National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?

Release Date: 
Monday, May 3, 2010

Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents “National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?”

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum will present the fourth exhibition in the National Design Triennial series in spring 2010. “Why Design Now?” will be on view from May 14, 2010, through Jan. 9, 2011, and will explore the work of designers addressing human and environmental problems across many fields of design from architecture and product design to fashion, graphics, new media and landscape design. Organized by Cooper-Hewitt curators Ellen Lupton, Cara McCarty, Matilda McQuaid and Cynthia Smith, the Triennial will be global in reach for the first time, reflecting the connectedness of design practices and the need for international cooperation to solve the world’s problems.

The exhibition title asks the question “Why Design Now?” to examine why design thinking is an essential tool for solving some of today’s most urgent problems; what draws creative thinkers, makers and problem solvers to this crucial field of discovery; and why business leaders, policy makers, consumers and citizens should embrace design values. Key developments across design disciplines will be presented through eight themes: energy, mobility, community, materials, prosperity, health, communication and simplicity.

Inaugurated in 2000, the Triennial series seeks out and presents the most innovative, forward-thinking designs at the center of contemporary culture from the previous three years. The exhibition showcases design solutions that promote environmental stewardship, social equity, accessibility and creative capital in 134 projects from 44 countries.

“This groundbreaking exhibition gives voice to a revolution taking place within all areas of design practice, from how materials and products are planned and conceived to how goods and services are manufactured, distributed and reclaimed worldwide,” said McCarty, curatorial director of the museum. “‘Why Design Now?’ takes a positive look at the intriguing and ambitious projects shaping this revolution.”

The curatorial team chose the designers and firms by group consensus and also collected nominations from the public through a dedicated Web site, which brought in nominations for projects such as Trove wallpapers and Etsy.

“Why Design Now?” will be accompanied by interpretive tools that extend the exhibition beyond the museum galleries. Developed in collaboration with the museum’s curators and educators, iPod touch digital guides will supplement the visitor experience with designer interviews and video footage, and will be available for use free of charge.

Energy
Around the world, scientists, engineers and designers are seeking ways to harness energy from the sun, wind and ocean tides and create new products and structures that use energy efficiently and self-sufficiently. Among the projects on view in this section are the Z-20 concentrated solar-panel system, which intensifies the solar energy harnessed through the use of mirrors and tracking devices; the bioWave, an enormous underwater machine that mimics the swaying motion of seaweed and is designed to capture the kinetic energy of ocean turbulence; the Power Aware cord, which provides a real-time way for consumers to visualize their energy consumption; and the experimental desert city Masdar in the United Arab Emirates, which will be the largest and most advanced carbon-neutral community.

Mobility
Allowing people to travel across town or over a continent while conserving resources requires fresh design solutions and an examination of mobility patterns and components. The exhibition will feature works such as Coulomb Technologies’ ChargePoint—a broad network of vehicle charging stations connected to the energy grid and installed in public and private lots; ondemand electric vehicles like MIT’s CityCar; urban transportation forms such as foldable bicycles and DIY bicycle trailers; and France’s recently designed AGV high-speed self-propelled train.

Community
In response to ever-expanding sprawl in the developed world and escalating urban density in developing areas, architects are creating rooftop villages, urban farms and mixed-use housing developments that employ local materials and encourage harmonious, energy-efficient living at close quarters. Highlights of the design projects on view include the H20tel in the Netherlands, the first hydrogen-powered hotel; Oslo’s new, environmentally friendly opera house, which provides city residents access to the waterfront for the first time; vertical farming initiatives such as the Eco-Laboratory; and the Mapungubwe National Park Interpretive Center, built using local materials and labor.

Materials
Great efforts have been made in the past decade to address the need for more sustainable materials, which reduce the amount of energy and fossil fuels used in manufacturing. Chemists, engineers and designers are inventing everything from biodegradable, petroleum-free plastics to foam insulation that grows in the dark like a mushroom, requiring minimal energy to produce. Products are also being made with post-industrial and post-consumer recycled content, ranging from IceStone’s colorful and durable pre-cast concrete slabs that contain 100 percent recycled glass to items by fashion designer Martin Margiela who repurposes used objects into couture clothing. New information systems, including Ecolect’s Product Nutrition Label, are also helping consumers find goods with a clean biological record, such as materials made from reclaimed waste, from non-toxic substances or from rapidly renewable agricultural products.

Prosperity
Progressive designers and entrepreneurs are building engines of prosperity that enable local communities to use their own resources to create their own wealth, as well as to participate in the global economy. Projects on view include a number of items that address basic necessities, such as a pearl millet thresher and a low smoke stove developed for use in India; examples of slow design such as hand-made, limited-edition clothing by Alabama Chanin; and works made in collaboration with international designers and local craftspeople like the Witches’ Kitchen Collection, Design with a Conscience Series, manufactured by Artecnica.

