That may sound like an unusual theme for an exhibition on modern design, but its at the beating heart of the Cooper Hewitt Museum's stupendous "Design Triennial: Why Design Now."
Proving that design means a lot more than matching hats to dresses on "Project Runway", this whirlwind exhibit highlights the best designs of the last three-years, shining a spotlight on the architects, engineers and designers who are trying to solve the world's biggest problems.
Worries about energy usage are addressed with a lamp that runs entirely on soil (the energy created by the microorganisms in the dirt are enough to keep the lightbulb lit!); and an interactive exhibit on a city that's being built outside Abu Dhabi that will run entirely on renewable energy sources and will be car-free. Clean water issues are tackled with an easily-carried water-can, its sides made of solar-panels, its interior high tech, so that water of iffy quality can be purified on the walk home from the village well. (See photo on the left). Urban unrest and deteriorating cities are addressed through the example of Medallin, Columbia which was able to turn its fortunes around thanks, in large part, to a massive public initiative to build parks, new schools, libraries, and other public spaces for the people of the city to use (the story of the transformation of the city, which is told through photographs and wall text, is particularly moving part of the exhibit).
Improved prosthetic limbs are on display, as are gorgeous fabrics made of waste materials (such as plastic and sheep poo). Canes for the blind, containing GPS systems are placed near stoplights set on poles that collapse when a car hits them (apparently, many people are killed each year when stoplights plow into their cars). And on, and on...The exhibit seemingly touches upon every major problem human beings are currently facing. Its that rare museum show that is at one and the same time intellectually challenging and highly emotionally charged.
You have until January 9th to see the show, and I have to say, I think simply seeing it is reason enough to plan a trip to New York City.Come Labor Day weekend and you'll get to see the exhibit, and attend special lectures and workshops, for free. The usual $15 will be waived.