Archive for October, 2009


Still thinking of Mara….this could be her ghost.

Incomplete Mara (My Mona Lisa). Photoshop. October 2009.

Incomplete Mara (My Mona Lisa). Photoshop. October 2009.

I have also been pondering the implications of this Fellini quote I found:

A different language is a different vision of life.

Federico Fellini

If so how can we ever bridge the divide?

Perhaps only in music.

Or silence.




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So , I have been busy doing some art here

This the bounty I received by mail this week!

1.  A wonderful watercolor postcard from my blog/artsister Ghadah, especially made for me!

Mara by Ghadah Alkandari

Mara by Ghadah Alkandari

2.  A new sketchbook (and drawing project) from Jennifer at  habitofdesign.blogspot.com.

Jennifer has started a wonderful project called ‘ A Study In…’ This is a sketchbook exchange where two artist pick a topic for each other -to fill few pages of the sketchbook, and send the work back and forth.  Jennifer started with ‘Trees” and below you see what she chose for me (so excited!)

Jennifer's Package for Yours Truly.

A new SKetchbook. Tabula Rasa!

A new Sketchbook. Tabula Rasa!

The Instructions.

The Instructions.

Jennifer chose this topic for me : Typewriters. Guess I am going to research that next...and I DO love them!

Jennifer chose this topic for me : Typewriters. Guess I am going to research that next...and I DO love them!

The beginning of "A Study In..' Project Designed by Jennifer Reece

The beginning of "A Study In..' Project Designed by Jennifer Reece


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Mies Van De Rohe's Barcelona Chairs @ the College of Environmental Design in Berkeley. Oct. 2009

Mies Van De Rohe's Barcelona Chairs @ the College of Environmental Design in Berkeley. Oct. 2009

Reading Lounge at CED Library, Berkeley. Oct. 2009

Reading Lounge at CED Library, Berkeley. Oct. 2009



My absolutely favorite part of Wurster Hall building is the CED library- which is so up to date it has its own facebook and twitter page.
In it, we find large, custom-designed tables with great lighting and comfortable wooden chairs.
Plenty of room to spread out and a wonderful atmosphere for working and studying.
I also love the sitting area with Mies Van De Rohe’s Barcelona chairs, which lends a hint of sophistication to the space and makes it really inviting. You can learn more about chairs’ design here.

A library should feel like a special place, and this one definitely celebrates knowledge and books.

These days, much is said about the future of libraries (and books), in a digital age of downloads and Kindle. Print newspapers are disappearing or undergoing big cuts, and one of my favorite Op Ed contributor at the New York Times covered the issue, saying that desperate times call for desperate measures. Last week the Times also wrote about libraries who are embracing digital lending (albeit on a reservation system).

As an avid book lover and collector, I am intrigued by debate of the future of books (and e-books- does the brain like them?) and ponder about a future in which books will be obsolete or prized collections, such as records are today.

It seems like this topic is covered everyday in one form or another, and now even art has contributed to the  fetishism of the book. Do we celebrate a form of communication right at the moment when that form is losing its relevance? Recently, I have started the whole contents of my library on LibraryThing, and , through this process, I am appreciating my books all over again.
Considering they have made the trip across the pond several times, they are all very expensive books by now, too. A point has to be made that, with the advent of e-books, I would not have to pay hundreds of dollars each time to ship my body of knowledge. I still remember how cumbersome it was to try to bring all my CDs on trip and I am, it’s true, ever-so-thankful for my 120GB Ipod.

Of course book lovers will say that books will never lose its relevance, but when the new generation is getting the book contents via the internet (legally or illegally), and even the University of California Libraries have been collaborating with Google on its mega-scanning project, we need to accept the fait accompli: a paradigm shift is taking place, whether we like it or not. The enviromental cost of printing on paper needs to also be taken in consideration.

The dream is an old one to unify all books ever printed, , in every language, and make that body of knowledge easily accessible. A sort of modern-day version of the Alexandria Library. Sure everyone knows about Google books, but do you know that the Boston Public Library will scan on demand any public domain books you request? And send you a link to download it? That is, I have to admit, incredible.

