Discovering the unexpected, with designer Vicky Featherston Tu

by Saturday, August 4, 2018

There is great value in leaving room for the unexpected when travelling.  One of my most memorable travel experiences was completely unplanned.  My husband Julian and I were on an extended trip in Europe and while in Spain we stumbled upon these abandoned sites leftover from the 1992 Seville Expo.

Exploring the buildings and grounds was like wandering through a dystopic film set – eerie yet beautiful.  Walking around you could see the hopes, dreams and aspirations that the architects and designers had for their creations.  Some of the ideas were wonderfully ambitious and you could feel the energy that they once had.

But seeing some of the derelict structures left decades after the event made me think about the impact of design and the responsibility designers have for what they leave behind.  A few buildings had been converted into offices, but most structures had little purpose.

More recent world expos have learnt from projects like Seville and incorporated future use into their planning and design.  So I believe it’s important that designers try to have a longer term view of what they contribute.

Rainforests in Borneo

I was first introduced to the wonders of Nature by my mother-in-law Mary Featherston.  Mary has a vast collection of natural objects that she and my late father-in-law Grant collected over many years.  I was a young, impressionable design graduate when I first met and worked with Mary.  I enjoyed natural environments, but Mary showed me how to look at Nature, really look – closer and deeper.

Several years ago, Julian and I travelled to Borneo where we visited a primary rainforest that had an incredibly rich biodiversity.  By taking the time, crouching down on the ground or lifting a leaf, we discovered many hidden marvels that are often overlooked, like tiny wineglass mushrooms, unique cobweb patterns, or the texture of seed spores on leaves.

The patterns and structures that you see in nature have developed through an adaptive evolutionary process over a long period of time.  As a designer, you simply can never replicate what Nature achieves, you can only be inspired and try to understand what you’re looking at.

Spending time at the macro level in a rainforest was hugely rewarding for me.  That sense of discovery and wonder informs my work as a designer – whether it is an exhibition, an interactive installation, or a project with children.  I’m constantly thinking about what engages people, what moves people, what makes them question.  I hope my work in some way encourages that.


About Vicky Featherston Tu

Vicky is a designer who has worked on numerous exhibition and interior design projects at major cultural institutions.  She has a specialist interest in public interactive experiences for people of all ages.  Her latest design project at Heide Museum of Modern Art has a personal connection – ‘Design for Life: Grant and Mary Featherston’ exhibition runs until 7 October, 2018.