Design for Good Goes Big


The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is the design and architecture branch of the Smithsonian. So, that alone makes them something of a big friggin’ deal. In 2000, the Cooper-Hewitt—or “Hewy,” as those of us design insiders like to refer to her as—kicked off their Triennial program. Every three years the institution seeks out and presents “the most innovative designs at the center of contemporary culture.” Or as we insiders call it, “the coolest sh*t around.”  This year, they’ve changed the game a bit, and have decided to honor the work of designers who are not just making amazing stuff, but addressing human and environmental problems through their work, which ranges from architecture and products to fashion, graphics, new media and landscapes. “Why Design Now?” opens May 14 and examines the connectedness of design practices and the need for international cooperation to solve the world’s problems.

Checking out the selected designs, I wasn’t at all surprised to see a handful of things we have written about over the last couple years. From where we stand, design that takes some of society’s most pressing problems into account has been in style out here on the West Coast for while. Thankfully, all of our favorite California-based do-good designers get props in the Coop’s exhibition: Marin-based Project H’s Learning Landscapes, a low-cost, easy to install interactive structure made of sand and truck tires that helps kids learn basic math (above); Fuseproject’s One Laptop, One Child—affordable, accessible technology for children in third-world countries (bottom); Iwamoto Scott’s HydroNet, a futuristic vision of sustainable city infrastructure; Michael Maltzan’s low-income, high-style New Carver Apartments for the Skid Row Housing Trust in L.A.; Heath Ceramics’ always gorgeous tableware (below); and of course, SF’s very own Academy of Sciences, among others.

So if you happen to be torn away from the sunny left coast for a while, stop by and show some support for the hometown team—as well as the hundreds of other designers who are not only making the coolest sh*t around, but just happen to be changing the world while doing it.

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