I will throw my two pennies in the fray: I spend lots of time in front of the screen, and so far, I have found the experience of reading a book (in my case, Death in Venice) online the equivalent of eating junk food. Sure it can fill your stomach, but the quick and easy fix, notwithstanding the empty calories, robs you of the ritual of eating a meal. In Italy there is a movement that is trying to save movie theathers, and it studied the difference between watching a movie in the big screen as opposed to downloading it and watching it on the computer. It surveyed young viewers who were asked to make a drawing after seeing a movie in the movie theather and once again, in the computer screen at home. The difference in the creative output is outstanding. Watching a movie on your laptop does not feel ‘special’ and I do believe some of the magic, the ‘suspension of disbelief’ is lost, when right outside of the borders of your screen you see the laundry that neds to be folded, or dishes needing to be washed. Indeed , once televisions were installed in every home there was also a cry for the ‘death of the movie theather’. As it has been said for drawng, in that case, the advent of tv dinners did not eradicate home cooked meals , just made it more special. Yes, Okay, but if reading abook becomes rarer and rare, how special is it? Could reading in front of a screen kill the magic and wonderment of a story? The e-culture, or i-culture, is exponentially more of vehicle of change than tv ever were for the movie theather. It does more than shift the paradigm: it shatters it.

The digital revolution is here, and like the Nothing in Neverending Story, it will eat the book culture we have now, to substitute it with gadgets increasingly more sophisticated and more ‘realistic’:
[Behold! Perfect imitations of ‘ Real (TM) books’]!
E-book publishers are even claiming that people are reading more now that they have access to electronic book readers.

Soon the books will go the way of music and MP3’s…and when offer is abundant , invariably the value (both economic and of personal attachment) plummets. It is the plastic culture, Andy Warhol would have loved it.

I am sure my dialectic has some holes in it, but I hope you catch my drift.

This is the end of the world as we know it (TM).


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Barcelona Chairs by Mies Van De Rohe, 1929 @ the CED Library in Berkeley

Barcelona Chairs by Mies Van De Rohe, 1929 @ the CED Library in Berkeley

This post started (two weeks ago)  as a celebration of my favorite library, the CED library in Berkeley. I was just going to show you the sketch of Mies’ Barcelona chairs and tell you how much I liked there– and how conducive the environment is to getting things done and eating your frog, and call it a day. I then found a very interesting brief history of the building this Library is housed in, which actually embodies the creation of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley: it was so fascinating and full of great quotes, I wanted to share with you.

The ongoing debate about the relevance of libraries  and printed matter begged to be included, since this was a post on libraries. As it happened once before, the Times published great material on the topic as I was crafting this post. I hope you ejoy it and will join in the discussion.

During a recent quiet (read: my internet was down) evening I pulled out a paper I brought home with me from Berkeley, a brief history of the College of Environmental Design at UC Berkeley and the building it is housed in: Wurster Hall. The paper was originally written in 1984 by Sally B. Woodbridge to mark the 20th anniversary of the building, and the following is a summary of its contents (read I am paraphrasing, not all ‘flour from my bag’ as we say in Italy).

As William Wilson Wurster said in 1964:

I wanted [future Wurster Hall] to look like a ruin that no regent would like…It’s absolutely unfinished, uncouth, and brilliantly strong…The Ark  [previous Architecture building], for instance, is a ripe building; it has been lived in; it’s been used; it’s been beaten up…It’s arrived.
Our building will take twenty years to arrive.

Oral History, Regional Oral History Office, The Bancroft Library.

Detail of Interior Courtyard Elevation- College of Environments

Detail of Interior Courtyard Elevation- College of Environments

In 1984, the twenty years had passed, and, as Woodbridge says, they had left the building lived in, used, and beaten up.  The crisp mountain of concrete did not age gracefully, mainly because the university judged the building to be maintenance free: weak points such as the caulking were never redone or checked when necessary.
Woodbridge’s paper was reissued in 2009, with a new introduction, this time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the building and the college.  For, in fact, the building embodies the college, and the struggles to find unity in a name ( I had no idea that Environmental Design was a term fraught with so much political meaning) and in differences in design visions.
The issue of the name is important, because the CED was not just another college at U.C Berkeley, it was the world’s first institution dedicated to the study of Environmental Design (Woodbridge, 2).

The new building was going to be housing the City and Regional Planning, the Landscape Architecture, and Architecture Departments. In reading the essay, one realizes the power in a name, for there was a waryness of the other departments of being subordinated to the older and larger field of architecture.

Wurster, the Dean of the School of Architecture from 1950 to 1963 ,started working on the unification of the departments shortly after he assumed his academic duties, and formed a committee which met for four years, but the disapproval of the college names and disagreements over the new college led to a very poliically fraught atmosphere. Wuster disbanded the committee, and when the legislation finally approved the creation of the new building (prophetically without a name) in 1956-7, he assembled a team of unlikely-mind architects to design the new building.

It is very telling that the administration disapproved of choosing three faculty members to design a major building, but Wurster argued successfully that not choosing Architecture faculty would be a vote of disapproval. Wurster abhorred Avant Garde Design, ‘I want you to design a ruin”, he said, pounding the table for emphasis. He was concerned with consistencies of use of forms and materials. Some say he had a Brutalist approach, à la Kahn.  Unfortunately, as Esherick, one of the architects, said, the funds  at their disposal did not allow them to do the fantastically controlled concrete work that Kahn used at the Salk Institute in LaJolla.

