Nature—Cooper hewitt design triennial with cube design museum

Designers are forging meaningful connections with nature, inspired by its properties and resources. Their collaborative processes—working with nature and in teams across multiple disciplines—are optimistic responses at this moment when humans contend with the complexities and conditions of our planet. Compelled by a sense of urgency, designers look to nature as a guide and partner.

With projects ranging from experimental prototypes to consumer products, immersive installations, and architectural constructions, Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, co-organized with Cube design museum, presents the work of sixty-two international design teams. Collaborations involve scientists, engineers, advocates for social and environmental justice, artists, and philosophers. They are engaging with nature in innovative and ground-breaking ways, driven by a profound awareness of climate change and ecological crises as much as advances in science and technology.

An unbelievably realistic computer rendering of a gray rhino with leathery skin and soulful amber eyes in a cube-shaped room that is faintly purple

The Substitute, a CG animation and visualization of the extinct male northern white rhino created by The Mill, with behavior based on research by DeepMind. Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, 2019.

The exhibition themes explore seven strategies that designers are using to collaborate with nature—to understand, remediate, simulate, salvage, nurture, augment, and facilitate. The outcomes are speculative or practical and reveal new materials, creative methods, and inventive technologies. These provocations and solutions put forth by today’s extraordinary design teams serve as encouragement for an enduring and more respectful partnership with nature.

Curatorial teams from both museums developed the exhibition content, including Cooper Hewitt’s Caitlin Condell, associate curator and head of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design; Andrea Lipps, assistant curator of contemporary design; and, Matilda McQuaid, deputy director of curatorial and head of Textiles; and Cube’s Gene Bertrand, program and development director; and Hans Gubbels, director of Cube.

Nanobionic Plant Project: Ambient Illumination, 2016–ongoing; Michael Strano (American, b. 1975), Seon-Yeong Kwak (Korean, b. 1983), and Pavlo Gordiichuk (Ukrainian, b. 1986), MIT Chemical Engineering (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, founded 1888) and Sheila Kennedy (American, b. 1959), Ben Widger (American, b. 1984), Anne Graziano (American, b. 1993), Jeffrey Landman (United Kingdom, b. 1988), Karaghen Hudson (American, b. 1995), Zain Karsan (Canadian, b. 1991), and Patrick Weber (German, b. 1994), MIT Architecture (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, founded 1932), KVA (Boston, Massachusetts, USA, founded 1990); Nanobionic watercress plants; Dimensions variable; Courtesy of MIT Professor S. Kennedy & Professor M. Strano Research Groups

Scientists bioengineer living plants to emit light. Kennedy & Strano Research Groups, courtesy of MIT, 2016-ongoing


Cooper Hewitt’s Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden will feature two large-scale, site-specific installations unique to the U.S. presentation of the Design Triennial. The Tree of 40 Fruit by artist Sam Van Aken will blossom with apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries, and apricots. The tree is like a beautiful bouquet, created using centuries-old grafting techniques to preserve dozens of heirloom and rare fruit varieties threatened by industrial fruit production. Petrified River by the architects of Ensamble Studio is a 40-foot-long concrete “river” bookended by a “pond” and “hill” that represent the transformation process of Manhattan from wild nature to an urbanized flattened landscape. It is a petrified metaphor for the rich landscape that was once Mannahatta or “island of many hills.”

A rendering of a tree exploding with pink, purple and magenta blossoms. The tree has a dark trunk and is planted in a square-shaped gray planter that is on top of a deck overlooking the New York skyline on a sunny day with a pure blue sky

Tree of 40 Fruit, 2008–ongoing; Sam van Aken (American, b. 1972); Cultivar tree with grafts; Dimensions variable; Courtesy of Sam van Aken and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts

Complementing the Design Triennial, Cooper Hewitt’s second-floor galleries will be devoted to a rotating presentation of objects from the museum’s expansive holdings of over 210,000 objects. Nature by Design: Selections from the Permanent Collection is now on view and celebrates nature as perhaps the longest-continuing and most global sources of design inspiration. Spanning from the 16th century to the present, Nature by Design features extraordinary textiles, furniture, pattern books, jewelry and more to show how designers have interpreted nature’s rich beauty and complex science.

Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial is made possible by support from The Ainslie Foundation. Additional support is provided by Amita and Purnendu Chatterjee, the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, the Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund, and the Creative Industries Fund NL.

Funding is also provided by the Consulate General of the Netherlands in New York as part of the Dutch Culture USA program, and by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.

Digital rendering of a vertical book cover. The title, in large, black letters, that spans four lines reads "Nature: Collaborations in Design". The words are a blend of a serif and a san serif typeface. The background is white. Within the text of the title, two amoeba-like shapes overlap. One of these shapes is a blurry blend of red, orange, and blue. At the bottom of the cover reads "Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial / co-organized with Cube design museum".
Nature: Collaborations in Design
With design, we have the ability to become active agents in our relationship with nature. Nature: Collaborations in Design is a companion to the exhibition Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, co-organized with Cube design museum.
Experience Cafe
Is it possible to to smell flowers driven to extinction? To transform  pollution into a work of art?  For a building to become a biome of coexistence for people, plants, and butterflies? Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum presents Experience Cafe—a night of interactive activities and conversations with designers featured in Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial. Guests will rotate...