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Honoring Those Behind the Designs

Awards * Ceremony will recognize creativity resulting in architecture, products, public spaces.


That amazing restaurant interior. The vibrant commemorative exhibition poster. The cool new streamlined stapler. None of these things came into the world by themselves. Someone had to design them.

A White House ceremony will be held today to recognize some of those who often toil in obscurity designing the buildings, fabrics, graphics, transportation and public spaces we see and use every day. The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution, will honor architects, graphic designers and product designers from across the country with its first National Design Awards.

Los Angeles architect Frank Gehry will receive a lifetime achievement award; Apple Computer Inc. is being recognized for corporate achievement; and architects Morris Lapidus and the late John Hejduk are receiving special honors as "American originals."

Several Southland design innovators are among 15 finalists in three categories--communications, product and environment design. The winners will be named later this year.

The awards program was conceived four years ago by the New York museum's director emeritus, Dianne H. Pilgrim, according to Susan Yelavich, assistant director for public programs. "In this country, generally speaking, architects may have a certain visibility, but there was no program that acknowledged that design existed as a larger entity," said Yelavich. "The public may not be so attentive to how a typeface affects them when they read a magazine. We want the public to realize how design affects every part of their lives."

Among the finalists in communications design is April Greiman, known for her innovative uses of technology in her graphic design work that includes posters and interior spaces. "I would say that in the world of design, America has been so far behind Asian and Europe in appreciation," Greiman said from her Los Angeles studio, Greimanski Labs (soon to be renamed Pentagram Design). "There, a designer is seen as an artist, having abilities that other people don't have. I think it's a really good sign that our government is beginning to recognize that and letting people know how important design is."

Paul MacCready, a finalist in product design, was singled out for his "lifelong investigations and inventions," including the Gossamer Albatross, the first human-powered plane to fly across the English Channel, and the Solar Challenger, which did the same thing with a solar-powered motor.

The founder and chairman of Monrovia-based AeroVironment stressed the team efforts behind his accomplishments and added that "it's very good to get all these ideas out, and it's important to make design exciting and fun for kids. Youngsters are great designers of all kinds of stuff."

Clothing company Patagonia, a finalist in product design, was recognized for its use of organic textiles and high-tech fabrics. Lu Setnicka, director of the Ventura-based company, said, "We have a very limited amount of time we can share with our customers about our innovations and commitment to product integrity. To have the opportunity to be recognized for the depth and meaning in our product is very heartening to us."

Other finalists include architect Thom Mayne of the Santa Monica-based Morphosis, San Franciso-based landscape designer Lawrence Halprin, teacher and architect Samuel Mockbee of Memphis, Tenn., and New York architect Chuck Hoberman.

Designers were sought out in each of the 50 states. Eventually the field was narrowed to five finalists in each category, with the winners to be announced at a Nov. 15 gala fund-raiser at the museum. The reason for the later ceremony, according to Yelavich, is to "build excitement and momentum for the program."


Jeannine Stein can be e-mailed at

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