Need to Know
29 : 05 : 18

29.05.2018 Design : NYCxDesign : Politics

NYCxDesign, which ended last week, showcased designers tackling issues as varied as the environmental impact of food to the trouble with loneliness.

1. Food as a sustainable medium

Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York
Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York
Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York
Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York Zero Waste Bistro, Finnish Cultural Institute, New York

At this year’s show, political overtones about responsibility to the environment and community were prevalent. Brands responded to a growing sense of eco-anxiety by presenting a series of food-based solutions.

Continuing to tour her Future Sausage project which premiered at last year's Milan Salone, Carolien Niebling showcased how meat protein could be sourced with insects, nuts and legumes to reduce carbon footprint of a traditional food staple.

Taking its cue from Helsinki zero-waste Restaurant Nolla, the Finnish Cultural Institute in New York commissioned the Zero Waste Bistro that was housed at the WantedDesign Manhattan fair. The standout space used a circular economy model and was built using upcycled food packaging and industrial waste that could be broken down and composted after the fair. The cups and cutlery were plastic-free and Chef Luka Balac’s menu featured local and organic products, as well as food that are often overlooked such as spent grain, challenging the materials we use and the way we live and eat.

2. Averting loneliness through furniture design

Reading Room by Block Shop, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York Reading Room by Block Shop, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York
Reading Room by Block Shop, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York Reading Room by Block Shop, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York

Despite having the digital world at our fingertips, there’s a strong disconnect between people and loneliness is fast becoming an epidemic. According to a recent Cigna survey, only about half of Americans have meaningful in-person social interactions. Several designers showing at NYCxDesign this year tackled loneliness and used design to reconnect people.

Brad Ascalon’s ‘Island Collection’ was a series of interlocking seats, table surfaces and planters embedded in the recently pedestrianized Times Square. The modular seating encouraged passers-by to converse and engage in one of the city’s busiest enclaves and was part of a larger showcase of seating and signage that question the role of human connectivity in urban centers.

Meanwhile, textiles brand Block Shop presented ‘Reading Room’, a brightly coloured space featured rugs and pillows in bold hues that invited visitors to sit down and reconnect, either with each other or by themselves with a selection of curated books.

Design student Juho Lee from the School of Visual Arts designed ‘Yaja’ to subvert Korean hierarchical traditions preventing men from freely socializing. The double rocking chair faces different directions and brings men physically closer and encourages informal conversation and connection as equals.

3. NYCxDesign follows Milan's footsteps

As seen in this year’s Milan Salone del Mobile Internazionale, there has been a shift towards less static presentations and designers using a more performative aspect to exhibit their work.

Coil + Drift founder John Sorensen-Jolink was a professional dancer before moving onto furniture design and for this year’s NYCxDesign, he fused both his professions in ‘_ HOME UNIMPROV’, a new multimedia series launched in partnership with Hotel Particulier to challenge how we understand movement, space, performance and design. Presented inside a Soho storefront, the immersive installation featured three-channel video featuring dancers interacting with furniture designed by Sorensen-Jolink. Also included in the space were three bespoke editions of the popular Soren chair, altered for a larger back arc, referencing movement and negative space.

A/D/O’s collaboration with United Visual Artists had a more inclusive approach. Visitors were encouraged to wander around ‘Spirit of the City’, a site-specific outdoor installation featuring a series of mirrored columns in a grid formation that rotated according to a 24-hour cycle of the city’s algorithm. Designed to explore how people physically and emotionally interact with urban environments, the revolving columns created different patterns and moods, depending on shadow, light, reflection and movement of visitors, and reflect the constant change in the city’s energy.

Spirit of the City, United Visual Artists at A/D/O, Brooklyn, New York. Spirit of the City, United Visual Artists at A/D/O, Brooklyn, New York.

4. From beauty product to beauty cabinet

Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York
Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York
Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York Kim Markel x Glossier, photography by Charlie Schuck, New York

The alluring visual identity of beauty brand Glossier is instantly recognizable, with its iconic pale pink packaging. As part of Sight Unseen OFFSITE, furniture designer Kim Markel teamed up with Glossier and transformed discarded packaging from the cult beauty brand into a line of furniture that further evolved Glossier’s clever branding strategy.

Markel launched her collection ‘Glow’ in 2016, which featured a series of objects made using recycled plastic in translucent, pastel shades. ‘Glow’ continued to evolve when Markel partnered with Glossier with a new series of works including cabinets, side tables, mirrors and chairs, using the beauty brand’s packaging that resulted in Glossier’s signature pink hue. The beauty brand is already in consumers’ bathrooms but with the ‘Glow’ series, Glossier redefines how it communicates to its customers and can be part of their living space. Central to the collaboration is solidifying Glossier as being in the forefront of creativity, supporting local female designers, sustainability and style.

5. Rebels with a cause

Field Studies by Home Studios, Artwork by Natasha Royt, New York Field Studies by Home Studios, Artwork by Natasha Royt, New York
Field Studies by Home Studios, Artwork by Fernando Mastrangelo and Boyd Holbrook, New York Field Studies by Home Studios, Artwork by Fernando Mastrangelo and Boyd Holbrook, New York

The current political climate in America has heightened the levels of anxiety in the design community and digital magazine Sight Unseen responded by launching Design for Progress last year, an initiative to raise money to protect these groups through design. This year, Sight Unseen continued its efforts with Field Studies, an ongoing project within the scheme, and invited 13 interior and furniture designs and paired them up with 13 luminaires from film, fashion and art to create one-off pieces to be sold to raise money for a charity of the pair’s choice.

Some of the standout projects include the collaboration between Russian designer Harry Nuriev of Crosby Studio and artist Liam Gillick, whose series of steel and Plexiglas light structures were poetic and conceptual. Proceeds from sales will support the Naked Heart Foundation, which focuses on children with disability in Russia. Also included was Christopher Stuart and Julia Dault’s bronzed mirror sconce backlit by LEDs emitting a soft glow, with proceeds going to environmental and reproductive health care charities that have been affected by Donald Trump’s changes to policies.

The cross-pollination of disciplines challenged each pair to discover a new perspective and provoke a dialogue around the role of design as an agent for change.

6. Thought-starter: Have design shows succumbed to Instagram?

The rise of Instagram has created a shift in the way we experience design and culture. Have design weeks succumbed to Instagram-centric spaces over critical bodies of work and is this the best way forward to attract a broader audience?

In recent years, there has been an influx of activations at design weeks that construct snap-worthy moments to lure a broader audience. Social media has changed the way we experience design and engaging activations that act as a backdrop to selfies have become featured projects during design weeks. At this year’s NYCxDesign, ‘Raquel’s Dream House’ brought the popular Instagram account @ettoresottsaas to life with a four-story pop-up in Soho. The space featured candy-coloured pieces that give nod to the Memphis movement and has a strong focus on emerging designers. As the pieces sell, the townhouse will be replenished with new items.

The photo-baiting exhibition has challenged the way we consume design and brought more bodies through the door. Cultural institutes and events are succumbing to the Insta-obsessed. Design fairs should be a platform to spark debate and present thought-provoking projects and yet, how we consume design in the age of Instagram seems to be less about the installation and more about providing a photogenic backdrop. If design fairs allow the spectacle to overshadow built projects, they will lose their creditability in the insular, tight-knit design community.

Raquel's Dream Home, New York Raquel's Dream Home, New York