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Powerhouse Celebrates the Role of Design in Medicine

September 25, 2020

Image: Jessica Maurer

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The Powerhouse Museum has unveiled its new exhibition Design for Life, exploring the central role of design in the health and medical sector and celebrating the intersection between science and design, opening on Saturday 26 September 2020.

Design for Life will showcase design innovation in the creation of medical equipment, devices and tools that save and improve the quality of human life. Drawing on the Museum’s rich collection of medical and scientific material from the late 1800s to present day, the exhibition will bring together over 200 objects from the collection with the latest in medical and scientific product design.

Design for Life will explore developments in life saving respiratory devices that assist breathing and survey the ongoing development of face masks used in the health and medical sectors, presenting a selection of particulate respirators and surgical masks from the 1930s to present day. The exhibition will also explore developments in medicine and drugs which treat and cure diseases, and medical equipment focused on extending the body’s biological capabilities.

Highlight objects include: an example of the world’s first portable artificial respirator, an Australian innovation designed by Edward and Donald Both in the mid-20th century to help people breathe when their respiratory muscles had been paralysed; a ‘FLU OIA’ optical immunoAssay kit used to detect influenza A and B viruses on a nasal swab in 15 minutes; the world’s first high-throughput 3D bioprinting platform, the Inventia RASTRUM 3D Bioprinter, winner of the 2019 Good Design Award, designed by Design +Industry and Inventia Life Sciences, the bioprinter was created in partnership with NSW Woman of the Year Professor Maria Kavallaris AM and Professor Justin Gooding ARC; ResMed’s AirMini Automatic CPAP Device, one of the smallest and lightest CPAP devices on the market today; the Atomo HIV Self-Test from Atomo Diagnostics, the only at home HIV test currently available in Australia; and the award-winning Facett modular hearing aid, by Australian designer Leah Heiss for Blamey Saunders hears.

Nina Earl, co-curator of Design for Life said: “At a time in which our focus on healthcare has been heightened, this exhibition investigates the role of design within the production of medical technologies. Equipment once limited to hospitals and laboratories, has been reimagined as small-scale devices for use in the home and on the body.”

Powerhouse Museum Chief Executive, Lisa Havilah: “The recent COVID-19 pandemic has led the general public to be more aware than ever of advances in the medical sector. The Powerhouse collection has continuously tracked developments over the past 140 years and this exhibition holds examples of objects and research from previous pandemics such as influenza and HIV/AIDS. The Powerhouse is committed to supporting the latest in science and design innovation and we are excited to be presenting this new exhibition.”

Recent partnerships between the medical sciences and design industry have pioneered medical equipment that is increasingly portable and personalised, with these innovative products on display throughout the exhibition. Australia’s leading industrial design and product development consultancy Design + Industry will premiere their recent projects alongside global leader in sleep technology ResMed.

Design for Life was created in collaboration with collaboration with Sydney Design Week Creative Director Stephen Todd.


DESIGN FOR LIFE 26 September 2020 – 31 January 2021



Sasha Haughan
0405 006 035

Kym Elphinstone
0421 106 139