The first lady joined the Smithsonian's Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum in hosting a luncheon in the East Room for winners of the National Design Awards. The New York City-based museum presents the awards, along with a design fair for Washington teens to meet some of the nation's top creative minds.
Richard Saul Wurman, who created the popular TED conferences for discussing technology, entertainment and design ideas, won the Lifetime Achievement Award. The first lady added that he was "quite dashing and sassy" after meeting him Friday.
Thom Browne, who designs the Black Fleece line for men and women by Brooks Brothers, was honoured for his fashion design that evokes the late 1950s and early 1960s. Winners were also named interior design, product design and other sectors.
Obama told a crowd of designers from companies like Facebook, Nike and New York's fashion scene that the design winners help improve daily life through their work.
"Every day, these visionary designers are pushing boundaries, creating and revealing beauty where we least expect it and helping us all lead healthier, more sustainable lives," Obama said. "From the clothes we wear to the technologies we use to the public spaces we enjoy, their work affects just about every aspect of our lives."
The first lady hailed the non-profit design firm Design that Matters in Cambridge, Mass., which partners with social entrepreneurs to address needs in developing countries, including a neonatal incubator made of spare car parts and a projector for nighttime adult literacy classes in Africa. The company won the design award for corporate and institutional achievement.
She also saluted Wurman, who is an architect and author known for his travel guidebooks. He began TED conferences in 1984 and they would introduce such innovations as the first Mac computer, the Segway and the first announcement of Google, among other creations.
Obama said Wurman has spent his career transforming information into knowledge to help people better understand the world.
"But in the end, as he put it," Obama said, "he does this work 'not for fame, fortune or money,' but 'just really to do something good.'"
After the ceremony, Wurman said he treasured the award and cried when he heard he was receiving the honour.
Atlanta-based architects Mack Scogin and Merrill Elam, a husband-and-wife team, won the top award for architecture. Scogin said it was a unique honour to receive at the White House but that design has historically been part of the U.S. presidency.
"Thomas Jefferson is still one of the great — he was not an architect — but he was one of the great architects in American culture," Scogin said. "His interest in the visual and making spaces is always to this day still original thinking."
The architects joined a teen design fair at the Smithsonian earlier in the day to share their careers with teens from Washington and New York City. Elam said there's great design around the world now, so the nation needs to cultivate its next generation of innovators.
"There's no reason that American design shouldn't be the most inventive," she said. "We have the most freedom of any place on the face of the earth, and our design work should just reflect that on and on and on."
Other winners included:
— Design Mind Award: Janine Benyus, a biologist and innovation consultant working to use biomimicry, looking to nature to create sustainable designs.
— Design Patron: Red Burns, an arts professor and chief collaborations officer for the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University for her innovations in communications technology.
— Communication Design: Rebeca Mendes, a professor in media arts at the University of California, Los Angeles.
— Interaction Design: Evan Roth, an artist who visualizes and records often unseen moments in public spaces and collaborated with Jay-Z on the first open-source rap video.
— Interior Design: Clive Wilkinson Architects, a Los Angeles-based firm whose clients have included Google, Disney and 20th Century Fox.
— Landscape Architecture: Stoss Landscape Urbanism, a Boston studio that works in both landscape design and urban planning.
— Product Design: Scott Wilson, founder of the Chicago-based studio Minimal that collaborated with Microsoft to design Kinect for Xbox 360 and who created TikTok watches for the iPod Nano.
Cooper Hewitt National Design Museum: http://www.cooperhewitt.org/
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