The Lexus Design Award was first launched in 2013 as an annual competition to support emerging designers with mentorship and funding, helping them to realise their vision for a better tomorrow. This year’s finalists addressed different social and environmental issues, each tackling their challenge in a unique way.

The 2021 winning entry is the work of Henry Glogau, a New Zealander based in Denmark, who devised the Portable Solar Distiller. “Winning was not something that I was that focused on,” says Henry, “but to be named this year’s winner is a real honour.” He entered the Lexus Design Award competition primarily for the experience of working with world-class mentors, followed by the opportunity to make his design vision a reality. “To be part of this whole process, from the mentorship all the way through to the development of my final design, has been really incredible, not just for the design but also for me as a designer.”

Graduating from the Royal Danish Academy with a Master’s specialising in Architecture and Extreme Environments, Henry’s aim with his design was to provide drinking water, natural light and energy from leftover salt brine for informal coastal settlements. He looked at the challenges and importantly, where there was an opportunity to utilise what was already readily available in these environments. “What was quite important for me was thinking about how we could work with our ecosystems instead of against them,” he explains.

During Henry’s Master’s programme, he travelled to Chile where he spent time working with an NGO helping to fight extreme poverty with transitional housing. “I started to think about a design that was more focused around the humans who actually live in these environments. It was these communities who have no access to resources who were the real motivation for me to try to address some of these issues,” he says.

Rather than designing a solution for a single social issue, Henry updated his design after guidance from the award mentors and set about creating a Portable Solar Distiller, which desalinates water, making it safe to drink. The sustainable and passive design was selected by this year’s panel of judges who critiqued each of the finalists on their ability to anticipate, innovate and captivate with imaginative solutions. “Henry took a simple concept and made it viable for communities,” commented his fellow finalists Gayle Lee and Jessica Vea, who created Heartfelt, a long-distance device to combat loneliness. Henry’s Portable Solar Distiller not only provided a streamlined and functional user experience, but also demonstrated a benefit to society as a whole.

Along with Henry, each of the finalists was able to evolve their designs with expert guidance from mentors drawn from a range of design fields. “The best advice I received was to be flexible and not to be afraid of starting your design from scratch,” says finalist Alina Holovatiuk, whose project InTempo centred on human emotion with an app and phone cover to reduce stress levels. “During this process I learned to take courage in trying something new,” adds finalist Kenji Abe, who designed CY-BO, a new form of cytologically-inspired packaging material. “The essence of our design was simplicity and low technology. With input from each of the mentors, we were able to change the design details and make it better,” says Intsui Design, whose project Terracotta Valley Wind focused on a cooling system for subway stations. “I was encouraged to approach future design with boldness,” adds finalist Irmandy Wicaksono, who designed KnitX, a set of functional, electronic textiles.

For 2021 winner Henry Glogau, finding multiple solutions in one user-friendly, transportable design was the key to success. “A lot of these issues, such as water scarcity, will become more prevalent issues the world will face in the not-too-distant future,” he stresses. “I'm passionate about how we can design for a self-sustaining future.”

Lexus strives to work with emerging talent in the field of design who demonstrate a shared vision for a better tomorrow – both for people and the planet. Henry and all the design award finalists have fully demonstrated their passion to create solutions and their ability to adapt and innovate.