16 Global Design Concepts for an Unpredictable Future

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Julie LaskyLila Allen and

March 28, 2021

The challenges of the past year gave designers every reason to recede into the shadows, but creativity won’t be denied.

If anything, they are finding inspiration in global upheaval. From hundreds of possibilities, here are just a few examples we selected of projects begun or realized despite closed borders, disrupted supply chains and economic collapse.

Designers are recycling the rubble from Mexico City’s streets, for example, creating play spaces so Beirut’s children can find comfort in a city ripped apart by an explosion and proposing textiles as a building material to replace environmentally cruel concrete. More than just surmounting challenges, many are looking ahead to a greener, healthier and more equitable world.

Tokyo

Dadaï, a Thai, Vietnamese and dim sum restaurant that opened in August in the Shibuya district of Tokyo, takes its inspiration from the avant-garde Dada art movement — or at least a 21st-century Japanese interpretation of it.

A chevron, or zigzag, pattern covers the walls, floor and ceiling. Arched bays are filled with classical-style nude statues that look as if they’ve been ensnared in webs of washi tape. And at the center of the dining room, angled vertiginously over the bar, is a giant photographic portrait of a woman interrupted by collaged smears of color.

Located in the new, fashion-centric Miyashita Park retail development, the restaurant’s design, by Yasumichi Morita of the aptly named Tokyo studio Glamorous, makes no obvious concessions to a post-pandemic world. (Japan’s self-described “state of emergency” ended on March 21.)

Asked in a 2019 magazine interview about the key to his success, Mr. Morita, who also designed Mydo, a restaurant in the new W Hotel in Osaka, said, “I have not succeeded yet and I’m sorry I can’t say anything special, but I just always hope for everyone’s happiness.” glamorous.co.jp

Barcelona, Spain

Each year, a team of graduate students studying at the Institute for Advanced Architecture of Catalonia in Barcelona designs a self-sufficient structure aimed at reducing the effects of climate change. But the class of 2019-2020 chose to take on another global crisis by imagining an architectural response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We had two crises at the same time,” said Vicente Guallart, a director of the master’s program in advanced ecological buildings and biocities. “And the question was what we can learn about that.”

Over five months and under strict quarantine conditions, Mr. Guallart and his co-director Daniel Ibáñez led the group of 17 students in constructing an ecological wood cabin, known as the Voxel, a structure designed with everything one might need to quarantine for 14 days. The design was executed with just 40 pine trees, all harvested less than a mile from the construction site in Barcelona’s Collserola Natural Park. It also includes solar panels, independent battery storage and a rainwater collection and gray-water recycling system.

The roughly 130-square-foot cabin, which rises almost 14 feet, now stands nearly camouflaged among the same pines used to construct it. valldaura.net

Fabrègues, France

During quarantine, home improvement projects have been a salve for many — even the professionals. Pierre Yovanovitch, a French interior designer, completed an upgrade to his 17th-century home near Montpellier in southern France with a newly frescoed ceiling in his 250-square-foot bedroom.

The fresco’s single-named artist, Rochegaussen, had worked with Mr. Yovanovitch previously on a restaurant interior in London (he painted cutlery and cookware on a field of cobalt over the chef’s table). Given carte blanche for the bedroom, Rochegaussen arranged woodland animals in his signature energetic line — a motif Mr. Yovanovitch described as “a joyful Mediterranean dance.” The creatures were inspired by fauna from a Provençal forest and include boar, snakes and owls. The designer said that a refreshed environment helped him stay inspired, especially in a period of isolation. And, he added, “there’s something so special about looking up from bed and seeing a painting.” pierreyovanovitch.com, rochegaussen.com

Tianjin, China

In October, the Juilliard School’s branch institution in Tianjin welcomed its inaugural class of graduate students to a campus designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro. Located about an hour outside of Beijing, the new 350,000-square-foot complex began construction in 2017 and features performance halls, rehearsal rooms and teaching studios, connected by a ground-level lobby that is open to the public. Expansive windows offer visitors a view into the educational and creative processes.

In China, “there’s still a sense of fascination and curiosity with Western music,” said Charles Renfro, the partner in charge of the project, noting that the building was designed to be a teaching aid for both students and the community.

