These Are the Winners of the National Design Awards

This year, Cooper Hewitt honored innovators in climate change, clothing design and more

A produce farm on the Rural Studio campus in Newbern, Alabama
A produce farm on the Rural Studio campus in Newbern, Alabama Timothy Hursley

Earlier today, the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum announced the winners of this year’s National Design Awards. The annual awards cover design’s many innovative forms and functions—from fashion to environmentalism to social impact.

Among the recipients is Rural Studio, located in Hale County, Alabama, winner of the architecture and interior design category. Part of Auburn University’s architecture school, the studio teaches students how to use design to support residents of impoverished rural areas. Students live on site, and their projects—from children’s playgrounds to emergency shelters—are centered around sustainable living.

“Most of our students are originally city dwellers and suburbanites and are unfamiliar with rural landscapes,” says Andrew Freear, Rural Studio’s director. “By coming to live here, they begin to understand the abundant potential and plethora of design opportunities. Being embedded and immersed reminds students that design is about community. People and place matter the most.”

WEDEW, a water and energy generator, won the climate action award. Created by architect David Hertz, the machine uses biomass—like plants or wood—to make renewable energy and drinkable water. Due to global power imbalances, says Hertz, the consequences of climate change “unfortunately have a disproportionately negative effect on the most vulnerable populations.” The technology could provide vital resources to underserved communities, particularly in emergency response situations. Within 24 hours, the generator can produce 2,000 liters of water—for half a cent per liter.

WEDEW at the Oakland Convention Center in California
WEDEW at the Oakland Convention Center in California Laura Doss Photography

The winner of the digital design category is Felecia Davis, an expert on computational textiles—that is, textiles that can respond to cues in their environment, tracking inputs like temperature and light. Last year, her work was featured in the Museum of Modern Art’s “Reconstructions: Architecture and Blackness in America.” Looking ahead, she says she is excited about “using these materials for fitness, healthcare and making our homes comfortable.”

Also among the awardees is Nader Tehrani, the winner in the design visionary category. Tehrani works on interdisciplinary efforts between architecture and the construction industry. “Of the arts,” he says, “architecture might be the one that is innately interdisciplinary at its core.”

The Adams Street Branch Library in Boston, designed by Tehrani’s firm, NADAAA
The Adams Street Branch Library in Boston, designed by Tehrani’s firm, NADAAA John Horner

Founded in 2000, the National Design Awards’ purpose is to foster public knowledge, and to shine a spotlight on how innovative design can change everyday life.

Other recipients this year include emerging designer winner Emily Adams Bode, founder of the luxury menswear brand Bode; communication design winner Giorgia Lupi, a data visualization expert and partner at Pentagram; fashion design winner Willy Chavarria, whose designs combine modern politics with high fashion; landscape architecture winner Kounkuey Design Initiative, which creates inclusive designs in underserved communities; and product design winner CW&T, which takes an innovative approach to objects like clocks and compasses.

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