Ian Volner

  • Dieter Rams: As Little Design as Possible

    Pop artist Richard Hamilton once said of the work of Dieter Rams that it occupies “a place in my heart and consciousness that the Mont Sainte-Victoire did in Cézanne’s.” In thirty-five years as chief of design for German manufacturer Braun, Rams personally oversaw the development of more than five hundred products—primarily consumer electronics—that came to define the interior landscape of the late twentieth century. The black, stacked stereo console; the modular shelving system afloat on its slotted track; the unassuming electric razor (below) perfect to the hand: These were Rams’s gifts to

  • When the Lights Went Out: A History of Blackouts in America

    Smack in the middle of Jonathan Mahler’s best-selling Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx Is Burning there unfolds an unforgettable account of the 1977 New York City blackout. Personal narratives, drawn from interviews and documentary sources, of the politicians, technicians, looters, and police who experienced the blackout are all stitched together in Mahler’s accelerated and visceral montage. After this, any historian attempting to convey the same events must have a fair amount of chutzpah, but sadly, David Nye’s social history of blackouts, When the Lights Went Out, lacks the cinematic flair of

  • culture October 20, 2009

    Why Architecture Matters by Paul Goldberger

    This week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg used choice language in describing the state of play at the World Trade Center site. Over and against those who complain that the administration has been sitting on its hands for much of the last eight years, Bloomberg demurred, “Larry [Silverstein, the developer] has everybody by the proverbials—he really does.”

    He might have been fielding a question from Paul Goldberger. It was only last month the New Yorker architecture critic appeared on Charlie Rose to wax sage on time, space, and the vagaries of building at Ground Zero. “Everything about this project has

  • culture June 09, 2009

    Portrait with Keys: The City of Johannesburg Unlocked by Ivan Vladislavic

    Portrait with Keys is the first nonfiction work by South African novelist Ivan Vladislavic, whose relative obscurity in the United States can only be attributed to the fact that none of his five works of fiction have found a publisher here. His status as an unknown, however, is not likely to last; Portrait with Keys is a beautiful book, affecting and ingenious, opening new intellectual vistas onto art and architecture, poetry and urbanism.

    In short narrative bursts, Vladislavic brings to life the social and physical complexion of Johannesburg past and present, as well as its place in South


    Historians of Los Angeles have tended, even when critical of the city, to re-inforce its long-standing reputation as a place of fantasy. Among the first to examine LA as an object of serious scholarship was Reyner Banham, who, in Los Angeles: The Architecture of Four Ecologies (1971), imagined La La Land as a series of discrete laboratories for democratic life, an exciting but highly romanticized LA of sun, fun, and motoring. A generation later, that book found its dark opposite in Mike Davis’s City of Quartz (1990), which turned LA’s penchant for unreality against it, revealing a bloated