As novelty and sustainability drive design, more structures are deliberately temporary.
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A traveling exhibit from New York's Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, "Design for the Other 90%," addresses the question of how to translate the freewheeling creativity of a festival setting into useful design. Featured are such items as the Global Village Shelter, a prefabricated, biodegradable laminated cardboard "home" that can be assembled without tools and has been sent to Afghanistan, Indonesia, and Pakistan during recent natural disasters. The new materials, manufactured by Weyerhaeuser, will last up to a year and a half. The exhibit is funded in part by the Lemelson Foundation in Portland, Ore., a nonprofit that seeks out and supports innovative design. Executive director Julia Novy-Hildesley says she has seen a significant shift among young designers in the past decade. "It used to be, not too long ago," she says, "they were all interested in consumer items like making the next jet-ski pack or a really cool toothpaste tube." Now, she says, there is a new sense of moral imperative. "They all want to make the next ecofriendly shelter. They all want to have an impact for the betterment of the planet," she adds.Skip to next paragraph
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There may be no more vivid intersection of the wildly experimental and the practical than Burners Without Borders (BWB), a spinoff of the annual Burning Man festival in Black Rock Desert of Nevada – an event devoted to spontaneous, low-impact community creation.
Spawned in 2005 in the wake of hurricane Katrina, the shoestring, all-volunteer BWB works to inspire recruits from around the globe to take the lessons gleaned from their years of creating themed art camps with few resources and apply them to "burning" human needs. The team is currently at work in places such as Pisco, Peru, where they have created a water sanitation system for victims displaced by the recent magnitude 8.0 earthquake.
"We wanted to take all that crazy, experimental energy and pull it back to the other side," says Carmen Mauk, BWB director. To encourage others to do the same, the group recently scraped together $6,500 to disperse grants to 15 similar projects around the world. "We decided to do our own little stimulus package," she adds.
Such communal effort is a hallmark of design in the future, says Mr. Hailey, as is the increasing attention to a concept of architecture as an idea. "We may find that communities will no longer rely on the big monuments such as stadiums or concert halls to define themselves," he says. He suggests that whereas city leaders will not lose an interest in iconic structures such as the Frank Gehry-designed museum in Bilbao, Spain, which became a magnet for economic development and led to the term "the Bilbao effect," they will increasingly rely on temporary constructs instead. He points to such evanescent creations as the artist Christo's "The Gates," in Manhattan's Central Park, as an example of a large-scale, highly engineered, but fleeting work that also served the purpose of helping to define the city's artistic but also functional landscape.
"In the future," he says, "we will begin to see more of the Bilbao effect, but on the fly."