And the search goes on

This is a great small piece from cool hunting on the MOMA show Design and the Elastic Mind curated by Paola Antonelli.

Note her remarks on Tinkering or Thinkering and their relationship to the noble bricoleur of Levi-Strauss and the Talk at the National Art Center in Tokyo from the previous post.


Talk National Art Center Tokyo


National Art Center  TALK 31 October 2008 


After thoughts and evolution

Presentations and re-considerations, thoughts and adjustments, this transcription is the transformation and translation of a talk given Friday the 31st of October at the National Art Center in Tokyo. Its purpose is to focus and yet expand upon positions and intentions presented.

In a constant search for simplicity, clarity and fluidity, the topics illustrated during the lecture have evolved. We live in a rapidly changing world. As a result it becomes more and more difficult and equally irrelevant to try to firmly define things. What is ok today might not be tomorrow.  Creation is indeed a never ending story.

Thus a final and definitive thesis is not the objective here. Rather this is a “snapshot” taken at Talk Day + 7 of a reflective or creative process and positioning.

The initial topic of the conference was

Technology & Tradition in Design.

The work of ebi is not technology (defined as the study of science and techniques) driven but rather based upon the age old tradition of the artisan or of craftsmanship as practiced in France,

It is therefore necessary to requalify the theme of the conference.

Invention & Tradition or Improvisation

as the

“D-Stop” in Design

As this new theme will be referred to throughout this ‘post’, for economy of means let’s call it by a shorter code name: INVENTRA.

So what is INVENTRA? Inventra is quite simply the meeting of the word, invention, defined by Wikipedia as: 

An invention is the discovery or creation of a new configuration, compositionof matter, device, or process. Some inventions are based on pre-existing models or ideas. Other inventions are radicalbreakthroughs which may extend the boundariesof human knowledge or experience. Inventions that get out into the world are innovations, and may be a major breakthroughs or of minor and incremental impact. The effects can also be in between these two extremes.

The Pictogram Kitchen by Elliott Barnes

The Pictogram Kitchen by Elliott Barnes

And the word tradition also defined by the same source and translated from French as:

Tradition is the continued transmission of a cultural content across history originating in a founding or immemorial event. This immaterial heritage can constitute the vector of the identity of a human community. In a more absolute sense tradition is the memory or the collective conscience: the remembrance of what was with the obligation that it be handed down over time and enriched.

The third major element of the term INVENTRA is improvisation. But how does this notion of improvisation, so often applied to the jazz music genre find a place in the design process?

From a creative point of view its use is a manner in which to maintain a true freshness in proposing solutions. When one improvises in design there is the chance to make and arrange from whatever materials and “scriptures” are available. As no previous preparation has taken place the improvised design makes no formal value judgments as to whether, in the grand scheme, a chosen “geste” is stylistically appropriate or not. Rather what is fundamentally important is that the chosen detail or material responds locally to the specific situation.

Improvisational design is not style conscious (as such it is the D-Stop of design) It can unblock or “un-clog” design solutions driven by accepted tendencies or trends.

Cheese Grater by Inga Sempe

Cheese Grater by Inga Sempe

Design improvisers expose rather than impose.In his seminal piece The Savage Mind Claude Levi Strauss, makes a similar case across an age old French term for the fix it man: the ‘bricoleur. Though in common French parlance the term has somewhat of a negative connotation, through Levi Strauss’s definition a new, less, judgementally negative light is cast.

“The set of the ‘bricoleur’s’ means cannot therefore be defined in terms of a project (which would presuppose besides, that, as in the case of the engineer, there were, at least in theory, as many sets of tools and materials, or ‘instrumental sets’, as there are different kinds of projects. It is to be defined only by its potential use…) because the elements are collected or retained on the principle that ‘they may always come in handy’. Such elements are specialized up to a point, sufficiently for the ‘bricoleur’ to need the equipment and knowledge of all trades and professions, but not enough for each of them to have only one definite and determinate use. They represent a set of actual and possible relations; they are ‘operators’, but they can be used for any operations of the same type.”

In Collision City and the Politics of ‘Bricolage’ the architectural and urban critic /theoretician Colin Rowe echoes Levi Strauss’s position but with a more architectonic orientation.

“For if we can divest ourselves of the deceptions of professional amour proper and accepted academic theory, the description of the ‘bricoleur’ is far more of a ‘real-life’ specification of what the architect-urbanist is and does than any fantasy deriving from ‘methodology’ and ‘systemics’.

From this perspective, systemic design solutions are placed on the sidelines out of necessity for more appropriate situation derived adjusted or inspired responses; even at the risk that at some level they might be contradictory, there are no pre-set answers.

