Designing for Change – Melbourne Design Week 2021

Words by Rose Onans
Photography by Kristoffer Paulsen, Tom Ross, Tobias Titz, Kristoffer Paulsen, Paul Barbera, Josh Geelen & Sean Fennessy

With Melbourne Design Week (March 26 – April 5) in full swing, over 300 events, exhibitions, workshops, panel discussions and installations are taking place throughout the city, as well as online and across Victoria more broadly. Uniting the diverse program is the theme ‘design the world you want’, which co-curator Timothy Moore describes as an inherently optimistic provocation that reflects “the urgent role that design has in improving all facets of society”.

This year’s theme was intended to stimulate design thinking on the world as it as and as it could be. Rising to this challenge, the program is wide-ranging and encompasses the conceptual and the speculative, the pragmatic and the reflective. Throughout the diversity of responses, however, collaboration between designers and also across disciplines is a running thread.

(Top) A New Normal. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen. (Middle and bottom) Homemade. Photo: Tom Ross.

Melbourne Design Week 2021 was launched atop 190 Little Collins Street in the Solar Pavilion designed by John Wardle Architects as part of A New Normal, the initiative spearheaded by Finding Infinity that seeks to transform Melbourne from a consumer to a producer by 2030. A New Normal, which received the Melbourne Design Week Award presented by Mercedes Benz, sees 15 leading Australian architects putting forward projects that will constitute key parts of this ambitious transformation.

In its collaborative nature, A New Normal exemplifies the Australian design industry’s capacity for working together to engage with complex issues – a tendency that Timothy explains is at the heart of this year’s Melbourne Design Week. “Inherently, Australian design, and particularly Melbourne design, is not really about an aesthetic: it’s an attitude. It’s all about collaboration, it’s about working together, it’s about uplifting each other, and that’s really reflected in this Design Week with so many amazing group shows,” he says.

(Top) Joost Bakker keynote address. Photo: Tobias Titz. (Middle left) A New Normal. Photo: (Middle right) Friends & Associates. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen.(Lower left) Friends & Associates. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen.(Lower right) Broached Recall. Photo: Paul Barbera. (Bottom) Friends & Associates. Photo:Kristoffer Paulsen.

Where some events on the program, such as A New Normal, look to provide defined solutions to current and emerging problems, others, like Homemade by urban designer Andy Fergus, architect Lisa Gerstman and urban strategist Alexis Kalagas, focus on what is happening in the present. In responding to the theme and its related pillars of ‘care, community and climate’, Homemade explores housing innovation in Melbourne. Considering citizen-led alternative models to traditional property development, Homemade is both an exhibition and also a forum for further discussions on how inhabitants can take an active role in shaping the future of their city.

At the other end of the spectrum, A World We Don’t Want by Friends & Associates is a speculative exhibition that articulates the importance of considering the negatives in order to enact the positives. Furniture, objects and lighting by designers including Flack Studio, Dale Hardiman and Damien Wright are used to embody a vision for a dystopian yet imminently possible future, thereby throwing the world we do want into sharp relief.

(Top left) Joost Bakker keynote address. Photo: Tobias Titz. (Top right) JamFactory. Photo: Josh Geelen. (Middle left) JamFactory. Photo: Josh Geelen. (Middle right) Fresh Eyes. Photo: Sean Fennessy. (Bottom) A New Normal. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen.

These exhibitions and events are just several among an extensive program, which is complemented by three additional curated programs: Melbourne Art Book Fair, Melbourne Design Week Film Festival, and Waterfront. But as much as Melbourne Design Week exists in its scheduled program, it is equally about the incidental moments that happen in between, explains Timothy. “The unexpected interactions, the connections, the joy of gathering physically together after a year of being apart – it’s an incredibly important part of Design Week, especially this year,” he says. “We’re really looking forward to getting people out into the ateliers and the studios, reconnecting them with the city in different ways, and helping showcase what designers are already doing here in Melbourne.”