Searching for Good Form, High Function, and Exquisite Design
The fundamentals and purpose of creativity (too often) slip from the minds and hands of artists, inventors, and architects; causing many, who attempt to achieve prominence among their contemporaries—to influence future generations—fail.
Unlike the greatness we attribute to the Old Masters of the Renaissance, through the earliest years of the 19th century, or the praise offered to the genius it took to plan, build and organize ancient metropolises; people and societies seem to be oppressed by unreputable limits imposed on imagination and innovation due to restrictive governance and social-consciousness. These authoritative mandates and self-imposed inhibitions ultimately lead to stale and stifled thought-processes, which further impose restrictions on experimental design and creative exploration.
Form and Function. Few people know that Boston-born architect Louis Sullivan (1856-1924), is recognized for penning this phase in describing creative ingenuity.1 In the field of architecture and design, he’s noted as a critical influencer in the development of the modern-day skyscrapers and remains relevant in American architecture from his injecting language into the study of building and design of commercial property. Sullivan is recognized as an original member of the Chicago School—known for its utilitarian approach to design and construction.
Sullivan’s thesis is that the exterior of a tall building, (the design) should be representative of the activities, (the function), of its interior. It’s often—albeit not nearly enough—a theory found in the conceptualization and creation of useful and attractive landscapes, homes, and automobiles. There is also evidence that this précis plays an active role in other products and activities.
To discover how the concept of form, function, and design plays an integral part in our lives, and how seemingly independent archetypes, possess crossover traits, I journeyed to the Hudson Valley region in New York, with the hope of learning how creative theory is related to a wide variety of life experiences.
By seeing and learning from those who are accomplished in their respective fields, I hoped to connect the unseen, but the common thread, tying together creative accomplishment. I also searched for an answer to tricky questions plaguing practitioners of design, “What determines the quality and longevity of success, over a less appealing result?”
During my journey and investigation; I met leaders in the education of culinary arts, I stayed at a historic inn—renovated from a building originally constructed during the 18th century—ventured to a potter’s studio for an eye-opening experience with clay, shopped at antique and specialty décor shops, and traveled the wonderful backroads of the Hudson River in a brand new Chevy Blazer, having its own tale to tell.
You’re invited to read along and learn about my findings. If nothing else, you may contemplate how many of your experiences mirror those reviewed in this feature. Feel free to apply the formula discussed to abstractions about the origins of creativity, while getting a peek inside the best artistic minds from the past and of today.
First Stop: THE CIA
It’s a startling headline, and a confusing one if you’re not familiar with what is referred to as the “World’s Premier Culinary College.” The Culinary Institute of America is located on the banks of the Hudson River in Hyde Park, New York, and has graduated over 50,000 students over seven decades. CIA offers Associates, Bachelors and Graduate degrees in the field of food and beverage management, and has campuses in New York, Texas, California, and Singapore.
An easy and scenic ride—regardless of the season you decide to visit—the grounds offer panoramic views of dramatic landscapes along with captivating vistas of the majestic Hudson River, which winds through the villages and towns of the Valley. The area has a magical feeling and is known for enticing tourists from around the world. All year long visitors flock to the hundreds upon hundreds of restaurants, farms, and vineyards that pepper the countryside.
The Hudson Valley region is also known for its vital role in US history, with many pre-revolutionary structures still standing. With a vibrant art scene, specialty shops, and a long list of tours and adventures, the Valley is a favorite getaway for tourists.
CIA was founded in 1946 by Frances Roth and Katherine Angell; neither of whom had any experience in the education of students in food-related specialties. With determination to establish, what Roth once described as “the culinary center of the nation,” the newly formed organization opened its doors to a fresh group of students in New Haven Conn.; becoming the country’s first professional-chef training center.
One of the primary reasons for starting the school was the insight these two women had when contemplating the limited options available to dedicated Veterans, once they returned from the battlegrounds of WWII. Roth and Angell thought hard about how they could create a formula for training young soldiers for lifelong careers. In the school’s earlier days, the entrepreneurs employed a chef, a baker, and a dietitian, to carry out their vision; what their ambition turned into is a proud and remarkable success story.
After a few changes to the school name and locations, the students, faculty, and staff settled on its current site, the former St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit novitiate. A campus like few others, its architecture, grounds, and area, are fitting examples of what higher educational institutes look like once they achieve greatness. Over the years, praise and accolades have rolled in from the likes of Zagat, the New York Times, Life magazine, James Beard, and Julia Child, assisting in CIA to become the leader in the food service curriculum and practice.
