Ne·ot·e·ny / nēˈät(ə)nē
noun, zoology
the retention of juvenile features in the adult animal.

Photo by Pippa Drummond

The past 10 years has seen a proliferation of “cute” furniture—design objects with exaggerated proportions and anatomical associations—big faces, thick legs, and rounded feet. Despite their various formal and material differences, these designs share a set of common principles. More than simply cute, they are neotenic— possessing childlike features that elicit an emotional response.

Exhibition

A/D/O’s “Member Spotlight” series continues with Neotenic Design, a month-long exhibition of neotenic furniture designs curated by JUMBO (Workspace member Justin Donnelly and Monling Lee). Select objects by Konstantin Gircic, Jaime Hayon, Faye Toogood, Sylvain Willenz, Chris Wolston and others will be displayed on a series of podia that have been custom created for the exhibition and mirror the recent trend towards neoteny in design.

As a species, human beings are subconsciously moved by big eyes, round heads, chubby cheeks, and pudgy extremities. It is widely believed that when we see them, a dark recess in our brains – the amygdala – releases a surge of nurturing affection, telling us that we are encountering a child and that we should conduct ourselves accordingly. Only, the amygdala is evolutionarily quite old and is easily fooled. We experience similar sensations whether we are looking at baby humans, baby animals, cute cartoons, or even inanimate objects like a table or a chair.

In 1872, Charles Darwin first speculated that the affection we feel for infants might be due in part to “inherited habit”.  In 1949, the Austrian zoologist Konrad Lorenz built on this idea, theorizing that juvenile features were “innate releasing mechanisms” to elicit nurturing and affection in the viewer. After cataloging the morphological differences between juveniles and adults of different animal species, Lorenz postulated a “kinderschema” that included “a relatively large head, predominance of the brain capsule, large and low-lying eyes, bulging cheek region, short and thick extremities, a springy elastic consistency, and clumsy movements.”

Photo by Pippa Drummond

Recently, the designers and brands have produced a host of childlike furniture and lighting. There is nuance in how different designers employ the principles of neoteny, but on the whole, neotenic furniture and lighting design includes three primary features: thickened forms; soft or rounded terminations; and monomaterials.  While these formgiving strategies are not new, taken together, they represent a new way of thinking about the objects with which we surround ourselves. If we see childlike characters in our chairs and sofas, perhaps it will result in greater sociality in the living room and the workplace.

DESIGNERS.

Ara Thorose

7M Chair

JUMBO

Neotenic Floor Light

Jaime Hayon | Parachilna

Aballs Table Lamp

Faye Toogood

Puff Ball Lamp

Loic Bard

Bone Stool

Haha

Vima Floor Lamp

Front / Moroso

Anomaly Seat

Pierre Yovanovitch

Baby Bear Armchair

Chris Wolston

Terracotta Furniture

Musing Selles

Set No. 5 Cocktail Table

Faye Toogood | Driade

Roly Poly Chair

Jonas Wagell | Menu

Concrete Lamp

FÄrg & Blanche

Succession Stool

ABOUT JUMBO.

Jumbo is a new design practice founded by old friends — Justin Donnelly, NYC×Design 2016 Emerging Talent Honoree, and Monling Lee, Adweek’s 2018 Rising Brand Star. Their studio is guided by an ongoing interest in reductivism and whimsy. As a result, Jumbo’s projects are both technical in execution and joyful in approach.

ABOUT THE WORKSPACE.

The Workspace at A/D/O is a creative environment that provides an essential array of resources to working designers. It’s a home for professional designers to research, test, create and exchange ideas with other artists. The unique concept space is part fabrication lab (with CNC Routers, Laser Cutters, 3-D Printers) and part co-working space.

NEOTENIC DESIGN.

On view March 5-28

Monday - Friday, 8:00am - 7:00pm
Saturday, 9:00am - 7:00pm
Sunday, 9:00am - 5:00pm

Exhibition closed on the following dates due to private events:

Friday, March 15 
Wednesday, March 20
Thursday, March 21
Friday, March 22