Over the course of seven seasons, the landmark series “Mad Men” has charted the rise of ad man Don Draper in the “Golden Age” of advertising in 1960s New York. Today AMC unveils a special installation that commemorates the show’s impact in the city. Designed by Pentagram’s Lorenzo Apicella, Michael Bierut and Emily Oberman, the monument takes the form of a sleek, elegant bench that features the iconic graphic of Draper from the show’s opening title sequence. Pentagram project coordinator Julia Lindpainter worked closely with AMC and the bench’s fabricator, DCL, to manage the design’s careful execution.The bench is located outside the Time & Life Building, the fictional home of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce (changed to Sterling Cooper & Partners in the sixth season), where Draper and fellow characters Roger Sterling, Peggy Olson, Joan Holloway and Peter Campbell work in the series. “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, January Jones, Christina Hendricks and John Slattery were on hand today for the sculpture’s unveiling.The installation coincides with the show’s final seven episodes, which kick off on Sunday, April 5. The bench will be on display in the Time & Life Building Plaza at 1271 Avenue of the Americas (between 50th and 51st Streets) for fans and passersby to enjoy from March 23 through the summer.
Like most designers, Pentagram has loved “Mad Men” since it debuted, living vicariously as Don pitches various brilliant campaigns in his position as Creative Director at Sterling Cooper. (Michael Bierut wrote about one of these pitches on Design Observer.) To develop the monument, Pentagram assembled a team of partners, enlisting Apicella for his architectural expertise, Bierut for his obsessive knowledge of the show, and Oberman for her pop culture savvy and background in entertainment design. The idea behind the bench is strong and simple. The silhouette of Don with his arm draped over a couch has become a symbol of “Mad Men,” seen in the final moments of the opening titles designed by Imaginary Forces. The show’s story is told against the backdrop of massive cultural changes in the 1960s, and the graphic pictures Don sitting back, taking it all in. The bench invites visitors to do the same, to take a moment and observe the excitement of New York around them. Fans are welcome to “drape” themselves on the bench like Don, and take and post photos. (Call it #Draping.) “Mad Men,” and Don in particular, are known for their cool, consummate sense of style, and the show has been credited with renewing interest in mid-century modern design. Rather than recreate the look of the period, Apicella’s design for the bench echoes it in clean, smooth lines that make the monument the chicest, most sophisticated piece of street furniture in the city. Comprised of only two pieces, the 12-foot-long bench combines a ½” thick-rolled steel plate seat and back, balanced on a 10-foot-long cast concrete base. Don’s silhouette is cut from the seat, which has a powder-coated black finish with white painted graphic elements. The concrete base color was selected to complement the existing plaza paving pattern.
Before arriving at the bench concept, Bierut and Oberman’s teams brainstormed various ideas with AMC. There is a tradition of statues inspired by popular television shows and characters: Mary throwing up her hat in Minneapolis, the home of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”; “Happy Days’” Fonzie in Milwaukee; and closer to home, Ralph Kramden from “The Honeymooners” outside New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. The group also looked at oversized Pop objects like Claes Oldenburg’s clothespin in Philadelphia and stamp in Cleveland, and Pentagram’s own needle-and-thread in New York’s Garment District. Imagine a giant fedora touching down in Central Park, or a sky-high pair of Joan’s heels marching down Fifth Avenue.Other ideas considered by the designers more directly integrated the monument into the urban environment: manhole covers, special “Mad Men Av.” street signs for Madison Avenue, commemorative plaques, a walk of fame, window silhouettes, lenticular displays, interactive screens and architectural projections. This lead to the idea of street furniture, and in particular, a bench. Should Don drop by take a seat, he may have one problem with the monument: The bench is located in a public plaza, so there’s no smoking allowed. (via Pentagram)