CIA’s impressive campus with its formidable buildings and location organically assists in elevating the college’s stature, but there is more of a soul to the school than its magnificent environment. During this visit, the student body appeared quite satisfied with the activities they were charged with—and without exception—each person had a smile on their face, was visible pleasant and helpful; even engaging, bright and cheerful. What quickly became noticeable was the absence of political, cultural, and social-rancor often found clinging to the halls of colleges and universities of similar prominence.
The school is home to four restaurants with the option of launching—at a moment notice— culinary pop-up sites within the campus. Additionally, the castle-like interior has been converted into finely appointed rooms for private dining and events.
As guests, at the school for a private luncheon, we were presented with an impressive menu offering a range of courses. The meal was punctuated by the chefs-in-training explaining the inspiration behind each selection; and, as you will later learn, everyone enjoyed what easily ranks as a five-star meal.
The event also included an insightful presentation and discussion with chef and senior associate dean of culinary arts, Bruce S. Mattel, CHE. Touching upon the delicacies of modern eating, he spoke to the details of how preparation and execution—otherwise known as plating—is related to a satisfactory outcome. He noted that to please top-tier diners, you must satisfy their visual, olfactory, and taste senses. Moving from familiar recipes to complex dishes, Mattel explained that a chef’s vocation isn’t always about cooking or baking, but takes on the role of scientist and artist. He went on to explain that chefs working in professional kitchens at the top of their game are tasked with introducing products and new preparation techniques that will likely be experimental and push the envelope on the use of under-utilized sources as well as the modification of a product’s structure, leading to a unique design and presentation.
Chef Mattel continued with a story that would exemplify his point. He shared an experience of when he had his first taste of truffles, added to a smashed potato recipe—prepared by another chef. It was a concept he believes he would never have considered. Reliving the experience, Mattel delved into his ongoing quest to discover and create newly inspired dishes that have yet to be tried; he made the point that we should all look beyond the familiar and expand into unknown territory.
A sample of the day’s tastings included; a small plate of chicken-fried quail served with smoked guava BBQ, green mango chayote slaw and a fried quail egg. The second course was a bright and colorful charred citrus salad, with arugula and endive, turmeric Greek yogurt, and Aperol vinaigrette; followed by the main course, a fresh pan-seared cod with cabernet cranberry farro, bacon lardons, toasted pine nuts, and a maple-butternut squash emulsion. For dessert, we enjoyed a tres leches pannacotta with tropical fruit, banana-passion sorbet and spice crumble.
After the excellent meal, and a self-guided tour of the college, it became clear that CIA’s interest in keeping with form and function within its educational model is ever-present. Through many illustrations, the institution demonstrated that the secret of their longevity is related to the adherence of a recipe which includes a phenomenal environment and superb teaching; it’s this combination that has led to their resounding success.
Next Stop: THE HASBROUCK HOUSE
It came up quickly, with us jetting by the massive stone mansion that sits proudly—and back—from the winding road that serves as the main connector between the historic towns of the Hudson Valley Region. Like many others who have made the same mistake, we turned around and made our way back to what would be our home base for a few days.
The Hasbrouck House is a world-famous boutique hotel, (although more like an inn), and offers premier amenities and accommodations that meet the highest standards. Located in the hamlet of Stone Ridge—part of Marbletown, (which makes up Ulster County), its’ astonishing presence, causes pause, making arrivals feel that they’ve been transported to the British Isles.
From historical accounts, in the mid-18th century, the estate was built by the Hasbrouck family—who had great wealth and impeccable taste. The building’s exterior—you know where I’m going with this—was made from ancient stone, accented by white wooden framing, fitted along the home’s roof, peaks and window casings. Creating a striking outline against the old-forest pines, and a deep blue sky, the Hasbrouck House’s silhouette fits nicely in the idyllic setting, leaving one to ponder the level of comfort the stately manor will offer once inside.
The grounds include 55 acres of undisturbed flora, spotted with four rehabilitated buildings, all tastefully remodeled in a manner that complement the rest of the property. As an all-season resort, its luxury abounds and spoils guests at every turn. Whether cocktails in the club room, nestled at the cozy bar with a close friend, or enjoying a fabulous dinner at Butterfield’s, (an authentic colonial dining room), one cannot help but feel pampered, special—and at home.
