At the end of his first year at the Royal Danish Academy of Architecture, Pavels Hedström took part in a class trip to Japan. Hedstrom is a 25-year-old college student who admires Japanese culture and aesthetics even though he has never visited Japan. Hedstrom grew up in rural Sweden, where his mother Dana introduced him to Zen meditation as a teenager and became a fan of manga and anime. While in architecture school, Hedstrom was drawn to Japanese design principles and how they apply to a world and profession increasingly beset by the climate crisis. Hedstrom was particularly influenced by Metabolism, a postwar Japanese architectural movement that imagined future cities as natural organisms: ephemeral, self-regulating, and governed by biological rhythms of growth, death, and decay. Influence. In 1977, Kisho Kurokawa, one of the founders of Metabolism, wrote: “Human society must be viewed as part of a continuous natural entity that includes all animals and plants.”
It was the summer of 2016. In Tokyo, Hedström and his classmates visited Kurokawa’s 1972 Nakagin Capsule Tower, one of the few Metabolist buildings. It consists of modernist, demountable cube-shaped modules, each prefabricated according to the dimensions of a traditional Japanese teahouse. But the Metabolist future never quite arrived. (The tower fell into disrepair and was demolished in 2022.)
The class then traveled to the small island of Naoshima to visit the Chichu Museum of Art, a largely underground concrete building designed by Tadao Ando. The museum is dedicated to the work of three artists – Claude Monet, James Turrell and Walter de Maria – and lets in light through geometric openings in the ground. Hedstrom sees the building as a revelation: a series of almost religious encounters with concrete, sky, land and sea. “It feels like I’ve reached the end of architecture,” he told me recently. The museum is amazing. Hedstrom loved being there. But he didn’t feel good at all. “My heart is bent,” he later wrote.
Part of Hedstrom’s reaction stems from the familiar, frustrating feeling many young artists feel when encountering a shocking masterpiece: Who am I trying to trick? But there is also an uneasiness that is unique to his generation. Hedstrom wants to build a better world. At the same time, architecture is deeply involved in what is wrong with the world. About one-third of global carbon emissions come from the construction industry and the energy used to heat, cool and operate buildings. Humans are paving and surrounding the earth at an unimaginable speed. The International Energy Agency estimates that the global building stock is expected to add 2.6 trillion square feet of new construction between 2020 and 2060, equivalent to spitting out a New York City every month. In the brutal beauty of the Chichu Art Museum, Hedstrom experienced a combination of creative and political futility. “I was somehow overwhelmed,” he recalled. “It just took my breath away, really. I started to feel sick.”
After returning home, Hedstrom began to panic. He is an avid climber and enjoys martial arts and aerobics. But his body abandoned him. “It’s a new sense of emptiness that I’ve never felt before,” Hedstrom said. “I didn’t think I was going crazy, but I felt like I was going to collapse. It was like the end of my abilities.” He moved back to Sweden to live with his musician brother Kaspars in Malmö. Hedstrom spent much of his time drawing and listening to music. When he tried to meditate, his ears filled with tinnitus. “I’m really afraid of silence,” he said.
Hedstrom now attributes his illness, which lasted a little more than a year, to anxiety about the future of the planet and the delusion that he might be able to save it. “Does the world want to be saved?” Hedstrom asked me once. “You know, that’s a big problem.” When he returned to architecture school, he changed his approach to design, first looking for balance in his own body and later looking for ways to help humans become closer and more connected to other species. Equipment for a fair life. He channels his fears into ideas that lie somewhere between solutions and warnings about the future. “It’s very, very close to something to do with fear and the end of the world,” he told me.
Hedstrom’s work is both unsettling and alluring. He calls his process “interesting work around really scary things.” He summons characters from his childhood – incredible machines – and plunges them into an ecologically and socially troubled future. “It’s really about reprogramming our minds through the way we connect with nature,” he said. “I guess that’s what I’m trying to achieve.” Hedstrom considers most architecture to be “a membrane designed to protect us and separate us from the rest of nature.” His intention is exactly the opposite: he wants non-human life to be so close that there is no escape. One of his installations is a hooded PVC suit and mask (based on the gear worn when cleaning oil rigs) that a man shares with a colony of mealworms. The warmth and humidity inside the suits breed worms that can digest certain forms of plastic, which can then be eaten as a source of human sustenance. “It’s like shrimp popcorn,” Hedstrom said. “very good.”
