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     Volume 4 Issue 69 | October 28, 2005|

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Designer Gear for the Apocalypse

Just in time for the wave of catastrophes plaguing our fragile planet, some top designers unveil a series of aesthetically pleasing objects that could be handy in dangerous situations, from the banal to the apocalyptic. Running from Oct. 16 to Jan. 2 of next year, "SAFE: Design Takes On Risk" is the first design exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art since the institution reopened last year in its overhauled, expanded midtown Manhattan digs. In morbidly appropriate fashion, SAFE opens in a season chock-full of potential dangers. SAFE presents sturdy equipment, beautifully designed for disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes, as well as for less weighty catastrophes. The 303 pieces in SAFE cover six categories: shelter, armour, property, everyday, emergency and awareness.
Some protect us from the trivial danger of embarrassment (Otohime, which muffles bathroom noises with the electronically generated sound of a toilet flushing), while others could help us survive a shipwreck in stormy seas (a Sea Shelter life raft with a step below the surface of the water that makes it easier to clamber aboard). The LifePort Kidney Transporter, which eliminates the old method of transporting kidneys in a cooler. By pumping cold fluid through the kidney, the technology doubles previous storage life and offers new hope to the tens of thousands of Americans awaiting kidney transplants. Some products are simply for safety. The Phillips Head Protection System, a motorcycle helmet that tries to mediate head-meets-road trauma by dissipating rotational forces with a polymer membrane that slides over a carbon-kevlar shell. When it comes to design, modernism exalts an economy of means -- an object should perform its function with maximum efficiency and minimal waste. Aesthetics certainly come into play, in the form of clean lines, geometric shapes and organic forms. SAFE shows we can have our emergency energy bar and eat it too -- design can be simultaneously innovative, effective and elegant. SAFE serves as an inspiring and ultimately uplifting catalogue of human ingenuity. Such efforts slowly create a safer environment for humans. With crack teams of designers on the case, we could all rest a little easier than we thought.

The Karryfront Screamer

The Karryfront Screamer by Karrysafe keeps your belongings safe by sounding a 138-decibel alarm if a thief tries to snatch the bag away.

The Global Village Shelter

At MoMA, safe design doesn't mean picking something in beige that goes with the wallpaper. Directly inside the entrance to the exhibit stands a paper home that could withstand the huffing and puffing of the breathiest big bad wolf. Two people can assemble the fire-resistant Global Village Shelter in 15 minutes, unfolding it like a giant work of origami. Used last year in Grenada to house survivors of Hurricane Ivan, the Shelter's laminated paper and polypropylene construction can resist fire and withstand winds up to 80 mph, while providing refuge from the elements for 12 months at significantly less than the cost of tents or other shelters.

Work Gloves for Animals

Not every exhibit item is a lifesaver. The miniature frog respirator and prairie dog work gloves in the Safety Gear for Small Animals exhibit are presumably meant to deliver more metaphorical impact than practical benefit. Such displays of whimsy help lighten the mood at what could have been a horror show of our darkest fears. Designers don't try to keep only humans safe; animals need help too. That's why Bill Burns, director of the Museum of Safety Gear for Small Animals, has designed these work gloves to protect prairie dog paws from unnecessary abrasion.

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