The main house has 17 bedrooms with additional accommodations (eight more bedrooms and suites), found in the other buildings. All have been extensively updated and include–soft-hue colored modern interiors, delightful baths, and custom lighting for enhancing the mood. The large screen televisions keep guests connected and entertained, and with designer-level décor and treatments, that create superior lodging options likely to impress the most discerning guests.
A favorite suite of many who have stayed at the inn is the Classic Suite- Room 12; it’s on the ground floor of the Carriage House to the rear of the main building. It comes with a private entrance and is exceptionally spacious and comfortable. Features include a sitting area for two, a huge king-size bed, kitchenette with mini-fridge, a large bathroom with oversized fluffy towels, and windows that allow plenty of natural light.
Services, sure to please, include private massage appointments and yoga instruction by top professionals; you may take comfort knowing that this evaluation was confirmed by someone who knows.
The Inn is famous for providing the most elegant weddings imaginable; and while they are not a venue for all types of celebrations, those who insist on elegance and refinement will be impressed by the effort that goes into making a lucky couple feel like they are the most important people on the earth.
The Hasbrouck House serves as a good representation of how buildings and their use can be re-connected after hundreds of years. When considering (that at some point during the last century or two) someone may have contemplated the obliteration of this sound structure for a more modern architecture (one more easily maintained) it took owners, Akiva Reich and Eitan Baron to realize and appreciate the value of time-honor design and utility. Thankfully these visionaries took the time, and their resources, to rehabilitate this spectacular property, keeping with its historic grandeur and splendor, so future generations would be allowed to enjoy it for another one-hundred years.
During the few days we spent in the Valley, we had some time to take a few excursions to a couple of the quaint towns that have made the area widely attractive. Well known for antiques, art galleries and newer Mid-Century boutiques, we ventured into Rhinebeck, then over to Hudson. Each town provided plenty of gawking and shopping.
While we didn’t have a second to spare, it was interesting that once the shopping spree was over and we completed an inventory of those collectibles that caught our eyes, we realized that certain items garnered more interest, while others were easily overlooked.
After scanning thousands of items among acres of inventory, (literally, we shopped at a refurbished warehouse turned antique collaborative—spanning multiple city blocks) we determined that quality pieces always outlast their owners and the ravages of time. Ultimately, this merchandise is put out to market so it might attract the attention of new prospectors. As for the rest of the “stuff,” it’s usually left to collect dirt and grime, only to be discarded.
Excellence in original design, superior workmanship, accompanied by classical characteristics not only draws attention but are often the first articles to be purchased. For example, an authentic vintage Coach cross-over bag, with real brass fixtures, and a deep blue leather exterior—looking as if it had been lightly used—was found to be better built and a more desirable style than its newer counterparts. When paired with a women’s Irish-made field jacket, (of the same color), the appearance of the two items could be mistaken for being an ensemble created by one of the two manufacturers. This example suggests how style and retention of value are carried forward over decades because good design and materials were considered in the early stages of pre-production.
We also found similar attributes in a Mid-Century furniture store. The retailer who carried names like Eames, Knoll, and Nelson, even products by many who imitate these great designers, demand vast sums of money for overly worn items. Even when in questionable condition—it never seemed to matter to buyers, these timeless designs, thoughtful combinations of materials, and the astute attention paid to the public’s taste have resulted in many designer lines to hang on to their longevity—years after their introduction.
Once again, through our travels, we’ve learned how style and design, can positively affect the use and desirability of those “things” we find attractive. The discovery of these examples makes it decidedly clear that top-end creativity rises to greatness, while the rest; continues to be ordinary.
Let’s Throw Some Clay: A Hands-on Application of Form & Function
The thought of a pottery class by a person who never touched clay is frightful. Really, for those who can’t paint, draw, or build something within acceptable parameters, to walk into a pottery studio is unnerving. Maybe it’s having to be around people who seem at home while surrounded by mounds of material (much of which appears to be spread across their clothing and in their hair), the sight of wheels constantly spinning or the heat of hot kilns cooking product. For the inexperienced, it is an intimidating prospect and one that is to be approached with caution to avoid embarrassment.
Yes, these were my thoughts when I arrived at Hudson Valley Pottery, in Rhinebeck, New York.
