Why the National Design Triennial Now?

The National Design Triennial is a mammoth show, with more than 134 projects from 44 countries trying to answer that most existential of all design questions, “Why Design Now?” Making sense of it all can be a little daunting; luckily for us, the reviews have started coming in. Here’s our shortlist of the most thought-provoking write-ups so far:

The Way We Design Now
“One always hears talk about the need to not reinvent the wheel; well, the design community — some of it, anyway — has realized the need to stop reinventing the chair.” Alison Arieff, writing for her Opinionator blog at the Times, is clearly relieved. She is glad that people are finally asking “If not objects, what?” and moving away from plastics and the cult of star designers.

NewCabbageChair“Dazzled by some of the answers, dazed by others.”
Dominique Browning at Design Observer finds the show a little confusing: “This is too much ground to cover; apples and oranges are mixed up along the way, so that the viewer is befuddled.” The catalog is helpful, and the show is “beautifully presented.” Her key grouse? Some of the solutions lack the urgency of the Triennial’s question. “At times I didn’t feel the curators were taking their own intentions seriously enough.”

Dye_Solar_WindowDesign Triennial Wins No Beauty Contests
“The criteria this year seem to be urgency of need, a project’s minimal impact on the planet, and an indifference to most aesthetic considerations,” complains David D’Arcy in his review for The Architect’s Newspaper. He was underwhelmed by the exhibition design, but he is willing to concede that “the scattershot Design Triennial compares favorably to the grab bag of novelty at the Whitney Biennial. The Cooper-Hewitt foregrounds function over form, but its values are in the right place.”

signNot Enough Information
Core77’s Lisa Smith feels that the projects were “left to fend for themselves in the sea of the exhibition, and, without sufficient explanation from the museum, it’s difficult to understand them beyond face value.” She also notices two “disturbing” themes: the designs veer between an ever-present “folksy quality” and “wild visualizations of the future.” Nonetheless, she reminds us that “these criticisms may have more to do with the nature of the beast than the institution that adopted it.”

uncorporate011_coverA Quest for Meaning in a Dystopian Era
Alice Rawsthorn at the New York Times compares the Triennial to Uncorporate Identity, a book by the design research group Metahaven. The Triennial plays too safe, she feels: “If there’s a problem with ‘Why Design Now?,’ it is one that has cursed the Cooper-Hewitt for years: earnestness. (And by that I mean that it is a little too dry, too cautious, too back-to-school.)… a swashbuckling dose of Metahaven’s irreverence wouldn’t go amiss.”


Have you been to the Triennial yet? Let us know your thoughts using the comments form below.

Categories: Arts + Culture

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