USA Architecture & Design Panel for 2009

Peter Zellner

Principal, ZELLNERPLUS, Los Angeles, CA

Mabel O. Wilson

Associate Professor of Architecture, Columbia University, New York, NY

Karen Fiss

Associate Professor of Visual Studies and Design, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, CA

Joseph Rosa

John H. Bryan Curatorial Chair of Architecture and Design, Art Institute of Chicago, IL

Stephen Burks

Founder/Director, Readymade Projects, Inc., and 2008 USA Target Fellow, New York, NY

Statement by Joseph Rosa

The aesthetic lexicon of architecture and design has broadened greatly in the past decade thanks in large part to new technologies. The resulting methodologies and ideologies have produced a more fluid dialogue between these discrete mediums, creating fresh aesthetic and social models for the design arts in the twenty-first century. The recipients of this year’s USA Fellowships in Architecture and Design reflect this breadth of thinking.

Architecture and industrial design were once very separate mediums but today they are almost indistinguishable in their shared methodologies and fabrication techniques. This transdisciplinary way of thinking means the same techniques can be employed to fabricate anything from a building to a chair. Today’s innovative, avant-garde makers work simultaneously on projects that cross the boundaries of scale from buildings, furniture, and tableware to visionary urban plans for cities—in each the ideology is the same. This represents a real departure from the thinking of the early modern masters who believed a typology could not migrate into other forms. This classic modernist view of “form follows function” is no longer viable for the makings of today. Questioning this way of thinking has allowed an emerging generation of architects and designers to recalibrate what the avant-garde means in the twenty-first century. Digital literacy in the design arts has also fostered numerous new fabricating techniques leading to creative solutions to historical aesthetic issues. As makers and educators, this generation has made it possible for future generations of younger designers to move freely from one typology to another without losing any sense of aesthetic integrity.

The fashion industry has also radically expanded its vocabulary—from its legacy brands retooled for youth culture and its mainstreamed bondage and punk aesthetic for the couture world to the arrival of numerous emerging design houses that are rethinking the tenants of the industry and celebrating the act of making. This new breed of fashion designers is embracing the craft of couture and re-envisioning how to wrap the female body in ways that have not been seen in decades. These emerging fashion houses are folding social histories, literature, and other aesthetics beyond fashion into their framework to create elegant designs that are informed by the historical past but not derivative of it.

This aspect of reflecting on knowledge from outside of the discourse and folding it into a new avant-garde sensibility can also be seen in graphic design, which has moved beyond the aesthetic of corporate logos to become a major platform for public messaging and empowerment through design. Graphic design now includes interative projections, illustrating that the medium is no longer strictly relegated to two-dimensional printed matter, but rather can physically occupy space. Information design, traditionally seen largely in ineffectual graphs and charts, has emerged as an aesthetic tool in the production of visually compelling statements that can inspire people to action and make a difference in our everyday world.

 The disciplines of the design arts have reclaimed their social and environmental responsibilities and made them essential to their ideologies. From the community groups that help reconstruct the urban fabrics of neighborhoods to each individual action that collectively assists in changing our world for the better, the design arts have merged social responsibility with aesthetic ideals that render good design a social concern for everyone.

The world of aesthetics in design has radically changed since the early twentieth-century Bauhaus school of thought that idealized the modern movement as a tabula rasa that would change the world for the better. Aesthetics alone cannot achieve change, and today’s leaders in the design arts are reformulating their role in the greater community of makers by reconfiguring what constitutes excellence in design that is also socially relevant. This generation of makers has learned from the past and is charting new territories in architecture and urban planning, industrial design, graphic design, and fashion that will define the twenty-first century in the design arts.