May 23, 2014

Seattle Design Festival: Design Rumble

The fourth-annual Seattle Design Festival (presented by Design in Public and AIA Seattle) doesn’t start until September, but the plans for it are going full-speed ahead. Last Friday, around 130 architects, contractors, designers, and creative minds gathered at LMN Architects for the SDF Design Rumble—an event to generate ideas for nine large-scale installations for public display in Pioneer Square’s Occidental Park during the festival’s opening weekend. This year, the theme is “Design in Motion,” an open and ambiguous subject that allows designers to encompass both literal and figurative ideas of movement into their work.

Each of the nine planned installations has a theme ranging from science to transportation, to information. The groups each include a local contractor—such as Krekow Jennings, Method Construction, and Schuchart Dow—which is donating time and materials, as well as creative partnership, for the installations. In addition, an activity partner relating to the overall theme or concept of each installation will help drive the purpose or vision for the final product. (e.g., the activity partners for the transportation them are the founders of Hub and Bespoke bike accessory shop, and for the body group it’s Tyson Cecka from Parkour Visions.

The Design Rumble lasted for two hours as groups of attendees rotated to the different contractor–activity partner teams and sketched out installation ideas. At the end of the mini-charrette, the team leaders chose their favorite designs and attendees signed up to work on the installation that interested them the most.

Afterward, we caught up with Nicole Tsen Lew, designer at SKL Architects and chair of the 2014 Seattle Design Festival Committee to chat more about the new approach for this year’s festival.

1. The Design Rumble is new this year to the Seattle Design Festival. Why did you think that it needed to happen?

This is the Design Rumble’s inaugural year. With the Seattle Design Festival growing (now in its fourth year) and with increasing interest in participation, we recognized this as an opportunity to engage a broad audience of designers, contractors, and even members outside of design fields. We wanted to open the block party installations up to the Seattle design community—but how? Initially, we thought of hosting a competition—designers are used to competing—but in the end, we decided on an approach that would foster community spirit. That way, the installations would be the result of a true collaboration, which is what the Seattle Design Festival and Design in Public do—provide opportunities to work together to celebrate design and the shared design process to create a better city.

2. What do you see as the advantage of this format?
The Design Rumble was really meant to shake the process up. It would make collaboration necessary on all levels, and allow interested designers of all fields, contractors, and activity partners come together to create the ideas for this year’s block party installations. It was, and still is, an experiment, and we are happy that the design community embraced this idea and ran with it!

3. Why did you decide to pair up contractors with activity partners?
 The contractors are all generously donating materials and their time to build the installations. The activity partners brought the program to inspire the designs. We wanted to give both of these groups a voice in the design process. By pairing the contractors and activity partners and giving them the ability to choose their favorite ideas from the sketches they received, we knew they would be comfortable with building and creating programs for the installations.

4. In what ways do you think this year's theme will influence the installations differently than last year?

Design in Motion is a really far-reaching theme. We can build on the success of last year’s theme, Design in Health—addressing issues of transit, walkability, bikeability, mental and physical health—and expand it to technology, digital media, kinetics, space. It’s a really dynamic theme that encourages both the people and designs to be actively in motion. As with last year’s installations, we want them to be engaging, tactile, and fun, whether you are a designer, builder, or festivalgoer.

5. What are you hoping to see from the participants as the process moves along?

I’m sure the Festival committee is not alone in eagerly anticipating the results, which is why we’ve been encouraging participants to post their process photos to #SDFrumble. The installations will be an essential component of the block party weekend of the festival as a showcase of what’s possible when you bring together Seattle’s talented designers.

 More than 100 designers, architects, contractors, and design enthusiasts gathered for Seattle Design Festival's first Design Rumble competition, participating in a mini charrette to come up with potential ideas for the festival's installations. 
 A selection of sketches from participants.
Photo credit: Trevor Dykstra.

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