At Design Miami, dire reminders of climate change came in the form of precious jewels. The luxury crystal jewelry company Swarovski commissioned MacArthur fellow and architect Jeanne Gang to create an immersive installation with the an award-winning nature photographer that incorporated more than 200 pounds of the company’s crystal into a dire warning of the environmental impacts of a warming world.
Thinning Ice, Gang’s installation, aims to visualize the world’s disappearing polar ice caps. Recent studies have found the Antarctic and Greenland ice caps are melting at an unprecedented rate, a phenomenon that scientists predict will play a role in the multiple feet of sea level rise projected over the next century.
Gang’s smooth, curvaceous tables made of lacquered wood evoke the structure of a melting ice cap. Clustered together like a sheet of ice breaking apart, the tables contain voids filled with crystals that echo the structural breakdown of thawing ice. LED lighting strips on the floor (also made with crystal) make the whole space look like a tenuously stable ice sheet.
The interior walls of the installation space feature the film and photography of James Balog, who has been documenting the shrinking of a glacier in the Austrian Alps for three years. The images cast a cold blue glow across the room, surrounding visitors in visuals of the polar environment.
Swarovski’s installation is particularly prescient for Miami, a beach-front city facing major risk for dramatic sea level rise (as well as surges of water from superstorms) in the coming years due to climate change. Unfortunately, in real life, when the ice caps melt, they don’t shower the world in valuable crystals.