Drafting Peace at the Cooper Hewitt Museum in New York

Five questions exploring the role that design, in the broadest sense of the word, can play in the pursuit of peace. create peace is the name of an exhibition that opened in June at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York and is open to the public until September 4, 2023. The name chosen by curator Cynthia E. Smith with Caroline O’Connell is self-explanatory, while the selection of projects on display aims to draw as much attention as possible to what it might mean to “craft peace”.

create peace continues continuity with a series of exhibitions focused on issues of humanitarian aid and international cooperation that Cooper Hewitt has hosted in recent years. Its goal is to raise people’s awareness of the most pressing issues facing the world and humanity today; as Cynthia E. Smith explained in a press conference: “As America’s museum of design, Cooper Hewitt promotes public understanding that design can be a force for good. Peacebuilding and peacemaking are dynamic processes that involve engagement, understanding of context, building trust, communication and iteration. This exhibition will examine the role of design in building peace and resilience – proposing that peace is not abstract and distant, but can be local, tangible and even possible”.

The exhibition encourages critical reflection on today’s global dynamics: social, environmental and economic inequalities and ongoing conflicts. create peace examines what could be concretely achieved if society took into account the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, which promote peace, justice and strong institutions by eliminating hunger and poverty, improving health and education, and building more resilient cities and Demanding infrastructure, fostering innovation, taking action on climate change and more. Showcasing 40 proposed projects, initiatives and interventions in 25 countries, the exhibition features objects, models, scale installations, maps, images and films.

The five questions asked in the exhibition are: “How can design support safe, healthy and respectful environments?”, “How can design address the root causes of conflict?”, “How can design encourage creative confrontation?”, “How can design embrace truth and dignity in the search for peace and Justice?” and last, “How can design help in the transition from instability to peace?”
The answers remain open and are partly specific, e.g Greening Africa App created to track institutional and community efforts to combat deforestation, or harassment card, created by four Egyptian women suffering from sexual harassment. In other cases, they are purely artistic and aesthetic in nature, such as wobbly wall, three pink seesaws placed by Rael San Fratello on the border between Mexico and the United States. Then there are speculative works of concrete power, such as BLUE: The architecture of UN peacekeeping missions, which sees the United Nations camps not as closed, makeshift fortresses, but as catalysts of local development, providing services and being used even after the peacekeepers have left. A final project of note, before leaving it to our readers to discover all the works on display, is rock garden by Lebanese architect Lina Ghotmeh: a 13-storey mixed-use tower built in Beirut to give physical form to the suffering and challenges the city has endured since the war.

Francesco Cibati


Exhibition design by Höweler + Yoon Architecture.
Exhibition graphic by Common Name.
Images courtesy of Cooper Hewitt. Smithsonian Design Museum


How can design support a safe, healthy and respectful environment?
• Body Mapping, Democratic Republic of the Congo
• Christmas sales, Colombia
• Island Tracker, South China Sea
• Papers, please, globally
• Social Emergency Response Centers, Canada, Serbia, United States (Arkansas, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Georgia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon)
• Starting block Elzenhagen, Netherlands
• Teeter Totter Wall, US-Mexico border
• The Adventures of Daly Graphic Novels, Tunisia

How can design address the root causes of conflict?
• Astropolitics: depletion of terrestrial resources and the cosmic future of capitalism, moon and earth
• CONIFA, more than 60 teams worldwide
• Hate Speech Lexicons, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Libya, Mombasa, Nigeria, South Africa, South Sudan, Sudan, Yemen
• New World Summit Rojava, Rojava (West Kurdistan)
• Peace Pavilion, India)
• Positive Peace Index, 163 index countries
• Rare pottery, China Inner Mongolia
• Regreening Africa, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia
• Stalled!, United States
• Universal Declaration of Human Rights posters, United States

How can design lead to creative confrontation?
• Art the Arms Fair, United Kingdom
• Black Lives Matter Street Mural Census, United States
• Black Lives Matter Harlem Street Mural, United States (New York)
• Extinction symbol, global
• Maps (Bullet Rug Series) Series), Colombia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mexico, Spain, USA (countries where shell casings were collected)
• World Peace Symbol, Uruguay

How can design embrace truth and dignity in search of peace and justice?
• Conflict Kitchen, United States (Pennsylvania)
• My Ancestors Garden, United States (South Carolina)
• Paper Monuments, United States (Louisiana)
• The Chronic, South Africa
• The murder of Halit Yozgat, Germany

How can design help in the transition from instability to peace?
• BLUE: The Architecture of UN Peace Missions, Mali, Liberia (field research)
• Casa Azul, Venezuelan migration routes in South America, Central America and the Caribbean
• Designing for Dignity, Norway
• HarassMap, Canada, Egypt, Mexico, South Africa, Switzerland, Turkey
• Ideas Box, Australia, Bangladesh, Burundi, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, France, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Turkey, United States
• Jordan River Peace Park, Jordan, Israel
• Korea Remade, Korean Demilitarized Zone (DM Z)
• Recoding of post-war Syria, Syria
• RefAid, Albania, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Haiti, Hungary, Ireland, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, North Macedonia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States
• Workshop for Safe Passage Bags, Greece
• Stone Garden, Lebanon