In the privacy of our own homes, it is often that we want to be cocooned by the familiarity of our own pleasures, our own identities. When we shop, though, our requirements of space change: we want to aspire – to be in an environment that promises an embellishment of our own identity through material. As consumers, what will we aspire to be in five years, 10 years, 20? Because retail spaces so inherently reflect the transience of desire, they must cheat trend and constantly evolve to remain visually pertinent.

When selecting our jury members, we were conscious to choose designers we felt could properly represent a forward-moving narrative.

At the Frame Awards, this kind of forward, intuitive design is what we’re interested in seeing on our Retail Spatial panel. So, when selecting our jury members, we were conscious to choose designers we felt could properly represent a forward-moving narrative, one heavily focused on technology and sustainability: from page left, enter in Swedish designer Anny Wang.

Portrait by Mishael Phillip

Wang – who was born in 1990 – graduated from HDK, the School of Design and Crafts at the University of Gothenburg four years ago, and she has been busy at work ever since. Today, she works with designer Tim Söderström in their Copenhagen-and-Malmö based studio, Wang & Söderström. At HDK, Tim studied architecture and Anny studied spatial and furniture design. During evenings and weekends after school, they stayed in the studio, teaching themselves the freedoms and parameters of 3D software.

Now, this software is Wang and Söderström’s main creative tool, and their 3D renders, animations and objects bring a unique perspective to the revered classicism of Scandinavian design. In Anny’s words, they bring ‘weirdness’ to the game with their digital edge. Still, they consider themselves true fans of traditional functionalism – Wang is quick to celebrate that design in Northern Europe has an inextricable, honest relationship with craftsmanship. The convergence of the physical and digital realms is a major theme in their work: by working in this intersection, they defy the ordinary.

How will our material world continue to leave its imprint on us as design leaves the physical realm?

Their designs ask viewers to question their own sight, and by extension, the visible world in which we all exist. As our spaces change, so do our own identities and perceptions. In retail, specifically, consumers and designers are asking what it truly means to ‘have’ and to ‘own.’ Projecting further, how will our material world continue to leave its imprint on us as design leaves the physical realm? Frame wonders, and we ask that Anny Wang do some prophesising for us.

As one of the youngest jury members for the 2019 Frame Awards, your fresh eye in the industry is a valuable asset. You’ve worked creating retail spaces yourself, like for Wang & Söderström's recent display window project at Selfridges. What elements do you hope to see in the submissions?

I want to be surprised, as I’ve worked in the industry before. Hopefully, there will be spaces with a lot of identity and care for details – it would be nice to see concepts with a long-term and sustainable perspective in both material choices and the overall idea. For example, perhaps materials shouldn’t be based purely on trends that run the risk of feeling outdated after a while. Conceptually, it’s important to keep in mind the way the customers will shop and move in the space. The spaces should challenge the norms and branch from traditionalism.

Photo by Andy Price

Perhaps materials shouldn’t be based purely on trends that run the risk of feeling outdated after a while

Exploring sustainable materials in building and product design is a cornerstone for the industry now. How would you describe the sustainable practices you utilize in your own work?

Working with digital tools allows us to make our processes more effective. By rendering realities and being able to test and modify things on a detail leveled before taking physical form, we are provided with a sustainable workflow. The advantage of projects living digitally is that they can forever be modified, adjusted and renewed.

I think of one project we worked on with the small clothing brand WE ARE THE FACES. The project came about after a discussion we had with the founders  – we wondered what the next step would be for organic clothing and the fashion industry. Isit a possibility to go beyond the throwaway culture?

So, we added a digital layer to the clothing. We had a visionary idea that, instead of buying new clothes all the time, you would only need to update the digital software. We then created ‘trackers’ that would sit on the clothing, and through an augmented reality app, the animations would appear on your body. On the runway, the visitor could see the clothing – and through a tablet and screens, view the hidden layer. If the software updated to new personalized animations, we thought perhaps we could suppress the urge of wanting to buy new garments, and you would feel that you wearing something new.

Photo by Andy Price

Are you working on anything now that challenges a problem, that reflects the values of design being a public movement?

One project we are currently working on which is directly targeted to a specific global issue is Array, an object that will be presented during Dutch Design Week 2018. It questions our use of energy. It is part of the larger project ‘What Matter_s’, where 10 designers and 10 material researchers have been paired up to explore 10 materials  – we have worked with nanowires as a material.

Nanowires can be lab-grown as unique forest-like structures, enabling them to absorb a large amount of energy. They assist in the creation of solar cells and other electronic devices, and are a highly efficient and cost-effective material for use in harvesting renewable energy. Like nanowires ability to absorb a great amount of light from the sun on a small surface, this object will be able to absorb the excess energy generated by people and equipment, and store thermal energy within a small volume.

The PCM material inside the object can absorb surplus energy and keep the room temperature comfortable. The geometry of the object offers more surface to absorb and release from, potentially reducing the energy used by air conditioners or radiators. With this project, we want to encourage renewable energy harvesting and show the great potential in nanowires as a material, as well to create a design object with a function towards the goal.

Your SANO x Wang Söderström exhibition opens at the end of this month in Copenhagen. How do your 3D printed sculptures work in line with SANO’s spatial installation?

In the past year, we have printed a lot of things – over 300 items. In this exhibition, modern technology meets a 250-year-old military bunker. With the contrast to this historical building, our surreal sculptures will provide an interesting experience; as for SANO’s spatial installation, they will address the space in another part of the three-room bunker, creating a transition between each room. In the ‘dark and unnkown’ room, the wall and ceilings are three metres thick and there are no windows, so it gives them – and us – a chance to play a lot with perception and light.

Images of the 250-year-old military bunker housing the SANO x Wang Söderström exhibition. Courtesy of SANO.

It’s an area of Copenhagen called Refshaleøen, as far as you get towards the sea, a big industrial area where the ocean begins. There are a lot of things happening there right now – the new Noma restaurant is there, and the Copenhagen Contemporary recently opened up. I think it’s due to the fact that a new bridge was built a few years ago, so there’s much more accessibility.

How do you see sustainability and technology working together in the future in your own field? What can other disciplines learn from such a tech-involved practice?

I think architects and designers have a great potential route ahead, as augmented reality and virtual reality technologies are getting more and more advanced. The ability to work in a 1:1 scale digitally and to render a virtual experience before actual manufacture can help avoid future mistakes once the object or space has been already been built.

AR and VR can work as a platform for trying out new things that might impossible to do in real life – it can enable us to learn more about how we humans interact with space, colours and our own cognitive behaviours. This is where the field of science and psychology play an interesting role in design. We can learn more about how we work and our spatial experiences, to, in the end, create better places.

Maybe not everything needs to be built

Whether design is intended for therapeutic, social or artistic purposes, the possibility to create immersive architecture and spaces are enabling sustainable choices. Now, some spaces need only to live digitally. Maybe not everything needs to be built.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.