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Designers are striving to transform people’s relationship with the natural world. “Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial,” co-organized by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum and Cube design museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, will feature over 60 projects to demonstrate how designers are collaborating with scientists, engineers, environmentalists, academics and other stakeholders to find inventive and promising solutions to the environmental and social challenges confronting humanity today. On view May 10–Jan. 20, 2020, the Design Triennial will be presented at both Cooper Hewitt and Cube, allowing audiences in both the U.S. and Europe to experience the works simultaneously.
“With 2018 the Earth’s fourth-warmest year on record and global carbon emissions at an all-time high, the crisis of human-caused climate change has never been more dire,” said Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt. “Solutions will not emerge without radical new thinking and alliances. ‘Nature’ brings together some of the most creative and intelligent designers whose works address our complex relationship to nature and its precious resources and advocate for greater empathy for our planet.”
“Co-operation is crucial in addressing the human-inflicted situation in which nature currently finds itself,” said Hans Gubbels, director of Cube. “The projects in ‘Nature,’ which we have brought together with Cooper Hewitt over the past three years, show great inventiveness. This carries the promise that we can bring human behavior back in line with nature again. Co-operation between design, science and technology thus can turn the tide for our planet.”
The exhibition is organized into seven sections, which describe designers’ strategies in working with nature: Understand, Simulate, Salvage, Facilitate, Augment, Remediate and Nurture.
Understand focuses on how designers mediate scientific knowledge to enhance humanity’s understanding of nature. Highlights include:
- Curiosity Cloud by Austrian design duo Mischer’Traxler, which celebrates biodiversity while inviting meditation on nature’s fragility. The installation is composed of glass bulbs, each containing a handmade insect species that is native to New York. When visitors walk through the installation, the insects flutter.
- National Design Award-winner Stamen Design’s Metagenomic Data Visualization, a software that accelerates the pace of scientific discoveries by generating user-friendly genome summaries from data gathered from any given microbial sample. The tool is currently used by scientists at the Banfield Lab at University of California, Berkeley.
Simulate offers advances in scientific understanding and technology that enable designers to simulate nature. Highlights include:
- Designer Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg and olfactory artist Sissel Tolaas’ smell series Resurrecting the Sublime, which recreates the aromas of extinct flowers through DNA drawn from specimens preserved at the Harvard University Herbaria.
- Dresses from the Biomimicry and Quantum Vibration collections designed by threeASFOUR (Gabriel Asfour, Angela Donhauser, Adi Gil) and Travis Fitch that exemplify how 3-D printing allows designers to mimic complex organic structures.
Salvage explores how humanity’s impact on the planet is galvanizing designers to reclaim and repurpose raw materials. Highlights include:
- Shahar Livne’s Metamorphism vessel series, which envisions a future in which craftspeople will harvest the petroleum-based plastics that pollute the oceans and kill sea life as a new, abundant natural resource. To create the series, Livne mined discarded plastics and other materials to create a new material named Lithoplast.
- AIR-INK—a project spearheaded by Anirudh Sharma, co-founder of Graviky Labs—collects CO2 emissions from fossil-fuel powered cars and diesel engines and purifies the emissions into a carbon pigment. The pigment is manufactured into an ink, with one bottle equaling 45 minutes of air pollution caused by a car.
In Facilitate, designers embrace nature’s dynamic forces to promote biological growth in architecture and products. Highlights include:
- Eco-Engineered Hexagonal Seawall Tiles designed by Reef Design Labs, which are made from marine concrete formed with grooves, textures and ridges that foster marine life. Once installed on existing sea walls, which are too smooth to be habitable to most organisms, the tiles promote biodiversity in the natural ecosystem.
- Bamboo Theater by Xu Tiantian, founder of the Beijing-based firm DnA_Design and Architecture, is a living structure located in a rural village in China that treats nature like a partner rather than a resource. The open-air theater has walls of living bamboo that villagers bend and weave inward to form a vaulted space.
Augment features projects that harness nature’s capabilities to enhance objects, buildings and the human body. Highlights include:
- Tranceflora, a series of garments by Sputniko! and Masaya Kushino that probes the intersection of fashion and biotechnology. In collaboration with Japanese scientists and weavers from the 300-year-old Hosoo textile manufactory, the duo creates garments from transgenic glowing silk, made by injecting silkworm eggs with jellyfish or coral DNA.
- Neri Oxman’s Aguahoja, which exemplifies the National Design Award winner’s advancement of material ecology, a design approach that seeks to unify nature’s material intelligence with engineering, computation and digital fabrication. The project culminates in a pavilion made from 3-D printed panels of plant cellulose and chitosan, a material made from the chitin present in invertebrate shells.
In Remediate, designers present works that attempt to slow, stop and reverse the negative impacts of humanity’s footprint on the planet. Highlights include:
- Terreform ONE’s Monarch Sanctuary, which will transform Cooper Hewitt’s conservatory into a haven for monarch butterflies. These insects, whose wild populations are being decimated by climate change, will be released periodically during the exhibition.
- Designer Jae Rhim Lee’s Infinity Burial Suit, which offers a sustainable alternative to burials. The organic cotton suit contains natural, biodegradable materials that assist in breaking down toxins present in the human body.
