to come up, natch), and ultimately wound up in a heated debate over selection of the next fascinating body of work to set our voracious sights on.
As the evening wore on and our topics broadened in scope, it had felt to me as if our gathering were taking place in a literary café in Prague in the late 1800s, instead of a sports bar in contemporary time. Alright, perhaps it’s a bit of a stretch to compare it to coffeehouses where the city’s intellectuals and literati met, conversing in Czech and German, but it was a fun way for us like-minded folk to spend an evening over beers and fries. You know you’re among friends, kindred spirits anyway, when you can share design ideas and influences. After all, how many people get excited about a movie about fonts? (i.e. we all concurred Helvetica was one fine film). It was inspiring and energizing and it summarized where I find my interests these days – at the crossroads of design, writing, and culture.
A big reason why I moved to Boston years ago was even more access to this good stuff. As a young architect, it was a thrill to see some of the world’s most interesting and influential architects and designers come here to present their work and ideas, primarily at the prestigious Harvard and MIT design schools. The [best] of them are committed not just to well-designed buildings, but also to the public spaces they shape and the communities they serve, and their innovation serves as a source of inspiration. As a working professional (hesitant to use the proverbial student of life), I’ve found stimulus in the lectures, exhibitions, and publications. I’ve enjoyed the city’s many forums of discussion, at auditoria, libraries, museums, galleries, and professional associations. And it doesn’t end there. There are lots of organizations whose mission is to promote design excellence and shape the future of the built environment by stimulating debate and provoking design thinking about the critical issues of our time. Endless websites, design blogs, and e-zines raise the level of discussion and provide a platform of ideas.
Continually seeking lively discourse, I went to a talk at the Boston Society of Architects given by Patricia Leigh Brown, a writer for the New York Times & Architectural Digest, whose work straddles architecture and design. After a slideshow of images highlighting the changing demographics of suburbia in central valley California and its implications on physical space, comments from the audience steered the discussion off topic to Boston’s own Greenway project, particularly relevant here. This city has undergone a major transformation with the completion of the Big Dig and the Greenway District development seeks to activate newly opened green space, enhance surrounding neighbourhoods and, by combining the best practices of architecture, urbanism and related disciplines, to make meaningful connections by stitching previously isolated parts of the city together. Another initiative with emphasis on the public realm is the SHIFTboston ideas competition that encourages future possibilities for the urban environment by engaging the city and tapping (radical) ideas. With these and other initiatives in place, and public forums fostering community discussion, it seems that Boston has become a hub for design.
I’m glad I’ve gotten into this discussion here and am looking forward to continuing it as I move on to my next project: Toronto, another dynamic city using design as a vital cultural force!