The Vilcek Foundation was created to highlight the achievements of the many talented immigrants who made their life in the United States.
Marica and Jan Vilcek are themselves originally from Slovakia, Jan Vilcek, a microbiologist, has 45 patents in his name and was the co-inventor of the blockbuster drug, Remicade. Marica is an art historian. They married in 1962 and lived in the United States for 50 years, after fleeing Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia. They used the wealth earned thanks to the medical patents to create the Vilcek Foundation in 2000. Every year, they give out rewards in different categories. This year’s focus was excellence and innovation in design.
On June 19, 3 of the award recipients came together for a panel discussion at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York City. The designers spoke about their creations, and topics covered were material ecology, and how can industrial design improve society? The discussion was moderated by Glenn Adamson, Director at the Museum of Arts and Design. Featured designers were Neri Oxman, Mansour Ourasanah, and Quilian Riano.
Neri Oxman, originally from Israel, studied medicine in Jerusalem, before changing her focus to architecture. Medecine, however, provides her with insight into biological structures that other architects and designers don’t have. She came to the United States in xxx and currently is a professor and member of a multidisciplinary team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Media Lab, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her specialty is “Material Ecology.” She told us about the dome they created using silkworms.
Mansour Ourasanah, originally from Togo (West Africa) came to the United States at the age of sixteen. His plan was to study engineering, but he discovered industrial design and changed his major. In many African countries, this is not a profession that many have heard of. Knowing that raising cattle for meat is extremely unsustainable, and that many in a variety of countries eat insects and in particulars grasshoppers, he invented (among other items) a mini-farm to raise crickets in your own kitchen. Very recently, the New York Times addressed this new type of protein in an article about companies manufacturing cookies and other baked goods. Here is a video explaining the premise (courtesy of Mansour Ourasanah).
The Wall Street Journal recently published an article about another “non-traditional protein”. mealworms: “Celebrity Chefs Tout Bug Cuisine.”
Quilian Riano, born in Bogota, Colombia, was raised in Miami, Florida. He is an architect, trained at the University of Florida and Harvard University, now practicing in Brooklyn, NY. as principal of the DSGN AGNC (Design Agency), a collaborative design/research studio exploring political engagement through architecture, urbanism, art, and activism. His focus is on making the urban setting more human-centric and on the various forces which influence the urban environment. One of DSGN AGNC‘s projects is in Corona, Queens in New York City.
His work reminded me of my own architecture studies, when under the mentorship of our professor, the architect Denis Valode, we studied how spaces were to be used from the inside out, mapping out the activities to be carried out within the space. This did not have a political aspect but did delve into the way a space is utilized in a more organic way.
All three designers gave us, the audience, hope that the planet may not be destroyed by humankind after all, if we follow their lead towards a sustainable and gentler built environment. The panel discussion provided us with a very inspiring evening.