Another Hedström prototype, the Fog-X, is a thigh-length outdoor jacket that converts into a shelter and, with the help of lightweight poles, into a sail-like device that collects drinking water from the air. App provides real-time data to track fog and clouds. In February this year, Fog-X beat more than two thousand entries and won the Lexus Design Award for Global Young Designers. “Pavels is sort of like this very romantic, ‘Dune’-like figure in the way that he and his work present itself,” said the South African architect who designed the 2021 Serpentine Pavilion and mentored Hedstrom Sumayya Vally told me. “It’s dystopian but also very, very real.”
Paola Antonelli, senior curator of architecture and design at the Museum of Modern Art, serves on the Lexus Prize jury. She situates Hedstrom’s work within the tradition of speculative and radical architecture that began in the 1860s. Groups such as London’s Archigram and Florence’s Archizoom envision walkable cities, plugged-in cities and the “continuous city”, a city freed from architecture itself. They explore the future in order to confuse the present. “Ornate handcrafts—very formal elegance—capture the eye and therefore the heart,” says Antonelli. “Pavels, fresh out of school, was the son of all these designers.”
The urgency of the climate crisis makes Hedstrom uncomfortable with the idea of doing speculative or abstract work. “You can easily put it aside,” he said. “I wanted to combine speculative design with practical advice. It’s very important to me that everything I draw should work.” One afternoon in June, I flew to Copenhagen and Hedström spoke with His wife, Mai Sakamoto, lives there with their young daughter, Komo. Mai Sakamoto is a Danish-Japanese fashion designer who also studied at the Royal Danish Academy.
Hedstrom has a tendency to get lost in his own thoughts. We agreed to meet at Nørreport metro station, but there was no sign of Hedstrom and he didn’t answer the phone. I stand in the sun. The city is like an advertisement for European civilization. Danish families pass by on cargo bikes. Tourists got drunk on the cruise ship. But the weather was extremely hot. It has not rained in almost three weeks. The national drought index is 9.7 (out of 10). I started walking in the direction of Hedstrom’s apartment. When we met on the street about half an hour later, Hedstrom was flushed and sweating. He recently shaved his shoulder-length hair into a crew cut. He was wearing a blue tank top, black shorts, black boots and a blue bucket hat. To find me, he borrowed a huge bicycle, the size of a pony.
In the 1990s, researchers Anthony Dunne and Fiona Raby at London’s Royal College of Art used the term “critical design” to describe a design that seeks to challenge rather than affirm the way we live today. field of manner. Dunn and Raby, who now run the Design Reality Laboratory at New York’s New School, observe that radical design largely fell into disuse during its heyday in the seventies as market capitalism triumphed. “Reality immediately shrinks and becomes one-dimensional,” they wrote. “There are no longer any other social or political possibilities for design to align with other than capitalism.”
However, the 2008 financial crisis, the subsequent decade of political instability, and the inherent damage caused by accelerating climate change have reinvigorated the field. Moving away from the techno-utopian urban landscapes of the past, practices such as London-based Forensic Architecture, Toronto-based Lateral Office, and Milan- and Rotterdam-based Formafantasma use the methods and principles of design to reconsider the impact of war on Arctic timber supply chains and future urban planning. crime. In a 2018 article about teaching young designers, Dunn quoted science fiction author Ursula K. Le Guin, expressing his hope that they would become “a reality of a larger reality ists” rather than just problem solvers of the Western capitalist model. consumption. “What if design education’s focus on ‘making things real’ perpetuates all that is wrong with current reality?” he asks.
Hedstrom invited me to visit Worms for Mass Consumption, an installation featuring his mealworms, which he calls the Inxect suit. The show takes place in a small community theater in Sydhavn, not far from the city centre. In a dark space, three metal trays containing mealworms hang from the ceiling. The worms, bathed in pink lights that flicker on and off, are feasting on Styrofoam that Hedstrom and his collaborators conned from a local recycling plant. The ammonia smell was unbearable and creepy. “It was a big conflict at the beginning,” Hedstrom said.