September 28, 2014

Design for Life, Design for Living

Even though it was a stunning weekend here in Maryland, I spent much if it inside at a variety of lectures exploring a similar topic: how design influences the way we live and how it can change lives for the better.

On Saturday, as part of a weekend symposium by The Future Symphony Institute, the Baltimore Architecture Foundation hosted our annual Lewis Lecture on Architecture with Léon Krier, a classically trained pianist and architect specializing in New Urbanism. He has also been the consultant to HRH Prince Charles and his Poundbury project. The lecture had the rather frightening title “The Fear of Backwardness and its Consequences on Architecture and Art”. I was a bit worried.IMG_4152

But it turned out that I was in complete agreement with Mr. Krier’s thinking, especially those thoughts regarding classical v. modern architecture. Let’s just say he’s not a modernist. What made the lecture so interesting was that it was illustrated with Mr. Krier’s charming line drawings, which helped get his point across in a clear and concise manner. He argues that you can never have a workable city with either all vernacular or all classical architecture. A good city needs a mix of both. (Sorry for the crap images!)IMG_4173

Vernacular is one of those words that architects toss about, but all that it means is that the architecture is “home grown” and that it fits the land, the climate and the people where it’s located. As an example, think of the American Southwest, and contrast the houses there with those in New England. IMG_4183

Krier argued that cities need a mix of public and private buildings and a mix of heights and shapes to feel comfortable. IMG_4191

One area where Krier and I are in complete and total agreement is our dislike of modernist architecture. His point was that windows, doors, roofs and the like have evolved over thousands of years, yet they are inherently unchanged. IMG_4204IMG_4207

This is one of my main architectural criticisms – I call it point-and-click architecture, when shutters don’t have a relationship with the windows, when Palladian-style windows crop all over the place instead of relating to the building, when synthetic materials are used in place of the real thing, mainly to cut costs. Of course, my prime example of this is the Redneck Taj Mahal I wrote about several months ago.

Another complaint that we both have, is the completely shoddy construction that’s the new normal. Krier had an excellent chart showing how the buildings at Yale had been renovated. Although it’s a little hard to read, you can see that the oldest buildings held up the best, and the newest building – one from 1975, was being renovated 15 years after it was built.IMG_4208

All in all, an excellent lecture, and I was pleased that we were able to bring Krier to Baltimore to speak.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Zipping forward from the past and classical architecture, to the future and 3-D printing and all that it can do, the second lecture I attended also had a rather daunting name. IMG_4233

One out of every thousand children is born without a hand, and J, my 7-year old nephew, is one of them. He does quite well by working around issues, and can even ride a regular bike. But when Dr. Albert Chi called my brother a few weeks ago and asked whether J would like to participate in a prototype project where they would PRINT him a hand, the family leapt at the chance. Dr. Chi’s specialty is trauma surgery with a specialty in missing limbs.IMG_4230If you don’t know, prosthetic limbs can range in price from $10,000 to more than $90,000, but a 3-D printed hand or arm costs only about $50 in materials. This project, called E-nable, is working with programmers, software engineers and scientists to create these limbs, and they are doing it through open-source software that will be available to anyone. IMG_4228

This has particular resonance to our wounded warriors, as well as the victims of war and other disasters in poverty-stricken countries across the world. It’s truly a revolutionary idea and one that will be life-changing for so many.

While J’s prototype arm is in the rudimentary stages, as both he and the technology grow, it will become more and more sophisticated and he will be able to do more and more with it. IMG_4226

One of the truly incredible things about the organization that is doing this work is how they do it: One man learned that limbs could be printed on 3-D printers, so he made a little YouTube video about it and added a Google map, asking people to click on the map if they had a 3D printer. IMG_4225More than 300 people did, and also volunteered to print out limbs for children in families across the country. Working together to tweak the software and make adjustments, dozens of completed arms were delivered to children this afternoon to the absolute joy of them and their families.IMG_4219

J got his a few weeks ago, and when my brother sent us a seven-second video of J picking up a glass and then beaming at the camera, we all cried tears of happiness for him and in thanks to the person who had made it for him. Our family is honoured and grateful to be a part of this program.

The remarkable thing about this whole program is that it is just about a year old, and all the advances that have been in that time are astonishing. Click here to see more about the E-nable program.

September 25, 2014

O, Say, Did You See…

The University of Baltimore had a poster competition in conjunction with the Star-Spangled 200 celebrations, and I’ve just had a chance to see the winners and some of the other posters which were entered. I am continually struck by how creative people are.

The theme of the competition was simple, and what we’ve been focused on all summer: The 200th anniversary of the Battle of Baltimore and the writing of the U.S. National Anthem. And it had to be poster size. That was about it.

Here’s the winner.