INVENTRA or improvisation is the antidote of a stylistic design approach, which by definition is systemic and singular.

Design styles have not only the tendency but the prime objective to restrain the users of a said style into a certain vocabulary, language and thus manner of expression.

Abacus Divider by Elliott Barnes

Abacus Divider by Elliott Barnes

In today’s multilayered global cultural cocktail, the one object, one space, one design style approach though forceful and certainly precise is none the less too restrictive.

Improvisation offers the possibility of multiple horizons while still acknowledging a design heritage.















l’entre deux

La décision d’habiter l’espace au dessus,

De ne pas être en contact avec la rue,

La décision de survoler les courants de la ville,
De se libérer des habitudes et des tendances,

D’associer le passé, le présent et le futur, de vivre une vie contemporaine, sans limite ni attente.






L’expression architecturale d’une vie contemporaine sans limite se manifeste à travers des ambiances, matériaux et détails qui incitent au rêve, fait patienter la réalité et s’épanouie dans l’entre deux.

Le DUC des LOMBARDS jazz club and restaurant, Paris FRANCE

Elliott Barnes has just completed the redesign of the internationally acclaimed jazz club


The club’s design stems from a commitment to provide the best playing environment for the musicians and the best listening environment for the audience. Emphasis is placed upon creating a situation for high quality sound, soft evocative lighting and comfortable seating.

The entrance to the club and restaurant is through a Makassar ebony box lit from above by a James Turell inspired blue colored oval. The focal point of the entry is a continuous video of seductive cigarette/cigar smoke in a work commissioned by the designer from a young French video artist. The hostess desk in beige leather is a contemporary take on big band musicians stands.

The overall color scheme is based upon a little known jazz suite by Duke Ellington entitled Black, Brown & Beige. This is exemplified in the use of Makassar ebony veneers, chocolate asphalt floors, and beige leather covered bar. The walls are covered in the sound absorbing material Herakilth painted in a dark khaki color. The exterior glazed walls are covered in the evening by a quilted blue satin sound curtain whose grid is based upon piano mover padded covers.

Alvar Aalto designed the brass suspended lighting fixtures in 1932.  They float above tables and evoque the bells of trumpets. The tables are in walnut with an inlaid black mother of pearl strip inspired by the inlays in trumpet pistons. The arm chairs named “Glynell” were specially designed by the Elliott Barnes for the club.

The design of the stage allows the musicians to play in the round. The audience thus encircles the stage which provides for a warmer and stronger connection between artist and listener.

In this project, the designer has positioned himself as a double bassist in a jazz ensemble. Providing the orientation and tempo he also allows space for other soloists.

The stage curtain was created by the young up and coming American artist Edgar Arceneaux. Elliott and Edgar, both from Los Angeles, met for the first time in Paris in September 2007. The artist was offered a “carte blanche” opportunity to create a unique piece that would not just be a backdrop for the stage but would rather operate as another instrument, albeit visual, during the performances.  The response was: Duke Ellington 3 Part Suite –A reflection on “Take the A Train, Transbluescency and Mood Indigo.

A monumental stair leads one to the mezzanine level. The stairs were dimensioned, and the hand railing designed so that spectators could also use the stairs as occasional seating. To the right of the stair is the acoustically designed “key” wall incorporating vertical placed LED light slits which give a subtle rhythmic glow. At the mezzanine there is a play between large screen video monitors which heighten the viewing pleasure and more classic art works commissioned by the designer.

The result is a multilayered design assemblage where different artists and artistic expressions connect and disconnect.

Bauhaus in Israel


It stands to wonder, but somehow in architectural history classes (at least in my day some 28 years ago) never mention the fact that Tel Aviv has the worlds best collection/experiments of Bauhaus architecture in the world. They are all in one city, and quite often within walking distance from one another. Though UNESCO has decalred them a world monumentnt, heses architectural gems are often in disrepair, badly transformed, and in some cases destroyed to make way for…. newer better buildings? Escapes me!

During my former life as Andrée Putman’s partner, I had the chance to travel to Israel and Tel Aviv no less than 80 times, while we renovated another famous, but non-Bauhaus, structure called the Pagoda House (a photo of it is featurerd in the photo section of reference site). During these visits, though preoccupied with the design/renovation for the Pagoda, I had the chance to see many of the buildings featured.

One building which is not featured is the Erich Mendelsohn designed and built President’s house, the Villa Weizmann, at The Weizmann Institute of Science, also known as Machon Weizmann a university and research institute in Rehovot, Israel.

I had the great pleasure of visiting this simple and modest structure. When I was there it was in need of a little restoration and interior design work. Let’s hope that someone had the same feeling and was able to raise the necessary funds.

In any event have a look at the site and make the trip to Tel Aviv in December!