So often we talk about design as a commodity to be judged as good or bad, beautiful or ugly, handy or useless, a success or a failure. But the fruit of a designer’s labors can also strike us in the heart as mysteriously as a painting or a lightning storm or a face or a song. Here is a short list of 10 poetic designs from around the world featured on the Eye in 2015 that haunt my dreams.
You don’t have to be religious to appreciate the Tree Church in Ohaupo, New Zealand. The heavenly 100-seat chapel sits among a 3-acre landscaped garden whose walls are made of living trees planted around an iron frame. Barry Cox, who runs a tree relocating business, decided that his backyard was missing an old stone church like the ones he had studied and admired on travels to Europe, so he decided to unite his passion for ecclesiastical architecture with his skills as a landscaper who specializes in replanting mature trees using a tree spade. He used live cut-leaf alder trees for the roof canopy and copper sheen for the walls, as well as camellia black tie, Norway maple, and pyramidal white cedar, training their branches around the frame. Cox opened the Tree Church to the public earlier this year. Now, twice a week in fair weather, you can pay a small fee to view the church. What was once his backyard retreat is also now available for photo shoots, events, and has unsurprisingly become a popular wedding venue.
Dutch designer Daan Roosegaarde is a self-described techno-poet who used LED lights to mimic the Northern Lights across 4 acres of flood channel of the River IJssel near Westervoort, Netherlands, this year for his installation “Waterlicht” (Water Light). The project commissioned by the Dutch water board Rhine and IJssel “to raise awareness about the power and poetry of water,” the designers said, but the beauty of the project led visitors to nickname it “the Northern Lights of the Netherlands.”
London’s Covent Garden, the historic former fruit and vegetable market turned shopping mall and tourist magnet, commissioned French photographer Charles Pétillon to fill the interior of its 19th-century building with an illuminated cloud of 100,000 white balloons in a pop-up installation in September. Titled “Heartbeat,” it took a team of 25 a week to inflate each of the varyingly sized balloons, which look as light as clouds but weigh a total of more than 700 pounds.
Lithuanian photographer Agne Gintalaite documented a series of some 200 Soviet-era garage doors individually painted by anonymous owners and weathered by the elements and time on the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, that look like Mark Rothko paintings left out in the rain, each its own stunning work of abstract art.
Edinburgh, Scotland–based Charles Young spent a year creating Paperholm, a whimsical and meticulously built miniature landscape that includes paper models of buildings, cars, carousels, tree houses, and more. Young began the project last summer after finishing his master of architecture degree. To keep his skills on point, he decided to start every morning for a year by completing one paper model, which he said served as a “kind of a warm-up” for his work day. He then began animating the models to bring his poetic miniature world to life.
Henry David Thoreau’s cabin has captured the popular imagination since he first published Walden in 1854, and traces of its DNA are often perceptible in the diminutive shelters we build ourselves today. French designers Elise Morin and Florent Albinet constructed a 21st-century ode to the legendary structure called Walden Raft that they set afloat on the Lac de Gayme in Picherande in the Auvergne region of France. Made from scattered panels of age-old wood and recyclable modern acrylic glass, the structure is a floating, “navigable” cabin that can be maneuvered along a cable that is strung to the shore and anchored in the artificial lake, which was created from a bog in 1983 and is situated at the same latitude as the site of Thoreau’s cabin across the Atlantic.
The Luna is a full-moon–inspired ball of light with an “artistic” interpretation of the moon’s surface that looks like it would add a crowd-pleasing poetry to any space from Taiwan-based Acorn Studio. The lights rode a trend in the interior design world of creating home décor based on the cosmos, but interpreted it in the most childlike possible way, which is surely a large part of its captivating charm.
The thrilling beauty of a dance performance is often lost in translation when caught on film. But earlier this year a spellbinding video of a new dance piece called “Pixel” created by French choreographer Mourad Merzouki and digital designers Adrien Mondot and Claire Bardainne of Adrien M/Claire B elevated the art of dance and digital technology to a 21st-century artform.
In his book Street Messages, German photographer and author Nicholas Ganz offers an illustrated survey of the literary side of today’s global street art movement. “Words in public spaces that are presented to us by artists are either a form of philosophic expression or a new, modern form of poetry,” Ganz writes in the book’s preface. “This book is a celebration of the artists who work with the written word in our public spaces in order to share an alternative, more meaningful, message.”
The adult coloring book trend exploded this year with the world’s grown-ups in hot pursuit of regressive, nondigital ways to chill. But Scottish illustrator Johanna Basford, whose 2013 book Secret Garden: An Inky Treasure Hunt and Coloring Book sold nearly 1.5 million copies worldwide, has an unapologetically romantic style inspired from a library of botanical books she inherited from her paternal grandparents, who were both gardeners. Published in February, Enchanted Forest: An Inky Quest & Coloring Book is another intricately hand-drawn, pen-and-ink escape fantasy in which adults can lose themselves for hours in an analog pastime reminiscent of childhood, then post the results on social media for all the world to see. “I have a lot of contemporaries who produce amazing work digitally, but for me personally, I just love the imperfect circle and a slightly crooked line,” Basford said. “I think there is something natural and soulful about the little intricacies which are evident in a hand-crafted illustration.”