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I caught the Cooper Hewitt’s Design Triennial at the San Jose Museum of Art just before it closed.  Titled Beauty, the show explores contrasting themes in contemporary design, where the worlds of art, craft, technique and automation intersect or contrast. While offering a glimpse at the work of some of the hottest designers working today, the exhibition also offered an opportunity for me to ponder the age-old question…what is beauty?  Here are a few of the standouts from the show.

Max Lamb might be one of my favorite designers working today.  There is something visceral in his process, as Lamb explores and integrates the process of furniture making into the end pieces.  Lamb uses raw, often inexpensive and throw away materials, in combination with experimental techniques which result in a rough and tactile quality. This work resonates directly with me, perhaps because I believe that intellect and education only bring us so far in the designing of spaces…we need to ask how does a space feel.

To get a glimpse of Lamb’s process, check out this video of the fabrication of the Pewter stool, where Lamb pours molten pewter into a mold dug into the sand at the beach. He then excavated the hardened piece from its primitive matrix. Here is an image of Lamb fabricating one of his other chairs; looks cathartic!

Michael Anastassiades work is probably the most commercial and easily accessible in the show. Anastassiades’  work “reduces a concept to its core, creating uncluttered, elegant, and timeless objects that remain imbued with a signature expressiveness.” Many of these pieces will fit seamless into any interior, and can be found at all of the major retailers.

Neri Oxman and MIT Media Lab Mediated Matter Group employs  3-D printers to mold molten glass in thin layers, creating biomorphic shapes with shifting contours.  In theory, these continuous forms have the potential for transmitting and containing data, while in practice this technique can be used to create architectural elements and objects.

Hans Tan transform traditional porcelain domestic objects through a process of reduction: Tan slowly strips away the design decoration using batik-inspired technique and sand blasting.  The resulting graphic pattern and imagery has a ghostly effect, raising an interesting dialog of ideas about materiality, heritage, and memory.

Tuomas Markunpoika provides another study of memory and loss. In this showstopper, Markunpoika encased a traditional wooden cabinet with tubular steel rings, which is then burned, leaving an outline of the original object.  This is piece is a powerful addition to the show, as it serves as a commentary on the devastation and transformative effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

Formafantasma. Materials and materiality – their origins, production and contemporary narrative and use – is the core focus of this collective based in Italy. Contrasts in narrative develop between smooth verses rough, traditional versus modern, emotional versus intellectual…perhaps the core theme of this show. Check out this revealing interview.

Brynjar Siguroarson is the ultimate boho hipster or cultural anthropologist, as he emerses himself in remote cultures, learning traditional techniques of production which he then incorporates into his eclectic art-school  pieces.  In High Shelf, he visited a small fishing village in his native Iceland, where he learned knot-making techniques, how to make fishing nets, process fur, and create hooks, all of which is incorporated into a piece which blurs art and design.

Scholten & Baijings use the latest industrial processes available at Verreum, a glass works manufacturer in Prague, Czech Republic, to explore color, form, details and technique of everyday objects. In this collection, an interior and exterior coating of metallic silver hides and reveals rich color gradients, producing sleek minimalist pieces. Probably the most affordable pieces in the show.


Michiel Schuurman adds contemporary digital imagery to the traditional fabrics made by Vlisco, a Dutch textile company specializing in Dutch wax prints. This striking graphic print utilizes drop shadows and dot patterns through lost wax and Indonesian batik processes, in an ongoing dialogue that once began with Dutch designers, West and Central Africa traders, and far eastern techniques. I’m a big fan, and can see incorporating a little bit of this into my designer!


Sou Fujimoto’s  Serpentine Pavilion entranced me on my visit to London in 2013. A temporary structure composed of interlocking grids and glass planes to form multipurpose surfaces…steps, seats, and tables…that visually blur the boundaries between object and the surrounding environment, blurring earth and sky and object into a formless scene of nature.

Established in 2000, Sou Fujimoto Architects explores concepts of nature through structured, geometrical forms. I’d love to see L’Arbre Blanc which is being built in Montpellier, France, and might have to plan a trip to Marseilles. The building takes its shape from a pine cone, with apartments pushing outwards from a central core.

I hope you enjoyed viewing a few examples of what is considered BEAUTY today. And don’t forget to check out what I’m up to at my day job at Bjørn Design.

David Bjørngaard, February 2017

(images by David and appropriated from the www)

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