Watch 15 Films by Designers Charles & Ray Eames

If you’re reading this, chances are good that you live in the modern world, or at least visit it from time to time. But what do I mean by “modern”? It’s a too-broad term that always requires a definition. Sometimes, for brevity’s sake, we settle for listing the names of artists who brought modernity into being. When it comes to the truly modern in industrial design, we get two names in one—the husband and wife team of Charles and Ray Eames.

The design world, at least in the U.S., may have been slower to catch up to other modernist trends in the arts. That changed dramatically when several European artists like Walter Gropius immigrated to the country before, during and after World War II. But the American Eames left perhaps the most lasting impact of them all.

The first home they designed and built together in 1949 as part of the Case Study House Program became “a mecca for architects and designers from both near and far,” notes the Eames Office site. “Today it is considered one of the most important post-war residences anywhere in the world.” “Famous for their iconic chairs,” writes William Cook at the BBC, the streamlined objets that “transformed our idea of modern furniture,” they were also “graphic and textile designers, architects and filmmakers.”

The Eames’ film legacy may be less well-known than their revolutions in interior design. We’ve all seen or interacted with innumerable versions of Eames-inspired designs, whether we knew it or not. The pair stated their desire to make universally useful creations in their succinct mission statement: “We want to make the best for the most for the least.” They meant it. “What works good,” said Ray, “is better than what looks good because what works good lasts.”

When design “works good,” the Eames understood, it might be attractive, or purely functional, but it will always be accessible, unobtrusive, comfortable, and practical. We might notice its contours and wonder about its principles, but it works equally well, and maybe better, if we do not. The Eames films explain how one accomplishes such design. “Between 1950 and 1982,” the Eames “made over 125 short films ranging from 1-30 minutes in length,” notes the Eames Office site, declaring: “The Eames Films are the Eames Essays.”

If this statement has prepared you for dry, didactic short films filled with jargon, prepare to be surprised by the breadth and depth of the Eames' curiosity and vision. Here, we have compiled some of the Eames films, and you can see many, many more (15 in total) with the playlist embedded at the bottom of the post. At the top, see a brief introduction the designers’ films. Then, further down, we have the “brilliant tour of the universe” that is 1977’s Powers of Ten; 1957’s Day of the Dead, their exploration of the Mexican holiday; and 1961’s “Symmetry,” one of five shorts in a collection made for IBM called Mathematica Peep Shows.

Just above, see the Eames short House, made after five years of living in their famed Case Study House #8. The design on display here shows how the Eames “brought into the world a new kind of Californian indoor-outdoor Modernism,” as Colin Marshall wrote in a recent post here on famous architects’ homes. Their house is “a kind of Mondrian painting made into a livable box filled with an idiosyncratic arrangement of artifacts from all over the world.” Unlike most of the Eames designs, the Case Study house was never put into production, but in its elegant simplicity, we can see all of the creative impulses the Eames brought to their redesign of the modern world.

See many more of the Eames filmic essays in this YouTube playlist. There are 15 in total.

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Visit the Homes That Great Architects Designed for Themselves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius & Frank Gehry

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Visit the Homes That Great Architects Designed for Themselves: Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Walter Gropius & Frank Gehry

However impressive the buildings they design in the eminence of middle- and old age, most architects start their careers with private houses. Some architects, if they come into money early in life or simply can't sell themselves to any other clients, start with their own private house. But most have to put in a few years' or even decades' work before they possess the wealth, the stability, or the aesthetic assurance needed to quite literally make a home for themselves. No such hesitance, however, for Frank Lloyd Wright, who when still in his early twenties built a home for his young family in Oak Park, Illinois, which became his studio and later an American National Historic Landmark.

You can get a wintertime tour of Wright's Oak Park home and studio — complete with snow falling outside and a tall Christmas tree inside — in the video above. A veritable catalog of all the nineteenth-century movements that influenced the young architect, from the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau to the English Arts and Crafts movement to philosophies that held interior decoration to be a tool of moral improvement, the house still stands in bold contrast to all those around it. Wright lived and worked in the Oak Park house for twenty years, designed more than 150 projects in the studio, giving it a fair claim to be the birthplace of his still-influential early conception of a truly American architecture.

Just a few decades into the twentieth century, it started to seem that the most inspiring American architecture would come drawn up by European hands. The Austrian architect Richard Neutra moved to the United States in 1923, and after briefly working for Wright headed out to Los Angeles at the invitation of his compatriot Rudolf Schindler. There he worked on projects whose combination of rigorous geometry and openness to their surroundings would define what we still think of as mid-century modern residential architecture. A few years after designing the famous Lovell Health House, completed in 1929, he took a loan from architecture-loving Dutch industrialist Cees H. Van der Leeuw and got to work on his own home, dubbed the VDL Research House.