Keith Moores Professional Grand Prize200

Katie Watkins Student Grand Prizeimage

Stephan Shattuck  Award of Excellenceimage

Ana Hayes-Perez  Award of Excellenceimage

David Sebastiao  Award of Excellenceimage

Sarah Poe  Award of Excellenceimage

Sophia Greenbaum  Award of Excellenceimage

Daphne Clem  Award of Excellenceimage

My sweet friend, Wesley Stuckey - Art Direction and Illustration  Award of Excellenceimage

Cheng Caoimage

Tommy Ryanimage

Which poster do you like the best?  Why?

For the remaining posters, please click here.

September 23, 2014

Cheese Domes

No, that’s not the name of some sports stadium in Wisconsin (but it might be!). It’s something I found at auction the other week and since I acquired it, I’ve been doing a little research on cheese domes. I am not talking about those glass and teak cheese domes that everyone who got married in the 1970’s and 1980’s received as a wedding present.

This is what I am talking about. A seriously big, porcelain dome! Very trendy during the Victorian era, and like so much during that time, frequently over-decorated!image

Many of the majolica cheese domes were made by George Jones & Sons, an English pottery, active in Stoke-on-Trent from 1861 to 1951. They specialized in majolica, and cheese domes fit within their line of wares. image

The cheese dome I got is similar to some of the majolica ones from George Jones, but much simpler. While it has the basket weaving around the base, and the branch handle on the top, it lacks the dogwood flowers. To see a whole range of George Jones cheese domes, click here.

Hmmm… looking at the one on the left makes me wonder if I don’t have the plate upside down! It has the same basket weave on it and I was curious why it would be on the bottom of the plate!

Since there are no markings on the platter, it’s hard to tell!

Here’s another one with the fencing, or basket weave.image

Cheese domes like this were used to keep cheeses at room temperature, as they are better that way instead of straight out of the fridge. Especially soft cheese like brie or Camembert. imageA tall cheese dome like the one I got might be used to store an English cheese like stilton which is often in a tall cylindrical shape. It is another cheese that benefits from being eaten at room temperature.image

There is also another style of cheese dome, and that’s in a wedge shape.

This would be for smaller cheeses, and perhaps ones that are more wedge shaped, like a nice English cheddar or a Welsh Caerphilly (which is what I wanted to name Connor). image

The cheese wedge I have has some small ridges to keep the cheese slightly elevated, and make it easier to cut.

All of the ones I’ve seen have a small hole in the lid so that the cheese can breathe. If a cheese can’t breathe, it can acquire that ammonia smell which is rather unpleasant.

If you’d like to see more cheese domes, do a search on Pinterst. There are plenty to see!

September 21, 2014

Flowers on Sunday

I was out at Halcyon House Antiques this weekend and went up to the house to pick some flowers. And what gorgeous flowers they were.  I showed you the garden a few weeks ago, and in the middle of September, it’s getting that louche, overgrown look that I adore. IMG_2746

We headed into the garden at around 5:00 p.m. and wonderfully, there were loads of bees buzzing round all of the flowers, and Jonathan warned me to be careful when I was picking flowers because the bees were so active. Bees are disappearing, so it was good to see so many in the garden, although butterflies have been scarce this year.

I came home with a huge bucket of flowers, as well as some large and small tomatoes and some basil. I think that next to peonies and gardenias, dahlias are my favourite flowers.IMG_4085

I quickly set about arranging the flowers, using my trusty champagne bucket. I can’t tell you how helpful a flower frog is when working with flowers like these with heavy heads. You stick the stems in the holes which hold the stems in place. They’re hard to find, but work brilliantly.image

After fiddling around a little, I finally made an arrangement that I liked. IMG_4086


I used the burgundy and purple dahlias along with some deep red coxcomb. I’ve set it on a table in front of my Japanese silk painting that I love, and I think it works perfectly.

But I still had some flowers left over. These amazing flowers are Leonotis leonurus aka Lion's Tail. IMG_4083This is an African plant related to mint, with tubular flowers that encircle a square stem. I was fascinated by the plant, never having seen it before.


I knew that this plant called for a tall container, so I pulled out a silver ewer with a rattan handle (to keep it cool to the touch), and put the Lion’s Tail in it. IMG_4090IMG_4095

The plant’s leaves echo the ones in the painting perfectly!

I accidentally cut some of the flowers too short, so I added them to other vases. This one’s floating in a piece of old English china. although you can’t really tell. IMG_4113

This is a deep purple, so dark that it almost looks black.IMG_4097IMG_4101The leaves are such a velvety texture and the colour is just fabulous.

I also loved this purple and white variegated variety. IMG_4115

These flowers just make me so happy and I am pleased to share them with you.

Also garden related, my friend Loi Thai, over at the beautiful blog, Tone on Tone, was up in Baltimore visiting us a few weeks ago, and he had a chance to see this garden, too. imagePlease click here to see Loi’s take on this garden. He took pictures immediately after a rainy day, and I took them the next day which was sunny. It’s fun to see how differently we looked at the same garden.