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.
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.
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.”
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.
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