That’s a wrap for the future: looking back at the V&A’s ‘The Future Starts Here’

That’s a wrap for the future: looking back at the V&A’s ‘The Future Starts Here’
400-metre Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge featured in 'The Future Starts Here'. Courtesy Flickr Commons.
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The Future Starts Here’ is a design exhibition reminiscent of the stories told about the World’s Fair. Futuristic, exciting, baffling, and at times intimidating advancements in design sometimes offer a glimpse into what could be in our world. We are used to the likes of such displays at tech or design shows – even car shows. However, London’s V&A is probably one of the least likely places one expects to see such items.

The V&A’s new Design, Architecture, and Digital Department recently wrapped up ‘The Future Starts Here’, which ran from May to Early November. This was the first major show highlighting the department’s work.

The space was curated by Rory Hyde, curator of contemporary architecture and urbanism at the V&A, and architect Mariana Pestana thus setting the tone of the exhibition. From smooth, sleek white surfaces to a neon gingerbread house, the exhibition feels futuristic and quirky.

Instead of seeming abstract, though, the exhibition focused on what might be done in the future and what things might make up the physical landscape of day to day life. ‘If we had done this five years ago it would have been very much about apps, but now the future is about physical things again,’ stated Hyde.

Some designs seem a more practical means to an end, such as the 400-metre Luchtsingel pedestrian bridge built through crowd-funding in Rotterdam, and represent the cross over from design and designer to the public. Another design displayed in the exhibition was BRETT. BRETT was the Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks that folded laundry as guests looked on. The design, though not incredibly efficient, shows how robot technology could lighten the load for humans and bring us one step closer to the Jetsons.

Not all technologies and designs shown, though, were as optimistic. Some installations aimed to tackle major issues the globe faces. One such design was for a great wall of trees meant to assist in the battle against climate change and desertification in Senegal. Another green design is for the Tree Antenna which, by wrapping a large coil around the tree’s trunk, turns trees into a massive antenna for radio, internet, and cell signals.

The largest and potentially most intimidating installation concerned Facebook’s Aquila drone. The solar-powered drone would be able to stay airborne for months and provide internet to what Mark Zuckerberg calls the ‘next billion’ – those currently living in areas that the internet has yet to spread.

The installations in ‘The Future Starts Here’ reminded viewers that with progress in technology and design comes responsibility. For this, while exciting and fun, the exhibition had a dark side to it when we recognize the ways in which the world of design is changing and how that affects the people in it.

Though this exhibition has entered the V&A’s archive of past shows, it is a glimpse at what might be the future of design and museum exhibitions.