Metropolis Predicts What’s Ahead in Design in 2014

Three Metropolis editors cast their architecture and design predictions for the new year.

Midway through the first month of 2014, three Metropolis editors cast their architecture and design predictions for the new year.

Design in a Time of Crisis

The Italian economy is now going though a crisis much like what the United States went through in 2008. Italy is the third largest economy of the EU (after Germany and France), and also has the second largest manufacturing sector in Europe, and yet its industrial production has decreased by about 24% bringing It back to 1980s level. The Italian newspaper, La Repubblica, announced last year that the country also lost over 31,000 companies. The Italian real estate market has also collapsed to 1985 levels, with home sales dropping by 29%. And if that didn’t depress you, a few Italian design magazines folded or restructured last year. The challenge for these brands is how do they continue to keep the production costs in Italy competitive with those in like Romania and China. Some of the major Italian furniture brands are starting to find a presence in continuing their expansion into the United States, in addition to emerging markets like South America as well as China. (Poltrona Frau and Cassina opened new showrooms in Beijing and Shanghai last year and plans to expand in the Chinese market this year.)

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The new Cassina showroom in Beijing.

All eyes will be on the Salone del Mobile in Milan in April—the most important furniture fair in the world and indicator of the latest stylistic trends in the design sector—as the indicator to the state of Italian design manufacturing sector. —Paul Makovsky, Editorial Director

The interiors of the new Design Museum, seen under construction this week. The museum will inhabit the former Commonwealth Institute building in London, with renovations and retrofittings by the architect John Pawson.

Courtesy Phil Sayer/ New Design Museum tumblr

The State of Design Curating

Last year, a number of key curatorial posts have either been filled or have become vacant. Cooper Hewitt finally found a replacement for its director, with the promotion of Caroline Baumann. Cathy Leff, who has run the Wolfsonian museum in Miami Beach almost since its founding, plans to step down this April after nearly 20 years there. Curators with decades of experience, such as David McFadden, the chief curator of the Museum of Arts and Design, and R. Craig Miller, Senior Curator of Design Arts and Director of Design Initiatives at the Indianapolis Museum of Art have both stepped down from their posts. One of the biggest challenges for Glenn Adamson, the new director of MAD, will be fundraising the $10 to 15 million for the museum just to stay afloat and grow. Another interesting development is the appointment of Wim de Wit as the first Adjunct Curator of Architecture and Design at the Cantor Museum at Stanford University, after leaving the Getty Research Institute, where he served as Head of the Department of Architecture and Contemporary Art. Look forward to the opening this year of the Design Museum in London at its new space in Kensington High Street, and to the question as to who will fill Barry Bergdoll’s position as Chief Curator of Architecture and Design at the Museum of Modern Art. —PM

Rem Koolhaas will direct the 14th Venice Biennale of Architecture.

Venice Biennale of Architecture

After a series of underwhelming showings, the Venice Biennale returns this year with a highly anticipated program. The hubbub seems to have little to do with the curatorial theme itself, however; on paper, “Fundamentals,” a two-part inquiry on the nature of architecture’s fixity and evolution, reads as unprepossessing as David Chipperfield’s innocuous “Common Ground” agenda in 2012. The difference between Chipperfield and the 2014 Biennale Director is one of star-power. This year’s expo is, after all, the brainchild of Rem Koolhaas, the profession’s erstwhile enfant terrible, now respected elder. The Koolhaas/OMA brand commands much admiration from all sides of the industry, and the architect’s appointment was well overdue. Undoubtedly, his exhibition will be among the Biennale’s most interesting entries in recent memory.

But to deliver on his promise that the expo will be “about architecture, not architects,” Koolhaas will have to work against the Biennale’s downward trend towards glitz, salesmanship, and irrelevance. Can he restore the exhibition to its critical roots? We’ll see. —Samuel Medina, Web Editor

A 3-D printed object made of recycled wood. The printer’s additive layering creates a distinctive wood grain.

Courtesy Emerging Objects

What Can We 3-D Print Now?

