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: What forces have shaped humanity most?
Antonelli: There are moments like this in history, and they’re almost cyclical. I remember once many years ago listening to a Viennese mathematician explain the relationship between innovation in the military and in scientific terms, and instead progress in the real world. And he was showing two ___________ that were . . . You know one was at the peak when the other was at the bottom. So in moments like the Second World War all the innovation was in the hands of the military. It was really secret. And then about 10 years later it all percolated down to the real world, because once the world is over you disclose this technology and this innovation to the real world. So I see us at a moment that is akin to the post war moment, you know akin to the ‘50s. It’s a moment we had a big scare, which maybe we’re still close to Second World War. We’re still in the moment of the big scare. For those of us who have some consciousness of the real problems that we are putting on the environment and on ourselves, this is a very dangerous and critical moment. I think that in the future, the sense of responsibility and the sense of collective good and collective interest will become so paramount that there will be a Renaissance of positive efforts in the world. That’s what I think. And designers will be really in the center of it all because what I told you that they do is they are great synthesizers. They take the most important revolutions, the most important happenings in history and they translate them for normal people. I think that in the future, because objects will become less prominent, less important as possessions, and more as doors and entryways to services, designers will have to become more intellectual and less material orientated. And I know that it’s a leap, but I see them as becoming the intellectuals of the future, the sages of the future. Maybe I’m pushing it too much, but I really think that they can teach policymakers what people need and what people want. I mean who better?