Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum Presents the 2006 National Design Triennial “Design Life Now”
The National Design Triennial is an ongoing exhibition series at the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. Inaugurated in 2000, the Triennial seeks out and presents the most innovative American designs from the prior three years in a variety of fields, including product design, architecture, furniture, film, graphics, new technologies, animation, science, medicine and fashion. The work of 87 designers and firms, ranging from established design leaders such as Apple, architect Santiago Calatrava and Nike, Inc., to emerging designers like Joshua Davis, Jason Miller and David Wiseman, will be featured throughout the museum campus. “Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006,” made possible by Target, will be on view from Dec. 8 through July 29, 2007.
Cooper-Hewitt curators Barbara Bloemink, Ellen Lupton and Matilda McQuaid, along with guest curator Brooke Hodge of The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, will present the experimental projects, emerging ideas, major buildings, new products and media that were at the center of contemporary culture from 2003 to 2006. The curatorial team chose the designers and firms by group consensus, and, for the first time, collected nominations from the public through a blog-style Web site, which brought in nominations for designers and firms such as Electroland, Nicholas Blechman, SHoP and Marsha Ginsberg.
“By displaying side-by-side the latest products and creative concepts from companies as diverse as Pixar, Google, Herman Miller and NASA, the Triennial emphasizes the nearly infinite ways in which design plays a role in how we see, think about and experience the world around us,” said museum director Paul Warwick Thompson. “The Triennial exhibition, catalog and related educational programming all advance Cooper-Hewitt’s mission to increase the public understanding of the impact of design on daily life.”
“Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006” will focus on four principal ideas that characterized elements of the design world during the last three years: emulating life; community; hand-crafted and do-it-yourself design; and transformation.
The exhibition will highlight designs that emulate the natural world—either through form or movement—from game design to robotics to products like kayaks and sneakers. Many new designs are based on biomimicry, studying the appearance and form of natural organisms in order to replicate various processes and functions.
In the process of designing the Nike Free running shoe, Nike designers explored the physiognomy of the human foot to try to emulate in a shoe the range of motion that occurs in the toes and feet when running barefoot. Joseph Ayers’ Robolobster, intended to recognize changes in seawater and locate underwater mines, is a robotic crustacean whose structure and form replicates its living counterpart. Graham Hawkes’ Deep Flight submersible can fly through the water like a greatbodied sea creature, through a design process which began with motion studies and engineering.
Apple’s iPod also displays nature’s characteristics of rapid mutation and change: it only functions when customized by individual users, it can continually expand its functions, and its designs are adaptive, from the basic iPod to the iPod Video.
Recently, robotics has moved from industrial and scientific tasks to the home, through affordable robots ranging from toys such as Wowwee’s Robosapien to domestic assistants such as iRobot’s Roomba and Scooba cleaning devices. David Hanson has gone one step further, by creating robots that uncannily mimic human behavior, expression and appearance. Hanson’s robotic head of Albert Einstein features highly realistic, responsive, skin-like “Frubber” and artificial intelligence components that enable the robot to answer questions with extremely authentic and subtle facial expressions. Similarly, Sergeant Blackwell, a three-dimensional virtual character developed for military training exercises by the Institute for Creative Technologies, is able to visually track movement, answer unscripted questions and display different emotional states.
The Triennial will demonstrate how design has responded to the growth and dissemination of the Internet, which has led to the evolution of vast communities that interact across enormous distances via blogs, film and animation, graphic design, limited-edition toys and music.
Blogs give voice to everything from political views to the personal musings of teenagers. Design blogs, such as Armin Vit’s SpeakUp, create an online community shaped by its authors, readers and contributors. Through a computer terminal installed in the Triennial exhibition, visitors will have an opportunity to see the visual possibilities of the blogging medium.
Design has always been a collaborative effort, involving clients, fabricators, retailers and end users, but increasingly, designers are working to collaborate in more fundamental ways. For its landscape projects, Field Operations integrates art, architecture, ecology, urbanism and economic development, as evidenced in its master plan for the University of Puerto Rico Botanical Garden. Likewise, in the creation of Teardrop Park, Michael Van Valkenburgh formed a temporary community of artists, civic officials and studio associates.
