Stephen Burks presents Shelter in Place at the High Museum of Art

Designer Stephen Burks has unveiled five prototypes, including podiums for digital devices and a screen that promotes privacy, in a retrospective exhibition in Atlanta, Georgia.

Developed by Burks at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, the Shelter in Place Project is a series of designs that explore new ways of interacting with the home in times of global crisis.

The Supports by Stephen Burks
The five prototypes include The Supports, which hold digital devices

The designs are among 50 pieces on display in a major exhibition of the designer’s work, also called Shelter in Place, at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art.

Burks describes them as “fun experiments to accommodate the everyday changes that this new way of life brought upon us”.

Spirit House by Stephen Burks
Spirit House is a miniature house for memorializing grief

“The Shelter In Place project is a direct expression of our lives during lockdown,” said the Brooklyn-based designer.

“It uses the framework of radical design to question traditional ways of living,” he told Dezeen.

The first prototype Burks created was the Spirit House, a miniature house that offers space to display photos and artifacts, as a form of memorial for lost loved ones.

The Ancestors by Stephen Burks
The ancestors are an abstract figure that symbolizes a form of belonging

Ritual is also a central element in The Ancestors, which takes the form of an abstract figure.

Created by the African-American designer to provide a sense of belonging, referencing the Afro-diasporic ritual of keeping symbolic statues at home.

“The concept refers to how these objects of often unknown origin hold immense meaning for a people who cannot trace their ancestry but who undoubtedly feel spiritually connected to pre-colonial African histories and ways,” Burks said.

Private Seat by Stephen Burks
Private Seat creates a protected personal space

Private Seat is a screen that provides separation from people and activities taking place around it – for reading, having private conversations, meditating or just being alone.

The supports provide stands for digital devices at sitting and standing height, while Woven TV offers a customizable frame for a large TV screen.

Woven TV by Stephen Burks
Woven TV questions the role of the TV screen

“We asked if there could be another way to engage with this black box, to make it come alive and reflect our consumption practices in the same way that the ‘recently watched’ tab on Netflix or YouTube indicates our digital preferences,” Burks said.

The High Museum’s exhibition surveys 10 years of work by Burks, who operated under the moniker Readymade Projects before rebranding his studio Stephen Burks Man Made.

The Shelter in Place project, which developed in response to discussions between Burks and curator Monica Obniski during the pandemic, takes center stage.

Shelters in place at the High Museum including the Broom Thing
The prototypes are included in the exhibition Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place

Other notable aspects of the retrospective include the Broom Thing, a tactile ‘environmental object’ made from 26 brooms, the characterful The Others lanterns and the woven Dala seats.

The collected works highlight Burks’ ongoing interest in combining industrial design with craft practices, particularly those specific to certain cultures and regions.

Shelter in place at the High Museum including The Ancestor and The Others lanterns
Ancestor appears next to The Others lanterns

He hopes to show how craft can play a role in “industrial and even digital contexts”.

“The goal of our work is to extend craft traditions into the future by posing challenging questions to both industry and society at large,” said the designer.

Shelters in place at the High Museum including the Spirit House
The Spirit House is next to woven furniture designs, including the Dala seat

“The global crises we have found ourselves in have had a lasting impact on how we see design and its role in society,” he added.

“We have entered the age of design by meaning. It is clear now that we all have a role to play in design’s social and ecological responsibility.”

Stephen Burks: Shelter in Place is on display at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from 16 September 2022 to 5 March 2023. See the Dezeen Events Guide for more architecture and design events around the world.

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