The day’s plan was to get first-hand knowledge from experts about the role of designing something that heavily relies on the two features this entire section of the magazine has set as its theme this month.
Our job, rather—the experience—was to comprehend how the function of different pottery items, relates to the form or design that would ultimately determine whether our “work” was a success. At first, this seemed more complicated than it ended up being, but instructors simplified the task by asking what we would like to create. Some in the class immediately knew, (show-offs), what they were going to make, while others, (me), sat motionless, having no clue what to do next.
Over the next thirty minutes or so, as a group, we became more knowledgeable in how we would need to view the process–but in reverse. We begin our projects thinking about the desired outcome, then assessed the steps necessary to complete the process and achieve our objectives. We examined many of the elements that typically go unnoticed when making a mug, plate or vase; where should the handle lie, the shape of the rim, should the body be wide to narrow or the opposite, these were just a few of the questions we needed to think about since each would determine the results of our work.
The challenge, to think differently or at least focus with a new set of rules, cause many of us to look at our projects with new intent. As each question was solved, a host of new issues would arise; we had to make a base, cut out the slab, design a handle, shape the lip, create a design on the exterior, then select a color and texture of glaze which would fit all the other elements—all this for a simple cup, who would have known?
As time went on, we became more enlightened by the learning curve we were riding, and how paying attention to the smallest details adds up and contributes to the larger human experience. Ergonomic, visual appeal and tactile involvement all play a role in our hand-manufactured craft, and it was up to us to use our consciousness, past experiences and creative insights into producing a one-of-a-kind vessel, that would meet the needs of the user, through a relationship with its design.
On a less theoretical note and a more humorous one, the clay party was great. With the initial uncertainty of what we were to do, combined with friendships being made; we all ended up laughing and teasing each other much like young children. Oddly enough, and unto itself, everyone began opening themselves up to others; this newly discovered vulnerable quickly became a valuable byproduct of this experience, and isn’t one often found in a world where most people are guarded and cautious.
In retrospect, it was a day that everyone learned something about design and themselves. Each person was given the opportunity to see—by example--how individual element, when combined, possess the ability to produce a predetermined result though the use of theory and practical application. The second lesson learned was about the dynamics of interpersonal interaction, and how, when working together–but on individual tasks–can ease the friction of differences and build friendships with strangers who have journeyed from different places and mind-sets.
THE NEW 2019 CHEVY BLAZER
You made it; after joining us on a trip encompassing world-class culinary education, gourmet dining, luxurious accommodations, eye-opening pottery design, and fabulous shopping opportunities, we’ve arrived at our destination.
The purpose of this trail-blazing adventure was to acquaint readers with practical, real-world experiences that would serve as a guide and explain how and why the new Chevy Blazer is worth a look.
From the beginning of the trip, our purpose was to introduce the concept of form and function, so that once we arrived here, the relationship between car, drive, and passengers would make perfect sense.
For some, a car’s purpose is for transportation only; as for others, it takes on a role as a ship did for the pilgrims in search of religious freedom, a horse and wagon delivering pioneers west, or a rocket for astronauts who look to expand our horizons.
To learn how artists, designers, and engineers develop a vehicle that meets—even surpasses—our expectations, we took a look at the basic elements used in the field.
Meeting the Demand
There’s a school of artists who claim there are ten essential components found in most design projects—they include; Line, color, shape, space, texture, scale, dominance, and emphasis, balance, and harmony. There are others who would add proximity, alignment, and repetition to this list. Most importantly, all of these fundamentals meet the criteria in creating just about everything we see, touch, or appreciate.
To the layperson these concepts may appear to resemble a word-salad; they’re not just confusing, but to a greater extent, their abstraction—and deconstruction, doesn’t fully explain how their use fits into real-world applications.
Allow us to explain
With the tens of millions of items, we come into contact during our lives; we will go out on a limb and suggest that the redesigned Chevy Blazer will immediately change how a large segment of the population is going to view driving.
First, this new vehicle makes traveling a pleasure, by offering features that meet most of today’s drivers’ demands. With bold styling and uncompromising versatility, combined with power, handling, and seamless connectivity, this is a vehicle that makes taking a trip as simple as pack and go.
Refreshed with an appearance of a wider-stance, its aggressive look, combined with dramatic sculpting of its body, results in the Blazer drawing attention while making its drivers look good too.
