It was only a couple months ago, amidst the post-holiday journalistic slowdown, that I only had a couple of writing assignments to work on. This month, however, the pace has quickened—big time. I’ve been pulling lots of late nights and early mornings to get everything done. Here are a few people I’ve had the good fortune to talk with over the last couple weeks:
One story is a preview of a design symposium at the Pacific Northwest College of Art called “Tokyo Flow”, in which Portland’s relationship with and influence from Tokyo is celebrated and dissected. This morning I spoke with Paola Antonelli, curator of architecture and design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She talked about her passion for the energy behind Japanese design, how they’re not afraid to think sincerely how technology can assist even the most menial of daily tasks.
Yesterday, for the same article, I interviewed John Jay, executive creative director at powerhouse ad agency Wieden + Kennedy. John is one of five “suitcase curators” for Tokyo Flow, who have each been asked to provide objects representing great design. One of the items John chose was a sculpture of cream pouring into a mug of coffee. It’s an homage to Japan’s ubiquitous wax food sculptures in the windows of many restaurants there. He said, “The metaphor it speaks to me is that in Japan, what you see may not be real, but what you feel is.”
I’m also writing about a partnership between Nike and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital in which each year a handful of child patients are invited to custom-design a Nike shoe, which is then sold at Nike Towns around the country with the proceeds going to charity. My favorite was a kid named Sam who’s been battling a brain tumor half his life and designed a shoe in green and gold in tribute to his favorite team (and mine), the Oregon Ducks. Through the program, Sam was able to meet his hero, Sonics (and former Ducks) point guard Luke Ridnour, who signed a pair of the shoes Sam designed and even bought a pair for himself.
Earlier in the week I was able to interview acclaimed local architect Thomas Hacker, who started his career in the office of legendary architect Louis Kahn. Hacker also taught at the University of Oregon’s school of architecture and has influenced some of the city’s top designers, such as Brad Cloepfil, who is becoming an international star with major museum commissions in New York, Seattle and St. Louis. Hacker’s work is always very crisp and modern, with a recognizable Japanese influence, but also has tremendous warmth to it, through an emphasis on wood and other natural materials as well as ample natural light. Hacker's firm just unveiled the design for a new education center at First Unitarian Church in Portland that poetically but rationally exhibitis all these qualities.
On Monday I headed over to a laboratory in Northwest Portland to find out about “Fizzy Fruit”, a new invention in which ordinary fruit is given carbonation akin to soft drinks through a natural process. It’s being introduced in school lunch programs in several districts, and the hope is that ultimately, in an age of growing childhood obesity, kids will eat more healthy food because they find it fun.
That same day I had to put the finishing touches on a profile of Duane Sorenson, founder of Stumptown Coffee in Portland. Stumptown was recently named by Food & Wine magazine as the top boutique coffee producer in the world. Duane, a handsome hipster wearing a vintage Penguin shirt and tinkering i-Tunes on his Apple G-5 as we talked, has been traveling the world to form relationships with Stumtown’s coffee-growing farms. He pays beyond what is usually considered top dollar for coffee beans, and in return he isn’t afraid to instruct farmers on how to grow and pick the beans to assure optimal quality.
Over the weekend, I spent about four hours chattering with Randy Rapaport, a Portland real estate developer who has quickly become known for supporting great design. That’s all too rare, unfortunately. Randy is 46, but he doesn’t look a day beyond 25. He travels around town by skateboard and is a huge fan of The Flaming Lips, flying all over the country to see them. He's also a former child psychologist and a wellspring of eastern-oriented philosophy. (I got a lesson in being "in the now".) Randy has an ultra-swank condo, complete with custom European furniture, an impressive art collection, and an immaculate old vacuum-tube amplifier. We’re trying to pitch the condo to a design magazine.
I was frantically working most of the weekend on some last-minute problems concerning my profile of local filmmaker Nick Peterson, whose feature debut, a musical called yellow, premieres tomorrow at the Northwest Film Center. You never know, but Nick seems talented enough to someday become a household name, at least among cinephiles.
And now I’m off to the Oregon Design Conference at Salishan Resort on the coast, where I’m looking forward to hearing superbly talented architect Gregg Pasquarelli speak. Anybody want me to bring back some salt water taffee?