I was fortunate to grow up surrounded by beautiful designs, many created by my father, the designer of Sub-Zero refrigerators and chairs made by Herman Miller and Knoll. He worked in a studio at one end of my childhood home, a wildly creative piece of architecture that he also designed. At a time when people were still traveling to Europe to shop for state-of-the-art furniture and products, I had them in my living room and kitchen. My father taught me a great many of the lessons Steve Jobs would later make famous: the elegance of simplicity, form fused with function, a laserlike attention to detail.
I thought it was important to create this special issue to highlight the Smithsonian’s commitment to great design, particularly at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in New York, which spotlights innovators with its annual National Design Awards and celebrates National Design Week each October. Director Bill Moggridge and his team were kind enough to contribute several of the most important ideas in this issue, including the subject of biomimicry, the fascinating discipline of solving problems by studying the great field lab of nature (“Better Living Through Imitation.”)
The three major personalities in this issue—Jobs, Ai Weiwei and Rem Koolhaas—are dominant figures in product design, art and architecture. They have given the world, over and over again, the holy grail of creativity: an idea that is somehow both fresh and inevitable. As the architect Louis I. Kahn put it, “The world never needed Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony until he created it. Now we could not live without it.”
Jobs (“Keep it Simple,”) died nearly a year ago, but his influence has never been greater. Koolhaas (“Koolhaas Country,”) has fundamentally altered the possibilities of urban life worldwide—and now he’s aiming to revolutionize the countryside. Ai’s works, along with his media savvy, continue to shift the way the world sees art and the artist (“China’s Most Dangerous Man,”). It remains to be seen whether he will be permitted to travel to Washington, D.C., where the first American retrospective of his work opens at the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden on October 7.
Design, of course, is dynamic, and even the best-made things need to adapt to changing times. So the Cooper-Hewitt is in the midst of a wall-to-wall renovation; Richard Koshalek, the Hirshhorn’s visionary director, has dreamed up a monumental inflatable balloon that will grow out of his doughnut-shaped museum (a shape he modeled on Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse) to house a revolutionary cultural think tank.
In the same spirit, we’ve redesigned this magazine with both its illustrious past and its brilliant future in mind. Our new design is the first project of Abstract Partners, a firm that emerged from the cutting-edge Abstract design conference created by Florian Bachleda (Fast Company), Dirk Barnett (Newsweek), Scott Dadich (Condé Nast), Arem Duplessis (New York Times magazine), Luke Hayman (Pentagram) and Gael Towey (Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia). The redesign project was led by Margaret Swart, the award-winning former senior art director of Wired.
Michael Caruso, Editor in Chief