COPENHAGEN, Sept. 1 (Xinhua) -- Smart designs that focus on the greater common good took center stage at Copenhagen Design Week, which opened here Thursday.
Through exhibitions and installations in museums, city squares and beaches around the Danish capital, the event explores the latest in design in city planning, architecture, or interior decor.
Even as it aims to craft solutions for global challenges, such as urban overcrowding, or expanding access to education, it keeps the individual at the heart of its solutions.
A key highlight of the week is the Index Award, which was presented Tuesday, and which its organizers call the world's biggest design prize.
"We focus only on one kind of design, and that is design that improves people's lives," said Kigge Hvid, CEO of the Index Award.
"So, we focus on five categories relevant to people all over the world, and these are: body, home, work, play and community," she told Xinhua.
Funded by the Danish government, the Index Award grants the winner of each category a prize of 100,000 euros (about 143,000 U.S. dollars) . But the winning designs must document a "proven impact" on people's lives.
The See Better to Learn Better or VerBien project, for instance, addresses the problem that up to half of all children in some Mexican states need glasses, but wearing them often exposes the wearer to ridicule owing to local taboos, which makes it hard for them to attend school.
Thus, a design team lead by U.S. designer Yves Behar created stylish spectacles with a durable, two-part frame with different options for the top and bottom colors, where the child can mix and match the glasses they want.
The total cost of supplying each child is just 10 dollars, including an eye-test, custom lenses, frames, assembly, handling and shipping, the designers say. The scheme also secures work for spectacle manufacturers in Mexico, and is rolled-out in tandem with the Mexican government.
In all, it will cost Mexico 3 to 4 million dollars to build and deliver around 400,000 pairs of spectacles to Mexican schoolchildren per year, in future, the designers say.
Hvid said that garnering public investment is not a pre-requisite for an Index winner, but that "one of the ways to move the world forward is to make public-private partnerships."
"If you have to address educational issues, do not think by yourself and try and think you can solve it. Try to get together all the people who know something about this and are affected by the challenge," she explained, reflecting on VerBien's success.
That logic also motivated Chilean designer Alejandro Aravena whose Elemental Monterrey building project won first place in the home category.
Aravena aims to build 70 basic houses with bathrooms, kitchens and staircases, funded by state resources, but leave voids which will allow the homes' inhabitants to develop the rest of the house themselves, using colors, materials and style of their choice.
The development is intended for poor residents of Monterrey, a city in Mexico, which faces severe urban housing pressure.
Meanwhile, Design for Change an educational project designed in India, and which reaches 300,000 local schools, won the work category. And Design Seoul, a project that is restoring green spaces in South Korea's capital city, won the community prize.
On the complete other end of the design spectrum, the Swedish-designed Hovding bike helmet, which resembles a scarf worn around the neck but inflates around the head like a balloon when involved in an accident, won the play award.
The award received 966 nominations from 78 countries and regions this year. The designs were not always entirely original, but as Hvid remarked, "At Index, we do not think these designs are final solutions. They are important stepping-stones to move the world forward."
That is, a design can make an impact because it does something better, more cheaply, reaches a greater number of users, and is more sustainable.
That concept resonates with Design Week, which has brought together its various exhibits, conferences and public lectures under the theme "Think Human."
Local Danish design shown here includes prototypes for a building powered by biofuel generated from pig-manure; and an updated version of a 1970s three-wheeled bicycle outfitted with a trailer to seat passengers, and that is an environment-friendly alternative to city transport.
The week, which ends Tuesday, also features the Think Twice exhibit, where Danish design students create furniture from discarded items: a lounge chair crafted from a hollowed-out television standing on plungers used to clean lavatories, and another three-legged chair made from slices of stale baguette or French bread.
In fact, chairs are ubiquitous at Design Week. The aptly named One Chair a Week installation shows the results of a project that required Danish design-school students to craft a chair, from concept to manufacture, in just one week.
And another exhibit takes the famous No. 7 chair designed by Danish architect Arne Jacobsen, and shows how it is reinvented, in different shapes, colors and materials by Danish design school students today.
"The chair is a classic if you are a design student: you have to make a chair. It is also very Scandinavian. And when you have mastered the chair, then you are more-or-less an architect!" joked Tina Bjoern Midtgaard, Curator at Danish Design Centre, a knowledge hub for design.
"We respect that we all want beautiful objects (that are) specific on form and shape, and loyal to the old virtues... That is extremely important and that is what we are showing in many of these student works," Midtgaard told Xinhua.
But it is not all cheap and cheerful. An exhibit of 100 pendant lamps displays high-end creations by 52 masters of Danish design including Joern Utzon and Bjarke Ingels, spanning almost a century of Denmark's architecture and interior decor tradition.
And another prized exhibit is a chair by Mathias Bengtsson, which uses thousands of layered sheets of paper to create a sculpture without frame, joints or screw.