Even without a wealthy client like the eccentric health guru Philip Lovell, Neutra built a house that would nevertheless keep its residents — he and his family — in contact with air, light, and nature. The result, as explained in the Dwell video on the VDL Research House above, is a version of European-style international Modernism "adapted to the California climate, adapted to the California lifestyle," whose twelve exterior doors ensure that "no matter where you are, you can walk outside," and none of whose aesthetic features try to compete with its natural surroundings. Neutra, who lived in the house until his death in 1932 (with a period away after its destruction by fire in 1963 and subsequent reconstruction) wrote that he "wanted to demonstrate that human beings, brought together in close proximity, can be accommodated in very satisfying circumstances, taking in that precious amenity called privacy."

While Neutra was enjoying his realized vision of a new domestic life in California, Le Corbusier was hard at work realizing his own back in Europe. Designing an apartment block for a private developer in Paris' 16th arrondissement, the Swiss-French architect negotiated the seventh and eighth floors for himself. His home in the building, named Immeuble Molitorat when completed in 1934, includes an art studio, a rooftop garden, plenty of skylights and glass bricks to let in light, and a bedroom modeled after an ocean liner cabin with a bed raised high enough to take in the view of Boulogne over the balcony. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2016, Immeuble Molitorat also underwent a thorough restoration project beginning that year, chronicled in the documentary Chez Le Corbusier above.

Le Courbusier didn't get quite as much traction in the New World as he did in the Old, unlike some European architects of his generation whose work attained full bloom only after crossing the ocean. Bauhaus school founder Walter Gropius surely falls into the latter group, and it didn't take him long to establish himself in America, where he'd arrived with his wife Ise in 1937, with a house of his own that looked like nothing most Americans had ever seen before. Nor, as Gropius later wrote, had Europeans:  "I made it a point to absorb into my own conception those features of the New England architectural tradition that I found still alive and adequate. This fusion of the regional spirit with a contemporary approach to design produced a house that I would never have built in Europe."

"My husband was always charmed by the natural curiosity of Americans," says Ise in her narration of Walter Gropius: His New World Home, the short film above made the year after the architect's death. Located in Lincoln, Massachusetts, which Ise describes as "very near Walden Pond" in the "heart of the Puritan New England countryside," both the house and the landscape around it were planned with a Bauhaus interest in maximum efficiency and simplicity. Filled with furniture made in Bauhaus workshops in the 1920s, the house also became a party space twice a year for Gropius graduate students at Harvard, "to give them a chance to see a modern house in operation, because they couldn't see it any place else except in the Middle West, where houses by Frank Lloyd Wright had been built, or in California, where houses by Mr. Neutra had been built."

After the Second World War, industrial designers Charles and Ray Eames brought into the world a new kind of Californian indoor-outdoor Modernism with their 1949 Eames House, a kind of Mondrian painting made into a livable box filled with an idiosyncratic arrangements of artifacts from all over the world. In 1955 the Eamses made the film above, House: After Five Years of Living, a wordless collection set to music of views of and from the house. By then the Eames House had already become the most famous of the "Case Study Houses," all commissioned by Arts & Architecture magazine in a challenge to well-known architects (Neutra was another participant) to "create ‘good’ living conditions" for postwar American families, all of which"must be capable of duplication and in no sense be an individual ‘performance.'”

But unless you count recreations in reverential museum exhibits, none of the 25 Case Study Houses were ever replicated, and the Eames House strikes modern observers as an individual performance as much as does Philip Johnson's also-boxlike Glass House, built the same year in New Canaan, Connecticut. With its every wall, window, and door made out of the material in its name, the house provided the architect a living experience, until his death in 2005, that he described as "a permanent camping trip." Built with industrial materials and German ideas — ideas a bit too similar, some say, to those of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House in Illinois — the Glass House's fame, as New York Times architecture critic Nicolai Ouroussoff puts it, "may have done more to make Modernism palatable to the country's social elites than any other structure of the 20th century."

The 90-year-old Frank Gehry, in collaboration with his architect son Sam, recently finished a new house in Santa Monica for himself and his family. But the old house he'd designed for himself and his family in Santa Monica must have served him well, since he'd occupied it for more than 40 years. It began as an existing, unremarkable Dutch Colonial structure, yet when Gehry realized he needed more space, he simply designed another house to build not over but around it. He drew inspiration from the industrial materials he saw around him, deliberately incorporating great quantities of glass, plywood, corrugated metal, and chain-link fencing. "I had just been through a study of chain-link fencing," Gehry recalls in the video above, produced for the Gehry Residence's reception of an award from the American Institute of Architects.