As the building neared completion in early 2020, Mr. Renfro said he spent many evenings viewing video walk-throughs, trusting that the firm’s partners in China were meeting the precise specifications.

“It forced us into new modes of technological proficiency,” he said. His team even managed to review the school’s acoustically sensitive spaces remotely with the use of instruments that recreated the buildings’ sounds virtually in New York. tianjinjuilliard.edu.cn


Lagos, Nigeria

A plan for a zero-carbon community in the world’s seventh-fastest-growing city could be the solution to more than one vexing problem, said Lance Hosey, an architect in San Diego. Mr. Hosey, a principal and chief impact officer at HMC Architects, and his colleagues recently completed a speculative design for a mixed-used project on the Lekki peninsula near Lagos, Nigeria. This relatively sparsely populated area in a region of more than 21 million people is being readied to accommodate millions more in the coming years.

Approached by an environmentally minded local developer who is seeking to acquire 400 acres on the peninsula, the architects envisioned a “forest city” with abundant greenery cleansing the air and a narrow street grid that allows breezes to slip past and passively cool buildings. Rain in the monsoon season would fill basins in parks and gardens. Shaded houses would have communal courtyards and reclaim the climate-responsive earthen materials and decorative patterns of precolonial people like the Yoruba.

The development’s reliance on renewable energy sources would reduce carbon emissions, which in turn would bring benefits in other challenging areas. “Climate shock undermines biodiversity, paving the way for novel viruses to spread,” Mr. Hosey said. “The idea was to develop a city that could address climate change, public health and water resilience at the same time.” hmcarchitects.com

Beirut, Lebanon

The Aug. 4 explosion that tore through Beirut damaged an estimated 6,000 buildings, including more than 150 schools. This left Etienne Bastormagi, Sandra Richani and Nada Borgi, local architects and urban planners, wondering how they could help their city as children prepare to return to class.

Their Let’s Play initiative, will rebuild playgrounds at six schools affected by the explosion, with help from other architects and volunteers. Construction on the first, at École Secondaire des Filles de la Charité school in the Achrafieh district, just began.

The public-private initiative also reconsiders what a playground can be, incorporating materials, large-scale objects and landscapes that can be experienced or manipulated in more than one way. Rather than jungle gyms, swing sets or slides, the spaces will have colorful platforms, canopies and pathways that encourage directionless play. Such ambiguities are meant to promote experimentation and social interaction outside of the classroom.

The team also hopes that these new ways to play will help children confront the traumas of 2020, blast and coronavirus pandemic alike, by allowing them to feel safe again in their city. “The therapy effect is not just for the kids,” Mr. Bastormagi added. “I think it starts with us.” instagram.com/lets_play_initiative

Cartagena, Colombia

Can a better view help you heal? A new Colombian hospital puts this question to the test by making pastoral panoramas visible from most interior spaces — including the emergency room.

Centro Hospitalario Serena del Mar is one of the first major builds in Serena del Mar, a 2,500-acre privately funded urban development on the country’s northern coast, near Cartagena. Designed by Safdie Architects, the hospital opened in January with its more than half a million square feet (and more to come) oriented toward courtyards, gardens and a bucolic lake.

According to Sean Scensor, the project’s lead architect, greenery even determines how visitors move through the building: The main pedestrian corridor parallels a bamboo garden, and five wings stretch perpendicularly from this spine to carve out lush courtyards that open onto a lake. A “healing garden” accessible from the oncology department offers sanctuary in a grove of Indian lilac, red and white frangipani trees and scarlet-blossomed royal poinciana.

Visitors also can steal away to a glass-walled chapel tucked into a bamboo enclosure. The goal, Mr. Scensor said, was to avoid “institutional anonymity” in favor of a “new kind of hospital: highly efficient but inherently humane.” chsm.com


London

In London, the site of multiple lockdowns, Brexit fallout and, now, allegations of racism against the royal family, one man offers escapism in candy colors. Yinka Ilori, a British-Nigerian artist, has spent the last year designing and installing affirmation-laced murals throughout the city — like one in which bubblegum-pink letters announce “Love always wins” against a backdrop suggestive of ice cream cones.

