Field Trip: Why Design Now?

Category :Design, inspiration

Last Sunday, I spent the afternoon beating the 90+ degree heat immersed in what is believed is the best of design thought now.

‘Why Design Now?’ the 2010 triennial survey of all things design at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum covers the past three years and like any good survey is both in the moment and in the future.  Global in scope, sustainability was the ‘in the moment’ theme–both in many of the pieces but also in the installation itself.  Backlash against technology was a future theme with handmade and one of a kind pieces that showed a clear direction away from global computer driven design  and towards a celebration of localization of resources, design and culture.

This dichotomy of thought -high tech vs. low tech – wasn’t totally driven by economics, but the two most extreme examples of each were.  Masdar City currently being built in Abu Dhabi aims to be the first totally sustainable, zero carbon footprint city in the world.  The scope of the project is incredible and a testament to what piles of money can do.

Masdar City

In the same gallery was the most low tech design.  The Pearl Millet thresher.  This simple machine greatly reduces the time it takes to separate  Pearl Millet grains from the stem.  The materials are available locally and the thresher is simple to build and operate.

With the exception of urban farming projects, I was disappointed in the lack of landscape design represented in the show.  In 2006 Cao|Perot, Field Operations and Ken Smith were well represented and in this go around, most of the design ideas involving landscape were collaborative so you had to dig (no pun intended) to find them.  A notable exception was a post Katrina community garden project that will have even more resonance in the wake of the BP gulf oil disaster.  Viet Village Urban Farm is not only an incredible project, but the graphics used to show it in the gallery were low-tech and innovative at the same time.  Not allowed to take pictures, you’ll have to trust me when I say the that the collaged, cut and paste from strips of photographs farm plan was one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

With that said, there were so many ideas in  that it’s impossible to process them all in one visit.  Here are just a few of them–some suitable for landscape and garden…some just because they were great design.

Sole solar roof tiles

I love the idea of solar energy, but hate the panels.  Here’s an elegant solution…Sole power roof tiles.  Now to figure out a style that’s not based on Spanish architecture…

Invisible Street light

Korean designer, Jongoh Lee designed this light which uses a ‘host’ tree, stores energy during the day and does it’s work after dark.  Brilliant.

Chair by Jetske de Groot

In my opinion, much of the most interesting design in the show was Dutch.  Jetske de Groot builds furniture from disparate parts–and then celebrates the process via colored epoxy joints.  On her website is an excellent re-purposed resin lawn chair back.

SolPix wall

I just want this, but imagine the technology smaller on a back garden wall.  GreenPix Zero Energy media wall.

I could add more, more, more, but the most surprising of all doesn’t have an image–again because photos weren’t allowed in the gallery.  My face, via my Twitter avatar was front and center on the live Twitter feed because I had used 140 to say I was going and include the hashtag #triennial.  That will probably be the closest I get to being in the triennial…

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One Comment
  1. “Backlash against technology was a future theme with handmade and one of a kind pieces that showed a clear direction away from global computer driven design and towards a celebration of localization of resources, design and culture.” As the Arts and Crafts movement was a backlash against the Industrial Revolution! Although new technology awes and amazes me, I REALLY can’t wait to see what the new generation of artists/crafts people will create.

    To me that was the most interesting aspect of the show. Designers, including me are tired of sitting infront of their screens all day.

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