Friday, March 23, 2012

Designer of the Month: Milton Glaser

Week 3: environments

 Milton Glaser, Trattoria Dell'Arte exterior signage, 1988. Courtesy of Milton Glaser, Inc.

Designing a poster is one thing, but creating an entire environmental design concept is quite another. Throughout his career, however, Milton Glaser has been given the opportunity to design many different spaces, from theaters to shopping centers, museums, and even theme parks. But of all the environmental designs that Glaser's worked on over the years, restaurants are by far the most numerous as well as a personal favorite. In an interview with Marshall Blonsky from the December 1990 issue of Graphis magazine, Glaser explains:
I'll tell you why I love to design restaurants. It's because they deal with many elements of form that I'm interested in, including light. I'm very interested in the effect of light on color, in space issues that don't exist on a flat surface. I'm very interested in the fact that you can create, through the use of space, light, and color, a place where people are transformed emotionally...Why do people feel good in a space? How can you, through the use of light, space, color - transform the psychology of personality and make people happier?...I love the idea that people, through the intervention of these elements, are changed into another state of mind, that they're protected from the world for the brief moment of the meal.[1]
Milton Glaser, Rainbow Room Menu, 1987. Courtesy of Milton Glaser, Inc.

Glaser has worked on many restaurants over the course of his career, some of the most famous of which have been for restauranteur Joe Baum, including the complete a graphic and decorative programs for the restaurants in the World Trade Center, New York.[2] For the last major project with Baum, in 1987, Glaser was part of the design restoration of the Rainbow Room complex, for which he was in charge of developing the interior art program. In particular, in addition to working on the spaces and graphics, he was in charge of hiring artists to create the artwork to go inside the complex, a task that went in a different direction that originally expected. Glaser explains:
After determining that a budget of one million dollars would not buy much in the painting market (in fact, when William Rubin, the curator of American painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was asked by David Rockefeller how many quality paintings he might hope to buy for a million dollars, he replied wearily, 'You might be able to get a third of a painting') we shifted our attention to the world of crafts and sculpture.We hired such extraordinary designers...they all contributed specially designed pieces for the public and private dining rooms throughout the complex.[3]
Like other environmental projects by Glaser, his work on the Rainbow Room complex not only included interiors, but graphics, design themes, and even a proprietary alphabet based on two variations - a narrow and wide one - for every letter.[4]

Milton Glaser, Grand Union Ripening Stand. Courtesy of Milton Glaser, Inc.

In addition to restaurants, Glaser has designed a number of other, more unusual architectural projects as well, including the Sesame Place theme park (1981-83) and the graphic design, theming and signage for Franklin Mills, a shopping center in Philadelphia (1986-89).[5]  But the most unusual of all was Glaser's re-design of a principal American supermarket chain, The Grand Union Company, a project that took place over 15 years and included all the company architecture, interiors, and packaging.[6] Glaser explains of the experience:
We had created a new identity and signage system, but more important, we changed many of the assumptions of how to present food and inform the customer about what they were buying...we changed the isle system to make the customer's path more discretionary, varied the quality of lighting throughout the store, developed new information systems, designed thousands of packages, and over the course of twenty years, helped reinvent the modern market.[7]

[1] Milton Glaser, "Designing Restaurants: Excerpt from an interview with Marshall Blonsky, Graphis 270 December, 1990" from Art is Work, (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2000), 153.

[2] Milton Glaser, Inc., online, "Milton: Biography,", (accessed March 22, 2012).

[3] Milton Glaser, "Environments: Rainbow Room" from Art is Work, (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2000), 162.

[4] Ibid., 166.

[5] Milton Glaser, Inc., online, "Milton: Biography,", (accessed March 22, 2012).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Milton Glaser, "Supermarkets: Grand Union" from Art is Work, (Woodstock, NY: The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc., 2000), 234.

[8] Ibid., 240.

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