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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

NO MEAN CITY: The hidden hands – Edward Lam, 1958-2013

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Edward Lam, Moss and Lam, 2011. Photo by Alex Bozikovic

Cross-posted from No Mean City, Alex’s personal blog on architecture

I recently had the sad assignment of writing an obituary for Edward Lam. Along with his wife, Deborah Moss, he ran the art practice Moss and Lam, who played a singular role in the interior-design world.

Principally M&L were, and are, close collaborators with Yabu Pushelberg, the Toronto- and New York-based designers who are among the most creative people in the field. By all accounts, Lam was an indispensable part of their shared work.

Moss and Lam make decorative work and installations – but their best work is innovative in its use of materials and techniques, surprising in its conceptual rigor, full of the unexpected, absolutely particular. It is, in a word, art.

I visited Moss and Lam in their studio a couple of years ago; it truly was a studio, full of works in progress, experiments in texture and materials.

Edward Lam and Deborah Moss, Moss and Lam, 2011. Photo Alex Bozikovic

Some of these played out in a massive mobile in Seoul, or sculptural fish in Chicago with Tony Chi, or in their furniture collection, led by Moss.

Edward Lam died suddenly and unexpectedly, and their work continues. Most of it is handmade by them and their staff of eight artists. Since most of the ornament in contemporary design is manufactured or digitally fabricated, this sets them apart. “There is a difference,” Moss told me. “People come to us because they can sense there is a hand behind these projects.” This makes them a sort of flashback to half a century ago, when craftsmanship was still an integral part of the building process. And until recently the hand – as well as the artist’s sensibility – was often Edward Lam’s.

In a 2011 interview at Moss & Lam’s Toronto studio, surrounded by a riot of models, sketches and paintings, Mr. Lam spoke of his work at [the restaurant] Blue Fin with quiet pride. “That wave wall has become our signature,” he said. “Somebody called to ask us how to do that treatment. And I said, ‘Well, you get some cement and some plaster, and the question is: How good is your hand?’ There are no secrets. That’s the secret.”

Blue Fin, W Hotel Times Square, Yabu Pushelberg, Moss & Lam