Health
From creating prosthetic limbs controlled by the human mind to devising new ways to deliver health care to remote rural populations, designers are improving physical, mental and social wellness for everyone. Among the featured projects in this section are the Solvatten Safe Water System, which uses UV light to make water potable; affordable corrective eyewear that is self-adjusted by injecting various amounts of fluid into the lenses of thick glasses; a low-cost neonatal incubator made from car parts; a condom applicator; and the Zōn Hearing Aid, which is nearly invisible when placed behind the ear.

Communication
Smart phones, digital reading devices and social networks are changing the way people use and produce information. Designers are helping people understand the world’s problems by visualizing complex data and by delivering urgent messages about safety, equality and the environment. Works on view include industrial designer David Chavez’s prototype for a Braille wristwatch; One Laptop per Child’s XOXO laptop, designed by Yves Béhar, which is targeted specifically for the developed world and can be held flat, angled or like a book; Amazon’s Kindle, which offers a new way to experience books; Etsy, a global online marketplace for craftspeople, artists and designers; and the Etón FR 600 radio, an emergency radio charged via hand crank or solar panel, which works when or where the grid fails to function.

Simplicity
As designers strive to simplify production processes and consume fewer materials in smaller amounts, the quest for simplicity is shaping design’s economic and ethical values. On view will be Shigeru Ban’s 10-Unit system, which employs a single L-shaped component that can be used to construct a table, chair and bench; Karin Eriksson’s Gripp glasses, which help people comfortably grasp the vessels and hold them steady; the Return to Sender artisan, eco-casket; affordable products by MUJI; and the adjustable height AlphaBetter student desk, which allows students to sit or stand while working.

Exhibition Design
The exhibition was designed by Tsang Seymour Design and features eco-safe materials, modular components and simple mounting techniques. The installation was designed with heavy consideration toward reducing waste and selecting materials based on a percentage of postconsumer or recycled content, low-emissions in manufacturing and/or shipping and recyclability.

The exhibition furniture is made from Medite FR, a composite of 100 percent post-industrial recycled wood, finished with zero-VOC paint and varnish. In place of heavily constructed platforms, exhibition areas are delineated with FLOR Fedora carpet tiles, which are manufactured from 80 percent post-consumer fibers and are fully recyclable by FLOR. In place of the foam-mounted graphics typically found in museum displays, large-scale images are printed on UltraTex Organic U230 fabric; these light-weight banners roll up for shipping when the exhibition travels. Object labels are printed on Ply-Corr cardboard, a 100 percent recyclable material made from 50 percent postconsumer waste.

Catalog Design
A full-length catalog, entitled Why Design Now? National Design Triennial, accompanies the exhibition and features nine original essays and more than 350 illustrations, many of them never before published. The exhibition catalog was designed by Michael Bierut and Yve Ludwig of Pentagram. Bierut is a partner at the New York design firm Pentagram, a 2008 Design Mind honoree of Cooper-Hewitt’s National Design Awards and designer of the Green Patriot Poster project, which is featured in the exhibition.

In keeping with the sustainability theme of the exhibition, the catalog is printed by Toppan Printing Company, a Forest Stewardship Council–certified printer that is the only printer included in the Global 100 List of the Most Sustainable Companies in the World. The catalog is printed on FSCcertified papers made with trees harvested from sustainably managed forests; and using soy-based inks that are more environmentally friendly than traditional oil-based inks. Carbon credits were purchased to offset the printing process, making the production of the catalog “carbon-neutral.” The shrink wrap that each catalog comes in is 100 percent recyclable.

“National Design Triennial: Why Design Now?” is sponsored by GE.

Generous support is provided by Agnes Bourne and the Mondriaan Foundation. The exhibition is also supported in part by the Norwegian Consulate General in New York, the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund, the Ministry of Culture Denmark, and public funds from the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency.

Additional funding is provided by Leonard Polonsky and Georgette Bennett, the Consulate General of Finland, the Consulate General of the Netherlands, the Consulate General of Switzerland in New York, the Cultural Services of the French Embassy/La Maison Française, and the Office of Cultural Affairs, Consulate General of Israel in New York.

About Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. Founded in 1897 by Amy, Eleanor, and Sarah Hewitt—granddaughters of industrialist Peter Cooper—as part of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the museum has been a branch of the Smithsonian since 1967. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications.

The museum is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations) and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. General admission, $15; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $10. Cooper-Hewitt and Smithsonian members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8400 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.

About GE
GE is a diversified infrastructure, finance and media company taking on the world’s toughest challenges. From aircraft engines and power generation to financial services, medical imaging and television programming, GE operates in more than 100 countries and employs about 300,000 people worldwide.
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