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'Transform!': Design for Sustainable Energy

From futuristic objects to self-sufficient cities: visionary projects for the energy transition on stage at the Vitra Design Museum

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29/02/2024 - Main driving force of our society, invisible, omnipresent, immaterial, the energy is the focus of "Transform! Designing the Future of Energy", the exhibition at Vitra Design Museum that shines a light on the transformation of the energy sector from the perspective of design.
CRA - Carlo Ratti Associati, Helsinki Hot Heart, 2021, © CRA - Carlo Ratti Associati 2Pin it

CRA - Carlo Ratti Associati, Helsinki Hot Heart, 2021, © CRA - Carlo Ratti Associati

From everyday products that use renewable energy to the design of solar houses and wind power stations; from smart mobility systems to futuristic visions of self-sufficient cities, the exhibition shows examples of innovative and experimental products, speculative design projects, films, architectural archetypes and visionary future concepts. Starting with a focus on human beings, the gaze widens to objects, cities and the entire energy landscape.

At a time when the elimination of fossil fuels must be pursued with urgency in order to reduce global carbon emissions and stop climate change, design becomes necessary to shape the new era of sustainable energy. As an intermediary between scientific research and end users, design helps to make new technological solutions appealing to the general public and encourage a gradual shift to renewable energy sources.


Human Power

At the start of the exhibition at Vitra Design Museum, visitors are invited to discover their own potential for generating energy. By pedalling on stationary exercise bikes, they can see how long it takes to produce enough electricity for common activities such as brewing coffee, browsing the web or taking a hot shower.
Energym, gray RE:GEN, 2023 3Pin it

Energym, gray RE:GEN, 2023

The word power has both physical and political meanings. A selection of international posters and protest signs, handbills and leaflets reflects the evolution of energy policies and the ability of every individual to influence them: from the US government programme "Atoms for Peace" to the anti-nuclear movement, from the promotion of renewable energy sources to civil resistance against solar power plants and wind farms installed by global corporations. A slide show on the "petroleumscape" illustrates how crude oil has shaped our landscapes and lifestyles as a source of energy – and how challenging it will be to liberate ourselves from the dependence on fossil fuels.
 

Energy Tools

The second section of the exhibition is devoted to the theme of "Energy Tools" and features products, prototypes and experiments for living  "off-grid", without a connection to the conventional energy infrastructure.
Marjan van Aubel, Sunne, solar powered XTU Architects, X_Land, Rendering, 2020 lamp, 2022 4Pin it

Marjan van Aubel, Sunne, solar powered XTU Architects, X_Land, Rendering, 2020 lamp, 2022

Pauline van Dongen integrates photovoltaic cells into apparel designs, such as her Solar Shirt (2015), or into fabric panels like Suntex (2022). Stefan Troendle developed his Hydrogen Cooker as a prototype for a green hydrogen-powered stove. The Papilio street lamp by Tobias Trübenbacher meets its own energy needs with a built-in wind rotor. Marjan van Aubel’s solar-powered pendulum lamp Sunne imitates the atmospheric quality of natural sunlight, from sunrise to sunset. With his speculative project "Available Networks", Pablo Bras explores the potential of capturing incidental flows of energy in and around the home – from the wind blowing across the roof to rainwater running down the gutter pipe – to produce small amounts of power, and looks at what it would mean to make do with that alone.
Charles and Ray Eames, Solar Do-Nothing Machine, 1957 © Eames Office / LLC 5Pin it

Charles and Ray Eames, Solar Do-Nothing Machine, 1957 © Eames Office / LLC

An assortment of historical projects was also chosen for this  section to show that the idea of energy self-sufficiency inspired designers from early on. The so-called Solar Do-Nothing Machine, created by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1950s, already used photovoltaic technology to set a kinetic sculpture in motion.
 

Transformers

In the third part of the exhibition, innovative approaches in the areas of architecture and mobility will be presented under the title "Transformers". The building sector alone is responsible for roughly a third of global energy consumption, and the percentage attributed to the transportation sector is almost as high.
TAKK, The Day After House, 2021 - Ph. Josè Hevia 6Pin it

TAKK, The Day After House, 2021 - Ph. Josè Hevia

The Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, designed by the architectural office Snøhetta, is recognized as the world’s northernmost energy-positive building – it produces more than twice as much energy as it consumes, feeding the surplus back into a local microgrid. The Plus Energy Quarter P18 in Bad Cannstatt, developed by Werner Sobek in collaboration with AktivHaus, features a selfsufficient heating system, thanks to a combination of heat pumps, photovoltaic thermal collectors and the controlled ventilation of interior living spaces. The Day After House by TAKK architecture, in turn, demonstrates that high-tech solutions are not mandatory for improving the energy efficiency of existing buildings: due to a clever spatial configuration with various climatic zones and the use of natural insulation materials, this apartment requires almost no supplemental heating.
Janine Graubaum ONOMOTION GmbH, E-Cargobike ONO © Janine Graubaum ONOMOTION GmbH 7Pin it

