M21D
The Museum of
21st Century Design

Prize
Winner
2020

What if museums became living incubators of thoughtful design for a world at risk?

2020 Prize Theme

Thoughtfulthoughtful

We asked applicants to design a civic space for public gathering (physical or virtual) that seeds a sense of creative agency and possibility in our broader cultural sphere.

Creative Statement

ThoughtfulPlayfulculture, economy

The Museum of 21st Century Design (M21D) brings a contemporary take to the conventional museum. Nomadic and future-oriented in nature, it travels into communities to enhance public understanding and appreciation of design from the 21st century that positively impacts society and the environment. Through temporary exhibitions, publications, educational courses, and an online collection, M21D invites us to examine our shared responsibility in shaping positive social and environmental impact through the world we design. Monthly Social Sculptures — a mix of in-person and digital meetups, interviews, meals, and panel discussions — allow everyday citizens to engage with objects and ideas that address the priorities, conflicts, tastes, and technologies of our time. M21D is focused on the future, rather than the past. It sees itself as a tool for education and community building, and exists to promote conversation not conservation.

Framing the Future

Fifty years ago, we would never have dreamed we could create a world without pollution and exploitation. Today, it is hard to fathom why our ancestors once believed that destructive design was beautiful. We owe everything we care for today to a generation that redefined beauty in design. Courageous design leaders, citizens, and thinkers chipped away at the aestheticization of design to expose its underbelly of environmental degradation and human exploitation.

The transformation began with a handful of awards and enterprises intent on recognizing design that created positive environmental and social impact. As the importance of this gained wider recognition, industry followed suit with regulatory measures to discourage design that produced waste, carbon emissions, or deeper inequality. But the real turning point came when cultural institutions got in the game and began to shape public opinion. A small group of leaders like M21D helped museums recognize the trusted roles they held within communities and their unique position not just as cultural repositories of the past but as shapers of the future. Refashioned as living incubators, they began to thoughtfully question and dismantle ideas of domination and exclusion in design.

Today, more and more museums pulse with experimentation and education. They invite diverse groups to examine the present and create a future designed for and with the natural limits of our living world. A future where desirability and viability thrive in synthesis, where nature and human society live in symbiosis. A future in which design beauty is measured not only by aesthetics but by the ability to nourish and uplift each other with hope.

Frame Changers

Ralph Caplan
Heralded by the New York Times as “the E. B. White of design writing”, Caplan was a pioneering design critic and champion of human-centred design with an exceptional gift for making design both relatable and important.

Miranda Massie
A supporter of M21D and founder of the Climate Museum who has demonstrated new ways that a museum can defy convention to help
materialize a better future.

Paola Antonelli
The design curator at the Museum of Modern Art and influential thought leader who has been instrumental in highlighting design’s power to shape culture.

Biography

Meet Co-founders of M21D, William Myers and Georgina McDowall in our conversation with them here.

William Myers
An Amsterdam-based curator, writer, and teacher. He is the author of Biodesign (MoMA, 2018) and Bioart (Thames & Hudson, 2015) and organizer of 14 exhibitions on a range of topics. His work has been featured widely in publications including the journal Science and the New York Times. He has lectured at various educational institutions and previously worked for MoMA, the Guggenheim Museum, MIT Museum, Vitra Design Museum, and Science Galleries in Dublin and Rotterdam, among others.

Georgina McDowall
A researcher working at the intersection of culture and sustainability. She holds a Master’s in Museum Studies from the University of Amsterdam, where she specialized in the role that culture can play in the climate emergency. Since graduating she has presented on this topic at conferences in the Czech Republic and Norway, and worked on art-science projects at Artis Library, Amsterdam and Museum of the Mind, London.

Creative States' Take

Despite being two decades-deep in the 21st century, many museums are still designing and working within the frameworks of the 20th. We believe M21D provides a transformative model that makes the world of design — both its implications and imaginations — accessible to all. William and Georgina’s thoughtful approach recognizes that in order to shift mindsets, we must also meet people where they are and move them to see their world differently. Nomadic exhibitions bring the museum directly into communities and encourage learning through sensory exploration and salient connection to their lived experience. Social Sculpture prototypes invite playful collaboration and inclusion in the design of collective change. We imagine M21D creating a network of pop-ups across continents to share and shape a new culture of design that calls us toward new environmental and social thriving.

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Site design by Erik Mace. Illustrations by Mark Fischer.