MS. REBECCA SHEIR
Our next story in today's design show is about the people who come up with new ways of thinking about everyday objects, like lamps or chairs. It's a field called industrial design. And you can attend shows dedicated to this specialty every year in places like Berlin, Vancouver, Dubai, and New York. Well, we can now add D.C. to that list. This year marks the first ever Washington, D.C. International Design Festival at Artisphere, in Rosslyn, Va. The festival kicked off about a month ago, and continues through the middle of May.
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
It's an assortment of film screenings, panel discussions and an ongoing exhibit of the latest and greatest in industrial design from all over the world. Emily Berman takes us to Artisphere to learn more about bringing international design to Washington, D.C.
MS. EMILY BERMAN
If you want to know what the 21st century looks like, you have come to the right place.
MR. DOUGLAS BURTON
So this is the plume sofa designed by the Borleck (sp?) brothers.
Douglas Burton and I are sitting on a couch that looks like a cherry jellybean. Burton is the curator of this exhibit, and the owner of Apartment Zero, an online boutique that sells the latest in home furnishings. This sofa is one of his favorite pieces in the show.
It's really one large piece of molded foam, with a fabric stretched over it. It floats so beautifully off the ground.
Like most of the things he selected, it's a new take on an everyday object. That's what industrial design is, Burton explains, taking something we use and making it more efficient. And ideally, more beautiful. Take lighting, for example. There's a lamp, and then there's the Scott Franklin wet lamp.
And at first, when you look at them, they almost look like a chemical experiment.
They're two glass containers that look like clear water balloons. In one glass, there's a skinny light bulb, submerged in salt water. That's connected with a wire to the other glass, where you see a metal rod sitting just above the water line.
So as you push this metal rod into the water, it creates immediately an electrical current. So the salt acts as a conductor. The deeper you push this rod into the water, the brighter the light gets.
MS. ANNIE GROER
And it turns this ordinary light bulb into a piece of art.
Annie Groer is a D.C. based design writer and critic. The lamp impressed her because it changes the way we think about water and electricity. It forces us a little further into scientific contemplation, but her favorite object...
And I stared at it for a really long time, because I don't quite still know how it works, is the Dyson Bladeless fan. It costs under $300, and it blows like a bear.
Dyson, of Dyson vacuums, redesigned a fan to work without blades.
It looks like a large magnifying glass, so there's this big circle, on kind of a cylindrical base, and it's fascinating. It'll be conversation piece at your next party.
It doesn't look like anything you'd expect in the historic homes of Washington, D.C., but, Burton says, our super traditional reputation is quite outdated.
Even though Washington is a traditional city, it has really dramatically changed since when I moved here in 1997. I have seen incredible changes in architecture, in interior design, in the type of products that people are buying. And you have people that love design just like you have people that love fashion.
And some of our design lovers, happen to be design makers as well. There are seven locals represented in the show. One of them is Polygraph Creative, which makes plastic covers for outlets. The covers are shaped like Band-Aids, signaling to kids that they shouldn't stick something in the socket, because it'll hurt. Burton also showcases an office chair, designed by Jeffrey Jenkins, who works out of northern Virginia.
We all know that there are thousands of task chairs on the market, Knoll, Herman Miller. This, for example, just has a completely different way of looking at ergonomics.
Just across the gallery, there's another chair on view.
But what you wouldn't necessarily know is that this completely folds flat. And it is bent into this three dimensional shape which can actually then hold up to 300 pounds.
And then there are more conceptual pieces. Like two ceramic birdhouses designed to look like houses of prayer.
One of the birdhouses is a Christian church, and the other one is a Muslim mosque. The message here is, birds do not distinguish what religion they are interested in when it comes to finding their own home to nest in. They couldn't care less.
There are more than 150 pieces in the exhibit, and the common thread among them isn't always clear.
You are seeing products designers, furniture designers, industrial designers doing things that are super minimal, super whimsical, over the top. What's happening now is probably a mix of every style that we've ever seen in industrial design. It's being chewed up, mixed up and spit out in a whole new way.
And even though it'll take another 50 years, Burton says, before we can say exactly what defined the style of this decade, bringing a design festival here to the nation's capital lets Washingtonians get in on that conversation. I'm Emily Berman.
The Washington D.C. International Design Festival runs through May 19th at Artisphere. For a list of festival events and to see photos of some of the pieces mentioned in the story, visit our website, metroconnection.org.
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