Storytelling and Design

Lenzkirch: The "Not Quite" 100 Year Old Clock That Keeps On Ticking

Many objects offer a sense of reconnection with our past. It’s the experience we had with the object that invokes some sort of meaning. But what if an object has been passed down through generations with little information about the story behind it? Does it hold the same meaning even if it wasn’t originally your object?

The point is that even if an object wasn’t originally in your possession, it can still have some sort of “mystique” about it. Family artifacts can still be a part of your life even if they were passed down because at some point, it held meaning for someone in your family. It had a purpose, and in a way “carries” all the memories from this person’s former life. In fact, sometimes it’s the lack of story that creates a story.

Who saw it? Who owned it? Into whose hands did it pass? Why did they keep it? Why was it important to them?

As the keeper of the object, you can now give it a place of its own even if the story and/or meaning are undefined. By holding on to a family heirloom, you’re keeping a bit of history and are giving an object value that has somehow managed to transcend both time and space. It’s also a sign of respect that what mattered once to your family, also matters to you even in a totally different time.

My mother grew up in war torn Czechoslovakia and her family lost virtually everything they owned during the war. One of the items they owned (and managed to hold on to) was a wooden clock that they kept in their family home. It’s a Lenzkirch clock that, at the time, was the height of German design and craftsmanship. Lenzkirch, a small town in the German Black Forest region, housed a factory that produced the clocks from 1860 to 1932. While the clock’s ticking doesn’t last for days, it actually still works and has found a home on our dining room cabinet. When I wind it up, it seems quite haunting as the aging timepiece springs into action in what is I’m sure a shadow of its former self.

The scuffed back panel is no longer held together by four screws. Only one remains to hold the panel in place. Other than a small piece of wood missing from the front panel, everything else seems to be in order. Pretty extraordinary considering the estimated age of the clock. I wonder who was tampering with the clock, where the original screws went, why the clock was being tampered with and where it was when the panel was opened up?

Although my Mom is unsure as to the exact date of the clock, she remembers seeing it even as a child. She says it was her mother who kept the clock throughout her life in Czechoslovakia, then through her time in Germany – and eventually brought it with her to Canada where she kept it until her death in 1994. Looking at the timeline, my Mom figures it probably dates back to the 1920’s and, considering its importance to my grandmother, was most likely a wedding gift. Unfortunately with my grandmother no longer with us, we will most certainly never know the truth. All of which adds to the eternal story and mystique surrounding this unique and endearing family artifact.

 

Lenzkirch


Life and Death In New Orleans (Why Jewellery Is No Match For A Hurricane)

To some, a piece of jewellery is just a piece of jewellery. A static item that represents fashion sensibility, style or status.  Yet to others, the underlying story behind a favourite piece of jewellery may actually be more valuable than the value of the item itself.

I love New Orleans  and have visited there twice. I’m amazed at the energy, life and vibrancy of the place. Unless you experience it for yourself, it’s impossible to understand its magic – magic that makes you fall in love with it over and over again.

In October 2011, my husband and I took a much anticipated trip to NOLA and one afternoon found ourselves in the French Market. The market is a well-known eclectic spot where vendors sell food, food items, clothing and jewellery and other items. I was wandering around when I was struck by a table filled with vibrant colours. The table was full of fun, funky and unique jewellery made by NOLA native Russell Gore. I fell in love with several of the pieces and started talking to Russell. Turns out he was raised in the not so nice part of NOLA called the projects (St. Thomas housing development). His colourful jewellery, dubbed “Made in the Ghetto”, is a stark contrast to the harsh reality faced by others who had a similar upbringing.

Russell

(Photo courtesy of Richard Critz Photography http://prints.rwcfoto.com/)
 

Russell was wearing a huge gold medallion around his neck which he made out of his wife’s gold after she died in his arms during Hurricane Katrina. His life was filled with hardship and tragedy, and could have gone a different route had he not chosen art and photography as a way out of a seemingly desperate situation.

What struck me most about Russell (over and above his incredible talent) was his kindness, compassion and energy for everything and everyone. He had faced such tragedy, yet didn’t seem hardened by it all. There was energy and optimism in his voice.

After talking for a while, I mentioned that I had just been to the music store to buy CD’s by NOLA legend Kermit Ruffins. He told us he knew Kermit, and invited us to attend a local bar called Bullets where Kermit was performing that night. We smiled and said we would try to make it, not knowing anything about this place or part of town where it was located.