Because chain-link fencing was so ubiquitous, he says, "and because it was so universally hated, the denial thing interested me." Though his mixture of "fragment and whole, raw and refined, new and old" angered his neighbors at first, it has come to stand as a statement not just of Gehry's aesthetic sensibility — the one that has shaped the likes of the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Guggenheim Bilbao — but of another strong possibility for what American architecture can be. "I was responding to time and place and budget, and character of the neighborhood and context and what was going on in the world at that time," Gehry says. "That's the best thing to do when you're a student, is not to try to be somebody else. Don't try to be Frank Gehry. Don't try to be Frank Lloyd Wright."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

American Cities Then & Now: See How New York, Los Angeles & Detroit Look Today, Compared to the 1930s and 1940s

Palimpsest has become clichéd as a descriptor of cities, but only due to its truth. Repeatedly erasing and rewriting parts of cities over years, decades, and centuries has left us with built environments that reflect every period of urban history at once. Or at least in an ideal world they do: we've all felt the dullness of new cities built whole, or of old cities that have barely changed in living memory, dullness that underscores the value of places in which a variety of forms, styles, and eras all coexist. Take New York, which even in the 1930s presented the genteelly historical alongside the thoroughly modern. The New Yorker video above places driving footage from that era alongside the same places — the Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, Harlem, the West Side Highway— shot in 2017, highlighting what has changed, and even more so what hasn't.

Los Angeles has undergone a more dramatic transformation, as Kevin McAlester's side-by-side video of Bunker Hill in the 1940s and 2016 reveals. "An area of roughly five square blocks in downtown Los Angeles," says The New Yorker, Bunker Hill was from 1959 "the subject of a massive urban-renewal project, in which 'improvement' was generally defined by the people who stood to profit from it, as well as their backers at City Hall, at the expense of anyone standing in their way."




The 53-year process turned a neighborhood of "some of the city’s most elegant mansions and hotels," later subdivided and "populated by a mix of pensioners, immigrants, workers, and people looking to get lost," into an attempted acropolis of works by architectural superstars, including Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall, recent Pritzker-winner Arata Isozaki's Museum of Contemporary Art, and John Portman's (movie-beloved) Bonaventure Hotel.

Above the classic American buildings of Detroit stands another of Portman's signature glass-and-steel cylinders: the Renaissance Center, commissioned in the 1970s by Henry Ford II as the centerpiece of the city's hoped-for revival. Three decades earlier, says The New Yorker, "Detroit was the fourth-largest city in America, drawing in workers with opportunities for stable employment on the assembly lines at the Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler plants." But soon "factories closed, and jobs vanished from the city that had been the center of the industry." The Motor City's downward slide continued until its 2013 bankruptcy, but some auto manufacturing remains, as shown in this split-screen video of Detroit over the past century alongside Detroit in 2018. It even includes footage of the QLine, the streetcar that opened in the previous year amid the latest wave of interest in restoring Detroit to its former glory. As in any city, the most solid future for Detroit must be built, in part, with the materials of its past.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Enjoy Dazzling & Dizzying 360° Virtual Tours of Los Angeles Landmarks

Remember when armchair travel meant a book, a magazine, a handful of postcards, or the occasional after-dinner slideshow of the neighbors’ vacation photos?

Those were the days.

The throngs of travel “influencers”—both professional and aspirant—have taken much of the fun out of living through others’ visits to far-flung locales. The focus seems to have shifted from imagining ourselves in their shoes to feeling oppressed by their highly-staged, heavily-filtered Instagram-perfect existence.




Photographer Jim Newberry's dazzling, dizzying 360° photos of Los Angeles, like the views of Echo Park, Chinatown, East L.A., and Downtown, above, offer armchair travelers transportation back to those giddy pre-influencer days.

(Angelinos and other LA-versed visitors will enjoy swooping through City of Angels landmarks as if rotating on the no-parallax point, too.)

The Chicago transplant admits that it took a while for him to find his Los Angeles groove:

After being disabused of my Midwestern, anti-L.A. views, I've found that the city has much more to offer than I had imagined, but the gems of Los Angeles often don't reveal themselves readily; it takes a bit of legwork to seek out the best spots, and well worth it. Mountains, beaches, vibrant urban life, tons of museums, gorgeous nature.

