Valuing World Cultures – Bill Moggridge

The third of the grand challenges posed by Secretary Wayne Clough for the new strategic plan of the Smithsonian is explained by the sentence:

“As a steward and ambassador of cultural connections, with a presence in some 100 countries and expertise and collections that encompass the globe, we will build bridges of mutual respect, and present the diversity of world cultures and the joy of creativity with accuracy, insight, and reverence.”


A snapshot from the website for the National Design Triennial

We’re well ahead with responding to this challenge, as Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum shows designs that are sourced internationally and from diverse cultures. Take for example our current exhibition, the National Design Triennial, Why Design Now?. There are 134 answers to the question drawn from 44 countries. Just in this image, of nine examples on the homepage of the exhibition website, there are designs from Brazil, Colombia, Finland, Germany, Ghana, India, Japan, Mali, Nepal, Peru, Taipei and the USA. Designers around the world are answering the “Why?” question by creating products, prototypes, buildings, landscapes, messages and interactions that weave a web of cultural connections.

Design for the Living World

For Design for a Living World, the show that ran from last May to January of this year, ten designers worked in ten countries, developing solutions that demonstrated new uses for sustainable materials across diverse cultures.

Piranesi as Designer

Cultural connections run deep in our history as well. For example the Piranesi as Designer exhibition, which was open from September 2007 to January 2008, looked at the artist’s role in the reform of architecture and design from the 18th century to the present.

Design for the other 90%

Our precedent setting exhibition was Design for the Other 90%, on view during 2007, which highlighted the growing trend among designers to create affordable and socially responsible objects for the ninety percent of the world’s population not traditionally serviced by professional designers. This evidence of the desire of designers to reach out across cultural and economic divisions was welcomed by the community, and is the first in a series of three shows building on the theme. Our curator, Cynthia Smith, is currently traveling the world to research material for “Critical Mass,” an exhibition about population growth and urbanization that will open in the fall of next year. Her research is supported by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.