In the workplace, Herman Miller’s New Office Landscape series aims to stimulate employee creativity by creating semi-enclosed areas, such as the Basket group seating area, that are inviting places to meet, network and brainstorm. This new office environment proposes larger, more flexible shared areas mixed with smaller individual office spaces, designed to break up the grid of the old cube system and foster better collaboration.
Hand-Crafted and Do-it-Yourself Design
A major segment of the Triennial will feature designers whose work reflects a renewed appreciation for craft and personalization, whether through the use of specialized techniques such as embroidery and beading, or hand-crafted and do-it-yourself approaches.
The popularity of prefabricated housing in recent years illustrates the widespread desire among consumers for streamlined, yet customizable, solutions to housing. Prefab housing, such as Charlie Lazor’s FlatPak house and Craig Konyk’s Up!House, appeal to both young, first-time homeowners and empty nesters because of their affordability and adaptability.
In fashion design, craft can be combined with standard production techniques to make unique garments. Ralph Rucci’s haute couture gowns feature hand-stitched hems, seams and luxurious handcrafted details. Thom Browne’s individual touches are a trademark of his work. His quirky styling and unexpected details, such as grosgrain ribbon trim, set his designs apart from the mainstream.
Jewelry designers Judy Geib and brothers Steven and William Ladd design and fabricate all of their work themselves, allowing ultimate control and resulting in highly individualized pieces. Likewise, David Wiseman works independently and his design practice focuses on elegant handcrafted objects. For the exhibition at Cooper-Hewitt, Wiseman will create an intricate network of cast plaster branches and fired porcelain blossoms that will hang from the entry foyer of the exhibition gallery, creating a rich, rococo overhead canopy.
Design education is at the core of the do-it-yourself movement, from magazines such as Readymade to the hybrid book/magazine Make, to Howtoons, a Web site for children. These publications and resources are part of a broad social movement to create an “information commons” that is available to everyone, empowering people of all ages, across the globe. On view will be instruction manuals as well as built projects, including a mobile speaker from Make, a chandelier from Readymade and a marshmallow shooter from Howtoons.
“Design Life Now” also will explore the transformation of form and materials through design, whether by bringing the outside into architectural interiors, using light to dissolve and transform surfaces, or creating interactive floors and artificial gardens.
Landscape architect Ken Smith is well known for transforming urban areas into visually pleasing and inspiring oases through color, foliage, earth, grass, artificial rocks and plants and water.
Toshiko Mori’s Newspaper Café in Jinhua City, China, displays hundreds of different daily newspapers, thereby using the ephemeral character of the news to transform the façade of the building. Christopher Douglas’ Knock-down, Drag-out series of collapsible furniture, which includes a dining table, chairs, benches and a coffee table, can be easily disassembled and moved quickly to transform an empty living space. Likewise, blik’s removable vinyl wallpapers allow users to instantly customize their living spaces.
Design processes have also been transformed in recent years by computers and special design software programs, as seen in the work of Joshua Davis, who generates unique visual compositions by writing code in Flash ActionScript that randomly selects elements from a database of hand-drawn imagery and automatically transforms, composes and connects them. Textile designer Lia Cook’s recent work combines photographic media and computer-aided technologies with her mastery of jacquard looms to lend an unusual richness to both textile- and image-making.
“Design Life Now: National Design Triennial 2006” is made possible by Target.
Generous support is provided by Maharam.
Additional funding is provided by Agnes Bourne.
Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution is the only museum in the nation devoted exclusively to historic and contemporary design. The museum presents compelling perspectives on the impact of design on daily life through active educational programs, exhibitions and publications. 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.
As the design authority of the United States, Cooper-Hewitt programs and exhibitions demonstrate how design shapes culture and history—past, present and future. The museum presents design along a historic continuum, balancing contemporary and historic concerns and using 21st-century perspectives to pinpoint themes of enduring interest to design across all centuries. Holdings encompass one of the most diverse and comprehensive collections of design works in existence, tracing the history of design through more than 250,000 objects spanning 24 centuries, from the Han Dynasty (200 B.C.) to the present. The museum’s collections are organized in four curatorial departments: product design and decorative arts; drawings, prints and graphic design; textiles; and wallcoverings.
Cooper-Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Fridays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; and Sundays, noon 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, $12; senior citizens and students ages 12 and older, $9. Cooper-Hewitt members and children younger than age 12 are admitted free. For further information, please call (212) 849-8300 or visit http://www.cooperhewitt.org. The museum is fully accessible.
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