Designer brings mobile theories to Juneau

Speech will be design forum's last in Juneau

Posted: Thursday, February 17, 2005

Teaching in North Carolina in 1996 and 1997, Los Angeles-based architect Jennifer Siegal began paying more attention to trailers. She liked the theory of mobile homes as a housing type, but in most cases, the design itself left something to be desired.

"It's amazing to me how many people have weird connections to trailer parks," she said. "Some of the most prime real estate in Malibu and on up the coast are mobile homes."

Siegal will speak and share samples of her work at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 23, at the Silverbow's Back Room, as part of the Alaska Design Forum's monthly series. ADF is an organization of state designers and architects (

Siegal began experimenting with mobile design concepts, and in 1998 she opened her own firm, the Office of Mobile Design.

The design team seeks to explore "non-permanently sited structures that move across and rest lightly upon the land," according to its mission statement, In doing so, it hopes to "contrast the generic clutter that increasingly crowds the landscape."

"Right now, it's really interesting to me that our communication devices have become so compact and mobile," Siegal said. "Between our cell phones and PDAs and laptops, there are very few non-nomadic work behaviors or communication behaviors. And it was sort of evident to me that architecture hadn't really caught up to that technological change."

This is the ADF's final Juneau event of the spring. Admission is $10 for general, $7 for ADF and museum members and $5 for students and starving artists.

"I usually talk about the theory behind contemporary mobility nomadism," said Siegal, who lectures throughout the country. "And I'll talk a little about the influence of who else is doing what out there."

Siegal's work is inspired by the Italian Futurist movement, and its promotion of light, movable, dynamic culture. One of OMD's first projects was the Mobile Eco Lab, a 35-foot renovated trailer that was built to travel throughout Los Angeles County, teaching K-12 students about sustainable living.

She's still interested in portable classrooms. Lately, she's been working on a portable, private middle school classroom in the Los Angeles area.

"We're looking at natural light, high ceilings, certain colors that children are inspired by, as well as a real tactile material palette that they can relate to. Something that's not banal," Siegal said. "We try to use materials that are more green or sustainable, eco-friendly."

OMD has designed the I-Mobile, a souped-up truck that functions as a traveling Internet portal for far-flung communities, and The Hydra House, a floating home designed to withstand rising sea levels. The firm has also sold a handful of pre-fabricated homes and plans to set up the Inhabitable Art Project, an assembly-line-inspired facility to build customized pre-fab dwellings.

In 2002, Siegal and OMD designed the Haagen-Dazs Pleasure Mobile, an ice-cream cocktail kiosk with large, collapsible DVD screens. The mobile was made to transport to showcase events, where Haagen-Dasz could brand its product.

"I was working for one of the last dot-coms, for an extreme sports company, and I was looking at a lot of windsurfers and skateboards and things like that around that time," Siegal said. "I got the commission to do (the pleasure mobile) for Haagen Dasz, and I was thinking about self-propelled vehicles, things that could break down and move on their own."

"That piece has a lot to do with movement and motion," she said. "It has a skin, and it's lightweight. You look at the lines, and it's kind of based on the shape of windsurfers, like an underwater sail."

More recently, Siegal designed the SeaTrain Residence, a 3,000-square-foot home in the Los Angeles area made out of shipping containers, grain trailers and found objects. The plans stemmed from her interest in seagoing refuse.

Another of Siegal's latest projects is Materials Monthly, a subscription-based service that will mail samples of three cutting-edge design materials, along with a book describing each material's properties.

The service ( launches in May, with sample boxes coming out this week. The latest box includes a plastic called Reversacol that changes color when exposed to light.

Siegal, the professor of materials at Woodbury College in Los Angeles, has been researching innovative substances and fibers for the last few years.

Her work is featured in her 2002 book, "Mobile: The Art of Portable Architecture."

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