Janine Graubaum ONOMOTION GmbH, E-Cargobike ONO © Janine Graubaum ONOMOTION GmbH

The paradigm shift from the combustion engine to the electric motor is also increasing the importance of solar energy within the realm of transportation. At the vanguard of this transition are experimental solar-powered automobiles like the Covestro Sonnenwagen, which can cover a distance of up to 500 km with a solar array measuring roughly 2.5 sqm. However, companies like the German startup Sono Motors are now integrating photovoltaic technology into production vehicles as well. To achieve greater sustainability in courier and parcel services, the company ONOMOTION has invested in e-cargo bikes and a combination of electric motor and muscle power.
 

Future Energyscapes

The final section of the exhibition is devoted to the topic of "Future Energyscapes" and what they might look like. This field of research includes new typologies for energy storage, such as the Energiebunker in Hamburg or Hot Heart, Carlo Ratti’s pioneering proposal for the intermediate storage of thermal energy in the city of Helsinki. Other visionary ideas for the future production of energy are also presented, from the wind turbine models designed by students from ECAL/Lausanne for the Canadian island of Fogo, to the hypothetical "Eneropa" conceived by Rem Koolhaas’ Netherlandsbased think tank AMO. Examples of historic predecessors include Herman Sörgel’s idea for a huge land mass supplied with hydroelectric power, introduced in the 1930s as the "Atlantropa" project, or Buckminster Fuller’s "World Game" and the notion of managing the world’s entire energy reserves and resources with a global computer network.

»Transform! Designing the Future of Energy« emphasises that the transformation of energy systems must encompass more than just the expansion of renewable energy sources. The exhibition »Transform!« shows that energy is one of the greatest challenges of our time, but also one of the greatest opportunities to reshape our world.

After its initial presentation at the Vitra Design Museum, the exhibition will tour to further international venues. An accompanying publication features around 100 projects from the fields of design, architecture and urban planning that represent pioneering approaches to the topic of energy. The book is illustrated with some 200 images and includes essays by Catharine Rossi, Stephan Rammler, Ivan Illich, Daniel A. Barber, Donatella Germanese and Carola Hein.

Transform! Designing the Future of Energy
23.03.2024 – 01.09.2024
Vitra Design Museum


Vitra on Archiproducts
OMA, Eneropa Map, 2010 © OMA 9Pin it

OMA, Eneropa Map, 2010 © OMA

Pauline van Dongen, Solar Shirt, 2015 © Pauline van Dongen, Photo: Liselotte Fleur 10Pin it

Pauline van Dongen, Solar Shirt, 2015 © Pauline van Dongen, Photo: Liselotte Fleur

A rainbow assortment of Hoffman 706 Trans-Solar Radios, released in 1958 Ph: Karl Wagner / Museum Of Solar Energy 11Pin it

A rainbow assortment of Hoffman 706 Trans-Solar Radios, released in 1958 Ph: Karl Wagner / Museum Of Solar Energy

Ed Kashi, Petroleum Pipeline, Okrika Town, Nigeria, 2006 © Ed Kashi/VII/Redux 12Pin it

Ed Kashi, Petroleum Pipeline, Okrika Town, Nigeria, 2006 © Ed Kashi/VII/Redux

Team Sonnenwagen Aachen, Covestro solar car, 2019 © Sonnenwagen Aachen e.V. 13Pin it

Team Sonnenwagen Aachen, Covestro solar car, 2019 © Sonnenwagen Aachen e.V.

Tobias Trübenbacher, PAPILIO, wind- powered street lamp, 2021 © Tobias Trübenbacher & Nikolai Marcinowski 14Pin it

Tobias Trübenbacher, PAPILIO, wind- powered street lamp, 2021 © Tobias Trübenbacher & Nikolai Marcinowski

ECAL/Jule Bols and Sophia Götz, Pneuma, 2023 © ECAL / Marvin Merkel 15Pin it

ECAL/Jule Bols and Sophia Götz, Pneuma, 2023 © ECAL / Marvin Merkel

Léon Félix, Helios, 2019 © Léon Félix, Sara de Brito Faustino 16Pin it

Léon Félix, Helios, 2019 © Léon Félix, Sara de Brito Faustino

Christa Carstensen, HARVEST/SOLAR, 2023 © Christa Carstensen Photo: Arvid Riemeyer 17Pin it

Christa Carstensen, HARVEST/SOLAR, 2023 © Christa Carstensen Photo: Arvid Riemeyer


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