Projects in Nurture seek a broader realignment with the planet and challenge us to respect nature rather than dismiss it. Highlights include:
- Nanobionic Plant Project: Ambient Illumination developed by chemical engineer Michael Strano and architect Sheila Kennedy, who seek to illuminate the world with plants. Through a combination of nanotechnology, plant biology and gardening, these bioluminescent plants may one day provide lighting for homes.
- The Substitute, an installation by Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg that digitally resurrects the extinct male Northern white rhino using artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art visual effects. Scientists are seeking to resurrect the species from the brink of extinction using genetic engineering and surrogate gestation. But as Ginsberg points out, the survival of the species will depend on social, not genetic, engineering. The project is a commentary on the human preoccupation with creating new life forms while neglecting existing ones.
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 “lake” and “mountain” 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.”
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” opens this spring 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.
A 240-page book, Nature: Collaborations in Design, will be published by Cooper Hewitt and Cube, and distributed in the U.S. by Artbook | D.A.P. and worldwide by Thames & Hudson UK. Designed by Neil Donnelly, more than 300 photographs, illustrations and content from data visualizations will illustrate seven essays, which explain and explore designers’ strategies around understanding, simulating, salvaging, facilitating, augmenting, remediating and nurturing nature. Four conversations between scientists and designers—including George Church with Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg, and Michael John Gorman with Koert van Mensvoort—delve into topics related to synthetic biology, scientific versus design lexicon and recent shifts in the meaning of nature. Retail: $35. Available from SHOP Cooper Hewitt.
Public Programs and Special Events
Cooper Hewitt’s educational programs will engage audiences of all ages in conversations and workshops that amplify the themes of the Design Triennial. Programs include curator-led tours, an intergenerational Morning at the Museum, evening panel discussions and the 2019 High School Design Competition with Target, which challenges students around the country to design (or redesign) a nature-based solution to a global program. Cooper Hewitt’s friends and supporters will gather June 6 for a Garden Party in honor of “Nature,” and the popular outdoor summer concert series Cocktails at Cooper Hewitt will activate the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden with music and performance inspired by the Design Triennial.
About the Design Triennial
“Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial” is the sixth installment of the series inaugurated in 2000 that looks at new developments in design as they surface in studios, fairs, shops, galleries and media around the world. “Nature” was developed by a cross-institutional curatorial team that includes Cooper Hewitt’s Caitlin Condell, associate curator and head of Drawings, Prints & Graphic Design; Andrea Lipps, assistant curator of contemporary design; 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. In organizing “Nature,” the curators engaged a panel of international advisors: Aric Chen, Professor, College of Design & Innovation, Tongji University, and Curator-at-Large, M+ (Hong Kong); Michael John Gorman, founder, BIOTOPIA Museum (Munich); Suzanne Lee, chief creative officer, Modern Meadow (New York); Ravi Naidoo, founder, Interactive Africa (Cape Town); Simone Rothman, founder and CEO, FutureAir (New York); and Barbara Stauffer, chief of community programs, National Museum of Natural History (Washington, D.C.).
“Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial” is made possible in part by support from the August Heckscher Exhibition Fund, Esme Usdan Exhibition Endowment Fund and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
About Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum
Cooper Hewitt is America’s design museum. Inclusive, innovative and experimental, the museum’s dynamic exhibitions, education programs, master’s program, publications and online resources inspire, educate and empower people through design. An integral part of the Smithsonian Institution—the world’s largest museum and research complex—Cooper Hewitt is located on New York City’s Museum Mile in the historic, landmark Carnegie Mansion. Steward of one of the world’s most diverse and comprehensive design collections—over 210,000 objects that range from an ancient Egyptian faience cup dating to about 1100 BCE to contemporary 3D-printed objects and digital code—Cooper Hewitt welcomes everyone to discover the importance of design and its power to change the world. Cooper Hewitt knits digital into experiences to enhance ideas, extend reach beyond museum walls, and enable greater access, personalization, experimentation and connection.
Cooper Hewitt is located at 2 East 91st Street at Fifth Avenue in New York City. Hours are Sunday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden, accessible without an admissions ticket, opens at 8 a.m., Monday through Friday. The Tarallucci e Vino café is open Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The museum is closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day. Public transit routes include the Lexington Avenue 4, 5 and 6 subways (86th or 96th Street stations), the Second Avenue Q subway (96th Street station), and the Fifth and Madison Avenue buses. Adult admission, $16 in advance via tickets.cooperhewitt.org, $18 at door; seniors, $10 in advance via tickets.cooperhewitt.org, $12 at door; students, $7 in advance via tickets.cooperhewitt.org, $9 at door. Cooper Hewitt members and children younger than age 18 are admitted free. Pay What You Wish every Saturday, 6 to 9 p.m. The museum is fully accessible.
For further information, call (212) 849-8400, visit Cooper Hewitt’s website at www.cooperhewitt.org and follow the museum on www.twitter.com/cooperhewitt, www.facebook.com/cooperhewitt and www.instagram.com/cooperhewitt.
About Cube Design Museum
Cube is Holland’s first museum entirely dedicated to design. Cube displays meaningful design that has an impact on the world. A visit to Cube will provide an insight into the design process and it will inspire visitors to take an active part in thinking about shaping the world. Cube does not only stage exhibitions of trend-setting international and European design, it also functions as a multidisciplinary laboratory where visitors can join students and designers working on innovative product design. For further information, visit Cube’s website at www.cubedesignmuseum.nl/en.
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