In spite of the media hype (or maybe because of it), there is no doubt that digital fabrication is here to stay. As we noted in our April 2013 feature, one of the challenges that remains is the materials we can currently print with—so far the choices include a few plastics and some metals. The new year has already begun with reports of 3-D printing in a wood substitute, a rock-like material, and of all things, salt. This year, we’re expecting to see more experiments with organic materials and sustainable composites. —Avinash Rajagopal, Associate Editor

Kill These Buzzwords

As editors we might be a bit sensitive to jargon, but there is a good reason to hate buzzwords. For a while, words like “participatory” and “DIY” actually meant something, but letting users choose the color of a product does not make it DIY—we’re looking at you, Moto X. Other words that should be reclaimed or killed: design ethnography (just snapping photos of users does not qualify), design thinking (we’ve wasted enough post-its), social design (let’s stop demeaning the words “social change”), parametrics (it means more than just “designed with software”), and self-initiated, unsolicited projects (makes them sound unwanted, unfortunately). Watch this space for another list next year, we suspect that “creative confidence” will be on it. —AR

With Bloomberg gone and de Blasio in, how will the New York cityscape change?

Courtesy Elliott Scott via Flickr

Post-Bloomberg New York

Bill de Blasio ran and won on a ticket to curb many of the excesses of New York’s departed billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg. The harsh reality is that the destructive effects of Bloomberg’s most pernicious policies—rampant privatization, unchecked police power, a vicious anti-union streak—cannot be reversed or so easily discontinued. Still, many feel that Bloomberg’s good initiatives (think the Citi Bike program) should be preserved and expanded upon. Either way, de Blasio will have his hands full living up to his campaign rhetoric. But if he really is serious about making Bloomberg’s luxury city a more equitable place for all, he’ll have to consult the aid and expertise of architects, planners, and designers.

Also, watch out for the newly revived City Club of New York, a government advocacy group currently led by Michael S. Gruen, a land-use lawyer, which sharply criticized Bloomberg’s rezoning plan for East Midtown. —SM

The Museum of African Design (MOAD) in Johannesburg is Africa’s first museum dedicated to design.

Photo by Jodi Bieber

Africa in the Spotlight

Hopefully everyone knows by now that Africa is not a country, that three out of the ten fastest growing economies (and 11 out of the top 20) in the world are African, that Cape Town is the world design capital for 2014, and that Johannesburg opened its first design museum. This year, the continent is likely to receive more attention than ever before—expect more Africa-themed design exhibitions, and Africa-born architects and designers receiving exposure and accolades internationally. —AR

The Parkroyal on Pickering hotel by WOHA, one of several architecture and design projects recognized by the President’s Award 2013, Singapore’s highest design.

Courtesy WOHA

Singaporethe next new design powerhouse?

When it comes to design, the once sleepy port city of Singapore is maturing into a key player in the Asian market. Singapore’s government is starting to take design seriously. In 2008 it established SOTA (the School of the Arts), which focuses on an arts and design-based curriculum for 13-to-18-year-olds. The Design Singapore Council, the national agency for design, was established in 2003 to help develop the nation’s design sector in response to a government report which identified the creative industry as one of the new new sectors for economic growth (the other two were education and healthcare). The Council helps businesses to adopt design strategies as well develops a network of Singapore-based designers with the objective to boost their global competitiveness, in part, through the President’s Design Award—Singapore’s highest honor given to designers and designs from all design disciplines. Pann Lim, one of last year’s Designers of the Year, is a founding member of the non-profit organisation, The Design Society, whose objective is to educate, proliferate and archive graphic design in Singapore. The Council also funds scholarships, and for the first time, it awarded a scholarship in the field of design criticism—Justin Zhuang is studying in the Masters of Fine Arts in Design Criticism at the School of the Visual Arts in New York.

If you do have the chance to visit the city, Dempsey Hill, a former British colonial army barracks to the west of the city center, is a successful major adaptive reuse government project that now hosts a wide range of independent restaurants and cafes. And in sharp contrast to the towering skyscrapers in the financial district that Singapore is famous for, Haji Lane, a tiny lane, hidden away in the heart of the Arab quarter of the city, where you find a collection of narrow shop-houses with about about 30 independent boutiques.

The design industry is taking notice. This Spring, the Paris-based MAISON&OBJET trade show is bringing its brand to Singapore and has established MAISON&OBJET ASIA, a tradeshow that brings together brands and talents from around the world and debuts at the Marina Bays Sands Expo and Convention Centre, from March 10th to the 13th, 2014. —PM

A project for a multi-national cultural hub in the Arctic.

