Meet the Makers

These nine visionaries are leading tomorrow's design revolution—today. They're creating the cities, buildings, cars, furniture, and machines that will transform your everyday existence for decades to come. Isn't it time you met them?

Joshua Prince-Ramus
The architect Joshua Prince-Ramus describes the approach of his New York firm REX as "productively losing control," which means letting client constraints lead the team in unexpected creative directions. The method's roots lie in his stint as partner in charge of the New York office of Rem Koolhaas' OMA, which conceived the dramatic stacked-volumes design of the Seattle Central Library in part to meet city regulations. Completed in 2004, the structure provided a blueprint for the projects Prince-Ramus would undertake after OMA New York morphed into REX, which hinge on new modes of flexibility. His best-known, the Wyly Theatre in Dallas, finished in 2009, lifts and retracts various parts of the stage and auditorium in minutes to facilitate a wide variety of theatrical configurations. "The whole tension between form and function is false and unproductive," the 41-year-old former philosophy student says. Instead, his studio's watchword is performance, a springboard to ambitious but responsible concepts like Museum Plaza in Louisville, Kentucky, an H-shaped 62-story skyscraper slated to open in 2013 that will house luxury condos, a hotel, loft apartments, retail spaces, and an art museum. "These days, you either have amazing wild forms that are way over budget and off schedule, or you have very dutiful architecture and it's just boring," Prince-Ramus says. "To me, that means the architects just weren't good enough in either scenario."
Biggest creative hero: Wagner. I'm not really a classical-music buff, but as an architect I'm challenging typologies, and Wagner pushed the form: He really invented his own universe.
Most indispensable tool: My Naim stereo.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Pancakes.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: To quote Voltaire, "The perfect is the enemy of the good."
Dream project: An opera house.
See the slideshow of Joshua Prince-Ramus's work.
— *By James Gaddy
Photograph by Matthew Monteigh*
Jason Castriota
When he burst onto the global automotive scene with the 2005 Maserati Birdcage 75th, a bubble-canopied concept that looked appropriate for an interstellar Le Mans race, Jason Castriota says he was going for "future shock." That same sensibility begot his influential 2009 Stile Bertone Mantide, an origami-like 638-horsepower bird of prey. "I enjoy playing the provocateur and challenging people's notions of what cars should look like," says the 37-year-old, who lives in New York and Italy. His knack for statement cars—whose genes can be replicated to create production models—has prompted even heritage-obsessed brands like Rolls-Royce to invite him to play with their design DNA. Last year the struggling Swedish automaker Saab hired him as design director, and his 2011 PhoeniX concept, with serpentine buttresses and a teardrop canopy that evoke the company's jet-and-rocket-making roots, points toward Saab's aesthetic future. Castriota's mastery of aerodynamics also prompted Shelby Supercars to commission him in 2010 to develop the Ultimate Aero II, which the company says will be the world's fastest production vehicle at 275 miles per hour. "An automobile's not a couture dress," he says. "But that doesn't mean car designers shouldn't take chances."
Biggest creative hero: Leonardo da Vinci was the world's greatest designer.
Most indispensable tool: Besides eating utensils, any writing instrument, because I always start by sketching.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: A proper espresso.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: Nothing is perfect, but I often find beauty in imperfection.
Dream project: Same as every car nut—creating my own brand from zero.
See the slideshow of Jason Castriota's work.
— *By Jonathan Schultz
Photograph by Matthew Monteith*
Dennis Hong
Like many other children of the seventies, Dennis Hong grew up obsessed with Star Wars and The Jetsons. Since then, the 40-year-old Virginia Tech associate professor of mechanical engineering has been chasing the holy grail of robotics: a machine with the same shape and abilities as a human. Last year, he oversaw the building of CHARLI, the first full-size, autonomous, ambulatory humanoid robot designed in America. The Navy then commissioned Hong to develop a successor, SAFFiR, which will be used to fight onboard blazes, though its ability to navigate the tight corridors of a ship means it could be put to work virtually anywhere. Hong's work has also led to ingenious spin-offs, like an affordable prosthetic hand that can grasp an egg without breaking it. And this January, a blind man successfully steered a car Hong had outfitted with sensors and a nonvisual interface (including a tactile tablet that "maps" the road using compressed air) around obstacles on the Daytona 500 track. Hong compares these ancillary benefits to those ushered in by the Apollo program. "Trying to go to the moon, we developed all these different types of technology: cell phones, satellite TV, Tang," he says. The road to a real-life C-3PO could be similarly rewarding.
Biggest creative hero: Nikola Tesla.
Most indispensable tool: My Moleskine sketchbook and a pencil.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Peace.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: The rubber band. Cheap, ubiquitous, and useful in so many ways—just ask MacGyver!
Dream project: It's often the one I'm already working on.
See the slideshow of Dennis Hong's work.