With all-wheel drive, extreme towing capabilities, and great cargo space, this SUV is modern, luxurious—even astounding. Plus, with its 3.6 Liter, V-6 engine and 9-speed transmission, it commands the road and won’t disappoint when needing uncompromising power and “sports-car” responsiveness.
The new Blazer will keep your mind at ease and make driving fun again; with cutting-edge technology and advanced, intuitive features this SUV will have you becoming an early riser, just to get behind the wheel.
A review of the Blazer’s long list of features, favorites that stand out include; HD surround vision with a real-time, rear-vision camera and hitch view, and an “intelligent” and unobtrusive Stop/Start mechanism which shuts down the engine when power isn’t needed—leading to fuel savings—then a seamless restart to get you back to speed. This important feature gets new owners an estimated 22-city and 27-highway miles per gallon efficiency. As for us, on average, we climbed to higher limits while varying between both types of driving.
Another important fact about the 2019 Blazer is its instinctual response technology. These vital components are the genes of the blazer and are found in systems like the lane change alert, blind-zone alerts, rear cross-traffic warnings, and rear parking assistance. Adaptive cruise control, advanced following distance indicator, forward automatic braking, lane-keeping accompanied by lane departure warning and safety alert seating, round out what could be the most comprehensive package for instilling a sense of safety and security.
Performance and Appeal
While the name Blazer is synonymous with off-road celebrity, this revised model is a roadmaster. Gorgeous, nimble, with jack-rabbit acceleration (from a cold start or at 60 mph in a lane change), this new version of the Chevy Blazer is in a class of its own. Drivers are wrapped in comfort and indulgence much like an SUV at twice the cost.
Take it out on the back roads, through the mountains or out to the shoreline of P-Town and see how its designers and engineers had planned for this new and exciting vehicle to react. Sometimes a sportscar, other times a pack-mule; but, regardless of how you use it, this gem always rises to the occasion with its superior performance, revered styling, and unparalleled value.
During this exercise, we had the chance to speak with Chevrolet automobile design and artist, Steve McCabe. He spent time discussing how preliminary drawings of the new and impressive 2019 Blazer began the process of creating a finished vehicle. “From a sketch, he said, we turn to clay and sculpt small-models so that we can play and manipulate the first designs. During the process, the clay allows us to make quick changes and modifications.” He divulged that by using clay, the ability to take a finished drawing and bring it to life—by crafting 3-D models—lends itself to easily change elements and build prototypes that are better viewed on life-like planes. When asked by a member of the group, whether all designs begin with this process, he was quick to point out that, “While some companies have tried to go all-digital, [in design] they found that it didn’t work; there’s something about the human touch that clay offers and computers don’t. It [the process] is fully functional, and allow us to go from small-scale to big models; it allows us to mill a full-size sample.” They, of course, are what the end-product will look like when arriving in the showroom.
McCabe also explained how and why the Blazer has a new virile look. “We brought in styling from the success of the Camaro which sets the Blazer’s personality; its dynamic and athletic appearance is what make the car attractive. We wanted to find uniqueness and difference not found in other cars, so we added drama [paired with] an aggressive look and a lower roof. The Blazer’s iconic nameplate with its off-road reputation is the difference consumers are looking for in this type of car. It has a real presence on the road, and we’ve done this with a slim day-time running lamp, giving it a special look.”
It was evident that every element, curve, line, and shape was created as a piece of a larger puzzle; this is most noticeable when comparing the two available finishes: black offering a rugged appearance, and chrome taking on a more luxurious accent. Each style displays an individual feel and appearance; both manage to meet the personality of their buyer.
Words spoken by McCabe overlapped many voiced by Judi Esmond, owner/artist of Hudson Valley Pottery. A proponent of form and function, and teacher of the concept; she told us, “Pottery is very similar to a car in that it has to feel good and connect with your body and its parts. Just like when we craft items like cups, bowls and other useful things, they need to work well, or they become useless.” Citing an example of the pieces made by artists that sit on the shelves and “never move,” while others that fit a customer’s hands, hold the right amount of a beverage, and are visually appealing, Esmond explained, “they are sold immediately.”
Our take on the new 2019 Blazer is that Chevy has created a winner. They’ve combined the all-important features of form and function into a dynamic and superbly versatile and modern SUV. Delivering an innovative and new class of SUV in time for the season will allow the company renewed confidence and to continue to be recognized as the leader in American car manufacturing.