The design world mourns Virgil Abloh, the AD100 is here and more

This week, it may come as no surprise to the art and design industry that Collins Dictionary’s word of the year is “NFT” (the abbreviation for “nonfungible token,” a unique digital asset), as the term’s usage increased by 11,000 percent over the last year—but savvy readers of this digest already know the drill. Stay in the know with our weekly roundup of headlines, launches and events, recommended reading, and more.

Business News

The World Health Organization identified the new omicron strain of the coronavirus as a “variant of concern” on Monday, prompting nearly 30 countries to tighten their borders in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. A handful of New York design events have already been canceled, while some in the industry are looking ahead with uncertainty to the January Paris design fairs Maison&Objet and Déco Off and the upcoming Heimtextil and Ambiente trade fairs in Frankfurt, Germany. Stay tuned for news of postponements or cancellations as the situation develops.

Best Buy has acquired Minnesota-based outdoor furniture company Yardbird and will roll out the brand’s products on its website in the coming months, Casual News Now reports. Yardbird uses eco-friendly materials such as recycled plastic to produce its sofas, sectionals, dining sets and outdoor chairs, and will continue to sell products online and in seven showrooms across the U.S. during the transition.

The Wall Street Journal reports that online sales for Fiesta Tableware have more than doubled over the past year as the West Virginia–based manufacturer added two major accounts and expanded into more than 40 smaller retailers following a surge in demand during the pandemic. Amid the upturn in popularity, however, the brand is struggling to fill orders due to labor shortages—of its 500 employees, 150 did not return to work after initial COVID-19 closures—and supply chain snarls, which together caused a quarter of last month’s orders to ship late.

Maximalism is back, and bringing with it a resurgence of fake food as a home decor item. In the last three months, Etsy saw a 36 percent increase in searches for faux cakes, plus a 32 percent increase in searches for food-inspired candles. According to The New York Times, the phenomenon dates back to midcentury style choices, when affordable travel allowed Americans to bring back glassblown fruit from trips to Europe. The trend soon evolved into fake fruits made of wax and plastic—a kitschy skew on the original that’s now seeing viral popularity in fake cakes, resin-cast croissants, charcuterie and cheese candles, and Jell-O salad lamps on Instagram and TikTok.

The South Korean city of Busan has signed an agreement to host the world’s first sustainable floating city prototype off its coast, in a project designed by Bjarke Ingels Group and backed by the United Nations sustainable urban development program, UN-Habitat, and real estate developer Oceanix. According to Designboom, the concept was devised in response to climate change–induced natural disasters such as floods, tsunamis and hurricanes. Composed of a collection of hexagonal platforms, the community is designed to be flood-proof and produce its own food, energy and fresh water in a zero-waste, closed-loop system.

Across the world, another utopian city may also be underway—El Salvador president Nayib Bukele has announced plans to build a “bitcoin city” in the nation’s southeastern region. Fueled by renewable energy sourced from a nearby volcano, the new urban center’s energy grid will be partially dedicated to mining cryptocurrency, and will be funded with $1 billion in bonds backed by Bitcoin, Architectural Digest reports. The country initially drew attention last June, when it became the first to legalize accepting the cryptocurrency as legal tender, and plans to jump into the new project quickly, with construction scheduled to begin in the first half of 2022.

Launches and Collaborations

On December 14, Architectural Digest will publish its first global magazine issue—the annual AD100 list celebrating the top designers and architects of the year—produced by editors from its U.S. and nine international editions. According to Digiday, the magazine’s worldwide launch follows a strategy set in motion in late 2020, when parent company Condé Nast began consolidating content strategy by linking its editorial teams around the world. The upcoming issue will also debut a new franchise called the WOW (Works of Wonder) List, naming 20 outstanding projects from architects and designers around the world. As for the coveted AD100, this year’s cohort contains several first-timers, including Los Angeles–based David Netto Design, the Rayman Boozer–led New York firm Apartment 48, and Brooklyn-based multidisciplinary design studio Workstead. For the full list, click here.