Wurster got his wish, no regent liked the building, in fact, one of them remarked: ‘They should have not disguised the building with trees’, referring to the elegant renderings made to ‘sell’ the new design.                                                                                                                   If, as many think, the building did not age gracefully, it was and is certainly appreciated for its capacity to withstand neglect and intense use.  Wurster was of the opinion that a school should be a rough place with many cracks in it. If, as many think, the building did not age well, it was certainly appreciated for its capacity to withstand neglect and intensive use . While it took a beating, it kept the uncouth character that Wurster so admired.  Perpetually unfinished, Wurster Hall was an pen ended and provocative environment for teaching and questioning.

Right up to the exposed ductwork (sounds familiar?)

Rendering of the Interior of Wurster Hall. From CED Library, Berkeley. OCt. 2009

Rendering of the Interior of Wurster Hall. From CED Library, Berkeley. Oct. 2009

As J.B Jackson wrote: Where beauty has to be sought out and extracted from a reluctant environment, the arts often seem to flourish best. wherever it exists in profusion and variety it is likely to be accepted as a condition of daily existence, a kind of birthright calling for no special acknowledgement. American Space 1972

Extracting beauty from the environment is what the College of Environmental Design is all about.

A summary of:   Sally B.  Woodbridge ‘The College of Environmental Design in Wurster Hall: A History”, 1984, 2009

And now, for fun, or as my German teacher used to say, ‘zum spiel’, I would like to talk about that ‘brilliantly strong’ character, and what it reminds me of.

Wurster Hall. Elevation from Courtyard. Oct. 2009.

Wurster Hall. Elevation from Courtyard. Oct. 2009.


Casa Del Fascio by Terragni, Como, 1930.

Casa Del Fascio by Terragni, Como, 1930.


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Photograph- Organic (unretouched), 10.19.09

I 'll Carry You, You'll Carry Me (Orange Frogs). Photograph- Organic (unretouched), 10.19.09

Until One is committed, there is hesitancy.
the chance to draw back
always ineffectiveness.

Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation)
there is one elementary truth
the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and endless plans:


All sort of things occur to help one
that would never otherwise have occurred.

A whole stream of events issues from the decision,
raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents
and meetings and material assistance,
which no man could have dreamed would come his way.

Whatever you can do or dream you can,
begin it.

Boldness has genius,power and magic in it.

Begin it now.


Thank you Barbara , for giving me this quote, so many years ago.


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Card Design 1 of 7- Fall 2009

Card Design 1 of 7- Fall 2009

I am always happy if my internet connection goes down for a bit. It is the time I can then dedicate myself to catching up with my offline (old school) reading. Books, magazines, San Diego weeklies…. things I find in the most disparate places.

I am an unapologetically omnivorous reader and that, combined with a respect for the written word I have inherited from my mother, results in knowing a bit about everything and being at constant risk of  being overwhelmed by paper at all times.

Well, the past few days i have had intermittent connection, and that combined with a very ambitious redesign of my little place and general reorganizing and putting away of things, plus the getting ready for the new school year  means that today I am definitely  stealing time and burning the candle at both ends– and putting up two posts that have been simmering for a week.

Being plugged into art and writing means that sometimes art just must BE, that is, I have been immersing myself in design inspiration (see the augmented blogrolls and site freshening up/networking!!) and seeing the amazing amount of creative output these talented souls put out almost daily inspired me so much to claim the time to post new discoveries, and sketch, and share.

In my dreams I would have time to be like a professional blogger and post everyday or at least every other day, but the reality is that writing needs time, and if I want to be more prolific, I ought to start alternating written pieces with art, and do I have lot ready to share (in my famous digital trunk).  Geez, I don’t want to sound like Julie from Julie and Julia, I am not cooking elaborate french recipes and waking up at five in the morning to post the daily progress . Clearing actual and digital clutter, ‘feng-shui’ing’  life to make ways to creative endeavours is invisible labor, but of immense consequence.

It seems like the work never gets done, and that one could always do more, or  re-do things using a finer comb, or to greater degree of perfection.  See, here is where my mom comes in with her ‘il meglio e’ cattivo del bene’ or ‘better is enemy of good enough’. I tend to perfectionism, and sometimes at results in over-ambitiousness. Hence, the effectiveness blogroll for inspiration!

I am aiming to making this website, my digital live-work loft, more inviting, more connected, like Making it Lovely , and that meant coding and learning a bunch of new stuff- like subscribing to networkedblogs- thanks for ALL the views :)! All of that was worth it (i have been a busy little bee since the last post) because the fans and subscribers and have been growing and I can only hope a year from now to be where my Design Inspiration gurus are.

