Design and Science, Past and Future

Design practice and scientific methodology became increasingly intertwined in the twentieth century.  This shift may have begun at the Bauhaus school in Germany, where designers, artists, and architects explored the relevance of industrial materials with an experimental curiosity.  The question that arose then remains much the same today: with our ever-expanding empirical understanding of the universe, how do we retain a sense of beauty?

One example that comes to mind is Josef Albers and his experiments with color interaction.  Advances in the quality and stability of mixed paint in the beginning of the century enabled Albers to control pigments with a scientific exactitude and his findings became more relevant as the distribution of paints increased throughout the century.

The increased control enabled Albers to isolate color as the only variable.  The paintings are both legible as works of art and artifacts of scientific experiment simultaneously.

Another Bauhaus master very close to our hearts is Mies van der Rohe.  At a time when structural engineering was making great strides due to industrial standardization and refined calculation, Mies ventured to give these new technologies architectural relevance.

In his Crown Hall, we can see the limits of the technology tested to give rise to a new architectural expression.  In his inaugural address as Dean of the College of Architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Mies asks, “Where can we find greater structural clarity than in the wooden buildings of old?  Where else can we find such unity of material, construction, and form?”  The themes of clarity and unity appear to be the most essential to Van Der Rohe, and he sought to convey these in a time of changing materials, constructions, and forms.

Now you may think, “a brief analysis of the Bauhaus is all well and good, but what is the relevance to design today?”

Between the time of the Bauhaus and now, nearly one hundred years later, we have seen extraordinary scientific and technological innovations.  If we maintain the Bauhaus assumption that science and design are interdependent, then these advancements must have extensive and reaching ramifications for the design world.  Rather than dive into the depths of elaborating on this technological history (a dissertation or two of its own!) we would like to highlight work which exemplifies the relationship of scientific exploration and design thinking in today’s context.

In the past one hundred years, perhaps some of the most striking scientific developments have been in the fields of biology and computation.  The dramatic improvements in the instruments related to these fields has placed us in a scientific environment unrecognizable to any Bauhaus master.

One designer who has been fast to embrace the new technological connections offered by this intellectual climate is Neri Oxman of MIT’s Media Lab.  The experimental studio is focused on articulating the perpetually changing relationships between man, technology, and nature.  Their projects challenge us to imagine new possibilities belonging to our time.

The Mushtari project by Oxman exhibits a relationship between synthetic biology, computer-aided manufacturing, and design.  “Mushtari was designed to act as a potential ‘host’ environment for the coculture of engineered microorganisms that make up a synthetic ‘community.’ Synthetic biologists use disparate bacteria to capitalize on each microbe’s unique physiological specialties and evolved capabilities.”  This experimental project is suggestive of future relationships between living organisms and designed objects.  Some day these wearable designs may be able to harness the sun’s energy to produce nutrients for the wearer.

The Gemini project is an attempt to generate an amniotic experience in a variation of the chaise lounge.  The outer shell is CNC-milled hardwood while the inner membrane is a combination of 3D printed materials responding to differing structural and acoustical needs by location.  With its daring form and advanced construction, the project provokes us to consider Man’s relationship with nature in the 21st century.

Here at Maxine Snider Inc we find our answer to the question of science’s relationship to design in the continuing pursuit of delight in craft.  We find that craft may always be improved; just like scientific understanding, it is to be built upon, iterated, and prodded.  While science will continue to give rise to new traditions, we will continue to elevate our understanding of the timeless tradition of making.

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Shaker purity

Shaker furniture is unsurpassed in its purity and craftsmanship. An exhibition of the Protestant sect’s work is on display now through Fall 2017 at the Art Institute in Chicago titled “Shakers and Movers: Selections from the Collection of Dr. Thomas and Jan Pavlovic.” The Shakers followed a humble lifestyle, practicing Christ-like purity; their beliefs are echoed in their minimalist designs. Reducing design to its most simplified form was considered an act of piety.

A delightful group of pieces from the Shakers and Movers exhibit

The Shaker’s did not use any ornamentation or veneers and exclusively used local woods such as pine, maple and cherry. Any manipulation of the wood was considered a dishonest representation.  At Maxine Snider Inc, we constantly find inspiration from Shaker design philosophy,  using natural materials and hand craftsmanship to find purity without compromising a dreamy style.

