NEW YORK, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- If you're curious about what's new in the world of avant-garde architecture, design and fashion, check out the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's exhibition "Inside Design Now," the second in a series of triennial design shows initiated by this New York component of the Smithsonian Institution.
It's the only show like it in the United States, offering samplings of new design that surfaced in the past three years and what they portend for the future - the sort of thing we used to expect to see at world's fairs. Through next Jan. 25, some 350 functional and ornamental objects created by 80 American designers and firms are on view at the museum, the former Andrew Carnegie mansion on upper Fifth Avenue.
The ornately detailed oak paneled interiors of the neo-Georgian mansion may seem an anachronistic setting for a showing of 21st century design, but they work beautifully as a background without any reference to sleek modernity. The display of domestic floor coverings and furniture fabrics featuring blown-up traditional designs, by the Manhattan firm of Diamond-Baratta, actually gains from the Carnegie environment.
William Diamond and Anthony Barratta have revived the braided rug in candy-bright colors such as shocking pink, ice blue and lime green, and transformed blue-and-white Delft tile designs into giant panel motifs for carpets. Overscale houndstooth checks and gigantic florals in the style of the late designer Dorothy Draper are freshly scaled for upholstery, pillows and rugs in the name of fun and flair.
But most displays are less retro.
Nothing could be more up-to-date and practical than New York-based Viktor Jondal's portable hotel rooms with daybeds, stools, storage and waste disposal outlets that can be set up near transportation terminals or alongside airport hotels for low-cost usage, or Bryan Bells' chic corrugated steel mobile homes for migrant workers. The temporary residences designed by Bell, of Raleigh, N.C., come in pleasing colors and can be hooked up to water, sewage, and power lines.
Daniel Streng of Oak Park, Ill., has designed some of the show's most stunning furnishings. His so-called "low chair" is nothing more than a razor-thin cutout of composite resins, red on the topside, white underneath, and his slender-stemmed cast-aluminum Satellite bar stools form comfortable cups around the sitter's thighs and buttocks.
Streng's brother, Christopher Streng of Sheboygan Falls, Wis., created Ubu stools, hollowed-out chunks of flexible foam that can be used as a seat, a table, or a totem. They are so striking in their alphabet block appearance that they have been used as the exhibition's poster art. Streng is also displaying his tray-like fluorescent lighting fixtures made of cast resin.
Also glowing is Ford Motor Company's GloCar, launched in 2002. Its lightweight aluminum frame is clad in molded translucent plastic panels that emit changing colors in a mixture or red, blue, and green by means of light-emitting diodes, making it safer at night. When another car gets too close to a GloCar, sensors automatically intensify the illumination.
The fashion section of the show goes in for inventive clothes and clothing accessories. Truly retro is Chicagoan Critz Cambell's Luna Dress, inspired by 1950s Simplicity patterns but made of two layers of cotton woven with phosphorescent copper wires that glow in a tulip pattern not unlike embroidery. New York designer Isobel Toledo has contributed a cotton lisle knit T-shirt wedding gown that conforms to any body type without sacrificing elegance.
Automobiles may have lost their fins but Cesar Vergara of Ridgefield, Conn., has designed two passenger trains for the Washington State Department of Transportation that have seven-foot, hollow fiberglass fins at the top rear of the locomotives and matching fins at either end of the passenger cars, not for aerodynamic effect but "for a spiritual lift," he says. He also designed a glamorous bistro car with a ceiling depicting outer-space galaxies, the stars powered by fiber-optic lights.
The trains - the Las Vegas Talgo and the Cascade Talgo - have increased ridership significantly since their introduction in 2001, proof according to Vergara that "if you build it, they will come."
And what would a modern design show be without robots? Cynthia Breazeal of Cambridge, Mass., who has designed cyberfauna and flora for the MIT Media Lab, has come up with an elfin creature with exaggerated eyes and ears. Reacting to movement, the creature can bat its eyes and perk its ears at the viewer in the appealing way of dogs that want to be adopted at pounds.
Of more serious import is the replacement heart designed by Abiomed Inc. of Danvers, Mass., first used as an implant two years ago.
A neat little plastic-and-titanium device weighing only four pounds, it is operated by an external battery-operated transmitter attached to a waist belt that charges an internal transmitter that operates the heart. It costs $70,000, making it the most expensive item in the show if you don't count the Talgo trains that are represented only by photographs.