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Isaac Mizrahi | Photograph by Mackenzie Stroh

"Design for a Living World" Connects Consumers to a Product's Source

Ten designers created functional objects with native materials from places with fragile ecosystems. We asked three to tell us about their work.

Ted Muehling
Ivory nut palm jewelry
The Kapingamarangi people of Micronesia's Pohnpei Island began carving ivory nut palm after their mangrove forests were damaged. In Muehling's hands, the hard seed is transformed into faceted cuffs that follow the nut's crescent shape. "The nut does beautiful, unpredictable things," says Muehling. "It gets darker at the edges where it starts to oxidize."

Maya Lin
Red maple bench
The shape of a red maple on the banks of Maine's Upper St. John River inspired architect Lin, who designed the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C. "We tend to pollute that which we can't see," she says. "My work is about revealing the unseen in the natural world." Lin's dynamic bench, built from lateral slices of sustainably harvested timber, comments on how the vertical forest itself is reshaped into chairs and tables.

Isaac Mizrahi
Salmon-leather shoes
In Alaska, salmon skin is a food-industry waste product. But fashion designer Mizrahi turned it into a glamorous material, cutting it into sequinlike paillettes. The good news: Fish leather is stronger than calfskin or lambskin, and it doesn't smell. "I always think of salmon skin as something you peel off your food," says Mizrahi, "but in fact, it is a beautiful substance."

Related: 'Design for a Living World' Preview: 10 Products That Stay True to Their Origins

Isaac Mizrahi | Photograph by Mackenzie Stroh

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1 Comments

  • Jamie Baker

    Kids would be great at designing objects with criteria like this. Creative problem solving will be one of the biggest skills needed for these future adults / leaders.