Posts Tagged ‘Alvar Aalto’

This game of happiness.

March 19, 2022

IMG_0637 new home

It is that time of the year again when the world’s happiest country contest is on. And guess what; Finland has for the fifth time been chosen by the best of experts in all facets of life ‘the happiest country’ I am somewhat biased having been married to a great and lovely Finnish woman and having lived in rural Finland for almost a year. I was then already totally convinced it was a happy country with a happy population. I never thought it would be voted the happiest.

Back in 1965/66 when living in Finland I thought it refreshing that it seemed such a free country with the emphasis on things to look good and natural. A stunning mixture of both outside and inside the homes often so seamless, almost effortless. It’s architecture mind-blowingly beautiful without artifice or unnecessary florid decorations for the sake of decorations. In the homes and gardens no ducks in endless flight on the walls or tires around the gardenias’. The university that my wife attended designed by Alvar Aalto, blew my mind in its honesty of design and simplicity. Finland was the forgotten corner of Europe. Not anymore now though.

The rapport on this yearly happiness contest measures all sorts of criteria but free education, including colleges and universities, and free medical care seems to be the foundations on which much of the happiness of people depend. A mother with a newborn has 480 days maternity leave with 80% of her salary paid and dad gets 6 weeks with full pay. Every new born gets the ‘famous box’ in which there are the basic needs for baby and in which the new-born can also sleep.

I always thought happiness and the search for it was overrated. In the video of the Happiest Country a man describes feelings of ‘gladness’ more appropriate. I think that in Australia we tend to forget that we have eyes. How else can we explain the horrendous ugliness of our shopping strips, the mindless repetitive advertisements and why al those car yards littering the main thoroughfares?

I live in The Southern Highlands considered to be a very beautiful part of Australia with lovely gardens, yet, in one of the main thoroughfares we blissfully allow kilometers of car-yards to advertise their cars, bonnets yawning wide open and garnished with signage of ‘specials’ to attract who?

We seem to underestimate how our eyes can influence happiness. We need beauty as much as we need a nice sausage or piece of salmon. When I wake up and see my nice bedroom, nice bedspread, beautiful paintings, a lovely wooden desk with a nice rush-chair, I feel happy before I jump out of my bed. The kitchen has nice saucepans, lovely well designed cutlery, great coffee pot. I feel good before I even boil the kettle. The same with my living quarters, light and airy with the outside part of the inside. It gladdens my heart. My lovely books all in a row on bookshelves.

We need more beauty in Australia if we want to climb the happiness ladder. We are not doing too bad at nr 12 and the US climbing up to 19 on par with the Chech Republic. Holland was 5th.

This business of earning Money. ( Auto-biography)

June 29, 2015


While the stay at the chalet high-up at Bressanone was a ‘life changing event’ ( as modern parlance would have it), the question soon arose on how to go forward. While many would agree on ‘money doesn’t make happiness,  ‘happiness doesn’t make money either.’  Money still needs to be available when buying the corn-flakes or onions and paying bills.

The big question was that while a career, wearing a suit or doctor’s coat, wasn’t anymore on my horizon  how on earth would I survive? Bernard had been working as a tourist guide and with his knowledge of languages it was a fairly easy and well paid job. He suggested that I do the same. I wasn’t sure I was cut out or possessed the jovial countenance or enough savoir faire,  to fulfil the expectations of tourists that had been primed by travel agents to experience Italy in a 6hour discounted bus-trip through Tuscany and back to Pompeii!

In Australia I had experienced a long list of many jobs and also done a certificate course in quantity surveying. To this day I don’t know why I did it,  but perhaps it had something to do with my ‘suit wearing’ ambition period. I would imagine sitting in an office, conversing with Moroccan architects and quantity surveyors offering expert advice on how to get through the tricky bits of attracting quotes for all the different trades, while rocking on my  Finnish Alvar Aalto pressed ply-wood chair. I had already worked on building sites including working outside buildings from swinging stages. I had also, together with Bernard, worked for painting contractors and  prior to that, apprenticed for a while in that trade.

In the meantime I decided to return to my family in Australia. So did Bernard who suggested we set up a business with buff coloured letter-heads and matching envelopes. We both booked a boat from Naples through Thomas Cook travel agents. I remember a Mr Diacomo in Sydney who had arranged my travel to Europe before, but Thomas Cook in Naples was a different animal. Not once did we get an acknowledgement of our requests for a booking to Australia. While Bernard decided to go to Naples to sort out our fares, I decided to stay on in the chalet and wait for confirmation of the date that we would sail from Naples to Sydney.

