Why Design Now?

“Why Design Now?”, the latest exhibition at Cooper Hewitt, poses a pretty silly question. I can’t think of a single reason not to design now or ever, for that matter. But if there are any skeptics out there, the plethora of good ideas and amazing, major-problem solving solutions in the form of everything from product design to community planning will surely shut them up.

The invisible streetlight wraps around branches, integrating itself into the surrounding environment.

There’s plenty of pretty design like the wooden Magno radios built by struggling farmers in Java, or the prototype for the Invisible Streetlight, a more “poetic way” of using solar power. There’s functional design like Joshua Silver’s AdSpecs, affordable ($19 a pair) eyeglasses that allow the wearer to adjust their own prescription using a dial connected to each lens. Then there’s just plain awesome stuff, like the IDEA plug-in hybrid car that gets 80 mpg, or Return to Sender, a simple, nontoxic, biodegradable eco-casket (I bet that’s the first time you’ve heard those two words together) made of light plywood and lined with a wool/fleece mattress.

Then there’s the big picture stuff like Renzo Piano’s rooftop design of the California Academy of Arts and Sciences in San Francisco. The 2.5e-acre roof landscaped with 9 indigenous species is a living environment that absorbs 98% of all storm water and acts as an outdoor lab for students. Two other massive projects in progress that should be on everyone’s watch list are bioWAVE and the Masdar development. bioWAVE is an ocean-wave energy system that “harnesses the energy of ocean waves and coverts it into grid-connected electricity.” The units are mounted on the seabed and are biometrically designed to adapt to marine life. One unit is expected to generate 2 megawatts of energy. That means a whole farm of units can meet utility-scale electricity needs.

Plans for Masdar, the sustainable desert oasis.

The Masdar Development is an experimental desert community in Abu Dhabi. With claims of being the “world’s first car-free, carbon neutral, zero-waste city powered by renewable energy sources,” it really just might be “the city of the future and the role model for the world.” To design it, of course, is one thing; To build it is another.