Temple Rome Tracy Huang

Straight Lines and Paper Bags

Forget the fact that my Italian language skills are almost nonexistent, and I can definitely see myself living in Milan.  Everyone is dressed nicely, the streets are clean, and the only touristy hotspot is the Duomo di Milano.  Unlike Rome, Milan is to Italy what New York City is to America, except all the tourists are confined to a single area since the Duomo is the only “famous” historical building in the entire metropolitan area.  However, for a student of design like myself, Milan is heaven.  Looks like it as least from on top of the Duomo.  I love that the city seems to stretch on forever, and that mix of modern and Renaissance architecture somehow looks just right.

Panorama of the breathtaking view on top of the Duomo di Milano.

With a major in civil engineering, a certificate in architectural engineering, and a minor in visual arts, I never realized how strongly my studies have impacted my taste until I returned from Milan.  The two objects I felt attracted to the most during the trip simply scream creative minimalism.  The TR 011, a lamp designed by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake in 2012, has origins in a mathematically driven computer formula, whereas the Zig Zag chair, by Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld in 1934, has one that is less apparently rational, though careful calculations had to have been performed in order to achieve the genius of a shape so comfortable to the body while also easy to manufacture.  Both items are expensive, though Rietveld created his chair with mass production, standardization, prefabrication, and common availability in mind.  Furthermore, although the two designs were conceived almost eighty years apart, Rietveld’s chair would fit perfectly at a table on top of which Miyake’s lamp stands.

Zig Zag chair by Gerrit Rietveld, 1934
TR 011 lamp by Issey Miyake, 2012
Jil Sander lunch bag

As part of a project that Professor Krizek assigned for the excursion, I rated these products based on a set of categories with the requirement of creating my own.  I added a quality called “societal contribution,” which evaluates the goodness or value that the product contributes to humanity.  This notion arose out of a Jil Sander handbag that I recently came across.  The purse is literally a brown paper bag treated with chemicals to prevent tears that costs about $300.  At first, my reaction was, who would ever pay for something like that?!  But then, as I thought about it more and considered all that I had seen during my weekend in Milan, was the $300 price tag not reasonable, if not, a bargain?  It is a piece of wearable art after all.  Jil Sander had forever changed my view of paper bagging.  And is that not the point of art?  To challenge the status quo and emerge with new thoughts, concepts, and ways of thinking about the seemingly ordinary?  Finding beauty in ugliness?  Yet, I personally cannot justify it.  Who says that art must be expensive?  That only the wealthy are worthy of it?  And that is where I agree with Rietveld.  Miyake’s lamp is breathtaking, but the modernist philosophy speaks to me.  The world would be nothing without those trying to better it.  I do not believe art in for art’s sake, as in Miyake’s lamp, but, instead, hold to the belief of finding beauty in the rational.

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