When the travel confirmation finally arrived I decided to try and catch a lift to Naples. On the first hour of my effort to catch a lift the rubber band through the sole of my thongs and held between my toes snapped. Even despite that, or because of my limping on one thong, I managed to get a lift half way and caught the train for the remaining distance. Travelling by train in Europe is always fascinating. At most stations in Italy, someone would be walking alongside the train and for a few hundred lire one could get a hot chicken with crispy bread roll and small bottle of red wine. Absolutely fantastic and complete strangers would offer bits of their food as well. It was a cultural eye opener how in Italy food is shared no matter where or how. One Italian man got up when I arrived in Naples and even adjusted my tie. I could not imagine on the Bowral – Sydney train journey someone adjusting my tie even if I was wearing one. The police would probably make an arrest!

The arrival in Naples was as busy and hectic as Bressanone in Tirol was quiet and serene. An amazing rail station and amazing city. Bernard had a hotel room at Piazza Garibaldi right opposite the rail station. It was a very busy part of Naples with coffee sipping, loud talk and lively arguments on the footpaths day and night. The noise level of Naples alone makes it a wonderful and lively city. How a noisy city vibrates and excites!  We had just enough money left to see us through the five weeks on-board, a car on arrival in Sydney for our planned contracting business, and the printing of the buff coloured letterheads with ‘Head-Office’ at my parents place in Revesby.

The trip on board was of course taken up with chess while Bernard also met a French woman who took a fancy to him even though her husband was right besides her. She had a very large pony-tail and she played footsy with Bernard while playing bridge. It came to a disastrous head some months later when she decided to cut of this large pony tail and posted it to Bernard as a sign of her profound love and devotion. But as most ship romances flounder on the rocks of on-shore reality, so did this one. She and husband were living in Brisbane and Bernard in Sydney. We had sat up a good business and were getting reasonable contracts painting blocks of home-units. Sydney was in the middle of a home-unit boom and we caught its head-wind with acute shortages of workers needed to fulfil housing needs.

The French girl in Brisbane could not contain her love for Bernard and decided to visit him in Sydney (without her pony tail). My friend took the day off and at the end it was all over. It had run its course. She went back to husband and presumably grew a new ponytail.

Who knows?

Mr Hoover; Look what you have done!

November 15, 2014

First flush of love

First flush of love

One of my all time heroes is Quinten Crisp. He proudly stated that in having lived for over four decades in a London bedsit, he never once cleaned it. “After a while, all dust just settled in the corners of my room just like snow.” You could not define this more poetically, could you? How utterly sensible and wise. The advent of so many suffering with respiratory lung troubles is now seen as a problem asescerbated by the overtly cleanliness and obsessive use of Pine-o-Clean and other disinfectants, killers of benevolent bacteria. We seem to kill the goodness in dirt and filth. The biggest problem and cause of this obsession though is the vacuum cleaner.

However, and here comes the catch. Dirt and dust don’t easily combine with domestic bliss. They don’t marry and live comfortably in the presence of conjugal stability and effervescent cohabitation between the different or not so different sexes. The Hoover Company knew that back in the thirties and cunningly took advantage of the hunt to eliminate dust and dirt. The broom was doomed! The original Hoover was called ‘a suction sweeper’ developed by a man called Spangler who suffered from asthma and blamed his lung problems on dust. The war on dust had begun.

And yet, what could be simpler and more aesthetically pleasing than to observe the workings and sounds of the simple broom. Remember this simple broom with willow twigs bound together around a nice and smooth handle? I remember the lovely swishing sounds it used to make. Now, one has to go to simple villages of Cambodia or Bali to yet see again, hear and get back into touch of the broom and their early morning swishing sounds. This sound and crowing roosters, how honest, earthy and essential.

Now look what damage you have done Mr Hoover. Please, go and ponder the hideous looks of the modern vacuum cleaner. A monstrous design. Mr Alvar Aalto would turn in his grave. The bulbous multi buttoned rocket look. Is it meant to land us on a comet or double as a spare bazooka trained onto foe and neighbour? This hideousness is rampant in the world of so many household aids but especially vacuum cleaners. It is promoted as having ‘cyclonic and climatic ‘ properties. Cyclonic? All those buttons and twisting hoses, wheels and gyrating whirling motors, just for dust? Give me back my willow broom!

