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posted on 09.30.09

hal / 2001: a space odyssey

Nobody says 'high-tech' anymore could be the subtitle for my post of the list of ten influential designers for 2010.  We've grown accustomed to technology as a part of our everyday life but these ten designers are concerned with how to use technology to imbue objects with meaning and to serve human needs. They are taking back technology from the command of engineers and approaching it with the mindset of an artist.  Their practice of design conflates art and technology and extends from designing a product to inventing new processes for production and new ways of making objects.  Sometimes their designs are profoundly beautiful, sometimes  simple and satisfying and some are so conceptually compelling that they transcend notions of beauty.  Five of the people on this list I have blogged about before.  All ten lead the direction of design for the 21st century.

nacho carbonell

1: Nacho Carbonell

Nacho Carbonell is a Spanish furniture designer living in The Netherlands.  His work includes papier mache chairs with attached “cocoons” for alone time and  the “Pump It Up Chair” which is a large amorphous air filled cushion with tubes attached to small figures that gradually wriggle and twist as they inflate from the air pumped into them when someone sits down.  These pieces construct narratives that explore fundamental human needs.  His use of unusual materials creates a new context around furniture and connects us to ritual in our everyday life.  In a world permeated by technology, his sculptural, handmade approach to object making recalls a craftsmans view of technology as a personal investigation and mastery of tools and materials.

video of "Pump It Up Chair" on

Heatherwick Studio

2: Thomas Heatherwick

Thomas Heatherwick founded Heatherwick Studio in 1994. The project categories on their website are 'small, medium and large scale' and range from 'Plank' a 'six-foot length of solid wood, which can be folded into a coffee table, side table or stool' to the British Pavilion to be built for the Shanghai 2010 Expo.  Heatherwick's designs appear formally sculptural yet effortlessly incorporate advanced manufacturing capabilities to express something essential about our objects and ourselves.  I have blogged about and posted a video of his Paddington bridge in my post 'Mutable Design: 5 Mini-Movies'.

Jonathan Ive as Buddha

3: Jonathan Ive / Apple Industrial Design

Love 'em or hate 'em- EVERYONE copies Apple.  No other company, through their product design, has successfully defined a relevant alternative view of personal technology.  The man who heads the Apple Design team is Jonathan Ive and he was the principal designer of the iMac, aluminum and titanium PowerBook G4, MacBook, unibody MacBook Pro, iPod and iPhone.  From the stylistic elements to the simplified interfaces these products have shaped our view and use of technology.

Ford River Plant / Julie Bargmann

4: Julie Bargmann / D.I.R.T. Studio

Her practice seeks to reintegrate former factories and industrial sites into their communities.  Rather than dig up contaminated soil and tear down disused buildings to add to landfills D.I.R.T. Studio recognizes the significance of these sites to a communities identity and 'rehabilitates' the land and buildings.  Heather Ring wrote: "...she works to transform the waste produced by a century of manufacturing and consumption into something culturally and ecologically productive."  Her in depth interview with Julie Bargmann is on via archinect:

'Lost in Paris' / R & Sie

5: R & Sie

One of my favorite books is 'Architecture Without Architects' by Bernard Rudofsky.  It illustrates the way in which vernacular architecture responds effectively  to the physical and cultural need for shelter in varied locations around our world.  Rudofsky's book is not about architecture with a capital 'A' but rather simple but effective design solutions that necessarily grow out of local environments.  The French design firm R & Sie offers a modern version of indigenous architecture.  From their 'Lost in Paris', a house entirely enveloped by Devonian era ferns in a hydroponic support structure to their design for an art museum in Bangkok, a series of stacked white boxes covered with an electrostatic mesh that will gradually attract and grow a protective layer of smog particles to shield the art within.  While the ostensible results of their practice are buildings, their work seems to me to be more concerned with design investigations that start from and demonstrate our inseperability from nature.

'Lost in Paris' and 'Invisible House' on Treehugger:

'Dusty Relief / Bmu on New Territories:

Neri Oxman

6: Neri Oxman / Material Ecology

Neri Oxman finished med school, got a degree in architecture and capped it off with a PhD in design computation at MIT.  Her design research firm Material Ecology is involved in developing computer-controlled manufacturing processes to create new materials and structures that mimic living organisms.  One of her projects is a 3-d printer to create an object that combines the properties of two different materials fused in one element.  Although the explanation of her work can sound somewhat dry the resulting forms are often beautiful and sensual.

I blogged about her previously:

Neri Oxman, Material Ecology:

hussein chalayan

7: Hussein Chalayan

Hussein Chalayan is a fashion designer described as having the heart of an artist and the brain of a scientist.  His collections are experimental and conceptual.   He has created clothing that transforms from a room of furniture, a dress that is its own performance of 200 moving lasers, another dress of aircraft material that can change shape by remote control and a collection integrating motors to transform styles in a shifting homage to fashion of the twentieth century.  The influence of these creations extends beyond the runway throughout the world of art and design.

Hussein Chalayan Spring/Summer Collection 07 video on

faraday chair / Dunne & Raby

8: Dunne & Raby

"Dunne & Raby use design as a medium to stimulate discussion and debate amongst designers, industry and the public about the social, cultural and ethical implications of existing and emerging technologies."  (from their website)

All of their projects reveal the hidden intrusions of technology and question the unquestioned assumptions, personal, corporate and governmental,  that we base our lives activities on.  Their work takes the form of simple objects such as a park bench for adults that incorporates a role of hygienic towels to facilitate 'illicit' activities or a vitrine like chair to retreat  from electromagnetic pollution.  Although they are designers their pieces are in the collections of many major art museums.

Dunne & Raby website:

Blobwall pavilion at SciArc / Greg Lynn

9: Greg Lynn/FORM

Greg Lynn trained as an architect and is known for promoting and developing the tools of digital fabrication for design and architecture.  He created the 'blob wall' which is a colorful building system of plastic bricks from a rotomolding process commonly used for many consumer products.  He is currently using robots to fuse and reassemble discarded toys into unique forms for furniture. While his investigations are deeply grounded in architectural and planning theory, his use of sophisticated software results in voluptuous and accessible objects and structures that may foretell radical new ways of creating our built world.

'blobwall' pavilion at SciArc Gallery:

'antibodi’ chaise longue for moroso, 2006 / Patricia Urquiola

10: Patricia Urquiola

Patricia Urquiola was born in northern Spain, did her thesis at Milan Polytechnic and proceeded to work with many of the masters of Italian design.  Her style reflects an interest in the seperate elements that make up a design- parts can often be swapped out or changed.  This brings a conceptual edge to her designs that trumps any purely formal qualities.  Her furniture pieces retain a comforting and emotional quality while taking advantage of sophisticated manufacturing with advanced materials and fabrication techniques.

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