Shaker chair, early 1800s

Most of all, the Shakers considered work to be an act of worship. The precise methods used to make their furniture were a type of meditation for them. John Baker, co-founder of Möelk, a store specializing in selling Shaker style furniture in Toronto remarks, “It’s an idea that’s as old as religion-making these grand gestures, like a fresco or a big painting on the ceiling of a church. The Shakers were amazing because we can look at this on a domestic scale.”  It is the same braid of divinity that runs through the Sistine Chapel and the Shaker chair: one we recognize for its grandeur and awe, the other we cherish for it steadfast humility.

Shaker side table, late 1870s

Shaker women, early 1900s

Renewed interest in the classic Shaker aesthetic has flared up due to recent popularity of Danish Modernist styles in the design community. Danish Modernists incorporated Shaker minimalism as well as multi-functionality into their pieces.  The combination of design purity and usability enhance the material expression of the furniture; we can read these pieces as refined constructions as well as perfectly functional objects.  The Shaker classic slatted chair backs, for instance, are designed to be hung up when not in use to conserve space.  This construction saves material and enhances both the visual and tactile lightness of the chairs, owing to the fact that function and beauty are in the best cases inseparable.


Kaaer Klint’s church chair, 1936

We would like to tip our hats to Danish modernist furniture designer, Kaare Klint, whose work perfectly compliments that of the exhibit.  Klint was able to draw from Shaker ideals while retaining a stylized construction defined by local craft.  We find kindred spirits in the Shakers and Klint as we continually strive to marry the best of functional style with high-quality Chicago craft.

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Pezo Von Ellrichshausen: Simple Forms, Complex Spaces

Architecture’s interpretations are as varied as the individuals who practice it.  The world’s second oldest profession is kept alive by a constant stream of new designers offering fresh insights into the realm of space.  Two such architects are the duo of Maurizio Pezo and Sofia Von Ellrichshausen of Chile.  In their writings they speak of Architecture as “articulated air”, and this poetic inclination is evident in the rich materiality and spatial harmony of their projects.

In their Poli House, textured concrete frames and supports an enigmatic space without interrupting the dwelling’s flow.  The white paint of the concrete walls curtails their presence, allowing the light, flooring, and furniture to define each moment in the house as a unique spatial experience.

The architects’ playful attitude results in surprising moments.  The furniture and architecture accordingly create a unique character in the space.

Artful representation plays an important role in the architects’ practice, as space can be found in a painting or sculpture as well as in a building or daybed.

The architects will discuss their work and participation in the exhibition Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth at the Graham Foundation on April 20th at 6 p.m.

They have also been chosen to participate in the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial.  We look forward to seeing more spatial poetry from these talented young artists.  More information on the architects can be found at


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A childhood fantasy come to life: Sweden’s Treehotel

We are enamored with the Treehotel located deep in the forrest of Harad, Sweden. The Treehotel lives at the very tip top of what feels like the whole world, Harad and is an excellent resting place for travelers on their way to see the Northern Lights in the nearby Arctic Circle. Owners Kent and Britta Lindvall commissioned seven architects to interpret the treehouse theme. The houses shed all barriers between the guests and the crackling forest. Here is a sampling of our favorites:

The Birds Nest by Inrednun Gsgruppen



The UFO by Inrednun Gsgruppen



The Mirrorcube by Tham + Videgärd Arkitekter is equally enchanting


The immersive nature of the suites is unparalled. We imagine the houses to be the ideal setting for Tomas Tranströmer, master Scandinavian poet, to write and reflect. In his poem Prelude (1954) he describes the magic of the Scandinavian forest:

Waking up is a parachute jump from dreams.
Free of the suffocating turbulence the traveler
Sinks toward the green zone of morning.
Things flare up. From the viewpoint of the quivering lark
he is aware of the huge root systems of the trees,
their swaying underground lamps. But aboveground
there’s greenery -a tropical flood of it- with
lifted arms, listening
to the beat of an invisible pump.

Without a doubt Tranströmer, would have enjoyed a stay at the Treehotel, as would we.

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Daydreaming at The Rookery

Chicago is a visual wonderland. We could walk downtown every day and still see something new and intriguing. One delightful location to sketch and let your eyes wander is The Rookery.



The lobby or “light court,” designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, has an airiness unlike any other skyscraper in the Financial District. The openness gives room to soften into the space. Our eyes get lost in the gorgeous geometric details repeated throughout, down to the smallest detail.


