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2021 was an unsettling year. Just when life started to feel slightly normal again, events quickly backslid into surreal territory. The design world mirrored those ups and downs with moments that spanned the beautiful and the bizarre, the uplifting and the dreadful. Here are 13 much buzzed-about events from the last 12 months.
Problems besiege a residential skyscraper
432 Park Avenue was supposed to be one of New York’s most sought-after skyscrapers, a Billionaire’s Row addition designed by Rafael Viñoly Architects. But soon, residents became less enamored with the billiards room and wine cellars and, as The New York Times detailed, more frightened by a host of unsafe conditions including elevators that trapped them during robust winds, flooding, and electrical explosions. In fact, the tenants felt so conned by the laundry list of hazards that the condo board filed a lawsuit against the 1,396-foot tower’s developers, CIM Group and Harry B. Macklowe. Although a frustrating experience for those who bought into 432 Park Avenue’s idyll, the scandal shows that high-end finishes and Central Park views ultimately can’t camouflage larger issues.
Copycats get outed
Knock-offs are unfortunately common in the design industry, and for many creators it’s easier to get angry and keep working rather than pursue a pricey lawsuit. But with 2021’s arrival of the Instagram account @designwithincopy, it’s harder to ignore such transgressions. The account’s anonymous, plugged-in creator singles out pieces of furniture that appear to be almost exact replicas of originals, placing their images side by side to showcase the similarities. Whether you love or hate the internet shaming that accompanies each post—the account currently has 37.5K followers—Design Within Copy is a thought-provoking examination of that fine line between inspiration and idea theft.
Afrofuturism finds a prominent place at the Met
Afrofuturism, the fusion of African diaspora culture, science fiction, and fantasy illuminated in films like Black Panther, takes shape in the new sensory-driven Before Yesterday We Could Fly: An Afrofuturist Period Room at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It centers on Seneca Village, the pivotal 19th-century development established by free Blacks that was razed to make way for Central Park. Through ceramics, Bamileke beads, and other objects culled from the Met’s collection, the installation imagines what might have transpired in a modern-day Seneca Village, while calling attention to a forgotten example of empowerment and opportunity.
The Camaleonda sofa sees a renaissance
All model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen wanted to do in a February 2021 Instagram post was get the word out about the comfy robes and slippers on her Cravings website. But the low-slung modular sofa she was sitting on, too arresting to ignore, also racked up interest from her followers. The rust-colored beauty, it turns out, was an alluringly retro Camaleonda by Mario Bellini, first introduced by the Italian architect and designer in the 1970s. Prior to B&B Italia’s reissue of the seating system in 2020, vintage units were snatched up by tastemakers such as Daniel Arsham and Athena Calderone. Besides its impressive globular form and capitonné stitching, the Camaleonda is plush and cozy, offering flexible configurations that are a boon for unpredictable scenarios. Teigen reminded consumers it was a glamorous pandemic-era essential, and they responded by seeking out other blob-shaped iterations from the past, such as Afra and Tobia Scarpa’s Soriana designed for Cassina in 1969 and Michel Ducaroy’s 1973 Togo for Ligne Roset.