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Virgil Abloh Has a Bold Vision for the Future of the Home

Plus more interesting takeaways from the Vitra Summit

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By Architectural Digest US | November 10, 2020 | Trends

Virgil Abloh has been busy creating new home furnishings for IKEA and his own brand, Off-White in recent years. But the American-born, Milan-based designer says that a little over a decade from now, furniture manufacturing will be a thing of the past. In separate sessions at the recent live-streamed Vitra Summit conference, Abloh sketched a future in which new goods become increasingly less necessary.

Abloh’s vision of a post-vaccine future sharpened on day two of the Vitra Summit—with his prediction that by the year 2035, consumers could very well cut new products out of their lives altogether. At a morning discussion examining how quarantine has hastened residential interiors’ transformation into multipurpose zones, Abloh envisioned a younger adult’s domestic space in which the only new object is an armature-like unit in which a person places her computer, server, and other tech infrastructure for carrying from home to home.

“Your house in 15 years will have a chair that was passed down to you from your roommate; you might reupholster it, give it a little hack, but you [have] loved it forever and you won’t throw it away,” Abloh told attendees of the session entitled “New Dynamics in the Home.” “You might not bring your bed, kitchen, dishes from place to place. All you need to do is bring your unit with necessities.” Abloh’s proposal amplifies key ideas from the Twentythirtyfive installation staged at the Vitra campus in 2019; it seems COVID-19 has accelerated people’s migration to living their lives online even faster than Abloh had suspected it would happen a year ago.

Abloh’s polemical statements were just several of many thought-provoking insights shared at the Vitra Summit. In separate sessions, AD100 interior designer Ilse Crawford and architect Stefano Boeri declared that bedrooms will become the new live-work hubs of the home. Product designer Konstantin Grcic imagined “a system of leasing or renting [furniture] so that after a time, I can bring it back so that its materials return to supply chains.” Renowned psychotherapist Esther Perel questioned, with some dubiousness, whether “soft” management skills can become as decentralized as home offices. And architect and urban planner Maurice Cox shared plans for harnessing mobile technology and WFH to transform secondary and tertiary cities into series of walkable cosmopolitan villages.

“During a normal year, we would be meeting our global community at fairs in Milan or Cologne,” Vitra CEO Nora Fehlbaum said of the event. Speaking with AD PRO via email, she adds, “Since this year we have not been able to gather in person to share new ideas and designs, we decided to host [the] Vitra Summit digitally, with the broader goal of examining changes to work environments, homes, and public spaces.”

The Vitra Summit did not dedicate much time to near-term strategies for modifying offices and other spaces for COVID-19. (Though WordPress founding developer Matt Mullenweg did share his daily rituals for mindful WFH practice.) Rather, in discussions and presentations held over two days, moderators and panelists examined the adaptations in space, behaviour, and policy that may outlast the pandemic. Fehlbaum emceed the virtual proceedings.

For a short film concluding the first day of programming, Vitra Summit panelists were asked, “How will aesthetics be impacted by the social and environmental developments of 2020?” Multiple respondents posited that consumers will embrace color and experimental form in a kind of collective post-vaccine sigh of relief. Abloh, on the other hand, envisioned a more selective materialism that favors emotional and social resonance: “Things will have to mean something, to represent something,” the multihyphenate designer told Vitra’s audience. “Meaning in the world has been recalibrated; hopefully this is a moment for the design community, the art community at large, to rethink its position on how it deals with humans.” Other film subjects, such as curator Beatrice Galilee, echoed Abloh’s point by speaking about the design industry turning into a more “contested space” that makes room for non-Western voices.

Asked whether Vitra organized the event with a specific vision of the future, Fehlbaum tells AD PRO that she embraces the diversity of visions ranging from Abloh’s nomadic residence to Grcic’s no-ownership furniture business. “We think a good model can be found for each typology of space and work. Every client, every space, every project is specific and requires a tailor-made response. There are no blanket approaches,” Fehlbaum says. “We…are open to any ideas that might make work a better place.”

This originally appeared on AD PRO | David Sokol