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Industrial Light and Magic 

Yves Béhar designs ordinary things that meet our needs in extraordinary ways

Wednesday, Mar 24 2004
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Ever wish it were just as easy to change the wallpaper in your house as it is to change the wallpaper on the desktop of your PC? Or that your shoes were smart enough to know exactly how to fit your feet, so you never had to grin and bear a heel blister the size of Montana in the name of fashion? As luxurious as these ideas seem, they are not merely the stuff of dreams. In fact, they are the very realized concepts of Swiss-born industrial design artist Yves Béhar, who is about to have his first solo museum exhibit as part of SFMOMA's "design series 2."

Béhar is the founder and creative director of fuseproject, a San Francisco-based brand development and industrial design firm. His creations, which focus primarily on lifestyle objects, aim to form deep practical and even emotional links between the consumer and the product so that humans feel less like they are fighting against technology and more like they are being dutifully served by it. His exhibition, titled "fuseproject" after his firm, is a sprawling parade of sophisticated gadgetry, and is divided into six thematic sections: "move," "step," "touch," "hold," "connect," and "expand."

The Dream Room, for example, part of the "expand" component, has walls covered entirely with LCD displays. The room can be programmed to display Goya and Picasso paintings on your run-of-the-mill walls, or even cover them floor-to-ceiling with any number of outdoor scenes. So, you could potentially pull your sleeping bag into the middle of the living room one night, and wake up the next morning to a sunrise at the foot of a Chilean glacier.

Béhar's ideas are not all so large in scale, though: In the "step" category, we see the artist's revolutionary Birkenstock-commissioned shoes, which form a mold of the wearer's feet that can later be used to make other shoes. And the artist's interest in amalgamating fashion and practicality doesn't end with feet. He created a cashmere windbreaker (shown in "touch") after discovering that soaking raw wool in a Teflon bath before weaving renders it resistant to the elements but doesn't affect the material's softness. Béhar also designed a line of accessories for owners of the new MINI Cooper, including a Gore-Tex jacket that can be made into a portable chair and a Samsonite carpack that doubles as a pedestrian bag. The designer even thinks about his work from an ecological perspective, designing beauty products that come in biodegradable cornstarch packaging that dissolves in water -- or can just be eaten.

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Karen Macklin

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