While easy-to-use "one-shot" 360 cameras exist, Newberry prefers the quality afforded by using a high-resolution non-360 camera with a wide angle lens, mounted on a panoramic tripod head that rotates it in such a way as to prevent perspective errors.

With the equipment set up in the center of the room, he shoots four photos, spaced 90° apart. Another shot is aimed directly downward toward the floor.

Panoramic software helps to stitch the images together for a "spherical panorama,” giving viewers an experience that’s the digital equivalent of swiveling their heads in awe.

Newberry’s roving lens turns Lee Lawrie’s Zodiac ChandelierDean Cornwell’s California history murals, and the decorative ceiling stencils of the Central Public Library’s Grand Rotunda into a gorgeous kaleidoscope.

The Taoist Thien Hau Temple in Chinatown is a more recent attraction, founded in the 1980s in a former Christian church. Community members raised funds to build the larger temple, above, dedicating it in 2006 as a shrine to Mazu, the goddess of the sea, protector of fisherman and sailors.

The Museum of Jurassic Technology, a self-described “educational institution dedicated to the advancement of knowledge and the public appreciation of the Lower Jurassic,” served as Newberry’s point of entry, when management okayed his request to shoot 360° photos there:

It's a very special place—my panoramic photos are no match for an in-person visit. Unlike many other museums these days, the Museum of Jurassic Technology doesn't normally allow photography, and there's not many photos of the place to be found. 

(In return for permission to shoot the museum’s Fauna of Mirrors murals, rooftop courtyard, and Tula Tea Room, Newberry agreed to maintain its mysterious aura by limiting the publication of those photos to his Panoramic Eye site. Feast your eyes here.)

The photographer is looking forward to working with more museums, creating 3-dimensional documentation of exhibits.

His interest in the ephemeral has also spurred him to create virtual tours of local landmarks on the verge of being torn down. Entries in the ongoing Lost Landmarks series include Los Feliz’s Good Luck Bar (RIP), Tom Bergin's Pub (above, spared at the last minute when the Los Angeles Conservancy declared it an Historic-Cultural Monument), and the Alpine Village, currently for sale in neighboring Torrance.

Begin your explorations of Jim Newberry’s Panoramic Eye 360° virtual tours of Los Angeles, including the Griffith Park Observatorythe St. Sophia Cathedral, and the Everything Is Terrible! store here.

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Ayun Halliday is the author of seven books, including No Touch Monkey! And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Lateand the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inkyzine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, September 9 for another season of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Buckminster Fuller Tells the World “Everything He Knows” in a 42-Hour Lecture Series (1975)

History seems to have settled Buckminster’s Fuller’s reputation as a man ahead of his time. He inspires short, witty popular videos like YouTuber Joe Scott’s “The Man Who Saw The Future,” and the ongoing legacy of the Buckminster Fuller Institute (BFI), who note that “Fuller’s ideas and work continue to influence new generations of designers, architects, scientists and artists working to create a sustainable planet.”

Brilliant futurist though he was, Fuller might also be called the man who saw the present and the past—as much as a single individual could seemingly hold in their mind at once. He was “a man who is intensely interested in almost everything,” wrote Calvin Tomkins at The New Yorker in 1965, the year of Fuller’s 70th birthday. Fuller was as eager to pass on as much knowledge as he could collect in his long, productive career, spanning his early epiphanies in the 1920s to his final public talks in the early 80s.

“The somewhat overwhelming effect of a Fuller monologue,” wrote Tomkins, “is well known today in many parts of the world.” His lectures leapt from subject to subject, incorporating ancient and modern history, mathematics, linguistics, architecture, archaeology, philosophy, religion, and—in the example Tomkins gives—“irrefutable data on tides, prevailing winds,” and “boat design.” His discourses issue forth in wave after wave of information.




Fuller could talk at length and with authority about virtually anything—especially about himself and his own work, in his own special jargon of “unique Bucky-isms: special phrases, terminology, unusual sentence structures, etc.,” writes BFI. He may not always have been particularly humble, yet he spoke and wrote with a lack of prejudice and an open curiosity and that is the opposite of arrogance. Such is the impression we get of Fuller in the series of talks he recorded ten years after Tomkin’s New Yorker portrait.

Made in January of 1975, Buckminster Fuller: Everything I Know captured Fuller’s “entire life’s work” in 42 hours of “thinking out loud lectures [that examine] in depth all of Fuller’s major inventions and discoveries from the 1927 Dymaxion house, car and bathroom, through the Wichita House, geodesic domes, and tensegrity structures, as well as the contents of Synergetics. Autobiographical in parts, Fuller recounts his own personal history in the context of the history of science and industrialization.”

