by Design

The Seattle Design Festival returns.

Seattle continues its march toward greatness in the ineffable but ubiquitous field of design. As we reported in January, the opening of the Center for Architecture and Design at Western Avenue and Spring Street gave a permanent home to four design-oriented nonprofits whose mission it is to educate the public and advocate for progressive practices in architecture and design. This month brings the Seattle Design Festival, a two-week span of public events, installations, exhibitions and panel discussions at dozens of sites across the city. Almost everything is free. And with the theme of Design Change, the entire festival is oriented toward direct civic engagement.

“We’re looking to include as many people and embrace as many contributions as we can,” says S. Surface, program director of Design in Public, the Festival’s primary planning organization. Surface says that DIP’s open call for programming was answered by a huge cross-section of the community, including students, professionals, city agencies, activists and designers, all of whom they tried to accommodate. Each applicant was expected to provide a venue, whether an office, gallery, private institution or public space. Thus the 14 days between Sept. 10 and Sept. 23 are crammed with close to 80 events around the city, from the Harbor Steps to the Frye Art Museum to Seward Park to the Mt. Baker Light Rail Station. Each presents a way to plug into the ongoing conversation about how thoughtful design can improve both the physical landscape and the human condition.

“There’s a sense of urgency around issues like climate change and social change,” Surface says of festival’s theme, “and it had the opportunity to be more lighthearted, like changing your clothes or a form of transformation or alchemy.”

Among the myriad events, Surface cites the Block Party, launching the festival in Occidental Park Sept. 10–11, as the most general and accessible, basically “a big, public-art weekend.” Another favorite is PARK(ing) Day, taking place around the world and in Seattle on Sept. 16 and 17, in which applicants approved by the Seattle Department of Transportation transform parking spaces across the city into public art spaces.

At the conference portion of the Festival, held at the Central Branch of the Seattle Public Library on Sept. 17, speakers from all over the US, Surface says, will address topics such as “economic justice and poverty through design, global issues around development, virtual reality, gender—all addressing how design can be changed or used as an agent of change.”

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