From the category archives:

Mind Over Matter

Grace Jeffers' love affair with materials began at nine years old, when the other students used paper doilies to decorate their Valentine’s Day project, she shingled hers in laminate.

Ethical Metalsmiths: Working to Eliminate the Dark Side of Jewelry

Africa produces 8.5 billion dollars in diamonds a year, yet over a million diamond miners live in poverty earning under one dollar a day.  For many, this is the equivalent of slave labor.   The demand for jewellery accounts for more than 80 percent of the gold mined currently, yet gold mining is the world’s leading cause of manmade mercury pollution, destroying the world's water and air supply.   Do you sense a disconnect here?Some of the world’s oldest and most precious commodities are acquired using methods that destroy the environment, devastate land, fish and animal species, and dismiss the human rights of workers around the globe. So what exactly is the cost of these jewels?   While many people are aware of unethical “blood diamond” mining in Africa in particular, gold mining is also especially problematic worldwide. Processing operations called heap-leaching and amalgamation use the harmful chemicals cyanide and mercury, respectively, to extract a minuscul ...

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Know Your Giraffe

Who loves animal prints? Many of us associate a crazed, crackled pattern with brown pieces separated by jagged white lines as a “giraffe pattern” but did you know that there are distinct giraffe patterns and color schemes? There are 9 subspecies of giraffe and each can be identified by their own coat pattern and colors! The most stereotypical graphic interpretation of a giraffe pattern features well defined bright orange-brown colored patches separated by bold white lines. One of the key features is the sharp edges, or overall crispness of the pattern. This pattern is distinctive of the Reticulated or Somali Giraffe. It has a coat pattern of well-defined patches that are normally a bright orange-brown color. Ironically, this most common animal print represents one of the rarest giraffe subspecies. It has been estimated that fewer than 5.000 of these creatures remain in the wild. This subspecies lives in northeastern Kenya, southern Ethiopia and Somalia. The pattern may be so familiar to ...

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Recognize Ethical Designers with a Habitat Protection Award from PETA

This month, Grace urges PETA and designers to take one step further in partnership and stewardship.

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Sweaters: the Lusekofte of Norway

In the next few features we will examine the patterns and materials of several different traditional sweaters and see how tradition informs trends in design. Today, we’ll focus on the Lusekofte of Norway.

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Miniature Buildings

Ann McCallum is a former professor at Williams College who taught the Architecture II course for 24 years. One of her assignments was a special favorite amongst advanced students: to design a building (more specifically, a museum) using the design idiom of a renowned architect and to build a model of it. In a special exhibition on view at the Williams College Museum of Art, nearly 100 models produced over a decade by McCallum’s students are currently on display. For this assignment, McCallum asked each student to select a renowned architect and to study their chosen architect’s work over the course of a semester. This way students learned specific artistic strategies. As a final project, they designed museum facades in the styles of their selected architects. Ultimately producing the models exhibited at Williams College today. Though these miniature buildings echo familiar forms and quote signature idioms, they ultimately convey a new built environment—offering an unconventional opport ...

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Mirror: Material and Metaphor

Since the dawn of civilization man has used mirrors for practical and religious purposes. They can be seen as a symbol of vanity or an object of insight; today they are even used as safety and security devices. From the biblical “through a glass darkly” to Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass;" mirrors imbue our folklore and popular culture with a reflection not only of ourselves and the world around us, but into other worlds as well. Mirrors have also taken on many forms as society has changed and new technologies were invented. In order for a smooth surface to act as a mirror, it must reflect as much of the light as possible and must transmit and absorb as little as possible. In order to reflect light rays without scattering or diffusing them, a mirror’s surface must be perfectly smooth or its irregularities must be smaller than the wavelength of the light being reflected. (The wavelengths of visible light are on the order of 5 by 10−5 cm). In a new bo ...

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CITES: Endangered Versus Threatened Wood Species

Would you ever consider upholstering a chair in tiger or panda fur? I am sure you are saying “No!” at this moment and recoiling at the thought. Why wouldn’t you consider the use of these materials? Because these animals are endangered and we know that to kill them is to destroy the last of their species. Did you know that there are tree species that are similarly endangered, tree species that we specify daily for furniture, flooring, and interiors?

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There is just something about ceramics. Something intimate, something infinitely familiar. The story has it that Prometheus fashioned man out of clay and he loved his creations so much that he gave them the gift of fire. Man fires earth just as we toast bread and it becomes something magically delicious, we fire earth and it transforms into a miracle.   While walking the Coverings trade show in April I read this manifesto written by Maiarelli Studio for Ceramics of Italy and was so moved I thought I would share it here:   "We Care: A Declaration of Purpose:   We begin with what we stand on: clay and sand. We form it into slabs and fire it at volcanic temperatures. Our tile can be humble. It can be majestic. It can be shaped in an infinite number of ways. A single tile can be as large as a table, as thin as wire. It can withstand fire. It can withstand extreme conditions. It breathes with its environment. It lasts for decades. It is not merely decoration. It ...

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Material Liability

At NeoCon earlier this month I saw an increasing trend towards using “greener,” “more natural,” and “less toxic” materials. But did you ever ask yourself “Why do they put all this stuff in materials anyway?” No one wakes up in the morning and says, “I am going to manufacture the most toxic products possible.” And yet there are many materials that the design community is now trying to avoid due to this very issue.


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Selling the Dwelling

Home ownership wasn’t always common in the United States. For a nation in which 67.4 percent of its citizens own their own homes this seems unfathomable but Americans had to be coaxed into becoming homeowners. Selling the Dwelling: The Books That Built America’s Houses, 1775-2000 shows the 225 year story of how "the American dream" of home ownership was made accessible.

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  • Mind Over Matter

    Grace Jeffers' love affair with materials began at nine years old, when the other students used paper doilies to decorate their Valentine’s Day project, she shingled hers in laminate.

  • Inside Sources

    The I&S editors’ blog will chronicle our adventures through the world of design and provide a behind-the-scenes look into the creation of the products and projects that inspire us day in and day out.

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    Continuing coverage on our monthly issue topics, because all the news that's fit to print has a backstory—or one that's still unfolding.

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