A Decade In, Reflecting On DesignPhiladelphia

October 10, 2014 |  by  |  Vantage  |  ,

 

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130+ events during this years DesignPhiladelphia Festival | Photo: Design Philadelphia

DesignPhiladelphia is celebrating its 10th anniversary doing what it has done since the initial festival, in 2005: putting design ideas in front of a mostly agnostic public with highly engaging events that showcase the best of Philadelphia’s creative sector. Organizers say this world is 50,000+ people strong. The festival kicked off its “Decade of Design” themed celebration on Wednesday night with an “experiential” benefit and cocktail party held at the Fishtown headquarters of the digital design firm Bluecadet. It was the first of more than 130 events that will have Philadelphia design aficionados, professionals, and the intrigues crisscrossing the city now through October 17th.

The initial DesignPhiladelphia week of design, in 2005, largely featured design firms’ open houses. It mostly took place in Old City. This format seems, today, like a distant memory. This year’s schedule features tours, exhibitions, panels, film screenings, street happenings and hands-on events organized by galleries, boutiques, universities, associations, and firms. It’s a calendar crowded with opportunities to enjoy access to people and places most of us wouldn’t necessarily have access to on a regular basis.

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“Not a Vacant Lot,” reimagined the empty space at 313 S. Broad St. during the 2012 festival | Photo: Kevin Monoko, The Inquirer

But it is makers–the city’s large- and small -scale manufacturers–that are a big focus of the festival this year. “It’s a really diverse group coming together that are showing themselves to Philadelphia for the first time,” said DesignPhiladelphia director Hilary Jay. Makers weren’t as much of a presence during the festival’s first years. “It’s a bourgeoning industry in Philadelphia,” said Jay. “We have great talent no one even knows is here.”

The festival, now the oldest and largest of its kind in the country, has helped Philadelphia to mark itself as a burgeoning “design city.” “We didn’t know we were a design city 10 years ago but that has become abundantly clear,” said Jay. She explained that as the festival has continued to evolve over the years it has helped establish new networks for people within the design community, promoted growth in the creative sector, and enhanced Philadelphia’s reputation as a center for creative excellence and innovation.

One indication that the festival’s relevance to the city’s overall economy is being officially recognized can be read into the fact that this year the lead sponsor of DesignPhiladelphia is The Mayor’s Fund for Philadelphia.

“It’s always been exciting,” said architect Kiki Bolender, chair of the Design Advocacy Group, a collective of architects, planners, and other design professionals that has long pushed for stronger urban design in municipal projects. “But this year there’s an added element of possibilities and potential synergies due to the fact that the festival is housed at the Center for Architecture. You have advocacy groups all housed there–it offers the chance to join forces.”

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A pearl of design itself, Fairmount Park Visitor Center gets in on the action | Photo:DesignPhiladelphia

What is the highlight the festival each year? Bolender said it’s opening night: “Hilary gives the best party of the year. It leads to serendipitous interactions.” And more so this year: the striking Bluecadet offices, in a reimagined industrial building that’s in the shadow of the restored Quaker City Dye Works and up the block from the just opened La Colombe coffee emporium tells the story of a city embracing imaginative design. The events that follow, continuing until October 17, are meant to exploit the potential. “You see people in different settings for a week which results in new relationships,” said Bolender.

While the festival might seem like something created exclusively for and about design professionals and students, the fact is that design itself impacts everyone across the full spectrum of Philadelphia. It’s one of the things that Bolender mentions first in regards to the festival–the fact that the festival highlights just how much design matters, how it is not an exercise in elitism, in fact it touches everyone personally. Through design, she points out, “We’re rearranging the stuff of people’s lives.”

Jay shares the same perspective on the way the work celebrated during the festival impacts everyone directly. “Design is more than big art and buildings–it touches every area of our lives. We all make design decisions and engage in design activities every day. We design ourselves each morning. We travel on routes that have been designed–bike lanes, interstates–and work in environments that have been designed. Design is a thread that runs through all that we do.”

* * *

Note: The following are Hidden City editors’ picks for this year’s DesignPhiladelphia.

85 Years of Neon Signs

Saturday October 11th: 3:00PM – 5:00PM
Center for Architecture
1218 Arch Street

Hexamer Redux

Saturday October 11th: 11:00AM – 5:00PM
The Megalots
Emerald Street and E. Boston Street

Southeast by Southeast: Walking Tour + Concert

Saturday October 11th: 1:00PM – 5:00PM
Mural Arts’ Southeast by Southeast Storefront
1927 S. 7th Street

Camden Night Garden: The Harvest

Saturday October 11th: 6:00PM – 9:00PM
Northgate Park
Elm & North 6th Street, Camden NJ

Reality Capture

Monday, Oct. 13 (10 a.m.-12 p.m.)
320 Chestnut St., Carpenter’s Hall

Emergence of a Modern Metropolis: Philadelphia

Tuesday October 14th: 2:00PM – 4:00PM
Thursday October 16th: 2:00PM – 4:00PM
Center for Architecture
1218 Arch Street

For more information, including a full calendar of events, visit the DesignPhiladelphia Festival web site HERE. For additional programming focused on design and the built environment, visit the Center for Architecture web site HERE where you will find tours of the city, book signings, competitions, movie screenings and exhibitions year-round.

About the author

Maria Gorshin is a lifelong writer with twenty years experience writing about travel, leisure, tourism, and entertainment for clients around the globe. She recently served as the lead writer on an archaeology based children's animation series associated with the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. Previously, Maria contributed to the development of history-based attractions for a leading theme park company. Her first media position was with the Wall Street Journal. She is an enthusiast about all things New York, the city where she was born and raised, and Philadelphia, the city she is just now beginning to explore. She writes about NYC's past and present at CityGirlWrites.blogspot.com and is a frequent contributor to WestSideRag.com and UntappedCities.com.

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