Cooper Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial 2010

Cooper Hewitt Museum National Design Triennial 2010 Why Design Now? entrance sign to the building

Since its inception in 2000, the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial has attempted to do what, these days, is probably impossible: to find and assemble “the most innovative designs at the center of contemporary culture” from the previous three years. Impossible because the task is too huge, especially since the National Design Triennial rightly encompasses all aspects of design, from architecture and product/industrial design, to fashion and textiles and graphic design, to new media and landscape design. Impossible also because, with a billion design blogs out there, to distill what we’ve all been looking at and commenting on and re-posting for the past three years into a few galleries is, no surprise, bound to disappoint. And is there even a “center” of contemporary culture anymore?      

 Cooper Hewitt Design Museum architectural study of a futuristic solar tower

That said–and despite some bizarrely amateurish presentation and display problems with the exhibition–the Cooper-Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial 2010 is definitely worth a look, though probably for design junkies only. The theme here this time is Why Design Now?, which deals with an issue most vexing for designers today: instead of simply creating new cool-looking stuff to replace all the old cool-looking stuff (and so further clogging landfills, and adding to the CO2 emissions, etc., of manufacturing and distribution), how can design be used as a social- and environmental-force of good, identifying and then solving problems? 

Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum showcases IF Mode folding bicycle


Among the issues the dozens of designers explore at the National Design Triennial 2010: How can we power the world with clean energy? How can we move people and products more safely and efficiently? How can we shelter communities in safe, sustainable environments? How can we enable people around the world to share and generate wealth? How can we discover beauty and wisdom in simple forms that use minimal resources?


Cooper Hewitt Trienial features The Vertical Village a multi-colored cluster living design

All good, even vital, questions… but the Cooper Hewitt Museum’s National Design Triennial delivers on the answers only a small percentage of the time. EnviroMission’s Hope Solar Tower is an interesting–and very cool-looking–take on harnessing the sun’s energy to fuel our cities, but how practical is it, really? Because of its extreme lightweight design, the beautiful IF Mode folding bicycle might indeed encourage more people to bike to work… that is, people who can afford its undoubtedly outrageous price tag. MVRDV’s Vertical Village concept is nicely done: designed for the horribly overcrowded Tapei, it creates a small-community feeling even amid extreme urban density. 


Cooper Hewitt National Museum of Design Stuart Karten Zon hearing aid


Another lovely object is Staurt Karten’s Zon Hearing Aid… but again, this seems like a strictly upperclass solution to one of inevitable byproducts of an aging population. In contrast, the typography in and design for the Girl Effect campaign, created by Wieden + Kennedy is brilliant, as is its simple, inspiring message. So: a mixed bag, as often seems to be the case at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in general, and with their National Design Triennial in particular. 

design sign


National Design Triennial 2010, at the Cooper-Hewitt, details

The Nation Design Triennial: Why Design Now? at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum runs from now through January 9, 2011. The Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum is located on East 91st Street and Fifth Avenue, in Andrew Carnegie mansion. The Cooper-Hewitt is open Mondays through Fridays from 10:00 a.m. until 5: 00 p.m., on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m., and on Sundays from 11:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. Admission is a rather steep $15. For more information on the Nation Design Triennial 2010, please see the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum website

Cooper Hewitt Museum attendees looking on 4 poster designs from apple computers

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