On our second class trip to the MOMA, we were to consider artworks in the Architecture and Design galleries in terms of high and low functionality. Ergonomics is the applied science of equipment design, as for the workplace, intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort. But this field of science is not only applicable to the workplace, its principles are also appropriate in terms of household items, architecture-even environmental health sciences.
At MOMA, I came across two works of art that I found to have high functionality, one being IN-EL Mendori Lamp by Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake (IN-EL meaning “shadow,” “shade,” or “nuance” in Japanese),. Miyake’s lamp, aside from being aesthetically beautiful, with its coiling geometric pattern and relaxing glow, is an environmentally conscious piece constructed from recycled-PET fabric. This work is one in a collection of nine collapsible lampshades for LED bulbs and each lamp is folded from a single sheet of material thanks to a mathematical program created by Jun Mitani (a professor of computer science at the University of Tsukuba and a master origami artist). The object can be considered high functioning due to the fibers that are strong enough to support the lamp’s entire structure, making an inner frame unnecessary, not to mention its collapsible property which makes storage very convenient.
Just a few feet away I discovered, what I consider to be, one of the most impressive design works in the gallery. Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer is a large spherical tumbleweed-like apparatus made from bamboo and biodegradable plastics by Massoud Hassani. This wind-powered object is both easy to transport and assemble onsite. Hassani, who grew up in Afghanistan knows all too well the dangers of living in an area littered with landmines and has seen many friends get severely injured or die because of them. This design is not only ergonomically sound but it saves lives of innocent people who would fall victim to the hidden landmines in the ground. This artwork also requires little cost to construct as opposed to some current demining methods which can cost as much as a thousand dollars.
While at the Architecture and design galleries of MOMA, I noticed some artworks did not seem as ergonomically sensible or high functioning. One of them was Honey-Pop Armchair by Tokujin Yoshioka. This chair is made from the type of paper honeycomb that is used in Chinese lanterns and folds out just like a lantern, accepting the impression of the body of whoever first sits on it. What first strikes me about Yoshioka’s armchair in terms of low functionality is its medium, the delicate paper used to create the chair is beautiful and functional in terms of lanterns but not for a chair which is meant to hold a human body’s weight. This artwork may serve well as an aesthetic piece but its sheer delicateness is not practical for its seemingly intended purpose.
Henry Dreyfuss’s Josephine Anthropometric Chart, is another piece that I found to lack significant functionality. Designed for the purposes of household ergonomics, such as physically easing women’s work in the home, Dreyfuss’s artwork is based on the dimensions of the average woman which is the standard kitchen work surface height (36 inches). This work would not only be of low functionality today but it also excludes an entire gender from the ergonomic advantages of such a work surface. In Dreyfuss’s lifetime a design as this would serve a great deal but would be considered quite exclusive in today’s day and age.
It is not my opinion that an object needs to be highly functional in order to be a good design, depending on the type of design that is intended. If something is proposed to be ergonomically smart than it should deliver its service in those terms but a design can also be intended to install a purely aesthetic response from the viewer that exists more essentially as a work of art.
PET fabric and LEDs
"Mine Kafon wind-powered deminer"
Bamboo and biodegradable plastics
"Josephine Anthropometric Chart"