Exhibition Catalog, designed by Michael Bierut and Yve Ludwig of Pentagram

Sunday January 9th was the last day of our National Design Triennial, open since May 14th. How can almost nine months go so fast? The show answered the question “Why Design Now?” with 134 examples, assembled from around the world by our curatorial team, and presented in eight categories or themes. By way of a personal retrospective, here is an example from each theme that particularly intrigued me.

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ENERGY

Designed by Tarazi Studio, for the Israeli firm ZenithSolar

This huge solar concentrator follows the sun all day, like a sun flower. It is fully developed and in production, harnessing solar energy to create electricity and hot water efficiently and inexpensively, due to a thoughtful and ingeniously engineered design. Watch the video here.

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MOBILITY

Designed by Peter Muller of Interform, for Coulomb Technologies.

People are worried about running out of juice! The fabulous efficiency gains offered by fully electric cars will only attract a small proportion of drivers until it’s easy to recharge wherever you are. The ChargePoint Network is a promising attempt to provide a widespread infrastructure, and nicely designed too!

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COMMUNITY

Design – Peter Rich, John Ochsendorf, Michael Ramage, Peter Rich Architects.

This building is constructed of thin bricks, assembled on wooden forms that are later removed, in a geometry with three dimensional curves to give strength. This traditional method allows vaulting spans of up to sixty feet without steel or wooden support structures, is very energy-efficient due to the high thermal mass of the material, and is made of locally manufactured bricks and mortar. You can see a stop frame video of the building of the Interpretive Center here.

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MATERIALS

Greensulate insulation material, designed by Ecovative

Styrofoam is pretty nasty stuff, so it’s great to see a material with similar insulative, fire retardent and structural qualities that can be made from mushrooms and waste organic materials (well, to be accurate, Mycelium, the “roots” of a mushroom, and other natural byproducts such as buckwheat, rice hulls and cotton burrs). Let’s hope that Ecovative can get the backing to bring Greensulate to scale!

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PROSPERITY

Radio enclosures, designed by Singgih S. Kartono.

What a refreshing contrast to all those buttons on the radios that we’ve grown used to! These wooden radios are beautifully designed and made at the Piranti Works in Indonesia, adhering to the designer’s two basic principles, “Less Wood, More Work,” and “Cut Less, Plant More”—the workshop replants at least one tree for every one removed.

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HEALTH

A collaboration between the Acumen Fund, IDEO, and local Water Organizations.

We had our Why Design Now? conference on October 1st, when I blogged about two of the examples from the health theme. I also like the Ripple Effect program, funded by the Gates Foundation, as an example of social innovation through participatory design. Take a look at the video here.

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COMMUNICATION

A collaboration between cartographers at the Universities of Sheffield and Michigan

This Cartogram from Worldmapper represents Internet use in 2007 (you can see an animation of the changes between 2000 and 2007 on the link). It is one of 366 maps, published both on the website and in book form, that represents relative scale in particular categories of social or economic activity, such as emigration or cell-phone use. How succinct and informative that is for those of us who find a picture worth a thousand words!

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SIMPLICITY

Pleated paper chair by Oki Sato of Nendo.

Issey Miyake organized an exhibition in Japan in 2008 by challenging his contemporaries to conceive of new products for the twenty-first century. What types of furniture and objects are appropriate, he asked, for people who “don’t just wear clothes, but shed their skin?” This was Sato’s response using a compact roll of pleated paper that the user opens up and peels back, layer by layer, to create a soft and resilient enclosure for the body.

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