Mr. Ilori recently extended this “theme of positivity,” as he has called it, to table linens, pillows, rugs and socks sold through his website and a few retailers. The latest designs include bone china mugs and plates emblazoned with his chirpy slogans. This venture compensates for “a loss of projects during the pandemic,” he said. And then some. The line has proved so successful that he has hired additional staff members to manage it into a post-Covid future. Mug 45 pounds, or about $62; plate £70, or about $97. yinkailori.com

Paris

Max Gunawan, an Indonesian-born American designer who moved to Paris last year, created a sensation (and scored support on the TV show “Shark Tank”) with his first commercial product: a lamp called Lumio that opens like a book. In October, Mr. Gunawan introduced on Kickstarter a second object that similarly trades in the thrill of the unexpected. Teno is a bowl-shaped sculpture, five inches in diameter, with a jagged golden scar — a reference to the Japanese art of repair called kintsugi. Crack open the bowl, and light pours out (it can be increased or dimmed with a tap). Open the sculpture fully, and it becomes a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Even Teno’s material is unexpected: Its shell is made of cast resin combined with sand. A limited edition of charred wood is being produced in Japan.

The first units are to be shipped in May and will retail for $300. Mr. Gunawan said he was eager for the return of old-fashioned shopping: “I can do digital and beautiful video,” but Teno will ultimately be successful “because people are able to touch and feel it and be surprised.” hellolumio.com/collections/teno

Mexico City

MT Objects is a ceramics studio that turns out singular pieces referencing local craft traditions and the architectural splendor and battered infrastructure of its home base, Mexico City, and beyond. Thanks to a masked and socially distant pair of artisans employed by the studio, operations have continued throughout the pandemic, said Tony Moxham, a co-founder with Mauricio Paniagua.

In one recent series, slip-cast vessels were drizzled with black glaze in imitation of the tar used by the Totonac people who occupied what is now the state of Veracruz to represent “the moisture, fertility and darkness of the underworld,” Mr. Moxham said. Another collection, described as “brutalist,” is cast from sidewalk rubble and streaked with traditional colonial lead-based glazes from the western state of Michoacán.

“We wanted to create something that was very different from what everyone else was doing,” Mr. Moxham said. “And in Mexico City, almost any sidewalk you walk down has bits of broken concrete.” Prices range from $1,000 to $5,000 per piece. ceramicalamejor.mx/mt-objects

Dakar, Senegal

Aïssa Dione’s 2020 collection of textiles carries the vibrant colors and traditional designs of Senegalese handweaving, though reimagined in various sizes and with fibers like raffia, cotton and viscose. The fabrics are produced in Ms. Dione’s workshop in Rufisque, a town outside of Dakar, where she employs nearly 100 Senegalese weavers who work on looms. They are then sold to luxury interior design companies to cover sofas, armchairs and windows in homes around the world.

Ms. Dione’s 2020 collection also continues the textile designer’s nearly 30-year commitment to revitalize the craft and her continued focus on cultivating raw materials from Senegal, rather than importing them. Working locally and small helped her during a year when the pandemic exposed vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.

It also gave Ms. Dione a chance to develop a client database, organize photos of past work and shoot a film that captures her weavers’ process. “We had time to sit down and develop things we had no time to do,” she said. aissadionetissus.com

New Delhi

For DeMuro Das, an interior design studio near New Delhi, unusual materials are a calling card. It has topped a coffee table in unakite, a speckled, metamorphic rock, and lined a cabinet in koto, a West African hardwood. More recently, the founders, Brian DeMuro and Puru Das, tried wrapping a low cabinet with the parchmentlike substance Carta, lending the piece a pretty, mottled surface, like asphalt after a rainstorm.

Mr. DeMuro praised the proprietary plant-based material for its “organic, tactile quality” and pointed out that because no two pieces of Carta are the same, every cabinet is unique. The furnishings are part of the Corbu collection, which was planned in lockdown last year and is to debut in April.

The line also features a domed, upholstered stool with wood legs that the designers have intentionally set askew — “studied asymmetries” that Mr. Das said were inspired by Le Corbusier’s Capitol Complex in Chandigarh, India. Cabinet: $11,875; small bench: $2,250; large bench: $4,560; bedside table: $3,850. demurodas.com


Melbourne, Australia

In Australia, climate change is turning oceans into deserts and killing vast swaths of coral. To raise awareness of both catastrophes, Pirjo Haikola, a designer in Melbourne, has 3-D-printed coral reefs that are on view at the art and design triennial at the National Gallery of Victoria.

