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For Rashid, the Future Is Nutopia

That's a lot of psycho-baggage for a $10 translucent plastic trash can -- the Garbo wastebasket is still Rashid's best-known product design -- to contain. But the designer pushed his argument at the Corcoran.

Why do so many people cling to the past? "It's this idea that somehow the past was better," he said. "It's not. It's better now."

Karim Rashid's design of a mosaic for the pool of the Semiramis Hotel in Athens, above. Rashid, below, dismisses conventional furniture as "a derivative of a derivative of a derivative." Right, his Ego Vase. (Above And Right: Courtesy Karim Rashid Inc.)

Rashid circled the stage, dressed as usual in a slightly rumpled white suit, soft-soled shoes and funky black-framed glasses. Most men in the auditorium wore dark jackets and ties. The clash of cultures appeared unresolved.

Three years ago, Rashid wore black on the cover of his first monograph. The brashness of the title -- "I Want to Change the World" -- drew as much commentary as the portfolio of designs. There was never a date certain for Global Style Liftoff. If "Evolution" tamps down the rhetoric, Rashid's enthusiasm is undiminished.

"The time that we live in is such a beautiful, poignant moment," Rashid said.

In the big picture, borders are disappearing, ideas are flowing and technology is offering opportunities to make the physical environment as exciting as the virtual world. Still, the real world has its gritty moments. As a frequent flier born in Cairo and traveling on a Canadian passport, Rashid has been searched and "interrogated perpetually" in the wake of Sept. 11, 2001. But his belief in Nutopia is unshaken.

"I have not only not changed my view," he said, "but I see an even quicker, stronger and more omnipresent engagement of the contemporary, of design, of technology, of beauty and of betterment."

Consumer products and interior architecture inevitably express the mood of their era. Rashid's designs record a pure strain of optimism. Technology is allowing him to cultivate pearls in shapes Mother Nature never dreamed of. He is designing a plastic kit house to be assembled in a day. He hopes for "smart" clothing that will respond to body temperature.

This summer, Rashid completed his first boutique hotel interior. At the 54-room Semiramis Hotel in Athens, colorful carpets, wallpaper and mosaics at the swimming pool have digitally generated designs, which Rashid proposes as New Age herringbone. Check-in can be accomplished by iris scanner, though no guest has yet tried. Electronic message boards outside each guest room are linked to a keypad so travelers may transmit messages to passers-by in the hallway. Instead of "Do Not Disturb," Rashid suggests, "Hello, I'm single. Please come in."

In an e-mail Wednesday, he fumed over the "banal," "antiquated" and "pompous" rooms in which he sometimes has to spend the night. While in Washington, Rashid stayed at the Cosmos Club.

"It was quite an odd old-school experience," he reported. "I am not comfortable in old places. I have nightmares."

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