— *By Michael Silverberg
Photograph by John McCormick/Virginia Tech*
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Bjarke Ingels
A waste-to-power plant in Copenhagen that doubles as a public ski slope. A 328-foot-wide silvery solar-harvesting orb that hovers over a busy Stockholm intersection while providing electricity to the surrounding neighborhood. A pyramidal New York City high-rise with a hollow core containing a garden exposed to the city. All these concepts are part of Danish architect Bjarke Ingels' quest to make cities more interesting. That approach has made the 36-year-old founder of the firm BIG (Bjarke Ingels Group) one of the most-watched architects in the world, beating out such big names as Norman Foster and Zaha Hadid for high-profile commissions like the National Library in Astana, the architecturally supercharged capital of Kazakhstan. "Human enjoyment is a major parameter in the way we work," says the shaggy-haired Rem Koolhaas protégé. "We try not only to meet the criteria for a client's specific functions but also to make sure that the buildings contribute to the cities they populate." For all the attention and ambitious ideas, BIG hasn't built much yet, but its finished projects in Copenhagen offer a taste of what's to come: Mountain Dwellings is a craggy agglomeration of terraced apartments that gives every resident a lush, private outdoor space atop a parking garage; 8 House features grassy ramps built into its exterior. West 57th, his planned tower in Manhattan, will similarly hybridize city and landscape. Ingels is pioneering a new strain of organic architecture—and bringing some fun to a profession known for its seriousness.
Biggest creative hero: I'm a fan of big storytellers, like Charlie Kaufman and Christopher Nolan.
Most indispensable tool: Nike+ GPS on my iPhone.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Fun of themselves.
An everyday object you think is perfectly designed: AiAiAi TMA-1 headphones—designed like a power tool.
Dream project: A major urban node that combines traffic infrastructure with economical, ecological, and social infrastructure—like an inhabited bridge.
See the slideshow of Bjarke Ingels's work.
— *By Tim McKeough
Photograph by Jens Astrup/Polaris Images*
Paul Cocksedge
What makes British lighting designer Paul Cocksedge unique? It's his ability to use incandescence as a raw material to conjure up ingenious curiosities—like NeON, a transparent vessel filled with gas that becomes visible when charged with an electric current. That was one of several student projects that launched the 33-year-old's career in 2003, along with Styrene, a lamp shade resembling coral made by heat-treating polystyrene coffee cups. Another, Watt?, a lamp whose electric terminals are attached to a sheet of paper that users draw on with a pencil to complete the circuit and turn the light on, revealed Cocksedge's taste for presto-chango objects that conscript people into service in unexpected ways. His 2009 table lamp Life 01 is a vase of water with a light source in the bottom that's activated when a flower is dropped in, its stem serving as a conductor. His "Kiss" public installations, introduced in Milan the same year, feature an LED canopy that's triggered when a couple kisses below. Although his projects may feel like magic tricks, Cocksedge says he does nothing more than harness the laws of physics. "I'm not the one who makes liquid expand or graphite conduct electricity," he says. "Design is a vehicle for packaging my excitement for something I've discovered."
Biggest creative hero: Matisse is one.
Most indispensable tool: Electricity.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Healthy food.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: Solar panels.
Dream project: A Times Square installation, perhaps with "Kiss."
See the slideshow of Paul Cocksedge's work.
— *By David Sokol
Photograph by Donald Milne*
Saul Griffith
The word inventor makes Saul Griffith cringe. He says it reminds him of an "insane neighbor," but it's a handy way to describe the 37-year-old Australian engineer. In 2006, he won a hallowed MacArthur "genius" grant and used his $500,000 award to fund more than a dozen startups aimed at solving climate and energy problems. These include Makani Power, which deploys robotically controlled kite turbines to capture the powerful, plentiful high-altitude currents a conventional wind farm can't reach, and Potenco, a line of human-powered generators that can recharge gadgets. Right now, Griffith, who's based in San Francisco, is working in the emerging field of programmable matter, which could change the way we make . . . everything. He hopes to bring manufacturing to the microscale by replicating the way biological objects intelligently assemble themselves—think of the shape-shifting quicksilver that morphs into the T-1000 in Terminator 2. "The killer app is where we start making biological materials from the ground up that are more sophisticated, environmentally benign, and powerful than our existing crop," Griffith says. Imagine no more hulking, emissions-spewing factories, just a wireless signal that commands raw materials to form objects. For now, Griffith's research has mostly produced toys: a menagerie of inflatable animals and 3-D cardboard puzzles that populate his studio. "Not everything I do is driven by a goal—some things are driven by an exploration of what is possible and whether it can help," he says. "Having said that, I'm not ashamed if things I work on are used to make the world more fun for 8-year-olds."
Biggest creative hero: I will always love Galileo, but I'll also say Marcel Duchamp.
