To put it mildly, 2020 has been…challenging. So it feels especially urgent and right — like a tonic, really — to look ahead to all of the ways that our nebulous future might be interpreted (as well as improved and made more joyous) through architecture and design. Encouragingly, things are looking up. One of the more significant outcomes of the past tumultuous year has been a wider acknowledgement of just how many people — designers and users alike — have been excluded or marginalized when it comes to their opportunities to participate in and reap the benefits of creative industries worldwide. The movement toward more equitable design, from fully inclusive public toilets in Tokyo to monuments that reckon with past injustices, is therefore a positive thing, as is the apparently widespread embrace of organic forms, ancient artistry and the outside world in every sense of the term. Here, then, is our look at what you should anticipate in the coming 12 months, based on the rumblings of the recent past and of the moment.
There has been something almost elemental about the past year, its topsy-turvy months suffused with a sense of unpredictability and awe (not to mention dread) rarely experienced in our modern era, at least on such a global scale. This is obviously driving the current zeitgeist, which isn’t exactly preoccupied with pastels versus primaries or the latest ultra-cool nightclub interior. Rather, the prevailing design mood has been marked by a return to basics: primordial basics, to be precise — the kind of shapes and forms and textures that evoke the dawn of time, a time before industrialization and high-tech tools, a time well before our current one.
“The world,” says Ukrainian architect and designer Victoria Yakusha, founder of Yakusha Design in Kyiv, “is going through dramatic changes — completely new things are emerging every day, some old concepts [are coming] to an end. However, I believe that, in this renewal process, we must not lose our roots, the memory of ancestors, sewn into objects of daily use.”
The most recent pieces in Yakusha Design’s Faina collection — pitted, earthy, sinuously shaped furnishings — aim to evoke such history, the process of “birth, growth, blossom [and] decay” in particular. They share an aesthetic sensibility with Raphael Navot’s Nativ collection for Roche Bobois (which includes a strikingly sculptural bookcase actually called Primordial) and Jackrabbit Studio’s Funky Bunch trio of two-legged maple dining chairs (which look both totemic and organic). It’s all heady stuff, both challenging and thrilling. But these are heady times — expect to be challenged and thrilled for a while yet. – Danny Sinopoli
The disproportionate impact of disease laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic. The 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Worldwide protests in support of the Black Lives Matter movement against systemic racism. The past few months have exposed, with good reason, the many ways that design has propagated — and continues to reinforce — structural inequality and violence. This pattern, though, appears to be shifting. By cultivating knowledge and embracing marginalized perspectives, designers are striving to not only share and cede space, but ultimately transform it for the better.
In Tokyo, for instance, a suite of new public lavatories envisioned by some of Japan’s foremost architects combines elements such as Braille paving blocks and unisex facilities to offer a safe and inclusive environment to all. In the United States, the recently inaugurated Memorial to Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia “provides a much-needed space for active engagement with the grim reality of slavery and systemic racism, the repercussions of which the nation is still wrestling with today,” says Mabel O. Wilson, the Columbia University professor and designer who contributed to the project.
And in the UAE, European designers have been teaming up with local artisans to translate traditional crafts for contemporary audiences, giving greater voice to under-represented makers — many of whom are women — in the process. These are just a few of the many ways in which the design world is reckoning with systemic ills, looking anew at the past to quite literally build a more equitable future. – Evan Pavka
During the spring and summer of this unprecedented year, cities across the world were forced to address a newly serious issue: the lack of accessible outdoor space available to their citizens. Despite decades of research extolling the benefits of time spent outdoors, more urban plans than not, it now seems clear, had failed to include enough green space to accommodate their exploding populations. So when public gathering spots from libraries and community centres to shops and restaurants were ordered to shut their doors because of the pandemic, the average person was hard-pressed to find refuge outside his or her own four walls. As it’s said, though, necessity is often the mother of invention.
In response to COVID-19, creative interventions have been popping up everywhere and in a multitude of forms: Circular outlines have landed in parks like socially distanced UFOs, cafés and eateries are resurrecting their dining rooms curbside, drive-in theatres have made an unanticipated comeback. One literal scene-stealer, along Montreal’s rue Sainte-Catherine Ouest, was ADHOC Architectes’ Your Place at the Table! As part of a wider initiative, ADHOC partnered with local graphic designers Maude Lescarbeau and Camille Blais to snake a 100-metre-long, intensely yellow table through landscape architect Claude Cormier’s Parc Hydro-Québec. Complete with appropriately spaced stools, tabletop accessories and even overhead lighting, the undulating counter–bar–playscape allowed passersby to “reappropriate this public space” in a safe way. More of such inventiveness is almost sure to follow: With winter weather looming for half the world at least, comfortable al fresco design will be top of mind — to support, entertain and connect people when they’ll be certain to need it most. – Kendra Jackson
The design world’s newfound predilection for adventurous weaves — both high-tech and artisanal — signals a renewed interest in their graphic potential as well as the warmth they evoke. There is also something especially symbolic and appealing right now about the act of knitting together elements to create a harmonious whole. In contemporizing an ancient medium, designers are once again exploring its ability to boldly embellish furnishings — Gandia Blasco’s chunky Buit lounger and Paola Lenti’s rainbow-hued Telar chair are two especially beautiful examples — as well as to inform spatial design.
As a case in point, Into the Hedge, a temporary installation by the Brooklyn-based studio SO-IL in Columbus, Indiana, recalls a massive, vibrant plaid but reveals itself, upon close inspection, to be a macroknit of nylon webbing. The abstract, multi-circle gardenscape wraps around trees and glows at night like a techno-organic harbinger of the future. At the very least, it’s a supersized sign of our times — one that illustrates how knits and weaves, brilliantly modernized, can be ever relevant. – Elizabeth Pagliacolo
Our look at what you should anticipate in the coming 12 months, based on the rumblings of the recent past and of the moment.