A new iteration of ‘Broken Nature’ makes its way to MoMA in New York

Curator and Design Emergency co-founder Paola Antonelli selects 45 projects to show how design can reverse human impact on nature 

Installation view of ‘Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival’
Installation view of ‘Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival’ at XXII Triennale di Milano.
(Image credit: © La Triennale Di Milano)

‘Broken Nature’ aims to explore what design can do to alleviate the devastating damage caused by the human race to the environment and society since the Industrial Revolution. It is curated by Italy-born Paola Antonelli, the senior curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, co-founder of Design Emergency, and winner of this year’s London Design Medal. Originally staged at the XXII Triennale di Milano in April 2019, it continues to be one of the most compelling and talked about design showcases, with a distillation of the mammoth survey now taking over the street-level galleries at MoMA, on view until August 2021.

‘The premise is simple,’ says Antonelli. ‘It’s that the human race will become extinct, but that it is still possible for us to design a better ending. It’s about designers doing what they do best, which is to make the most of the resources at our disposal. Yes, we’ve put ourselves in danger by obliterating many of those resources, but Broken Nature will show how restorative design projects are helping to repair the damage.’

Antonelli, 57, has curated a succession of landmark exhibitions since joining MoMA in 1994. The rigour and verve with which she has nurtured a new public understanding of the practice and possibilities of design has established her as the most influential design curator of our time. In the 2008 show, ‘Design and the Elastic Mind’, Antonelli pioneered the now widely accepted concept of design as an increasingly eclectic and expansive medium, while 2011’s ‘Talk To Me’ charted our changing relationship to objects in the digital age. For a 2017 exhibition, ‘Items: Is Fashion Modern?’, she explored the cultural and political significance of generic forms of clothing, from biker jackets and black berets, to saris and bum bags.

Broken Nature at MoMA New York

Installation view of Julia Lohmann's Oki Naganode at Broken Nature, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

(Image credit: Robert Gerhardt)

‘Paola is prophet, preacher, activist and visionary, and when she asked us to contribute it was an effortless “yes”,’ says Neri Oxman, the Israeli-born architect, founding director of the Mediated Matter research group at MIT Media Lab in the US, and subject of a recent MoMA survey, Material Ecology (also curated by Antonelli). ‘It’s our responsibility and obligation to design our way out of the Holocene extinction.’

Like the Triennale exhibition, the MoMA iteration of ‘Broken Nature’ will set the scene by analysing the gravity of the problems we face. It also takes into consideration the social, economic and political systems around us, in addition to natural ecosystems. With around 45 works on view, the MoMA chapter promotes the role that creative practices have in maintaining and strengthening the bonds between the natural and man-made realms. Co-curated by Anna Berkhardt, curatorial assistant, Department of Architecture and Design, this exhibition will feature projects from Studio Swine, artist Aki Inomata, architect/designer Mustafa Ali Furaki and design researcher Julia Lohmann to name a few, and ranges from tangible objects to ideas that foster new behaviours in citizens that can reshape the future. It also shows how design can also play a reparative role in the creation of objects, concepts and new systems that can make amends. 

It is still possible for us to design a better ending for the human race

‘From reviving the coral reefs that are bleaching at unprecedented speed due to increasingly warm waters, to contemplating scenarios for feeding an overpopulated planet, Broken Nature argues that design and architecture can and have been instrumental in jumpstarting constructive change on different levels, for different contexts and circumstances, and across different spans of time,’ says Antonelli, who hopes the exhibition will encourage people to think longer term. ‘We’re so wired not to think beyond two or three generations,’ she says. ‘We’d like people to leave with a sense of what they can do to make things better.’ 

This article is adapted from a preview of ‘Broken Nature’ at the Triennale di Milano, written by Alice Rawsthorn for the February 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*239)

'Cubicle 2' by Formafantasma

Incorporating old computer casing, ‘Cubicle 2’ (2017) is part of Formafantasma’s ‘Ore Streams’ project on electronic waste.

(Image credit: Elena Xausa)

Pouring liquid metal into a mould

A still from Can City, a film by Alexander Groves and Azusa Murakami of Studio Swine exploring aluminium waste in São Paulo

(Image credit: press)

Leaf-shaped metal object removed from mould

Another frame from Studio Swine’s Can City

(Image credit: press)

Green tubular objects on display in front of a TV screen with animation

Installation view of Broken Nature at The Museum of Modern Art, New York.

(Image credit: Robert Gerhardt)

3D abstract model constructed of ceramic, marine concrete and steel

Alex Goad's MARS, a piece from 2013 featuring ceramic, marine concrete and steel.

(Image credit: Robert Gerhardt)


‘Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival’ is on view through Summer 2021. moma.org


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Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.