Thank you for all the support!

Personal success has nothing to do with ordering others, but is a matter of ordering oneself. Nobility has nothing to do with power and rank, but is a matter of self-realization. Attain self-realization and the whole world is found in the self.
Happiness has nothing to do with outward wealth and status, but is a matter of inner harmony.”

Wentzu, Verse 4


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Interior of 'Copley' Symphony Hall, San Diego. Love my new 0.25 pen!

Today the whole school attended Convocation, to kick off the new school year and Fall semester.

The venue was spectacular: Copley Symphony Hall, built in 1929. I took some liberty with the size of the coffers, and the left side was a little too ‘spanish rococo curlicue nonsense’ for my taste.

As the sandiegosymphony.com site explains:

The theather was surrounded by the new redevelopment that took place in the site (the Syphony Towers Office Building, Sheraton Suites Hotel and a parking garage). A very important point: none of those structures is in direct contact with the walls of the theatre, and so no sound or vibration disturbance from any of the surrounding structures will ever interfere with the sound of the music played inside.This is one of the few venues in the world that belongs to the orchestra playing in it. It has proved to be a gem and a pleasure to sit in to hear great music performed superbly.

Symphony Towers was also the first building I worked in when I moved to San Diego seven years ago, and Symphony Hall where I saw Ani di Franco play in 2002 0r 2003.  It was very surreal being there tonight but…

No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.


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Paper Goods

I have returned from San Francisco with lots of paper goods (my favorite addiction), and found a gem of a store there:

Ever since I was little, writing instruments and surfaces proved irresistible to me.  My mother, a lawyer, was in charge of an office and, of course, its office supply closet was my favorite playground.  I looove folders and ‘things to put/organize things in’.  Consequently, The Container Store is a place best for me to avoid.

In comes Mai-Do .  I spotted this quaint store  from the other side of the Westfield gallery (by Union Square) and even though I had no idea what it was, I could smell trouble.

Here are some photos of the incredible selections of folders at Mai-Do (every color imaginable).


And did I mention the pens? Did I mention the …ehm…notebooks?

Everything in this store appears to be carefully handpicked and designed to be lethal to the incorregible paper addict (quoi? moi?).

I am beginning to think Stephen King’s ‘Precious Things’ was modeled after Mai-Do.

To wit below the spoils:


1. Thin Notebook by Apica. Made in Japan (of course!)

2. Origami Paper

3. Hi.Tec.C Pens 0.25 (a size next to impossible to find) and 0.3 by Pilot

4. Post-It holder by Sacchi

What a delicious place. A true feast for the eyes (and hands- of course I had to touch and open everything).

This store  reminded me of one of my favorit-est places in the world, Muji, and to never, ever–for any reason– go to Japan or Singapore:  death by paper surely awaits me there.  At the end of my visit I got a small Mai-Do card with four stamps, and, after it’s filled, it’s good for a discount at the store.  Something tells me I will be back.


I couldn't find my card, so the wonderful people at Maido sent me another.

I couldn't find my card, so the wonderful people at Maido sent me another.







Even the stamp are design well thought-out.






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I found my next sketchbook. And it literally sings.

lpbook_small copy_text

Michael Roger Press sketchbook. Cover made from recycled LP record

How cool is that? What a great idea for recycling.
It makes me feel so green 🙂

The sketchbook is by Michael Roger Press, Made in California. I found it at Urban Outfitters in Berkeley. The great thing about these sketchbooks- and the winning part of the concept- is that each one is unique. I love the title of my LP-book : Quintessence.

A mission to locate the inexplicably hard-to-find [in Berkeley] Pilot pens took me to the UC Berkeley ‘Cal’ Bookstore. I was amazed by the amount of very design-y, very chic offerings there. Obviously, some discerning buyers at work, for the college student who will not be wont for nothing. I thought of my days at North Dakota State, and our Varsity store. Well, we might have had the NDSU-emblazoned apparel and mugs but, no, we sure didn’t have the Garbini


Brought to you from the formidable Karim Rashid, the one and the same who brought design to the masses at ‘Tarjet’. I love my Garbini, but more than that I love saying ‘Garbini by Karim Rashid’.

And last but not least, the one gratuitous purchase (but oh-so-cool) : the pencilcase made of zippers.


My mom has been sewing all her life , why didn’t she think of that? So here you see my new, nth pencil case ( I collect them so when I am really old my whole life will be organized in pencilcases with different labels). Here you see the zippercase in its original position and then ‘deployed’.

Until next time. The shopping window has closed for now lest this become a treacherous path (how many of us bloggers buy so we can post? study ‘the show and tell factor’ in consumer culture….). I can see the danger lurking. More art soon!

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