Featuring work by such noted designers as Isamu Noguchi, Marcel Breuer, Charles and Ray Eames, and Philippe Starck, among many others, Living in Motion: Design and Architecture for Flexible Dwelling brings together over 150 objects, as well as films and more than 500 illustrations, from the realm of architecture and design to address flexibility and mobility in contemporary domestic life. Organized by the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein, Germany, Living in Motion will have its only U.S. showing at the Institute of Contemporary Art.

Furniture, houses, and objects that incorporate flexibility and multi-functionalism have long been associated with the modern and the contemporary. Living in Motion explores these phenomena in design and architecture while also locating them ethnographically and anthropologically. The exhibition traces flexible modes of living back through centuries of design and across a variety of cultures, with objects ranging from early European stair-ladders to northern African tents to South American hammocks.

Today’s rapidly changing living conditions and technical advances have made domestic flexibility even more relevant. As our homes, workplaces, and lifestyles are subject to greater variation than ever before, contemporary architects and designers aim to adapt our living environments to these new parameters. Whether an Uzbek yurt or a cell phone with GPS technology, designs that combine flexibility, mobility, and multi-functionalism make it possible to take parts of our home with us wherever we go.

Living in Motion is divided into six thematic sections that classify the objects according to their capabilities: Transporting, Assembling and Disassembling, Folding and Unfolding, Adapting, Combining, and Wearing and Carrying. Transporting encompasses a wide range of objects, many of which offer a new approach to how we move our possessions and ourselves.

Examples from this group include Mathieu Mategot’s tea wagon (1950–55), a 19th-century portable desk, the model of an Asian houseboat, and Joe Colombo’s “Mini Kitchen,” which includes a refrigerator, burners, a can-opener, workspace, and storage, all on wheels.
The fact that objects that can be disassembled also serves the purpose of easier transportation. Examples from Assembling and Disassembling include Danish designer Kare Klint’s “Colonial Folding Chair,” a knockdown wooden armchair with a sling seat and sailcloth back, and Buckminster Fuller’s “Wichita House.” Folding, like disassembling, is another way to save space or facilitate transport. This principle is demonstrated by Charles and Ray Eames’ folding screen, by traditional partition screens, or in a camper by Eduard Böhtlingk that features a roll-up awning which extends to create an external “living room.”

Adapting comprises objects that can adjust to changing physical needs, such as Joe Colombo’s “Multichair,” consisting of two cushions and two leather straps that combine to make variable seat and lounging options. Examples from Combining integrate various functions in a single object, such as a sofa bed, or David Greene’s “Living Pod,” a domestic capsule from the 1960s that melds house and its inventory into a new unit.

Wearing and Carrying includes individual domestic devices that can also be worn on the body or carried, such as mobile phones, a jacket with integrated telecommunications equipment by Philips and Levi’s, or a simple umbrella as a portable roof.