Hailing from Savannah, Georgia and based in New York until his passing in 1987, instrumental architect Alan Buchsbaum was a figure of central importance on the American design scene during his two decades of independent practice. His career, and his unique ability both to draw from and to draw out the world around him, reflected the revitalised spirit of his times, the mid-60s to the mid-80s. Buchsbaum was a vital character in the three influential and successive design movements, Supergraphics, High-tech and postmodernism. His design stance was at once irreverent and respectful, ironic and classical, versatile and idiosyncratic, elegant and entertaining.
During the 60s and 70s, Supergraphics was born, characterised by the use of stripes, arrows, zigzags and diagonals, patterns that warped around corners, vibrant palettes, eye-catching juxtapositions, playful typography, and the treatment of the surface of a building as an independent canvas to the structure with the use of large graphics. Images were overlaid onto buildings or interiors to effect an augmentation of a space with no material change to the physical structure. Buchsbaum heavily experimented with this design approach becoming a pioneer of the movement. Perhaps one of the best-documented examples of his work during this phase is the use of a scaled-up photo of a dewy pink rose covering an entire wall of a kitchen.
Also developed in the late 60s, High-tech is arguably one of the 20th century’s most influential yet overlooked architectural styles. Based on a steadfast belief in the potential of technology to improve people’s everyday lives, the movement turned the aesthetics of industrial design into an art form through a celebratory display of a building’s construction, materials and adaptability. At the centre of this movement were a group of British architects, including Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins. In the furniture and interior design realm, High-tech appeared more prominently in the 70s, with designers like Buchsbaum integrating the use of ready-made industrial materials into the domestic environment. Utilising warehouse shelving, repurposed and painted Bank of England chairs, as well as industrial lighting fixtures, among other features, Buchsbaum’s numerous loft conversions epitomise the interior style.
With its zenith falling between the mid-70s and 90s, postmodernism experienced its peak in the image-focused world of the 80s. At its centre, postmodernism was an endeavour to escape the pragmatic, subdued, and impersonal approach of modern design; postmodernism revels in the unconventional. Driven by the notion that design does not require pre-set rules, the postmodern style reflected the emerging social outlooks of the times. Distinctively exploring this school of thought, Buchsbaum’s romantic interiors for eminent figures like Anna Wintour and Bette Midler bring together eclectic features to create playfully extravagant looks, with the definitions of items’ functions becoming increasingly fluid.
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