Courtesy Think Space

Design in the Arctic

The race for the Arctic is on. Just last week, Canada initiated work on the Arctic’s first all-season roadway, a coast-to-coast highway that will play a key role in the country’s plans to develop the region’s untapped oil and natural gas reserves. The project follows similar preparation efforts by competing nations (the U.S., Russia, Canada, Norway and Denmark via Greenland) that claim geographical right to the riches still buried in Arctic ice.

How events will unfold is hard to say. But as the ice caps melt and recede, the development of the Arctic is all but assured. What will be design’s role in fleshing out the infrastructural and architectural armatures needed to direct Arctic expeditions, drillings, and other activity? As more countries make land claims, how will the populations (not to mention military camps) pushed further north be housed? A recent competition by Think Space explored speculative solutions to these concerns. Among the winning submissions was a proposal for a homegrown, locally-managed “Frozen Fuel Network,” and another for a sprawling, multi-national hub for cultural activity “invested in research and discovery.” Or, as an on-going exhibition by the The Arts Catalyst illustrates, can we learn from the built projects found in the Antarctic? —SM

The so-called “Cheesegrater” by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners will be completed later in the year.

Courtesy Paul Raftery

Buildings to Watch

2014 will see several high-profile building projects begin to take shape. In New York, the pyramidal silhouette of BIG’s American debut, West57, will rise towards the Manhattan skyline. Continuing the trend, Richard Rogers’ shard-like Leadenhall Building is expected to open late in the year. The structure, nicknamed the Cheesegrater for its triangular outline and the steel lattice set flush with its glass envelope, represents both a return to form for Rogers and a striking addition to London’s growing collection of pantry item-themed skyscrapers. Halfway around the world, another pyramidal ambition is awaiting completion: a quarter of a century since breaking ground and a regime change later, the Ryugyong Hotel still remains incomplete, despite a surge of investment in 2008 from Egyptian telecommunications company Orascom. The structure’s shimmering glass facade, installed in 2012, represented the most significant construction milestone since work on the tower was abandoned in 1992. The hotel was due for completion in 2013, but construction was suddenly halted last spring.

Zaha Hadid Architects’ Wangjing Soho complex in Beijing inspired a knock-off in the western Chinese city of Chongqing.

Courtesy Zaha Hadid Architects

Elsewhere in Asia, Chinese developers Broad Sustainable Building (BSB) hope to move ahead with work on the world’s tallest building, dubbed the Sky City Tower. Construction on the 220-story, 838-meter-tall prefabricated structure was launched last July in Changsha, China, only to be indefinitely postponed due to issues of safety. BSB had initially boasted that it would erect the tower in just 90 days, but it’s uncertain whether the project will be taken up again or altogether discontinued. In nearby Wuhan, progress is being made on the Zhang Zhidong and Modern Industrial Museum. The swooping building, by the architect Daniel Libeskind, who once moralized on the ethics of architects working in China, bears the name of the industrial pioneer who founded one of the country’s steel manufacturing centers. And in Beijing, Zaha Hadid readies her firm’s Wangjing Soho complex, an office and shopping park that gained notoriety last year when it was discovered that the project’s design had been duplicated by a development in Chongqing. Both are expected to open in 2014.

The newly revamped Maracanã Stadium in Rio. The final match of the 2014 World Cup games will be held here.

Courtesy Wikipedia Commons

Back in the Western Hemisphere, Diller Scofidio + Renfro—fresh from the MoMA-Folk Art scandal—will expand its geographical reach from Los Angeles to Brazil. The Broad Art Museum, with its complex and difficult-to-manufacture honeycomb facade, is set to become a prominent feature on L.A.’s Museum Row, while in Rio, the zig-zagging ramps of Museum of Image and Sound will be set in place facing the Copacabana Beach. Fifteen kilometers north lies the Maracanã Stadium, the symbolic center of the 2014 World Cup. The stadium, which was originally built for 1950 games, has been retrofitted with a slew of modifications, including a taut fiberglass membrane roof. But the Maracanã was just one of the six stadia (out of twelve) completed before the December deadline imposed by FIFA. The organization recently criticized Brazil for its failure to meet time schedules, despite the seven-year planning and construction period it had to do so. Even so, the country’s Sports Minister is confident that the work will be concluded well before the June 14 kickoff. —SM

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