Paola Antonelli is an Italian-born curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and one of the world’s foremost experts on contemporary architecture and design. She received her MA in Architecture from Milan Polytechnic in 1990, and worked at the design magazines Domus and Abitare before coming to MoMA in 1994. At MoMA, where serves as curator for the Department of Architecture and Design, Antonelli has been a strong of advocate of treating design as art: she’s written that "everything is designed, one way or another.” Antonelli is known for her eclecticism, and has curated well-received shows such as Workspheres (2001), devoted to the workplace of the near future. Her recent exhibit SAFE included – among other materials – a UN refugee tarp, camouflage cream, and a baby buggy. Antonelli has taught design history and theory at UCLA and Harvard and is the author of Humble Masterpieces: Everyday Marvels of Design, and co-author of 2008 book Design and the Elastic Mind.
Question: Where is design headed?
Antonelli: There are some big changes that are on the horizon for design and for the world. And I think that rapid manufacturing . . . the technology of rapid manufacturing will make some of these changes become a reality. Rapid manufacturing, just as a brief introduction for the public – is the way in which you can design an object on the computer and then send the digital file directly to the manufacturing machine. So seamlessly, even at a distance of thousands and thousands of miles, you just send the file and the thing gets made. You can understand the implication. This is a quite young technology. It’s been existing already for 25 years, but at the beginning you could only carve foam and make prototypes and models. Now you can make a chair. It takes seven days to print the chair, but in the future seven hours, then seven minutes. But think about it. First of all you’ll be able to be at home at your computer and go onto a web site of a particular brand. The designer has designed the matrix of a chair. You can adapt the chair a little bit depending on how much, you know . . . You need to respect the limits of the brand and respect the structural soundness of the chair. But let’s say you customize it the way you want and then you send the file to your corner Kinko’s. Let’s say it’s Kinko’s. And then you go down, or they deliver it if you want, and you get your chair printed in the next five minutes, half hour. No tracking, no warehousing, no waste of materials. And you’ll only . . . You’ll only order what you need. Now of course there will still be designers acting like artists that will let you use that particular file only once and then it gets thrown out. So it’s a unique piece. There will still be modulation of the originality and of the . . . and of the number of pieces. But there will be no more difference between a prototype and a serial piece. And there will be an enormous saving of energy through the world. So you see designers will be designing families of objects, and not anymore singular objects if they want to. They will be deciding matrixes and systems, and they will be teaching people how to use them. And I really believe that this will happen. It’s already happening, and there are already some designers that are particularly interested and they are thinking this way. You know we just had an exhibition at MOMA that was called Digitally Mastered, and it was all objects that were generated directly by a computer – ranging from clothes, to graphics, to chairs. In the future it will become even more realizable and even more important.