Bullets is a hole in the wall sports bar in the 7th ward area in New Orleans (Treme area). The neighbourhood looks tough and some of the clientele equally so. In spite of the “off the beaten path” location, the reviews were excellent and we decided to take a chance. We took a cab to the bar yet even the cab driver got lost. After driving around for what seemed like the longest 20 minutes of my life, we eventually found our way and made it to Bullets. The place had an amazing vibe and quite a mix of demographic. From biker jackets to well-dressed senior couples, anyone was welcome there and no one seemed to care who you were – or where you were from.

Kermit showed up and the place went wild. Russell walked in and everyone knew him. Turns out that if you know Russell and if he likes you, you’re treated with grace and respect. And so we were.

We had a blast. Strangers would raise their glass and everyone was dancing on the floor. Russell was total class, and even chased down Kermit so I could have a picture with him. For those who don’t know, Kermit Ruffins is to NOLA what Bruce Springsteen is to New Jersey.

We talked to the owner of the bar who was a total sweetheart. He told us the story of how he lived through Hurricane Katrina and lost several friends in the process. In great detail, he described the water levels and bodies floating down the streets. One could not help but get teary eyed. Bullets was one of the anchors during the storm and somehow he was able to feed many of the locals. In these parts, he’s known as a hero. He knew and respected everyone, and they did the same. To me, he represented the strength, optimism and resilience shown by many in the New Orleans area.

I still wear the jewellery I bought from Russell. A colourful guitar decorative piece – and eclectic piece I like to think symbolizes life and hope amidst the despair of the projects. To this day, I get more compliments and inquiries on his jewellery than any other pieces I own.

Russell_Guitar

I always wondered what became of Russell and hoped for the best. While researching his story, I came across a recent clip of him on CNN. He was interviewed for a 10th Anniversary story of Katrina  and seems to be doing well.  

When someone compliments me on his jewellery, it’s also a compliment to Russell. So the next time you see an interesting piece of jewellery on someone, take a moment to ask them about it. Because sometimes an object as small and seemingly insignificant as a piece of jewellery can represent a story far more intriguing and inspirational than you can ever imagine.

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Emotional Architecture - Uncovering The "Secret Narrative" Behind Building Design

Asmoothlyv2_6In the book Mavericks at Work: Why the Most Original Minds in Business Win, authors William C. Taylor (a co-founder and founding editor of Fast Company Magazine) and Polly LaBarre (former senior editor of Fast Company Magazine) discuss the work of New York based influential architect and designer David Rockwell.

Founded in 1984, the Rockwell Group has completed over 200 projects including work on some of the world's trendiest hotels, restaurants and entertainment spaces. Rockwell's reputation for designing spaces that attract and engage an audience keeps his work in high demand. What separates Rockwell from his competitors is his ability to connect emotionally with people by examining the "secret narrative" behind a building. Rather than looking purely at the external elements of design, his design philosophy involves story lines and an examination of people's interactions with a building.

To Rockwell, "The first and most important piece of every job is to tell a unique and relevent story about the space, the product, or the experience. Story is the fundamental platform for organizing ideas. That's how you connect emotionally with people."

Before his team even sits down to design a building, they spend time with potential visitors, prospective clients and other key stakeholders. They map out the "backstory" behind the building to discover a set of themes that link the space to the lives of its users. The "secret narrative" that they discover serves as the basis behind every design decision.

Banner_logo_3Rockwell's approach to "secret narrative" is evident in the design behind the Children's Hospital at Montefiore. The client turned to Rockwell in the hopes of delivering a memorable experience, and he delivered. Prior to beginning the design work, Rockwell and his team immersed themselves in the experience of hospitalization to get a perspective from children, parents, nurses and physicians. Through research, they discovered a core theme of kids as "explorers on a journey to health." They began to substitute curiousity for fear, and used moments of fear to provide children with information - as well as instill them with a sense of wonder and delight. The story had to be strong enough to convince people to join in, and the team succeeded at every level.

On the third floor, you can see Carl Sagan's idea (reportedly a long time friend of the client) that "we are star stuff" etched in murals of snowflakes and stars. Patient rooms don't have numbers, only constellations or animals according to the floor's theme. Child height exhibits encourage kids to create their own drawings and sculptures in well-stocked lounges strategically placed on each floor.

Rockwell and his team found out that 70% of the kids experienced the hospital from their beds, and they designed fun ceiling tiles with hopeful messages. Even the sound of the privacy curtain around their bed was tweaked to be more appealing.

Part of Rockwell's success lies in his ability to design and create spaces that people care about. By incorporating story into all aspects of design, people sense that they're in a special space and somehow know that "they're in a place that has an underlying intelligence."

Why do you think that the concepts used successfully by Rockwell haven't been used by many others? Is the "secret narrative" approach something that can be applied to other areas - consumer goods, food, advertising, etc.? What do you think of the idea of designing things or spaces with underlying intelligence?