Jennifer Siegal first grabbed our attention in 2006, as a prefab pioneer with an abundance of percolating ideas. Fast-forward, and the 44-year-old's eco-friendly visions are coming to fruition. Her first completed house sits near Joshua Tree National Park, in southern California. In April, a family moved into a 100% off-the-grid house she designed in Big Sur. And she and her students at the University of Southern California are now tackling the architectural design of food trucks (a nod back to Siegal's days of slinging hot dogs to put her-self through school). Up next: Renaissance Village, a collection of partially prefab houses, shops, and a museum in Senegal. "The buildings I've been thinking about play right into that grassroots, do-it-yourself movement," she says. "We're reigniting that American desire for self-expression and change."
Monica Ponce de Leon
The assembly of eco-buildings may be the topic of the moment, but what about their eventual disassembly? Rather than avoid the grim thought that libraries may one day be obsolete (thanks, Kindle!), Monica Ponce de Leon (MOD '07) embraced the possibility head-on. The Fleet Library, which she designed with partner Nader Tehrani for the Rhode Island School of Design, is made to be just as easy to take apart as it is to put together. "The environmental impact of buildings will change dramatically" as this thinking becomes more prevalent, says Ponce de Leon, now the dean of the University of Michigan's architecture school. "In the future, buildings will respond more flexibly to the environment and to use." Coming up: a border crossing between Maine and Canada made of digitally customized, freestanding canopies, each one different from the others.
Chuck Jones (MOD '05) works fast. Just three months after joining Masco from Whirlpool, where he ended the era of ho-hum refrigerators and heralded the brand's new age of stylish appliances — such as a fridge with six doors, for India and China — Jones has already unveiled a new design platform as chief design officer. In the newly minted position at Masco (maker of Delta faucets, Behr paints, and Verve home-control systems), Jones is figuring out how to make tech innovations, such as wireless light switches, ripple across the company into new products, like wireless temperature controls.
Everyday astronauts — why not? Burt Rutan's SpaceShipTwo has already garnered 360 reservations for a 2.5-hour, 68-mile-high adventure into space, with the spacecraft potentially blasting off in less than a year. SpaceShipTwo, a collaboration between Virgin Galactic and Rutan's Scaled Composites, is essentially a souped-up version of SpaceShipOne, the craft that won the $10 million Ansari X Prize in 2004. Will Whitehorn, president of Virgin Galactic, doesn't think the remaining trials will be much of a roadblock for Rutan (MOD '04): "I've often characterized him as the modern-day Leonardo da Vinci of aviation design."
Sure, he designed the achingly beautiful Seattle Central Library and Dallas's much-anticipated Dee and Charles Wyly Theatre, but Joshua Prince-Ramus (MOD '05) still cringes at the word starchitect. Not that his aversion to ego has prevented him from taking on big projects: His New York firm ended its partnership with Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas in 2006 and was reborn as Rex. He's currently finishing Museum Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky, a 62-story skyscraper and floating art museum that's also home to the University of Louisville's graduate programs and a Westin Hotel. "When the economy picks up again, we will be stronger than before the crash." In fact, he says, the recession may end up helping architecture, which "was languishing in a period of form fucks function. Now there is a lot of discussion about a new sobriety."
Ford's chief creative officer is still dodging the label "Mr. Retro" — earned thanks to his successful redesigns of the Ford Mustang and Volkswagen Beetle — but the MOD '04 alum says looking to the future is now easier than ever. Ford sold money-losing Jaguar in 2008 and retrenched to its core nameplate, with the goal of making cars that are more environmentally friendly (see: the Explorer and new hybrids and electrics) and simply fun to drive. In his early years, "the cars were like self-indulgent baby-boomer guitar solos," Mays says. Now his designs are "customer informed" and driven by sophisticated, specific market research. The Ford Fiesta, for instance, was designed with an imaginary 23-year-old Italian named Antonella in mind.
Innovative graphic designer turned starchitect collaborator turned world-class conceptual artist — there isn't much that doesn't interest Bruce Mau. The Canadian designer's Massive Change, a multiyear multimedia traveling exhibition that we featured in 2005, eventually begat a book, radio series, and blog. Last year, he collaborated with a group of Chicago architects on the book The Third Teacher, which examines how learning environments shape the learning experience. At the same time, he was studying a wholly different environment — the new $1.6 billion, 82,500-seat stadium for the NFL's Giants and Jets. Charged with designing the entire fan experience, Mau eased the awkwardness of the shared-stadium relationship through smart but subtle details, such as interior lighting and graphics that change based on who's playing.
A version of this article appeared in the October 2010 issue of Fast Company magazine.