By Larry Kulchawik
I recently returned from a visit to the Chicago Art Institute, where they were featuring a special showing of a long-lost Dutch art magazine called Wendingen—the Exhibit City News of its day. This 1920 issue featured Frank Lloyd Wright and was titled “Our Most Distinguished Outcast.”
Although Wright was a brilliant designer, he was terribly arrogant. At the time, he had just left his wife and children in the U.S. to move to Europe with the wife of a client. The Europeans were not so shocked about his personal life or his arrogance; they simply adored his approach to architecture and he went on to greatness. It occurred to me how much I had forgotten about Wright over the years—or did I?
Growing up on the south side of Chicago, I was not certain I would attend college. I went to a vocational high school—Chicago Vocational HS. I majored in architecture, learned a lot about the style and methods of Frank Lloyd Wright, and was encouraged to go on to college and study architecture and design. I earned a bachelor’s degree in design at Southern Illinois University.
While at SIU, a brilliant design thinker named Buckminster Fuller was on staff as a teaching professor. I was fascinated by his thinking, his philosophies and his thought process. But upon graduation I thought, “What am I going to do now?”
I started by designing store windows for a department store called Goldblatt’s. Then, fortunately, I stumbled upon an unknown profession called exhibit design. What was that? Lo and behold, 45 years later, I look back on my journey of good fortune, with its never-ending discoveries, and realize how the bits and pieces I remembered about Frank Lloyd Wright and Buckminster Fuller surfaced to have a significant relationship to my career. I was never a great designer, but I sure enjoyed filling in the pieces of a challenging design puzzle with thoughts that came out of left field.
Wright’s simple and organic design thoughts—as well as his philosophy to “do more with less”—applied greatly to exhibit design and fabrication methods. Fuller, designer of the geodesic dome, and his “Spaceship Earth” thinking also applied greatly to the one-world transformation that our industry is going through today.
As our industry continues to evolve, what other thought-provoking designers of the past (or the not-too-distant future) can we learn from and apply to exhibit design? Although we have all discovered this industry by accident, we each borrow thoughts and ideas that we have observed outside the world of exhibit design in one way or another. Face-to-face marketing in a controlled environment is our design arena. Where do our ideas come from?
What a cool way to make a living!