The Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial is a call to action for climate change

The Cooper Hewitt Design Triennial is a call to action for climate change

Every once in a while, there comes a belief so strong it can bring two museums, five curators, 62 designers and teams from 22 countries together. Such is the case with ‘Nature’ – Cooper Hewitt’s sixth Design Triennial, co-organised with Cube design museum in The Netherlands.

‘Nature’, which will be on view at both Cooper Hewitt and Cube until 20 January 2020, positions design as an essential tool for addressing nature and climate-related issues. ‘On the heels of the 1,500-page UN report released just this past Monday, on biodiversity and ecosystem, “Nature” offers a timely look into how designers are tackling the environmental and social challenges confronting humanity,’ says Caroline Baumann, director of Cooper Hewitt. ‘This is not just an exhibition, this triennial is a call to action.’


 Terreform ONE
Installation of Monarch Sanctuary  by Terreform One. © Terreform One

Three years in the making, ‘Nature’ is organised around seven sections, each describing the designers’ varying strategies in working with nature – ‘Understand’; ‘Simulate’; ‘Salvage’; ‘Facilitate’; ‘Augment’; ‘Remediate’ and ‘Nurture’. ‘The work on view demonstrates that with design, we have the ability to become active agents in our relationship with nature,’ explains Matilda McQuaid, deputy director of curatorial and head of textiles.

The exhibits range from speculative to practical and reveal new materials, methods and technologies, all developed under the banner of sustainability. ‘Understand’, for example, shines a light on how designers harness scientific knowledge to crystallise our relationship with nature. Curiosity Cloud – an immersive interactive installation by Austrian design duo Mischer’Traxler – consists of glass bulbs containing a handmade insect that starts to flutter when visitors approach it. ‘You’re very happy because they react to you and fly,’ explains designer Thomas Traxler, ‘but on the other hand, you also feel uneasy.’

Metamorphism, by Shahar Livne
Metamorphism, by Shahar Livne, 2017. Photography: Alan Boom. © Mitchell Joachim, Shahar Livne

In ‘Remediate’, the urge to slow and reverse the negative impacts of our footprint is explored by such designers as Charlotte McCurdy, whose algae-based plastic jacket helps absorb carbon. Meanwhile, Brooklyn-based design group Terreform One’s Monarch Sanctuary is a double-skin façade that, as the group’s executive director Vivian Kuan explains, ‘not only provides extra shade and cost savings for the interior of the building, it creates a biome and an environment that helps support and increase biodiversity.’

‘This is not just an exhibition, this triennial is a call to action,’ Caroline Baumann

Throughout the exhibition and with pieces like Shahar Livne’s ‘Metamorphism’ vessel series, made by mining petroleum-based plastics to create a new material named Lithoplast, the healing power of design harks back to Paola Antonella’s ongoing ‘Broken Nature’ show at the Triennale di Milano. But Cooper Hewitt’s ‘Nature’ sets itself apart by presenting design and nature as potential allies. As McQuaid says: ‘The team has been on a remarkable adventure together, digging deep into contemporary designers and how [they] have been working with nature.’ §

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