Designers Today Need to Help Fix a Broken World, Says MoMA's Paola Antonelli

MOMA's Paola Antonelli addresses the Brainstorm Design Conference in Singapore on Mar. 6 2018. Photograph by Stefen Chow for Fortune

With our future as a species uncertain, designers should look to the ancients to find solutions to reconnect us with nature and repair our world, says Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design and the first-ever director of research and development at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City.

To illustrate those possible design solutions for our species, Antonelli is preparing a show called entitled “Broken Nature” which will premier at the XXII Triennale di Milano in Milan, her home town, next year.

It will address designers responses to issues of sustainability and how or if our species will survive, she told delegates to the Brainstorm Design conference in Singapore.

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Citing the view of many scientists that we are living during an age of mass extinction, Antonelli posited that we can affect, through design, how long we may or may not have left.

“Design can help us create a better ending and extend our time on earth, so at least the next species won’t think of us as morons,” she said, eliciting laughter from the audience.

“We have severed so many of our ties with nature, even our own human nature,’’ she said.

The ancients, she said, used nature in how they designed their worlds.

She urged designers to think about design in a more organic way, and recognize that the solutions are multidisciplinary: “Science informs engineering which informs art which informs design.”

She said: “The challenge is how to integrate the needs of the future with the needs of the present. Our future might reside in past practices, in how the ancients built but did not consume as we do.”

Restorative and repair design are also being rediscovered, she said. “In New York City, where I live, people throw away a coffee pot as soon as it breaks. There are movements to change this.” She said it involves nothing less than a change of culture.

Following her own philosophy, she called on everyone to submit ideas that illustrate solutions to her for inclusion in Broken Nature, as the exhibition is still a work in progress.

In closing, Antonelli appealed to the Brainstorm Design audience to “share with us the different ways that we can repair our world.”

For more coverage of Brainstorm Design, click here.

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