He begins, however, in his first lecture at the top, not with himself, but with his primary subject of concern: “all humanity,” a species that begins always in nakedness and ignorance and manages to figure it out “entirely by trial and error,” he says. Fuller marvels at the advances of “early Hindu and Chinese” civilizations—as he had at the Maori in Tomkin’s anecdote, who “had been among the first peoples to discover the principles of celestial navigation” and “found a way of sailing around the world… at least ten thousand years ago.”

The leap from ancient civilizations to “what is called World War I” is “just a little jump in information,” he says in his first lecture, but when Fuller comes to his own lifetime, he shows how many “little jumps” one human being could witness in a lifetime in the 20th century. “The year I was born Marconi invented the wireless,” says Fuller. “When I was 14 man did get to the North Pole, and when I was 16 he got to the South Pole.”

When Fuller was 7, “the Wright brothers suddenly flew,” he says, “and my memory is vivid enough of seven to remember that for about a year the engineering societies were trying to prove it was a hoax because it was absolutely impossible for man to do that.” What it showed young Bucky Fuller was that “impossibles are happening.” If Fuller was a visionary, he redefined the word—as a term for those with an expansive, infinitely curious vision of a possible world that already exists all around us.

See Fuller’s complete lecture series, Everything I Know, at the Internet Archive, and read edited transcripts of his talks at the Buckminster Fuller Institute.

Everything I Know will be added to our collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

A New Photo Book Documents the Wonderful Homemade Cat Ladders of Switzerland

There are days when Calgon is not escape enough

Days when one longs to be a cat, specifically a free-ranging feline of Bern, Switzerland, as featured in graphic designer Brigitte Schuster’s forthcoming book, Swiss Cat Ladders...

Some American cats come and go freely through—dare we say—doggie doors, those small apertures cut into existing points of entry, most commonly the one leading from kitchen to Great Outdoors.

The citizens of Bern have aimed much higher, customizing their homes in alignment with both the feline commitment to independence and their fearlessness where heights are concerned.

As Schuster documents, there’s no one solution designed to take cats from upper residential windows and patios to the destinations of their choosing.

Some buildings boast sleek ramps that blend seamlessly into the existing exterior design.

In others, surefooted pussies must navigate ramshackle wooden affairs, some of which seem better suited to the hen house.

One cat ladder connects to a nearby tree.

Another started life as a drain spout.

Humans who prefer to outsource their cat ladders may elect to purchase a prefabricated spiral staircase online.

Pre-order Swiss Cat Ladders for 45 € using the order form at the bottom of this page. The text, which is in both German and English, includes diagrams to inspire those who would cater to their own cat’s desire for high flying independence.

All photographs © Brigitte Schuster

Via Colossal

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this June for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. And congratulations to her homeschooled senior, Milo Kotis, who graduates today! Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Street Art for Book Lovers: Dutch Artists Paint Massive Bookcase Mural on the Side of a Building

Bookcases are a great ice breaker for those who love to read.

What relief those shelves offer ill-at ease partygoers... even when you don't know a soul in the room, there’s always a chance you’ll bond with a fellow guest over one of your hosts’ titles.

Occupy yourself with a good browse whilst waiting for someone to take the bait.

Now, with the aid of Dutch street artists Jan Is De Man and Deef Feed, some residents of Utrecht have turned their bookcases into street art, sparking conversation in their culturally diverse neighborhood.

De Man, whose close friends occupy the ground floor of a building on the corner of Mimosastraat and Amsterdam, had initially planned to render a giant smiley face on an exterior wall as a public morale booster, but the shape of the three-story structure suggested something a bit more literary.

The trompe-l'oeil Boekenkast (or bookcase) took a week to create, and features titles in eight different languages.

Look closely and you’ll notice both artists’ names (and a smiley face) lurking among the spines.

Design mags may make an impression by ordering books according to size and color, but this communal 2-D boekenkast looks to belong to an avid and omnivorous reader.

Some English titles that caught our eye:

Sapiens

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck

Keith Richards’ autobiography Life

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime 

Pride and Prejudice

The Little Prince

The World According to Garp

Jumper

And a classy-looking hardbound Playboy collection that may or may not exist in real life.

(Readers, can you spot the other fakes?)

Boekenkast is the latest of a number of global bookshelf murals tempting literary pilgrims to take a selfie on the way to the local indie bookshop.

via Bored Panda

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in New York City this May for the next installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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