My mother and Hoover

My mother and Hoover

But, in the quest for domestic harmony, I too have succumbed, like my parents did, back in Rotterdam, to a vacuum cleaner. I too do the rounds, listlessly but with enough determination to fill the bag. I too pull this machine around obstacles and sincerely lie, when asked if I have removed all the bedside tables, or vacuumed under the bed. (I avoid doing that because it always sucks up a sock.) It is painful and mind dehydrating. At the end, the machine disgorges its bag with dog hair and grey dust, a strange pink rubber ring, a hairpin or Milo’s abandoned crust of Pane di Casa into the bin of discontented household garbage.

Look at the happiness on the faces of my parents, seduced by a new Hoover. The newly weds. They would have been the last of the Mohicans in willow broom usage.

It makes me weep bitter tears.

How do we feel?

March 13, 2012

How does it feel?

We all know that how we feel depends on many factors. One of those factors is how we react to the visual things that surround us. It would be an extremely dour person if not uplifted by a walk up the steps of our Opera House. On the other hand, walking past some of Sydney’s ugly roads would surely try even the sanest of us. Where to find the courage to go on? Kilometer after kilometer are those yawning car yards waving those sad little flags. Dante’s inferno couldn’t be worse and we worry about tourism being slack!

Why is that so?

Why can the visual be so important in shaping our moods? Does it matter how things look? Perhaps much of our way of reacting is that genetically we are disposed to feeling happy or not depending on how we have surrounded ourselves by the man made visual world. I am speaking of the world of how we have shaped things, how we have designed the visual and how we have given form to the everyday object, experienced and absorbed through our eyes. It is surely much better to look at something that is pleasing to the eyes than to view ugliness.

The world of pure nature cannot be blamed for any of the ugliness because in nature there simply isn’t any. (Ugliness) If nature deals us a rainy day or a drought, it generously and without fail, makes up for it in sunshine or abundant rains later on. If nature is ugly, it is because we made it so.  Therefore, if all ugliness is man-made it makes sense to learn not to make things ugly by better and more beautiful design.

I often wonder why in some countries good design comes almost naturally and yet in other countries one searches with great difficulty and often in vain to find beauty in the everyday man-made world. I wonder why good design is not taught at all levels in our education system. Design in education? Well, many schools spent time teaching sport so why not design? Are we going through life without eyes?

I don’t want to bang on about the advantages of the Scandinavian world and in particular about Finland but it seems hard to avoid those Nordic countries and not be impressed by good design. Was our own Opera House not designed by one of them?

Good design might well come from good problem solving. Design on the run or ad hoc never results in good outcomes. Is this why the way we house ourselves is often mediocre if not outright depressing?  I am not even talking about the architecture of our houses.

Why does it take driving large cars to take kids to schools or to go shopping? Why are our lives so tied up in isolation away from social infrastructures? How come we do not walk to work or catch the local transport? Could it be a result of bad problem solving and hence, bad design? Inexhorably our lives are tied to having to drive a car. We live in order to please the car. The car doesn’t please us.

How solid is good design embedded in our lives? Design in our lives is everywhere from paper clip to airplane. It’s found, in our education, public services, transportation, arts and culture, in sport and policymaking. It’s there even if we don’t always see it. Good design equals innovation in good problem solving which in turn can create happiness.

Does Australia have good designers? I am sure there are some but can we name just one that is truly outstanding? Ask a Finn and he will mention Alvar Aalto, Aino Aalto, Maija Isola, Tapio Wirkkala, Eero Aarnio, just to mention a few. They are all household names around the global design community. Good design in Finland is simply a way of life that kids appreciate from birth and carry with them for the rest of their lives. Good design is the driver behind all cultural, social and economic development of a country.

Is that our way as well?

Going back to how we house ourselves. Is it not just a matter of divvying up parcels of land in an ever increasing circle, devouring farm land put in a sewer and a nice asphalt ribbon and then build houses on it? Housing is a huge part of our economy and it is very often part of animated social conversation we have. Prices are keenly watched and newspapers come out with the latest suburbs that are ‘in and up’ and those that are ‘dropping and down’. We thrive on their monetary value but don’t give it much thought on how we can improve housing to fulfill social needs rather than just worry about the stats on rising or dropping values. How do we feel walking through our front door?

Coming to the aesthetics and workability of our cities, especially our far flung suburbs, and at best we might get polite murmurs of ‘lovely harbour’ and ‘nice views’ from any overseas visiting city planner or design architect.

How embedded is our concept of design to our goods and services, finding solutions to people’s needs through innovation and user-driven perspective? Of course, the best of design is also joined to sustainability, re-usability, desirability and its greenness.

It’s hard to see how our present laissez faire attitude to design and planning is making for the ‘best’. How are we shaping lives in our cities for our children, our grandchildren and their grandchildren?