Some days Jason Kottke effortlessly proves why he is the elder statesman of the link blog, and today is one of those days. He points to a post by architect-turned-techie David Galbraith that compares Steve Jobs and Norman Foster, who is designing the new Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California. It’s worth noting that Galbraith once worked for Foster.
Kottke pulls a paragraph packed full of gems:
Perfecting the model of selling design that is compatible with big business, Foster simultaneously grew one of the largest architecture practices in the world while still winning awards for design excellence. The secret was to design buildings like the limited edition, invite only Porsches that Foster drove and fellow Porsche drivers would commission them. Jobs went further, however, he managed to create products that were designed like Porsches and made them available to everyone, via High Tech that transcended stylistic elements. An Apple product really was high technology and its form followed function, it went beyond the Porsche analogy by being truly fit for purpose in a way that a Porsche couldn’t, being a car designed for a speed that you weren’t allowed to drive. Silicon Valley capitalism had arguably delivered what the Soviets had dreamed of and failed, modernism for the masses. An iPhone really is the best phone you can buy at any price. To paraphrase Andy Warhol: Lady Gaga uses an iPhone, and just think, you can have an iPhone too. An iPhone is an iPhone and no amount of money can get you a better phone. This was what American modernism was about.
Galbraith ends with an interesting idea that I never thought about regarding the new Apple mothership [emphasis mine]:
It would be a fitting cap to an illustrious career and the achievement of a long term goal that Fosters never quite pulled off (even if you include the Hearst Tower in NY) to re-import his quintessentially American style from Europe, repeating what Jonathan Ive did for product design under Jobs, and to produce something that becomes an American cultural landmark, something which Silicon Valley lacks.
After at least two decades of transforming the world, it’s pretty incredible that Silicon Valley has never created a landmark that defines itself and its role (or at least ambition) in the world. If any one tech company is capable of doing that I think it would be Apple.
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Related: The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Arts and Crafts) in Hamburg, Germany is showing an exhibition titled Stylectrical: On Electro-Design That Makes History, which will exhibit 300 different items that showcase “the complex development processes of industrial electrical design in a cultural studies context.” More than half of these will be Apple products.
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