Paola Antonelli discusses the state of design
July 16, 2009 - 12:34pm

Residential Lighting: What is the most important thing happening right now in design?

Paola Antonelli: Designers are becoming the centers of gravity when it comes to building teams. Whenever there is a project at hand or an issue to discuss, more and more policymakers, manufacturers, industrialists and economists consider designers a good way to start building the team. Designers know how to make a synthesis of many different inputs and many different experiences and bring them all to fruition in an object. I see designers becoming more and more important in the future of society.

RL: What else do you see?

PA: The importance of open source, definitely. More and more manufacturers and designers rely on collective wisdom to perfect their designs. This kind of feedback is useful, but it requires openness and plurality.

RL: What is the role of design in a down economy?

PA: Designers are constructive thinkers. They take whatever means are at their disposal to reach goals elegantly and in an economical and aesthetic way. Who better than designers to deal with a crisis? An apropos paragon for us today is the 1970s and the energy crisis. Designers became the political commentators of reality by staging performances, making objects that were useful for propaganda and making people think. They contributed to the metabolism of the crisis.

Today, we are in a crisis not that different. It’s a crisis that starts as economical, maybe, but it’s also political and environmental. Whenever the world wakes up to a new, complicated dawn, designers are great because they’re the ones that start helping people rebuild.

RL: What about design as it relates to function?

PA: The function of a light used to be just to illuminate things, a chair was to sit on and be comfortable, a car was to be a status symbol and run fast or run slow. It used to be that “functional” was precise and prescribed, but today function means many things. Today, function can be to provoke an emotion. It can be to save energy. That objects have to work in particular ways is disappearing as criteria of good design.

RL: And to decoration?

PA: Not interested. I don’t have anything against it, but it’s not something that makes my blood run faster. It’s still very complicated for people to understand what design really is. Design is always treated as decoration. That is misleading, and it’s kind of annoying because design is so much more.

RL: What stands out to you in lighting design?

PA: Amongst lighting fixtures, the highest poet is still Ingo Maurer — every lighting fixture is a poem. It’s a poem as an object, and it’s a poem in the way it gives light. He is the best. For lighting design, one person I know well, and am always stunned at how he operates, is Hervé Descottes. He does everything for André Balazs. He’s just done the High Line in New York. He’s one of the best lighting designers in the world, and I’m always amazed at how he approaches projects.

Paola Antonelli is a senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at The Museum of Modern Art in New York. An author and architect, Antonelli spoke at NeoCon in June.

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