Curiosity and Connection – Melbourne Design Week 2021
Melbourne, VIC, Australia
The Australian community embraced Melbourne Design Week 2021 with enthusiasm, showing an elevated appetite for design as a source of creative inspiration and a meaningful agent of change.
Over the past five years, Melbourne Design Week has built a culture of curiosity and connection. Sharp industry insights have consistently engaged the community in diverse design thinking, speculative ideation and responsive output – yet 2021 carved new value in the context of last year’s trying times. Simone LeAmon, Curator of Contemporary Design and Architecture at the National Gallery of Victoria, reflects on the forces at play and the creative triumphs in response to the 2021 theme: ‘design the world you want’.
With impacts to supply chains, production and delivery of services, many creatives were forced to pivot and re-address their practice – and the Design Week program wholly benefited from this active reflection on both their own practice and the world at large.
“The extraordinary circumstances of 2020 enabled an opportunity to reflect on the time and city we live in,” she observes. “I believe, in many ways, people in the design community were already thinking about the theme.” With impacts to supply chains, production and delivery of services, many creatives were forced to pivot and re-address their practice – and the Design Week program wholly benefited from this active reflection on both their own practice and the world at large.
The ideas-led event saw works addressing three thematic pillars of care, community and climate, harnessing design as an opportunity to speculate about alternative objects, systems and processes while placing outcomes in a broader discourse of design thinking. “We’re positioning design as cultural production and looking at it through the lens of creativity,” comments Simone. The impressive range of more than 300 events over 11 days gave visitors an opportunity to discover new spaces and practitioners in their own city – in particular, engaging with Melbourne’s thriving designer-maker culture and an increased program of cross-disciplinary and collaborative projects.
Artist-led spaces in suburbs such as Coburg, Preston and Fawkner invited visitors to observe an array of small-scale presentations available for purchase, building a marketplace for designers and makers and revealing the public interest in purchasing locally made, collectible pieces.
“We witnessed a lot of studio production as industrial capability slowed down,” she remarks. “Many designers had time to work on projects in lockdown that they may not have otherwise pursued.” Artist-led spaces in suburbs such as Coburg, Preston and Fawkner invited visitors to observe an array of small-scale presentations available for purchase, building a marketplace for designers and makers and revealing the public interest in purchasing locally made, collectible pieces.
Crafts, Crossovers and Collaborations curated by JamFactory, Broached Recall by Broached Commissions and Wonderstruck by One Two One Two were particularly notable, displaying diverse works accessible to a broad audience. “A new exciting demographic of collectors are interested in design work,” reveals Simone. “The NGV has continued to acquire work for the Collection from Melbourne Design Week, which is attracting top talent,” she adds.
A high level of collaboration was visible this year, with many practitioners working together to share ideas and capacity – a testament to the creative spirit of the city.
A high level of collaboration was visible this year, with many practitioners working together to share ideas and capacity – a testament to the creative spirit of the city. “We often speak of design as solving problems, but it also allows us to dream, speculate and imagine things we may not otherwise dare to,” muses Simone, who suggests this side of design must be actively championed.
A New Normal by Finding Infinity exemplified these aspirations, engaging a number of leading architects and designers, including John Wardle and Clare Cousins, to imagine a sustainable future for Melbourne. The propositions overtook a top floor and rooftop of an inner-city building and ranged from solutions for potable water, electric cars, to reconciling the energy grid. The standout presentation of installations, talks, models and interventions engaged visitors in speculative futures of the city – a powerful reminder of the realities of climate change and the demand for innovation, earning the exhibition the Melbourne Design Week Award presented by Mercedes-Benz.
Over the course of the week, Simone personally attended nearly 40 events across the city. Future Food System by Joost Bakker, a self-sustaining temporary home built along Birrarung Marr, was a particular highlight. “We all left wanting to commission Joost to create our own sustainable living environment,” she laughs. RMIT’s lecture series in the Capitol Theatre showcased exceptional new talent, while the Business of Design Forum: MedTech Futures by Creative Victoria highlighted the interface of the fast accelerating med-tech industry with design, driving industry engagement and economic opportunities. The Waterfront program in Gippsland was a regional highlight, with crossovers to Melbourne’s extensive Open House program.
The curiosity that drives Melbourne’s thriving design culture was truly celebrated in 2021, with high interstate participation and attendance further positioning Melbourne Design Week as Australia’s premier design event. “Melbourne Design Week belongs to the city now,” Simone asserts. “Melbourne is the custodian and designers are taking agency and contributing in significant ways, activating the city through a collective will to engage.”