Children danced among a semicircle edged in pointed, geometric shapes that morphed in color between electric shades of pink and purple. Their steps elicited a tone or effect, so they strategized, calling out instructions to their new artistic partners to create an electronic anthem all their own.
A short distance away, strangers walked with lengths of string, linking their haunts and creating a visual fabric of their city experience interwoven with that of their fellow Seattleites. A group of affordable housing developers took suggestions for a new village built on community and cooperation (see related article).
On Aug. 20 and 21, Seattle creatives took over the flat, green park at the tip of South Lake Union for the kickoff to Seattle Design Festival (SDF), a week-long exploration of the craft that balances beauty and functionality through precision.
The theme of the twelfth design festival was “Connection,” said Annalee Shum, senior programs manager with AIA Seattle, the organization that put on the event. It’s something that has been lacking in many of our lives since the outbreak of the pandemic.
People were cut off from families, friends and simple sources of joy. Jagged societal divisions were laid bare between those who could stay safe and those who could not, those who would keep others safe and those who would not.
“There’s this detachment that people are experiencing through social distancing and public health concern. We identified the need to connect with people,” Shum said.
Beginning in January, a group of 10 core volunteers set out to create a design-focused, community-driven event that would invite people of all interests and abilities in. They created the Block Party but also events to explore Seattle’s unique neighborhoods. Couldn’t get time off of work or still don’t feel comfortable in crowds? Virtual lunch breaks allowed people to plug in.
The festival also aimed to make design accessible, cutting through the mystique to show the thought process and intentionality behind design choices. That openness to people outside the profession, letting people in to see the bones and sinew and systems with which they unknowingly interact, is something Shum — with her background in museum education — enjoys about the event.
“Our world is designed. Everything we interact with on a daily basis, whether that’s in our built environment, in our technology, a decision was made by someone and that is impacting our daily life,” Shum said. “It changes the way we move through the world, the way that we interact with one another.
“And it’s really hard to stop and think about the fact that these decisions are being made for us by someone, and so it’s an invitation for us all to join that design conversation so that we’re supporting designers in making the decisions we want to see in our designed reality,” Shum said.
Read more of the Aug. 31-Sept. 6, 2022 issue.