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Back in the 1950s, an exhibition called Design in Scandinavia made its way through 24 cities in the US and Canada thus establishing internationally the region's collaborative spirit based on functionality and craft. In particular, memorable (and stackable) objects for the home flourished, as they suited the economical spaces of massive, post-war housing projects. While mystique still lies in names such as Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck, and a visit to Finland today confirms the presence of a plethora of young designers, the world has since turned to other countries for design leadership.

But now, thanks to the American-Scandinavian Foundation in New York, Scandinavian design - more evocatively called Nordic - is back in town in a grand gesture of a show that also inaugurates the foundation's new Scandinavia House on Park Avenue, an unabashed Modernist salute by the American architect James Stewart Polshek to his own formative experiences of studying and travelling in Scandinavian countries. Iceland now joins the original four from the '50s - Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden - in this juried display of nearly 50 young designers or design firms selected by Anne Stenros, the knowledgeable and activist director of Design Forum Finland. In contrast to a past emphasis on industrial arts, ceramics, furniture, glass and textiles as separate entities, she describes the wider scope of today's 'rethink' as 'a cross between technology and craft.'

Lined up in typical showroom style in the clean, versatile exhibition gallery, the objects at times echo the past in both form and materials, but unmistakenly fresh, young voices - some of them present at the opening - invited viewers to enter into new solutions for improving and enhancing daily life often with a dollop of humour. Symbolic of this enterprise was Denmark's Astrid Krogh, who wove fibreoptic 'threads' on a traditional loom for 'Light Mail', a wall curtain/lamp that sparkled with waves of coloured light in bright patterns where the threads were purposely damaged.

The human form is still the ultimate inspiration for both chairs and clothing. Sweden's Peter Andersson created a cafe chair with an extra perch for a visiting friend and a white mug with a handle cum spout to divide the coffee as well. Kaja Gjedebo from Norway gives a sleek bentwood chair some bounce with a wire mesh sent and back, and the Finnish firm Valvomo's 'Chip Lounger', an ergonometric, form-pressed plywood rocking seat, is forked to support each leg. Its shape is curiously like Norwegian Sigbjorn Windingstad's plastic figure called 'Bagman' that attaches to bicycle handlebars as a plastic bag carrier. (There's also a new yellow bicycle by Denmark's Lars Pedersen that demonstrates increased efficiency with lowered pedals.)

Since experience dictates that to survive deep Nordic winters requires nothing less than an astronaut suit, Reima's 'Cyberia', a smart snowsuit developed with Finnish university technology, may revolutionize cold weather apparel with sensors that maintain body heat and, if the wearer were stranded, relay position and vital signs. On the other hand, Dane Alex Soza's gravity-free jacket conveniently remains suspended in air upon removal.

Frigid surfaces inspired such objects as a flat plastic sheet that snaps into a snack bowl designed by Norway's Permafrost; a video/wall lamp called 'Skylight' by Iceland's Asmundur Hrafn Sturluson that records scudding clouds over a 24-hour period through a central rectangle of etched glass; and finally, the already popular 'Block Lamp', a light bulb embedded in an ice-like block of glass that Finland's Harri Koskinen designed for Iittala Glassworks. (His flat, shiny steel barbecue utensils, perhaps the first, are already a runaway bestseller.)

And for sheer glowing warmth, a bookshaped lamp called 'Enlightenment' by Sweden's Matti Klenell fits cleverly between volumes to illuminate bookshelves; a blanket of lights called 'Glory' by Denmark's Anette Hermann beats Out the old electric blanket; and a full-size though compact sauna with, corner butterfly joints by Kauko Leskinen and Hanna Louhelainen of Norway should convert the world to the spare, elegant and inventive Nordic way of life.

If not, the building will. With this new ground-breaking show under its belt, Scandinavia House will carry on its special cultural world in a six-story building that while influenced by Scandinavian streetscapes (the zinc facade, recalling to Polshek the roof cladding of old Norse churches, is collaged with horizontal spruce fins, glass and lettering based on old Scandinavian typography) offers New Yorkers an inviting place to be. The ground floor is a public cafe looking out onto the street and decked out with colourful Arne Jacobsen chairs, a long undulating snowbank of an Aaltoesque wall and end-grain spruce floors bordered in Norwegian alta quartzite. With a wall of painted wood slats, the space can be converted instantly into a gallery of hanging pictures. From an open staircase silhouetted against the ground floor glass facade, one can glimpse above the fanciful hanging artichoke lamps by Louis Poulsen and Alvar Aalto chairs in a meeting area. The paleness of all the materials contrasts with deep-blue plastered walls that sheath the vertical core. Above all, Polshek celebrates the lightness of spirit, practicality and wit that unifies Nordic modern design.
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Title Annotation:exhibition
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Previous Article:Delight.
Next Article:Letters.

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