“Unlimited by Design” is the name of the current exhibition at The Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in the Upper West Side’s Museum Mile. The show features over 150 designs of what can be thought of as Universal Design. The design ideal of creating and solving problems for everyone, or the largest amount of people has lead to some very beautiful and innovative products while addressing these difficult issues. A small space showcased lever handles from the past 50 years or so from designers and architects like Maria Botta and Hans Hollein. The simple yet fundamentally important functionality of the handle were shown through streamlined chrome curves and odd looking plastics. Next room over, the Supine Work Station designed at the Center for Rehabilitation Technology, College of Architecture, at the Georgia Institute of Technology was a computer station/desk that looked like the pivoting stations of the quad-laser cannons in the Millennium Falcon. Being able to tilt back along with the screen and keyboard, the station was designed to prevent working in any one position for an extended period of time.
Envisioning children with their grandparents all enjoying one space, a friendly playground designed by Playdesigns (?) addressed issues of design for different age groups. The futuristic white Metaform Personal Hygiene System designed by the Henry Miller Research Corporation showed innovative bathroom designs including self cleaning toilets with a temperature controlled bidet and support for the elderly. On display as well were smaller items such as cellular phones from Motorola, rubber buttons which looked like colored nipples designed by Spore, and those comfortable kitchen utensils by Smart Design.
The biggest hilight of the exhibition was the Universal Kitchen Project designed at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). Started in 1993, this immense undertaking of research and design to rethink the modern kitchen – “an everyday icon of poor design” – manifested in 3 versions of a new kitchen; 2 of which were on display at the Cooper Hewitt. After researching ergonomic concepts like “comfort zones” and conducting time/motion studies of kitchen usage, the RISD kitchen was built out with such great functionality and thoughtful design. Adjustable height counter and sinks, multidirectional water sprays in sinks, and pop-up dishwashers were only few of the many innovations in the new kitchen. The traditional stove, refrigerator, and sink were all rethought and vastly improved upon to enhance and make the kitchen much more user friendly to all.