Design for a Living World

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Joe Marianek, Pentagram.
Joe Marianek, Pentagram.
"Green" propaganda has saturated our environment recently—the word has been stretched to its limits with dire urgency.

Some marketing folks have even deployed "green" as a value-adding, feel-good prefix to throw in front of any product ranging from plastic dog toys to linoleum flooring. This is not the case with Design for a Living World, which is a green exhibition in principle, form, and spirit.

The landmark exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum was developed in collaboration with the Nature Conservancy and was co-curated by Ellen Lupton and Abbott Miller. Pentagram designed the exhibition, catalog and website.

Ten leading designers from fashion, industrial and furniture disciplines were commissioned to create objects utilizing sustainably grown and harvested materials from around the world. Each designer paid respect to the origin, use and impact of their material in the various settings.

From their "Truth and Materials" essay in the exhibition catalog, Lupton and Miller state that, "each of the commissions... strives to provoke conversation and to raise awareness of the origin of natural materials. As one-of-a-kind prototypes, they reflect a continuous thought process rather than recipes for mass production."
The exhibition is organized by geography, with the celebrity of the designer playing a tertiary role to the location and material. In fact, as a part of the design process, most designers traveled to the country to immerse themselves in the context. Additionally, each component of the actual exhibition was to be sustainable, even the catalog (above).

All in all, Design for a Living World exposes the beauty of conservation in design; inspiring practitioners and consumers without dropping the empty "G" bomb. Below is the inventory of the ten designers contributions, with location photography by Ami Vitale and object photography by Jay Zukerkorn.

Federated States of Micronesia:
vegetable ivory and black pearl, Ted Meuhling
Credit: Ami Vitale
New York jewelry designer Ted Muehling looks at ivory palm nuts in a carving hut on the Micronesian island of Pohnpei.

raspberry jam wood, Stephen Burks
Credit: Mackenzie Stroh
New York industrial designer Stephen Burks refines his design of a prototype he created made from raspberry jam wood, a tree native to southwestern Australia.

Costa Rica
cocoa, Yves Behar
Yves Behar meets with indigenous women who run an organic chocolate cooperative in Costa Rica.
Yves Behar meets with indigenous women who run an organic chocolate cooperative in Costa Rica. Credit: Serge Beaulieu
Behar's final design calls for stainless steel and sustainably-harvested Costa Rican hardwood. His chocolate shaving tool is designed to rest on the lip of a mug and resemble a twig.

FSC-certified plywood, Abbott Miller
Credit: Brian Raby
The chair design highlights the beauty of Bolivian wood, while also yielding three chairs per sheet of plywood, with a minimal amount of waste. In designing their piece, Abbott and Brian Raby from Pentagram were inspired by a chair they saw when in Bolivia made of two simple side rails with some plastic wire creating the seat. They liked how simple that chair was, and wanted theirs to have a bit of that home-made look.

Abbott explained, "The chair is really a cousin to the exhibition casework and wall system, and follows a long-standing interest in making something dimensional out of something fundamentally graphic. This happens in a lot of work, and this approach made sense especially with a commission that highlights FSC-certified plywood."

FSC-certified hardwood and jipijapa, Kate Spade NY
A collection of FSC-certified, hand-carved wooden tiles from Bolivia were selected to embellish a handbag made with a cotton fabric under structure.

salmon leather, Isaac Mizrahi
New York fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi during a fitting session.
New York fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi during a fitting session. Credit: Brian Raby
Mizrahi used salmon leather to create an ensemble that includes a dress, jacket and shoes.

chicle, Hella Jongerius
Credit: Ami Vitale
Dutch designer Hella Jongerius stretches heated chicle latex in the Mexican ejido Veinte de Noviembre (November 20th Farm Cooperative).

organic wool, Christien Meindertsma
Credit: Roel Van Tour
Meindertsma's rug is comprised of 11 individual 30-by-27.5 inch tiles.

bamboo, Ezri Tarazi
Credit: Mackenzie Stroh
Israeli industrial and furniture designer Ezri Tarazi refines his design using bamboo poles from China.

FSC-certified red maple, Maya Lin
Credit: Mackenzie Stroh
Architect, artist and furniture designer Maya Lin in her New York studio, examining different types of FSC-certified wood from The Nature Conservancy's property in northern Maine.

The exhibition is on view at the Cooper Hewitt, National Design Museum now until January 4, 2010.


Joe Marianek is a designer at Pentagram and teaches at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
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