Antonelli Addresses Our Demise

Antonelli Addresses Our Demise

When visiting RISD, cultural leader Paola Antonelli spoke about her latest curatorial project for the 2019 Trienniale di Milano.

Paola Antonelli pulled no punches at the outset of the RISD Museum’s 2018 Gail Silver Memorial Lecture on October 17. Introducing her latest curatorial project, Broken Nature: Design Takes on Human Survival for the XXII Trienniale di Milano, she told the audience: “Extinction is inevitable, but design can help us create a more elegant ending so the next species doesn’t think we’re complete morons.”

Ore Streams, an ongoing reuse project by the Dutch design studio Formafantasma, will be featured in Broken Nature.

The senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC spent the next hour laying out the philosophy and format of the upcoming international design exhibition. Set to open in March 2019, Broken Nature will present six large-scale commissions (including projects by MIT Media Lab’s Neri Oxman and Netherlands-based Formafantasma) and myriad examples of restorative design—concepts and objects that examine the way humankind “bonds with complex systems at work in the world.”

“Design can help us create a more elegant ending so the next species doesn’t think we’re complete morons.”
Paola Antonelli

By featuring projects that are both born out of necessity and, in many cases, aesthetically appealing, the triennial will be as much a call to action for citizens around the world as it is for designers. “We’re already at the point where we can see that restorative design is not punishment, but pleasure,” Antonelli noted. “We can already be delighted by doing better,” she added in citing examples like Alejandro Aravena’s subsidized housing project in Chile and 3D-printed, recycled plastic chairs by Dirk Vander Kooij.

Quinta Monroy, a subsidized housing project in Chile by Elemental Studio, is an example of environmentally sustainable and life-sustaining design.


Several members of the RISD community are helping to plan Broken Nature. As a researcher at MoMA, recent graduate Ala Tannir MID 17 is supporting Antonelli, who is working to elevate female voices as much as possible in all phases of the exhibition. Assistant Professor of Industrial Design Thomas Thwaites will see his quirky, Ig Nobel Prize-winning GoatMan project featured. Noting that Broken Nature dovetails conceptually with RISD Museum’s recently opened exhibition Repair and Design Futures, Antonelli congratulated Curator of Costume and Textiles Kate Irvin and the rest of her team on their prescient work. She also acknowledged the fraught connotations of language—how the use of loaded words like “reparation” and “consumption” requires serious consideration as she determines how to most effectively frame her vision for the triennial.

Thomas Thwaites' GoatMan project encourages viewers to consider alternate realities and perspectives.


Wrapping up, Antonelli left the designers, curators, students and others in the audience with a bit of advice for offsetting the abuses of the Anthropocene. “If we want to influence behavior, we need to know who and what we’re designing for,” she told them. “The next generation of design professionals needs to attend more events related to social justice and politics. I’m most interested in activism that doesn’t shout at you to ‘obey,’ but in activism that can get under your skin.”

—Lauren Maas

Repair as Metaphor

Repair and Design Futures, a multidisciplinary exhibition at the RISD Museum, investigates mending as material intervention, metaphor and call to action.

Souvenirs of Substance

Associate Professor Paolo Cardini leads a RISD symposium in Rome focused on non-Western, student-conceived visions of the future.

Charting a Course to Clean Energy

As part of a series of talks related to RISD's new liberal arts master's programs, scholar Jesse Jenkins urged students to explore all avenues in addressing global environmental challenges.