Every year beginning in 1969, the Merchandise Mart, an art deco building, has played host to the National Exposition of Contract Furnishings World’s Trade Fair (or simply NeoCon WTF to designers).
At the culmination of NeoCon WTF on Wednesday, June 16, 2010, we saw over 1,000 exhibitors strut their furnishings while over 40,000 attendees marveled at some of the most innovative designs for 2010.
While nearly everyone stared at the stunning designs of not only the showrooms and furnishings on display, but also the funky exhibition spaces, as an architect, I winced at the sight of semi-trucks blocking the view to Chicago River from
Nomkhubulwane’s (the elephant) station point at the south entrance of the building. Everyone seemed so focused on beautifying the interior spaces of Merchandise Mart and completely ignored the experience of the attendees from the threshold on the exterior.
“These trucks just park out front as a display like an advertisement,
they do nothing but sit there during the show and promote the sponsors,” observed one attendee.
It made me contemplate on a conversation I had during the Opening Reception of Vitra to kick-off the show. “When do you think is the best time to bring in an FF & E (Furniture, Fixtures, & Equipment) in an architectural project phase,” I asked. Jim Ford, Managing Principal of Desks Inc., emphatically responded to this effect, “The earliest the project will allow. It needs to be a collaborative environment between the owner, the architect, the interior designer, the contractor, subcontractors, and suppliers. I believe in collaboration. It’s what makes a project successful.”
Then I looked at how the Merchandise Mart building, designed by Alfred Shaw, integrated three building types into one: warehouse, store, and skyscraper. This was the function of the building and the spaces inside it supported this function. However, could the “designed-space
” have been considered as a total experience through a unique procession from the exterior to the interior, thereby correlating what was going on inside, to the outside? Even the majestic size and presence of the sculptural elephant was overpowered by the semi-trucks. Billboard signs or trucks don’t count as outdoor furniture.
Walking inside the lobby, Edmund Dantes, owner of Internet Webpages Newspaper, Inc., notices, “…People are scurrying about. It’s quite nice inside feels like
a hotel inside the lobby.”
Across the street, the crowd seemed oblivious to the presence of the trucks blocking their view to Chicago River because there weren’t any and because they were busy celebrating the 40 years of Kimball Office with a unique cake that fit the occasion. “Did you see our cake? They were marveling at it,” shared Laura Bernard, PR person for Kimball Office. Collaboration is, again, a word that commonly resonated in this environment. “Kimball Office is an award winning office furniture that inspires
productivity and collaboration with an emphasis on design and
Exterior spaces are a continuation of interior spaces. Each complements the other. In shows like this, no matter how big an interior space is and no matter how much more time will be spent indoors than outdoors for an event, the attendees will still need to enter from a threshold. They play an important part in conditioning the attendee’s experience of the events that are to happen inside. It can be downplayed to highlight the interior show, but the exterior can’t be ignored. It is yet another exercise in collaboration.
As the curtains closed Wednesday on another successful trade show, and the semi-trucks wrapped up and have driven out of the parking lot, one can’t help realize the amount of energy and design enthusiasm that was displayed over the past three days. From the exhibits, to the seminars, tours, and keynotes, all contributed to the cause of well-designed environments that help improve people’s lives.