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Coming to a Driveway (or Runway?) Near You

Chairs hold a special place in the world of design. Few objects fit as close to the human body. Few can claim a longer history of supporting weary souls. But designers often use the chair as a typology when pursuing a goal far beyond seating.

Yoshioka, a designer in the vanguard of Japan's youthful industrial artists, gained acclaim for a honeycombed paper chair, Honey-Pop, in 2002. Now he is presenting Pane, a chair baked like a loaf of bread.

The designer credits an article in National Geographic for inspiration. After reading about miracle fibers, he switched from conventional hard materials to soft ones. Over three years, he experimented with a polyester elastomer used for medical cushions, ultimately punching a half-moon of the material into an armchair by hand. Baking at 219 degrees makes the fibers strong enough to support the weight of a body. But, Yoshioka says, the chair still "feels like sitting on air."

The Corian Experiment

Architect Hadid's kitchen is as radical as the dunelike furniturescapes she began creating in 2000. Both resemble the architectural drawings that made her famous long before her first commissions resulted in built works. The molded white landscape of a room she designed for Madrid's $94 million Hotel Puerta America is a close cousin.

For the Corian kitchen, she drafted countertops and appliances as wind-shaped islands of fire and water. Surfaces are intended to be embedded with sound and light, although the project is still experimental. Conventional cabinetry -- an innovation dating to the 1920s -- is reconceived as sculpted compartments in the walls. A spokeswoman for the DuPont company, which makes Corian, was unable to say how much the construction weighed.

For the 2004 Milan fair, Arad embedded a wall of Corian with fiber optics, transforming the pristine, marblelike surface into a low-resolution movie screen at night. The designer was hoping to improve on the gloomy look of a switched-off expanse of liquid crystal displays.

Flash and sizzle need not be monumental, though. Charming, whimsical designs can alter perceptions and propel a humdrum object onto the pedestal of everyday art. Working with Behar, a group of students at the California College of Art produced a winning collection of pet accessories, which will be made by Gaia&Gino. The Wild feeding bowl has the chiseled elan of a Rodin. A molded chew toy fits smartly over a table leg, protecting the furniture and delighting the dog.

Such small, welcome innovations can ease the stress points of modern life with only modest risk for a manufacturer. Unfortunately, when it comes to cars, the distance between innovation and marketplace is measured in generations.

The trans-Australia race that inspired Lovegrove started in 1987. The initial winner was a one-seater called Sunraycer, which was built in a burst of R&D by General Motors, Hughes Aircraft and the legendary Paul MacCready. Designers were euphoric when the vehicle finished 2 1/2 days before its nearest rival. Further research led to the development of the EV1 electric-powered car. That technology was recently abandoned in favor of hybrids.

Sunraycer was parked at the Smithsonian's American History Museum, where the exciting ambitions that created it can be honored and preserved.


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