Sneak Peek: Cooper Hewitt to Showcase Design Innovations with Local Materials

Yves Behar design for Nature Conservancy photo

Images via: - Yves Behar's chocolate shaving tool using Costa Rican chocolate, native hardwood and stainless steel.

The design magazine I.D. recently had a sneak peek into an upcoming exhibition at the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York. "Design for the Living World" will showcase innovative designs commissioned by the Nature Conservancy. Ten designers, including well known names such as Yves Behar and Hella Jongerius, were each given a local sustainable material to create new products with. Seven of them got the chance to travel to the material's place of origin. The show doesn't open till May, but I.D. have given us some visual clues of what to expect...

Hella Jongerius working with Mexican latex photo

Hella Jongerius working with Mexican chicle latex in the Yucatan

I.D. tells us that The Nature Conservancy dreamed up this project a few years ago "as a follow-up to its acclaimed 2001 photo show, 'In Response to Place', which featured the work of 12 photographers. In 2007, the nonprofit asked field scientists to suggest wild or cultivated flora or fauna that produce materials potentially intriguing to designers, and that grow in regions threatened by development or shortsighted agricultural practices." However I.D. writer Eve M. Kahn says we shouldn't "expect any of the objects to actually save a habitat anytime soon. They're idealistic, dreamy, and conceptual."

Curators Abbott Miller and Ellen Lupton say of the project "We wanted to bring out a whole gamut of responses to the idea of engagement with materials and communities. We didn't want to insist upon full-on product designs with guaranteed markets of some kind. If we'd placed too many constraints on the designers and expected some factory to be able to tool up for the work—well, that would have made for a boring show."

Ted Muehling working with tagua nut photo

Ted Muehling working with the Tagua palm nut on Pohnpei island in Micronesia

We say experimentation is always the starting point for innovation and although many of the products in the show are still in the conceptual phase "Design for the Living World" is a great example of how designers can work with indigenous communities and help them to find new ways to use their local materials. As jewellery designer Ted Muehling, who travelled to micronesia with work with the palm nut Tagua, says this exhibition "will definitely call attention to these materials, and maybe someone who comes to the show will think of a bigger market for these in the design world. We've opened up possibilities of connections."

Read the full I.D. story Into The Wild
Cooper Hewitt
More on Sustainable Local Materials:
Natural Wool Felt Bags and Home Accessories, by Planar
The Palma Collection
Talking to Tahmineh Javanbakht of Artecnica about Design With Conscience
Indian Couple Tackle Waste Management By Turning Plastic Bags Into Fashion Bags

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