The exhibition "Transform! Designing the Future of Energy” highlights the transformations of the energy sector (past, present and future) from the point of view of design, and therefore of the human being. At the Vitra Design Museum until 1 September 2024

Energy is not produced, it is transformed. Energy is invisible, it is political, it is omnipresent in society. All buildings, infrastructure and products related to the generation, distribution and use of energy are man-made.

This is why the role of design is fundamental, also and increasingly, in the current transition towards renewable energy.

In Weil am Rhein (just outside Basel), the exhibition "Transform! Designing the Future of Energy” curated by Jochen Eisenbrand, Chief Curator of the Vitra Design Museum, offers a broader perspective: from everyday products that use renewable energy to the design of solar homes and wind farms, from intelligent mobility systems to futuristic visions of self-sufficient cities.

Let's start with us

The path of the exhibition follows a progression from small to large scale, from what has been done and hypothesized, from the point of view of energy transformation, to the projects projected forward, in the future.

The departure, therefore, is a focus on the human being, on our bodies, on everyday objects, on the cities we live in, but above all, the "Human Power" section is an invitation: every individual can be a protagonist and not only observer of energy transformation.

The curator Jochen Eisenbrand tells us: “The first work you encounter, even before entering the rooms, is my favorite. This is the artistic project FAZIT born from an exhibition at the Berlinische Galerie in Berlin which investigated the moment in which large centralized thermal power plants began to close in Germany.

Their potential is explored to accompany industrial, cultural and social change with a symbolic message. The idea is that still functioning power plants should be modified so as not only to produce energy and pollutants, but to emit signals into the air, visible from afar, to symbolize and inspire the increasingly necessary transformation.”

Products, prototypes and experiments

Energy Tools” is the theme of the second section which proposes interesting projects, some realistic and realised, others less so, dedicated to a possible off-grid daily life, physically not connected to conventional users. Pauline van Dongen, for example, integrates photovoltaic cells into clothing (like her Solar Shirt) or fabric panels like Suntex (2022).

Stefan Troendle, on the other hand, has developed Hydrogen Cooker, a prototype of a green stove powered by hydrogen. Very interesting, almost hypnotic, is the solar-powered pendulum lamp Sunne, by Marjan van Aubel, which imitates the theatrical quality of natural sunlight, from dawn to dusk. Also in this part of the exhibition, we travel not only in space, but also in time: a selection of historical projects demonstrates how the idea of energy self-sufficiency has inspired designers since its origins.

The so-called Solar Do-Nothing Machine, created by b in the 1950s, already used photovoltaic technology to set a kinetic sculpture in motion.

Architecture and mobility

In the third part the exhibition presents "Transformers", a series of innovative projects in the sectors of architecture and mobility. It should be kept in mind that the construction sector, alone , is responsible for around a third of global energy consumption and the share attributed to the transport sector is almost as high.

The Brattørkaia Powerhouse in Trondheim, designed by Snøhetta, is recognized as the northernmost energy-positive building in the world: it produces more than double the energy it consumes and feeds the surplus into a local microgrid.

“It is not only by using new technologies that we change, but by intelligently transforming old buildings” explains Jochen Eisenbrand. The Day After House by TAKK architecture demonstrates, in fact, that high-tech solutions are not mandatory to improve the energy efficiency of existing buildings: thanks to an intelligent spatial configuration With different climate zones and the use of natural insulation materials, this apartment requires almost no additional heating.

Imagining future landscapes

All energy generation, distribution and storage activities are not exempt from an impact on the environment: regarding the extraction of the necessary raw materials, the construction and operation of buildings for transformation and, finally, the necessary infrastructure to energy storage and distribution.

From this analysis the theme of the last section of the exhibition, located in the upper room of the museum, was conceived: "Future Energyscapes".

The projects on display range from new typologies of energy storage, such as the Energiebunker in Hamburg or Hot Hear, the pioneering proposal of Carlo < strong>Rattifor intermediate thermal energy storage in the city of Helsinki, to the most visionary ideas.

Among these, the wind turbine models designed by the students of ECAL/Lausanne for the Canadian island of Fogo and the hypothetical "Eneropa" conceived by the Dutch think tank < strong>OMA by Rem Koolhaas.

Finally, still some examples of historical predecessors are Herman Sörgel's idea of a huge land mass powered by hydroelectric energy, presented in the 1930s as the "Atlantropa" project, or Buckminster Fuller's "World Game".

Cover photo: Ed Kashi, Petroleum Pipeline, Okrika Town, Nigeria, 2006 © Ed Kashi/VII/Redux