Designs' Praises Are Sung at White House
Cooper-Hewitt Museum Honors the Visionaries Behind the Elements That Shape Our World

By Jura Koncius
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 15, 2008

First lady Laura Bush's annual reception for winners of the National Design Awards always brings out a stylish crowd and challenges White House pastry chef Bill Yosses to create a dessert with sizzle. At yesterday's brunch, while waiters popped the Chandon corks for the nine 2008 honorees who planted, interacted, built and Googled their way to their awards, Yosses produced a blueberry panna cotta sprinkled with Pop Rocks.

Like Yosses, many of the winners of the awards, sponsored by the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum in New York, are cutting-edge creators who often work without public recognition.

"I'm a representative for people who have worked in back rooms for so many years," says Charles Harrison, the Lifetime Achievement award winner. Harrison served as an industrial designer for Sears for more than three decades. He created more than 750 products in his career, including sewing machines, hair dryers and a redesign of the View-Master.

Fashion Design award winner Ralph Rucci is a Harrison fan. "He has been creating these iconic images for us since were children," said Rucci, who established his label, Chado, in 1994. "Everything in the design world is important in what I do since I always try and consider the environments women are wearing my clothes in."

Winners Sigi Moeslinger and Masamichi Udagawa, co-founders of Antenna Design in New York, have created interactive installations for Haagen-Dazs and check-in kiosks for Jet Blue. "What we do is anonymous; we don't make it into the shelter magazines," Moeslinger says. "This is a nice recognition."

Others receiving awards include Michael Bierut of the New York design firm Pentagram, Scott Stowell of New York-based design firm Open, Seattle architect Tom Kundig, landscape designers Olin Partnership of Philadelphia and designer David Rockwell of New York's Rockwell Group.

Google received the Corporate Achievement award for transforming the way millions of computer users get information and rethinking "conventional notions of corporate culture and the workplace."

Paul Warwick Thompson, director of the Cooper-Hewitt, the Smithsonian's venue for historic and contemporary design, said the museum has had a 53 percent increase in visitors in the past two years. "There is a public appetite for design that was not the case five years ago," he said.

Bush, wearing a shimmery beige Carolina Herrera pantsuit, has a special interest in the Cooper-Hewitt, as daughter Barbara works in its education department. "Barbara has been interested in design since she was a child. We would wake up and she would be sitting at a glass coffee table cutting and pasting and drawing. She loves working at the museum."

The 150 guests mingled after the formal remarks and whipped out their cameras. Menswear designer Thom Browne and a friend, both wearing cutting-edge shrunken suit jackets with bared ankles, posed together on the red carpet on the way to the buffet.

"I look forward to this event every year to get to meet people whose works I've admired for a long time, and this is certainly no exception," Bush told the invitees. "This is the last one, so I hope whoever comes after me will invite you all next year to this event."

The awards were announced in May and will be officially presented at a dinner in New York in October.

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