Fresh faces from the front lines of design.

David Adjaye

Making his major-league U.S. debut next summer with his Museum of Contemporary Art in Denver, 40-year-old David Adjaye, already a luminary in Britain, is being touted by some as the next global “starchitect,” ready to mix it up with the Gehrys, Libeskinds, Pianos, and Koolhaases. Adjaye’s projects include the new Nobel Peace Center in Oslo, community centers in low-income neighborhoods, artists’ studios, town-square markets, libraries, even homes for the likes of actor Ewan McGregor and photographer Juergen Teller. But he has no signature style, no recognizable aesthetic: His houses are stark and uninviting wedges; his “Idea Store” libraries are bright and busy, more shopping malls than temples of silence. He opts for cheap poured concrete, chipboard, sawn plywood or asphalt, and anti-graffiti paint, where other architects choose marble, maple, or glass. “I have a signature attitude, not a signature aesthetic,” he says.


Adjaye describes himself as a “conceptual architect,” and his A-list contemporary-art connections inform much of his work (he studied at the Royal College of Art in London with the so-called Saatchi generation of young British artists such as Chris Ofili and Jake and Dinos Chapman). “The really profound effect that artists have on architects is in their visual sensitivity,” says Terence Riley, former chief curator of architecture and design at MoMA, and now director of the Miami Art Museum. “I think Adjaye’s work has this retinal quality.” Thelma Golden, director of the Studio Museum in Harlem, which will show Adjaye’s work next July, agrees. “There has always been a deep relationship between contemporary art and architecture,” she says. “But Adjaye embeds his relationships with artists in an ongoing process of collaborative thinking. His public spaces seem to liberate the people who use them. He’s a change agent with the potential to transform the way we consider what architecture can be.” Born in Dar es Salaam but raised in Egypt, Yemen, Lebanon, and finally London, Adjaye is one of only a handful of black architects in Britain and takes his visual cues from the shantytowns of Africa and street markets of India. “In the West, design is about modifications or adjustments to something that already exists,” he says. “But in Asia and Africa, design is about how the human spirit invents and survives–and I find that more inspiring.” –Ian Wylie

Jennifer Siegal

As a graduate student at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (better known as SCI-Arc), Jennifer Siegal wasn’t worried about landing a dream internship. Instead, she opened a hot dog cart. It wasn’t glamorous, but it helped pay for school–and got her thinking about mobile architecture. These days, the 40-year-old founder of the Office of Mobile Design in Venice, California, is helping reawaken the mid-20th-century dream of roving homes and instant dwellings. In doing so, she is just one designer of many, but her experience and foresight are exceptional. “She was one of the first to put a stake in the ground–not because it’s trendy, but because it has always interested her,” says Allison Arieff, the former editor-in-chief of Dwell magazine. Siegal finds inspiration in sources as varied as Southeast Asian street vendors, Bedouin rug merchants–“mobile entrepreneurs,” she calls them–even Archigram, the visionary 1960s architecture collaborative. Yet her perspective is solidly contemporary: “I’m interested in how technology is influencing the way we form communities,” she says.

Many of Siegal’s proposals remain unrealized–an Internet port on wheels, for example (Wi-Fi took care of that), or the Hydra House, a mass-producible, portable, floating “survival structure”–but her work is already reshaping the way we think about buildings. For example, her Mobile Eco Lab is a repurposed trailer that teaches children and the poor about the environment; her Portable Construction Training Center is a mobile home that educates people who may want to join the building trades. She has developed a “mobile event city” for a firm that hosts multiday outdoor charity events and has even proposed an artists’ community made of modular steel-frame buildings for downtown L.A. Her work with prefab components and off-the-shelf parts includes a model house erected in Venice this summer using eco-friendly bamboo and insulating polycarbonates; a prefab middle school in North Hollywood is also in the works. What’s more, as editor of the publication Materials Monthly, she promotes “a future of innovative materials that are light, strong, and reusable,” she says. “Because our lifestyles are demanding more lightness and flexibility, our buildings shouldn’t be sitting so heavy.” –Aric Chen

Scott Wilson

In 1998, Scott Wilson, then 29, took on an American icon–the Swingline stapler–and gave it a makeover. Before long, the new designs were racking up awards and shaking up a flatlining product category. Then there was Wilson’s Presto watch, one of his first projects as a creative director for Nike: “I think we projected selling 30,000,” he recalls, “but it wound up being something like 1.5 million the first year.” With that kind of track record, it’s no surprise Wilson caught the attention of Motorola, which made him design director of its MobileME + Wearables group in June. Only time will tell how much he’ll add to the company’s design-driven renaissance, but the prospects are promising.

“Wilson can’t help being bold,” says Paola Antonelli, a curator of architecture and design at MoMA. For instance, rather than simply “taking a men’s watch, shrinking it down, and coloring it pink,” Wilson says the Presto considered its female target audience from the beginning, resulting in a slick C-shaped bracelet. Then there was iBelieve, a crucifix-shaped lanyard for an iPod Shuffle that Antonelli considers “one of the most brilliant syntheses of what we spoiled-yet-idealistic consumers want from an object: coolness, symbolism, meaning, satire, elegance, and superfluity, all in one gesture.” Wilson says he aims for balance in his designs–between function and aesthetics, the needs of consumers and brands, and an object’s emotional and rational resonance. It’s a methodology he also brings to his sidelines, which include Ooba, a new line of modern children’s furniture, and MNML (formerly MOD), an alias through which he has created seating for Rem Koolhaas’s Seattle Central Library. And now, based at Motorola in Chicago, Wilson will be working to integrate Bluetooth and other mobile technologies into, say, Oakley sunglasses or Burton snowboarding jackets. “Wearable technology is still in the early adopter stage,” he says, “but it’s growing.” Looks like it will now, anyway. –Aric Chen

Antenna Design

Visitors to the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University these days will be confronted with a cluster of four white stools. They don’t look like much, but sit on one and an embedded camera will scatter your image across the white floor. Repeat that for four people, and the result is a mediated social encounter–with a whiff of surveillance–courtesy of Masamichi Udagawa and Sigi Moeslinger of New York’s Antenna Design. Antenna is the new savant of interactive design; they render complex information transparent and intuitive. “Their work is dedicated to cultivating the social life of the city and humanizing our relationship to technology–inquiries they conduct with great elegance and intelligence,” says Susan Yelavich, who as co-curator gave the firm pride of place at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum’s 2003 National Design Triennial. But Antenna’s impact extends far outside the gallery: the redesigned data terminals at financial-news giant Bloomberg LP; the self-service kiosks for JetBlue; the new look of more than 2,000 subway cars for the New York City transit system as well as its MetroCard machines and upcoming Help Point Intercom systems–all are Antenna’s work. “We’re not one of those designers who force a style on every object,” says Moeslinger, 38. Instead, the partners reduce their designs to their essentials and emphasize context. Their MetroCard machines, for example, feel as if they’ve been part of life forever. “The user doesn’t distinguish between hardware and software,” Udagawa, 41, points out. And if that sounds awfully simple, that’s the idea. “People may not consciously realize that something’s successful,” says Moeslinger, “but what makes it successful is that you don’t notice it.” –Aric Chen