Block Renovation, a Brooklyn, New York–based technology platform allowing homeowners and contractors to digitize the home renovation process, has partnered with local textile brand Quiet Town to create a curated design library offering complementary textiles and colorways for bathroom redesigns. Selected by Quiet Town co-founders Lisa and Michael Fine, the collection emphasizes unique tiling, vibrant colors, texture and geometry, combining the pair’s design philosophy with Block’s materials and renovation tools.

Recommended Reading

In the 1980s and 1990s, imports from manufacturing centers in China and Southeast Asia dealt a blow to American manufacturing—now, due to skyrocketing pandemic-induced demand for home decor coupled with seemingly endless global supply chain issues, the many furniture companies based in Hickory, North Carolina, may have a chance to gain back some ground. Writing for The New York Times, Jeanna Smialek tracks the efforts of domestic producers as they attempt to seize the opportunity despite the nationwide labor shortage, dearth of raw materials and ever-growing order backlog.

For The New York Times Magazine’s tech and design issue, Rob Walker illuminates how times of crisis prompt humans to design solutions in order to adapt. The pandemic, of course, serves as a prime example, producing inventions that were ultimately useless (the “no-touch door opener,” quickly obsolete in the face of an airborne disease) and others that seem to be here to stay, such as face masks and hybrid work.

Cue the Applause

The first-ever Soho House Design Prize—granted to an emerging artisan for excellence in creating a one-of-a-kind custom piece—has been awarded to Los Angeles–based designer Zach Morgan for his Sombra Umbrella, which captures solar energy during the day and provides lighting at night. Morgan will receive $30,000 to bring the idea of to life, along with mentorship from the Soho House design team, who will incorporate his work into one of the brand’s properties moving forward.

The Design Futures Council has named KPMB Architects founding partner Marianne McKenna the recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award. McKenna’s win marks the first time a woman has received the honor. Past recipients include Lord Norman Foster, Robert A.M. Stern, and Art Gensler, among others. McKenna is an advocate for using architecture to foster community and promote sustainability, and has been named an Officer of the Order of Canada for her significant contributions to the field, including projects such as The Royal Conservatory’s TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning, the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, and Park Hyatt Toronto.

Call for Entries

The Kitchen Design Contest hosted by Sub-Zero, Wolf and Cove is now accepting submissions from trade professionals with projects in private residential spaces completed between 2019 and 2021, as well as aspiring design students currently enrolled at an accredited college or university. For more information, and to submit an entry before the January 31 deadline, click here.

In Memoriam

Multi-hyphenate designer, entrepreneur and visionary Virgil Abloh passed away at age 41 on November 28 following a battle with cancer. The founder of streetwear label Off-White, Abloh began his career studying architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology before pivoting to become one of the fashion industry’s most influential voices, holding prominent roles as menswear artistic director at Louis Vuitton and Kanye West’s creative director, and extending his talents beyond clothing and into turntables, sneakers, rugs and furniture—including an Off-White home collection that debuted in 2019.

Figures in the home world have shared statements on Instagram mourning the loss, including British architect Sir David Adjaye: “Too soon dear brother…. RIP,” he wrote in his post. New York designer Daniel Arsham, a friend and collaborator of Abloh’s, shared, “He was a unique talent, a visionary Artist, a friend. Love you Virg. You have made an indelible mark on so many of us.” Carpenters Workshop, the gallery that represented Abloh’s works of bronze-cast furniture, also posted about the designer’s passing: “Rest in Peace, thank you for everything @virgilabloh.” Home guru Martha Stewart shared photos her with Abloh and wrote, “The inimitable, imaginative, transformative genius Virgil Abloh has passed away leaving a void in fashion and innovative design. I was lucky to have spent a bit of time with him learning about the depth of his knowledge and curiosity. 41 is too young to go.”

Homepage image: A selection from Block Renovation’s collaboration with Quiet Town. | Courtesy of Block Renovation

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