Nature, Nurture, Nouveau

The Cooper Hewitt’s 2019 Design Triennial will tackle climate change

Art Design East News
An installation of Aguahoja, which presents 3-D-printed cellulose forms. (Courtesy the Mediated Matter Group)
An installation of Aguahoja, which presents 3-D-printed cellulose forms. (Courtesy the Mediated Matter Group)

The Cooper Hewitt’s sixth Design Triennial will look at ways to radically redress the climate crisis. The Manhattan museum has enlisted designers, scientists, environmentalists, and local stakeholders to present over 60 works that tackle how humans can fix their climate mistakes and harmonize with nature.

Nature—Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial, co-organized by the Cooper Hewitt and Cube design museum in Kerkrade, Netherlands, will put large-scale sculptures, virtual reality installations, extinct scents, and more on display from May 10 through January 20, 2020.

“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 Cooper Hewitt director Caroline Baumann. “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.”

Nature is organized in seven categories for understanding how designers can work with, and around, the natural world to benefit both the environment and humanity.

“Understand” celebrates the fusion of scientific knowledge with design, and the pursuit of understanding the natural world. In Curiosity Cloud, courtesy of the Vienna-based design studio Mischer’Traxler, patrons can walk through a cloud of light bulbs, each containing a handcrafted model of an insect native to New York City. The models will flutter to life in response to movement.

Photo of hanging lightbulbs

An installation photo of Curiosity Cloud (Ed Reeve)

“Simulate” focuses on biomimicry, the borrowing of techniques and structures from nature in architecture and design. In Resurrecting the Sublime, museum-goers can sniff long-extinct flowers, their scents recreated Jurrasic Park–style from DNA extracted from specimens at the Harvard University Herbaria.

“Salvage” is less about nature itself and more about how humans can reclaim their waste, making new goods and products from our mountains of garbage. In Shahar Livne’s Metamorphism, the conceptual material designer imagines a future in which ocean-faring plastic is collected and recycled back into a useable product. Livne will also present “Lithoplast,” a composite material made from discarded plastics that form the basis of this conceptual economy.

Photo of a plastic boat on display

Lithoplast, a new material composed of recycled plastics. (Alan Boom)

In “Facilitate,” designers worked with and around the forces of nature and growth. Xu Tiantian, of the Beijing-based DnA_Design and Architecture, will present Bamboo Theater. The theater, set in a remote, rural Chinese village, bends live bamboo to form an outdoor theater and invites villagers to tend to the piece of living infrastructure.

Photo of bamboo bent into an oculus

Bamboo Theater (Courtesy the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)

“Augment” references nature’s ever-evolving, ever-advancing character, with projects that use science to push the boundaries of the natural world. MIT’s Neri Oxman and the Mediated Matter Group will present Aguahoja, a 3-D-printed pavilion built from a blend of plant cellulose and chitosan (a sugar extracted from invertebrate shells), in the museum’s Great Hall. Aguahoja represents the continued evolution of Oxman’s adaptations of natural materials and patterns with computational design and advanced fabrication.

Photo of a glowing blue dress

Tranceflora will present a series of dresses from Sputniko! and Masaya Kushino that weaves bioluminescence into the fabric. (So Morimoto)

“Remediate” prompted designers and artists to think about how humanity can slow, stop, and even reverse the deleterious impacts of modern society. In Monarch Sanctuary, which comes courtesy of the New York-based Terreform ONE, a section of a monarch butterfly incubator-slash-facade will be on display. The Monarch butterfly population has been ravaged by climate change and habitat loss in recent years, and the full-scale variegated facade mockup will contain live butterflies that will periodically be released to fly around the exhibition space.

Rendering of a facade with butterfly incubators included

Monarch Sanctuary blends the built environment with accessible butterfly habitats. (Courtesy the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)

Finally, “Nurture” asks viewers and designers to reinterpret humanity’s relationship with nature, and to reach a place of respect instead of dismissal. In The Substitute, Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg will confine an artificially intelligent digital recreation of the extinct northern white rhino to one of the museum’s hallways, where it will gradually refine its movement over time to become more lifelike. Ginsberg’s work questions the role that science plays in preservation—researchers are currently working to revive the white rhno through preserved cell cultures and genetic manipulation—at a time when science increasingly usurps the primacy of social awareness in preservation.

Rendering of a rhinoceros

The male northern white rhino at the heart of the virtual reality Substitute installation. (Alexandra Daisy Ginsberg )

Nature’s installations won’t be confined to the floors of the Cooper Hewitt; two large-scale, site-specific installations are coming to the Arthur Ross Terrace and Garden. Sam Van Aken’s Tree of 40 Fruit, which grafts 40 different types of stone fruit branches to one monster hybrid tree, will join Ensamble Studio’s 40-foot-long Petrified River, a concrete river that “flows” from a mountain peak and into a flattened, urbanized landscape.

Rendering of a concrete installation in a landscaped courtyard

A rendering of Petrified River, which patrons can sit (but not walk) on. (Courtesy the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum)

To commemorate the triennial, the Cooper Hewitt will also be releasing a 240-page book of essays, renderings, and deep dives into the science behind each installation. Nature: Collaborations in Design: Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial will be available for purchase on May 21.

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