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Can young designers change the world?

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published May 01, 2021 5:00 am

To survive in 2021, people had to learn to pivot.

But if you’re Lexus, how do you pivot to something even more world-changing than their luxury, state-of-the-art cars?

How about sustainable packaging ideas? Machines that offer hugs? Musical de-stressing phone cases?

What about electronic textiles that play sounds?  A device to desalinate seawater while producing natural light and energy? Or a terracotta cooling system that uses train winds to cool off subway stations?

Those were the entries from finalists in the ninth edition of the Lexus Design Awards. The six finalists – selected from 2,079 entries submitted from 66 countries – came from Japan, Indonesia, New Zealand, the US, and China. What do they have in common? They all presented innovative ideas outside of the regular design challenges of Lexus.

Every year since 2013, Lexus looks outside its company to find fresh new talent and ideas — things that can change the world, and embody the three Lexus principles: Anticipate, Innovate, and Captivate.

The finalists are provided expert mentoring, a rare opportunity to hone their vision and ideas into something workable, and the six final prototypes were discussed at the Lexus Design Awards 2021 Grand Prix, which was streamed live from Tokyo headquarters.

In addition, the six finalists are invited to Milan Design Week 2021, received up to US$25,000 each to cover prototype production costs, and their prototypes will be exhibited at the Lexus Exhibition Space.

This year’s awarding took place online, of course. Returning judges Paola Antonelli, senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design of New York's MoMA, and Simon Humphries, who heads Toyota & Lexus Global Design, were joined by young Chinese architect Dong Gong and Greg Lynn, an influential American architect and CEO of robotics company Piaggio Fast Forward.

The young entrants were guided through their two-month design process by professional mentors including Joe Doucet, Mariam Kamara, Sabine Marcelis and new addition Sputniko!, whose innovative video and multimedia installations address technology's impact on society.

The six finalists were:


Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea (New Zealand and Tonga), whose Heartfelt project was a heart-shaped, gently vibrating device that also uses pulsating colors (red and yellow) to simulate a beating heart “that reimagines being present in an isolated world,” allowing you to digitally send a hug-like sensation to another person. 

 Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea developed Heartfelt to reflect the human heartbeats of our loved ones, staying connected during the pandemic.

The designers thought it would help people connect with those hospitalized during COVID, where family members can’t be physically together. Mentor Sputniko! said: “I think this project is very relevant, especially in the pandemic we're living in. So I think a lot more people would understand the pain and the problems that this team is really talking about.”

Terracotta Valley Wind

Intsui Design (a Chinese group based in Japan) developed its Terracotta Valley Wind using an age-old terracotta brick technique to harness train-induced wind in subway stations as a cooling system. It’s called muscatese – where terracotta pots of water are placed outside homes’ windows, allowing the warm breeze to cool down as it passes through.

 Intsui Design, a Chinese design group based in Tokyo, whose Terracotta Valley Wind project used terracotta clay as a natural cooling agent utilizing wind in subway stations. The Intsui Design members are Yilei Lyu, Chenkai Guo, Baohua Sheng and Yu Zhang.

Intsui envisioned stacking the porous clay tiles in aerodynamic rows in a hot subway setting, allowing rushing air to pass through, with valves to allow water contact with tiles and allow cooling evaporation.

They haven’t tested it in a real subway yet, but mentor Kamara said, “I find the sheer simplicity of this so appealing. It just really resists all the bells and whistles, which is really hard to do within the 21st century. It's an ancient idea of natural cooling that has stood the test of time.”


Alina Holovatiuk (Ukraine) developed Intempo as a stress-reducing tactile smartphone case that uses goal-oriented games and tasks to help people head off panic attacks. Research shows such attacks affect the brain’s amygdala, causing a surge in adrenaline and raising blood pressure and heart rate.

InTempo works by focusing your attention away from anxiety triggers, allowing you to tap along with a music track, rewarding you with a growing, traveling dot on the back screen – kind of a hi-tech fidget spinner.

 Ukraine’s Alina Holovatiuk developed InTempo as an app and phone cover to aid people facing emotional stress and panic attacks in public spaces.

Said mentor Doucet: “I like the problem she's tackling, just the largest mental health issue out there; no one ever talks about it, and to have such a simple elegant and joyful solution to it.”


Kenji Abe (Japan), whose Cy-Bo reimagined packaging materials as reusable, cell-like pieces that can be assembled in various ways, as packaging, blankets, lamps, educational toys, even clothing. The snowflake/cell shapes can be easily snapped together via automation assembly — a solution he came up with during the mentoring process.

 Japan’s Kenji Abe developed Cy-Bo, a cytologically- inspired packaging material that can transform into various shapes and is infinitely reusable and rearrangeable.

Marcelis commented: “He just completely floored everyone with this assembly machine, all of a sudden, which is really the golden key to this project. So now it's something that can really be rolled out as a material and not as a laborious, hand-assembled idea.”


Irmandy Wicaksono (Indonesia, based in the US) created KnitX, a 3-D printed electronic textile that has multi-modal gestural, auditory and tactile functions. Originally, he proposed a fabric keyboard with layers of conductive knits and interface circuits that could trigger musical notes.

His design was portable, could even be worn as a scarf. But in the mentoring process, he shifted to a musical carpet with thousands of pressure-sensitive pixels — something triggered by dance and rhythm, like in the movie Big.

 Indonesian Irmandy Wicaksono’s KnitX merges electronics, textiles and musical interfaces in a tactile fabric.

Wicaksono said, ”I have a vision of using just everyday objects that we have already and imbuing them with functionality so we don't need more.” The judges agreed this could have further applications.

Portable Solar Distiller

Henry Glogau (New Zealand, based in Denmark) imagined a portable solar-powered water distiller that can be adapted in many communities facing water shortages. Henry traveled to Chile in 2019 as part of his master’s studies, visiting areas where water sources were unreliable and unsafe. His goal was to harness the unlimited solar power and seawater of such environments to create a local solution.

 Henry Glogau’s Portable Solar Distiller provides clean drinking water from polluted water or seawater, using sunlight. Merging local resource production with community architecture, this low-tech solution also serves as a shaded gathering place.

He came up with a foldable, lashed bamboo design upon which a hooded rainwater-capture feature could be spread out to 2.4 meters, desalinating 18 liters of potable water a day.

And the winner is...

After the judges and mentors gave their final thoughts, they broke off to make their final decision. And the winner was… Henry Glogau.

Through the mentoring process, Henry realized the lamp design was limited, so he shifted to a simple, strong and deployable version that could use cheaper local materials, adding, “I see this as something that can be hacked and plagiarized and recreated anywhere, using accessible materials which the community might find.”

The foldable, backpack-ready water collector can also double as a large shading umbrella, spread between buildings, or used as a cooling enclosure. Judge Gong was won over: “I liked that you replaced the light in the dark space with a place of shadow, which is also very crucial and necessary for the local weather.”

Lexus International general manager of global marketing and PR Brian Bolain offered his final thoughts: “Looking back on our history, Lexus created the Design Awards in recognition of the power that design has to work toward building this better global future, and its ability to really bring people together toward a greater shared vision. We’ll be really watching all of you as you pursue your dreams and work towards your own brighter future.”

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