If you are feeling creatively stuck, this is the field trip for you.



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María Elena González, Sculptor

We are greatly anticipating María Elena González’s upcoming show at Herschel + Adler Gallery in New York City. María’s work is rooted in the use of natural materials such as wood and pulp papers resonating with our connection to the natural world.

turn 1, 2016

Turn #1

untitled, 1990


Over the past few years, she has branched out to music and video work to accompany her sculptures. Maria is an explorer of the arts, constantly delving into the best mediums to express her work’s message. As Maria explores immersive elements in her pieces, she will include piano performances to accompany her Skowhegan Birch series during her “Tree Talks.” The performances will play compositions that sound like the forest. We anticipate the show to be quite an enlivening experience.

skowhegan Birch #2

Skowhegan Birch#2

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Alban Fischer, graphic designer

It’s always interesting to learn about how the creative process works for other designers. Alban Fischer, most known for his imaginative book covers, describes the first step for him starts with type. Walking through our favorite book store his expressive lettering is a warm invitation to the stories inside. Alban affirms, “We need covers to reinforce our beliefs in a book’s power.”

Fischer Cover

Arsbotanica, 2017

His collaboration with Curbside Splendor Publishing in Chicago has produced a variety typefaces. He manipulates letters, partially concealing them or crinkling them up, at times making them appear to move around the cover. Alban’s dynamic type truly expresses the tone of the stories bubbling inside.


Insignificana, 2016

After creating the cover and layout for the first edition of Amber Sparks “May We Shed these Human Bodies”, he was invited back by Curbside to redesign the second edition. We believe the hand lettered type for the second edition is a more astute visualization of the books whimsical plot.


May We Shed these Human Bodies, First Edition, 2012


Second Edition, 2015

When graphic design mixes imagery and type,  it makes book design an interest of ours. Due to designers like Alban, books continue to engage us with fresh voices. We celebrate his artistic evolution.

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National Library of France renovations: weaving worlds together

After years of renovations commencing in 2011, the National Library of France in Paris was unveiled. We are particularly drawn to the complexity of the project bravely taken on by architects Bruno Gaudin and Virginie Bregal. The project’s objective to update the building, constructed in 1869, for the growing visitor population and to update the site for modern building regulation posed a mammoth challenge.



What most inspires us is how well the renovations keep the integrity of the library while introducing a spirited lightness to the space.A detailed thought process is the wellspring of great design.  The architects conducted thorough studies on historical materials to execute the best practices in integrating modern materials such as aluminum, steel and LEDs.



Interestingly, Gaudin and Bregal decided to strip the flooring in areas of the library to expose the earlier structural updates from the 1930s. The revealing of the materials and additions of airy glass walkways beautifully weaves together the evolution of the institution.


The story of the library will continue to unfold as the second phase of renovations is not set to be completed until 2020. We’ll stay tuned.


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Zaha Hadid’s posthumous vision: Opus Office Tower

Although architect great Zaha Hadid “Queen of the Curve” left us in 2016, we are delighted to learn that her visions will continue to live on. Over the next few years Zaha’s plans will guide thirty more projects. The Opus Office Towers in Dubai are one example of her in progress projects. The interior office and apartments spaces will be based on Zaha’s designs featuring her signature warm curves and open floor plans.




The design echoes our favorite project of hers the Heyday Aliyev Center in the Republic of Azerbaijan.  Her goal was always to encourage meaningful interaction, Zaha sought for her work “to be able to excite you, to calm you, to make you think.”  We aspire to carry her wisdom with us in our upcoming pieces for 2017.

We may not have had a chance to see it in person, but we hope you do!

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IntoConcrete pen

With a new year beginning, the desire to reorganize and update the office unsurprisingly follows. Without a doubt, we are very keen on stylish office supplies which led us to discover IntoConcrete. The design group based in Chicago, is known for its unusual treatment of concrete in all of their products, which include jewelry and lighting in addition to office accessories.


Unexpected use of a material always fascinates us and we are particularly intrigued by the rollerball pen.  The pen is sturdy yet streamlined plus refillable and would go beautifully with any office. It’s a great start, but we really we have our eyes on the full set.

rollerball_01rollerball_04_grandeAs always, please follow us on InstagramTwitterPinterest and ‘Like’ us on Facebook.