Most indispensable tool: My pen. Communication is always key. Barring that, my laser cutter.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: Bread.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: I love bicycles.
Dream project: Utility-scale renewable energy at a cost less than coal. If I weren't so practical, I'd say making biology engineerable to the point that I could grow my own surfboard in a vat of goop—now that's hard.
See the slideshow of Saul Griffith's work.
— *By Alissa Walker
Photograph by Dustin Aksland*
Dror Benshetrit
The multitalented New York-based designer Dror Benshetrit loves injecting a sense of motion into static objects. Take his Vase of Phases, which appears to be caught in mid-shatter, or his ruffled Peacock lounge chair, a rigid felt construction made without sewing or upholstering. His cube-shaped Volume.MGX lamp, created using 3-D-printing techniques, actually folds down to the size of a notebook. Even his interiors and architecture share that sensibility: A planned resort called Nurai Island, off the coast of Abu Dhabi, features curvaceous villas that peel out of the grassy earth like waves. "I'm interested in the relationship between poetry and physics," the Israeli-born 34-year-old says. "I like blending the boundaries where art meets design and architecture meets fashion." Benshetrit's latest undertaking is a potentially game-changing engineering venture called QuaDror. The result of years of research into new folding mechanisms, it's a self-supporting hinged joint that is easily transported because it folds flat, is quick to erect, and is rock solid when set up (like an incredibly strong sawhorse). Its possible applications range from tabletop objects to mass-produced furniture to major infrastructure. Benshetrit is already working with manufacturers to bring QuaDror-based products to market, so don't be surprised if it becomes as ubiquitous a building material as the concrete block. Only with more motion.
Biggest creative hero: There are three: Achille Castiglioni, Buckminster Fuller, and Isamu Noguchi.
Most indispensable tool: A pencil.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: A delicious meal.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: Nothing is perfect. I can find faults with anything.
Dream project: An airport.
See the slideshow of Dror Benshetrit's work.
— *By Tim McKeough
Photograph by Matthew Monteith*
Thomas Heatherwick
Tourists line up every Friday at noon to watch as Thomas Heatherwick's Rolling Bridge, a short pedestrian span in London, curls up and straightens out like a giant steel pill bug. His Seed Cathedral, a 66-foot-tall dandelion-like structure built from 60,000 slender fiber-optic rods that glow at night, was one of the biggest attractions at last year's World Expo in Shanghai, and his top-secret Olympic cauldron for next year's London Games is eagerly anticipated. But the 41-year-old Brit is interested in more than urban curios. "Our projects are solving problems," he says. "We're not trying to be wacky." His 2010 redesign of London's famed double-decker buses perfectly merged form and function. But it's a volcano-shaped bioenergy plant planned for a blighted industrial town in the north of England that best exemplifies his approach: Quiet, clean, and integrated into the landscape, it's meant to lure residents up its tree-covered slopes. "You can even have a bar mitzvah or get married there," he says. With these ventures focused on places where people actually spend their time, he hopes to create an alternative to the Bilbao effect. "They're a wonderful thing, but arts alone won't save the whole world," he says. "Infrastructure can too."
Biggest creative hero: My father.
Most indispensable tool: My eyes.
The one thing everyone should know: How to make a fool of themselves.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: Nothing is perfectly designed.
Dream project: A hospital.
See the slideshow of Thomas Heatherwick's work.
— *By Michael Silverberg
Photograph by Donald Milne*
Scott Wilson
When it comes to reading the Zeitgeist of the productsphere, Chicago designer Scott Wilson has few peers. Last year, he posted TikTok and LunaTik, a pair of kits that transform the touchscreen iPod Nano into a Dick Tracy-esque wristwatch, to the crowd-funding platform He had been hoping to raise $15,000 to manufacture them but instead brought in nearly a million dollars, making it the most successful project in the site's history. The 42-year-old head of the design firm MINIMAL is best known for his work on Microsoft's Kinect sensor (as well as the new Xbox 360), which struck a balance between boldness and utility that helped make it the fastest-selling consumer-electronics product ever. "Visually, I want to be disruptive," he says, "but if it's too shocking it won't sell." Wilson, whose résumé also includes Swingline staplers, Nike workout watches, and conference chairs for Coalesse, says he hopes now to turn his focus to medical products, including a new handheld device that instantly diagnoses coronary-artery disease. "I like to balance the lifestyle stuff with the stuff that nobody ever notices—except the people using it."
Biggest creative hero: Steve Jobs, great creative dictator and right-brain leader.
Most indispensable tool: My iPhone.
The one thing everyone should know how to make: A decision.
An everyday object that is perfectly designed: I've been sitting in the same Aeron chair since 1996. It's not perfect. Nothing is. But it has stood the test of time.
Dream project: An electric utility vehicle.
See the slideshow of Scott Wilson's work.
— *By Daniel Sieberg
Photograph by Matthew Monteith*
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