Composed of biopolymers mixed with sea urchin shell, Ms. Haikola’s artificial reefs hold the promise of restoring biodiversity to warming Australian waters. Her proposal would also help preserve kelp habitats by controlling populations of sea urchins — bottom dwellers that eat away at underwater flora like termites and whose population is running rampant in the current climate.

Exhibited alongside an underwater film by Tom Park, an adventure photographer, “Urchin Corals” is one of more than 80 exhibits at the triennial. Also on display are a new work by the French artist JR documenting environmental damage to the Darling River in Australia and a pavilion by the Japanese architect Kengo Kuma and Australian artist Geoff Nees that is made with wood reclaimed from the millennium drought. Through April 18 at NGV Triennial. ngv.vic.gov.au

Berlin

If you stop by the Gropius Bau, an exhibition hall in Berlin, on any day from April 29 to Aug. 15 you will find Hella Jongerius or her colleagues at work. Ms. Jongerius, a Dutch industrial designer who for more than a decade has been based in Germany, has transformed gallery space into an active meditation on social responsibility, spirituality and fabric called “Hella Jongerius: Woven Cosmos.”

Ms. Jongerius moved her studio, Jongeriuslab, into the Gropius Bau in November to initiate the projects that will be displayed in the show in different phases of research and completion. She will demonstrate a particular interest in three-dimensional weaving, which she sees as possessing enormous potential for architecture because of the flexibility, strength and lightness of textiles. Imagine, she said, a folding fabric balcony embedded with solar cells that “pops out when the sun shines.”

Visionary ideas are often at the top of her mind. Stephanie Rosenthal, the Gropius Bau’s director, recalled that their first conversation was about flying cars. Noting that Ms. Jongerius has leapfrogged over skeptics by, for example, embedding silicon chips into fabric and making it look beautiful, she said, “Her radical thinking comes from not giving up.” berlinerfestspiele.de

Brussels

“Collectible Reformatted” is an annual design fair in Brussels that has been adapted to a socially distanced world. When it opens on May 28, the exhibition will unfold across multiple locations with reduced attendance and time-restricted entry.

More than ever, design needs “to be shown and experienced physically,” said Liv Vaisberg. (Three years ago, Ms. Vaisberg co-founded a single-location version, called Collectible Design Fair, with Clélie Debehault.) “People need to feel the materials and textures, see the proportions and assess their functionality,” Ms. Vaisberg said. The new iteration of Collectible will nevertheless have an online “salon” platform for people unable or unwilling to be there in person.

Collectible’s exhibitors generally produce small-batch or one-off objects. Among them: “Her, Potency,” a leggy, blossom-adorned desk by Anna Aagaard Jensen, a Danish artist, and a wig-like lamp by Laurids Gallée, an Austrian-born designer. The lamp is part of a lighting collection, curated by the Brussels dealer Victor Hunt, titled, appropriately enough, “The Lights at the End of the Tunnel.” May 28 to 30. collectible.design

Stockholm

Each year, a nation sits rapt in front of screens, goggling at award winners in finery and hosting its own parties in celebration. The object of fascination is the Nobel Banquet, a fancy dinner for about 1,300 people that follows the December prize ceremony, broadcast live on Swedish television.

With the eye of the camera upon it, the dinner has become “very designed,” said Clara Ahlvik, the head of exhibitions at the Nobel Prize Museum in Stockholm and the curator of a show about the banquet that revels in bespoke table settings, secret menus, eye-popping floral arrangements and glossy evening wear. Timed to open with the — ultimately canceled — 2020 event, it is fully installed and ready for visitors whenever entry is deemed safe.

The show reveals the banquet as a stage for perfectionism — a chance to source the ultimate raspberry for a dessert or prepare the most challenging potato dish.

But it also highlights modest gestures, like the time in 2018 when Victoria, the Crown Princess of Sweden, recycled the Nina Ricci gown her mother, Queen Silvia, wore to the event in 1995.

“She looked fantastic in it,” Ms. Ahlvik said, though the princess is taller than her mother. “We were all wondering how she did it.” nobelprize.org

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