Some say that the purpose of “design” is not merely to create a new object, but to solve a problem. Designer Josh Owen found a problem in a piece that is both atypical yet steeped in tradition: the Hanukah menorah. The menorah represents the power of design as a symbolic object that goes beyond function; more than facilitating Hanukah observers to commemorate an ancient tale, the menorah represents the spirit of the Festival of Lights and signifies the season as a whole.
And while the analog display of a lit menorah remains mesmerizing in our age of LEDs and high-definition tablet screens, Owen noted an issue—not a full-on schanda—but a consistent design deficiency in basic menorah operation: As the candles burn for eight nights, the wax falls prey to gravity and drips without regard to tradition or fine design.
“I had always been frustrated by the fact that the menorah needed to be located on a plate or other surface to manage catching the wax drippings from the candles,” Owen tells Architizer. “Also, I had seen many modern menorah designs, but none that seemed at once modern and traditional. This design was an attempt to be both.”
In Owen’s product, available through Areaware, the candelabra’s cast iron design elegantly spreads outward at its base, forming a seamless apparatus that contains the entire wax lifecycle. The tray also makes a logical surface for laying recently ignited matches. Smart, right?
As Hanukah approaches, the menorah stands out among Owen’s more secular designs, which range from Isamu Noguchi-inspired tissue box covers and a chic toilet plunger, to plastic clocks for LOLL, whose numerals are engraved at exact angles that become individually prominent as the day’s changing ambient light shines on each respective hour. Sustainability remains key among the metaphysical dialogue—each clock’s recycled material rescues about 126 milk jugs from landfills.
No doubt, Owen’s breadth is wide, while adhering to a relatively minimal aesthetic. “My designs are the distillation of an exhaustive process of research and exploration, but are often deceptively simple in their final statements,” he explains.
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His home base in upstate New York is inseparable from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which Owen says fosters a small but highly intelligent design culture. “Having lived and worked in center-city Philadelphia for 13 years prior to moving to Rochester, it feels quite rural to me here, and I find that a great advantage—there is a peaceful quality about living in Rochester that fuels my work. My studio looks out onto the woods, and I often walk into the village to buy my milk in glass bottles from the Dairy Farm there.”
Owen’s role as Professor and Chair of the Industrial Design Program at RIT translates to a strong program of apprenticeships in the studio. “When I take interns into the studio, I view their work with me as an extension of their design education,” he says. “Often, a summer’s worth of collaboration in the office functions as a short period of deeper focus into an area of industry that the individual considers most relevant to their career goals.”
The airiness of Owen’s creations is echoed in his own studio, where functions are compartmentalized between a library, archives, and small workshop. “This allows for a clean and organized HQ, which is where I spend most of my time,” he says.
The Josh Owen menorah is available through Areaware.