Daily Design Inspiration 6: A Trash Can! (#DailyDesignInspirations)

Today’s #DailyDesignInspiration looks at a very humble inspiration to a great design. A trash can to a US $ 95 million dollar penthouse!


What really inspires great ideas? Breakthrough insights? Brainwaves?

Isaac Newton’s falling apple is a great example. And while what truly inspires the spark remains a mystery, we know of many brilliant pieces of architecture are inspired by beauties of nature. The Lotus Temple in New Delhi for instance. The Sydney Opera House. Gaudi’s architecture in Barcelona…

But what is being considered really bizarre by critics is that the exterior of 432 Park Avenue, the new luxury condo tower and tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere, was inspired by a trash can! Not a cheap plastic bin, but an elegant metal example by Wiener Werkstätte (Vienna Workshops) designer Josef Hoffmann that costs $225.

In a lecture last year, the building’s architect, Rafael Viñoly, said that while “there are so many inspirations,” Hoffmann’s work in particular inspired the grid-like exterior of 432 Park. More recently, the building’s developer Harry Macklowe echoed Viñoly, adding that the gridded pattern on the Hoffmann bin heavily influenced the cubic facade. Indeed, if you look at the two designs side by side, the design twinning is undeniable.

I saw the building last week while strolling across Central Park, this tall, slim building dwarfing all others around. And I was impressed.

This 1,396-feet-tall Manhattan building represents a rising genre of skyscrapers that includes towers like 1 World Trade Center and the half-mile-tall Burj Khalifa in Dubai. Building a supertall comes with its own unique structural engineering challenges; in particular, architects have to manage vortex shedding, which is when wind whips around the building and causes it to quiver in mid-air. To support its slender, square frame, 432 Park Avenue has bigger columns at its base than on the upper floors. The gridded facade, Viñoly says in his talk, makes the building “read like a constant object.”

While the spectral, sleek building left me impressed, critics have been less kind. The $1.3 billion Park Avenue building apparently has a poorly considered building plan that, with 104 units gobbling 400,000 square feet of space, is “a monument to the epic rise of the global super-wealthy.” New York Mag critic Justin Davidson, who said the building resembles “stacked cubbyhole units,” also asked: “Shouldn’t architects who reach for physical heights be extending themselves creatively, too?”

And I hear there are fears that when critics hear that the structure was made in the image of a trash can, it could only invite more derision.

What rubbish, I say!

As a Creativity coach, I work with people and try and help them find inspiration in all things around them, however humble. In a recent workshop in Seattle, my participants recreated a process network using coffee cups, exercise belts and pencils!

So, why shouldn’t a trash can inspire designers and architects?

It will be good to remember that Karim Rashid’s famous trash can Garbino finds its place in the permanent exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. And we continue to talk about its elegant shape and simplicity.

So, to critics, I can only this to say, quoting Anton Ego from the Pixar classic ‘Ratatouille’: “In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so…”

Here’s to inspirations. Wherever they come from!

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