When the Sight Unseen and Uhuru teams rolled up the grate and entered the Great Jones Lumber building on Monday, May 9, it was like déjà vu all over again — one full year after we’d closed the door on the inaugural Noho Design District, the space’s vast rooms were as dark, empty, and beautifully raw as when we first laid eyes on them, but with half-disassembled wooden signs, wayward Macallan cups, and other stray remains of the 2010 festivities still intact. The weight of all the work that lay ahead immediately hit us: four long days of manual labor in order to breathe life back into the building, to transform it from its dormant state into the hub of the 2011 Noho event, where the work of more than 100 designers would be on display for four days.
While we set about organizing the inventory for Sight Unseen’s first pop-up shop and envisioning how best to display the works in our McMasterpieces show, Uhuru were buzzing to and from their Red Hook studio, cutting vinyls and constructing pegboards until the wee hours, not to mention prepping for the launch of their own new furniture line. Fort Standard were busily cutting OSB plinths for their fellow Noho Next-ers. Meanwhile, Vancouver’s Bocci was across the street wrangling a crane from Queens in order to hoist its chandeliers 40 feet into the air, and Relative Space was spreading dozens of cutting-edge designs from Berlin across four tables that spelled out “$HIT.” More than a few of us pulled all-nighters in the process.
But when the dust had cleared — including the actual toxic cloud kicked up by Bernhardt Design‘s professional cleaning service, which creative director and Noho patron Jerry Helling graciously sent over after a mid-week walk-through — it was apparent to everyone that we had created something special. The Noho Design District was conceived as a new platform from which to champion creativity, multidisciplinary work, and emerging talents during New York Design Week, and we had managed to squeeze some of the very best examples of each into an area encompassing less than 15 city blocks. Our thank yous are too long to list here, so instead we’ll present you with a slideshow surveying the events of May 13-16, 2011, including all of the folks who made it possible. And if you’d like to get involved in the 2012 event, it’s never too early to let us know.
Even non-New Yorkers know Soho, the swath of land below Houston Street in Manhattan, colonized by artists in the '60s and now the domain of the rich and the retail-obsessed. Noho, on the other hand, still flirts with obscurity, despite having been home to some of the city's most legendary artists — Robert Mapplethorpe, Frank Stella, and Chuck Close, to name a few — as well as its first Herzog and de Meuron building. Sure, as an emerging neighborhood with several hotels on the rise, its streets are often crisscrossed with ungainly spiderwebs of scaffolding, but beneath that lies a creative energy so strong we at Sight Unseen figured it would be the perfect place to create a new satellite destination during New York design week: the Noho Design District. All of the elements were already there.
What Iceland may lack in sunshine — getting, on average, less than half the amount of rays New Yorkers enjoy annually — it easily compensates for in natural beauty. When it's light outside, the landscape is an almost otherworldly sight, with blackened crags of lava softened by bright heaps of moss and glaciers melting into never-ending expanses of steel-blue sea. When it's dark, there's a symphony of northern lights to behold. With all of that visual stimulation surrounding them it's no wonder Icelanders are aesthetically gifted, with a fashion sense that rivals Stockholm's in its cacophany of colors and textures and a community of designers that needn't look further than their own backyards for inspiration. When Sight Unseen was invited to Reykjavik this past weekend to attend the opening of Iceland's third annual DesignMarch festival, that was precisely what struck us most: Whether the work we saw directly referenced the country's landscape and culture or just told a story about its current state of affairs — as with one designer we met who had to shutter her architecture practice after the bank crash and start anew — the show felt like a singularly local celebration.
The brief itself was simple: Design and build something to sit on. It was the execution part that was hard. From April 16–21, four sets of young American furniture designers each took a turn in the open studios at New York’s Museum of Arts and Design, each with a single purpose: to build and assemble a chair from start to finish, between the time the museum opened at 9AM to the minute the last straggler was ushered out the door at 6. The designers could use any materials they chose, and they were allowed to make preliminary design studies or prototypes before arriving at the museum, but the bulk of the construction work had to be executed on the museum’s 6th floor — in full view of school tours, visiting tourists, families, and itinerant design geeks who wanted a peek at the action. But the exercise wasn’t some reality show–like competition to pit designers against each other or to see whose design would reign supreme. The event was part of The Home Front, a museum project curated by Surface editor Dan Rubinstein, who spearheaded the whole thing in order explore in-depth the business of being a designer in America today.