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Design briefs: “Hidden Heroes” at MODA; Architect Phil Freelon joins Perkins+Will

Hidden Heroes display at MODA (Photo by Bethany Legg)
Hidden Heroes display at MODA (Photo by Bethany Legg)

The tea bag steeping in your cup. The paper clip holding your tax forms together. The zipper on your jeans. The binky that soothes your baby.  These are among the countless useful objects so ubiquitous you don’t even think about them. But you’d miss them if they disappeared.

Hidden Heroes: the Genius of Everyday Things, at the Museum of Design Atlanta (MODA) through May 11, brings them into focus. Organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Germany, the exhibition celebrates the inventors, their ingenuity and the design smarts behind them.

pencilsAll of these inventions solved a problem. For example, Art Fry, who came up with the idea for the Post-it, was annoyed about losing his place in his hymnal because his bookmarks slipped out. But as this story shows, serendipity can play a role. Fry, who was a product development engineer at 3M, knew that his colleague, chemist Spencer Silver, had developed a special new adhesive. Bingo.

It surprised me to learn how relatively recent many of these things are. (You mean Adam and Eve didn’t have rubber bands?) One reason is that they couldn’t have been conceived or made without the technology and materials that grew out of industrialization. The paper clip, for instance, followed the invention of a machine that could bend wire.

 As one would expect from Vitra museum, the presentation is elegantly high-design. Each object is accorded its own display unit, a wooden box on metal legs, which contains an artful presentation of said object. A phalanx of corkscrews, for instance, suggests the vast number of design solutions (more than 15,000, according to the text) for this single product. A film clip shows the wire-bending machine making a paper clip.

 But the exhibition designers run up against an inevitable problem: the real heart of each display is the written text chronicling the history of each invention. Those stories are physically subordinated (hung below reading level beneath the box) to the visuals in the presentation, which are often window-dressing: a clever display of pencils is just a clever display of pencils.

Nevertheless, the content is fascinating and definitely worth a visit, both as history and insight into the creative process.


Architect of Center for Civil and Human Rights to Join Perkins+Will

Architect Phil Freelon
Architect Phil Freelon

Phil Freelon and his North Carolina firm, the Freelon Group, have an impressive portfolio, especially of civic and culture institutions. Projects include Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights, which opens in Late May, and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which opens in 2015.

Impressed with his design skills, Perkins+Will came calling some years ago, looking for leadership for its North Carolina practice. The time was never quite right. Finally, Freelon has said “I do.” He has joined Perkins+Will’s board and will oversee the firm’s North Carolina offices in Charlotte and Durham. The latter will merge with Freelon’s 50-person firm, also in Durham.

Phil Harrison, P+W’s CEO, believes it’s a good fit. “We value his approach to design and share core values: civically engaged projects about the community and the city, his commitment to place.”

The move is mutually beneficial. P+W brings an architect with design cred and connections into the fold. Freelon will be able to tap into his new firm’s global network to expand his platform and free him from the need to find partners on large projects, which takes a lot of energy and adds a layer of complexity for both architects and clients.

“Now I will have built-in join venture partner in every major city,” he says.

Freelon will continue with joint-venture partners on current projects, which include the expansion and renovation of the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and the design of the Northwest Branch Library, both in Atlanta. 

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