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Big Ideas: Columbus Design Week

 Michael Bongiorno Big Ideas: Columbus Design Week
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Michael Bongiorno, principal and senior designer at DesignGroup.

In the fall of 2012, the Center for Architecture and Design (The Center), in collaboration with the Columbus Chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Columbus), will promote and celebrate local design during its inaugural Design Week. Design Week 2012 is a festival about design and about all the ways that design appears in our lives. It will consist of a series of programs meant to educate and inspire, reveling in the unique role that design plays in Columbus. Design Week is part of idUS, the fall signature event for 200Columbus focused on the future of Columbus. Design Week’s mission is three-part: to foster an appreciation for the power of creative “design thinking”, to elevate expectations for what good design is, and to raise awareness of the importance of design industries to our local economy.

Where did this idea come from?

My wife, Sarah Bongiorno, and I have been talking about the idea of a Columbus Design Week for a number of years in parallel with our desire to pursue a UNESCO City of Design designation for Columbus. The idea of Design Week is not a new one, just new to Columbus. There are Design Weeks in several international cities, the most notable of which are Stockholm, Beijing, Helsinki, Berlin, Milan, New York and San Francisco, to name a few. A “perfect storm” of sorts enabled us to align our vision for a Columbus Design Week simultaneous with the vision of idUS and the 200Columbus initiatives.

What is a Design Week and why is it important?

The basic idea for Design Week is quite simple; a range of partnership organizations agree to stage an event or series of events around the same time frame to create collaboration and synergies within that period; it will provide an exciting snapshot of a very eclectic Columbus design scene. Design Week is an umbrella brand and works in partnership with a wide network of design organizations and representative bodies. These range from professional design organizations, not-for-profit design agencies, design companies and studios, design colleges, and suppliers to the design industries.

The importance of Design Week cannot be overstated. First, design is an enormous part of our local economy and yet, we believe, the general public doesn’t know this nor do they really know what designers do. We also recognize that there is so much talent in this town, especially within the built environment design professions, that are overlooked locally, or worse, passed over in favor of companies from the coasts.

Second, we are tired of hearing people say: “That is good enough, for Columbus.”

We believe, as a community, our standards for what is good are too low. Too much is just “good enough.” Great cities are never just good enough; they are great because there is a collective level of expectation and a sense of self that says “we don’t accept passable.” Our goal is to raise expectations. If you make people aware of what good design is, they will demand better. It will take everyone demanding more of everyone in order to realize the best design. This is a collective exercise.

Wouldn’t it be great if we are known as a design city for both physical and cultural reasons: Physically for our streets, our buildings, our parks, and our public art; culturally for our design industries, design schools, design institutions and design festivals? Not everyone has to be a designer but everyone should appreciate good design and everyone should certainly appreciate the value of creative thinking that is necessary to solve the complex problems of contemporary society. This is the dream.

Luckily, we have a Mayor that understands all of this and is supportive of Design Week and an economy built upon innovation and design industries. I have had a number of inspiring conversations with Mayor Coleman and he gets it and it is really energizing to be around someone at that level of leadership that sees these possibilities. It is also a testament to his ability to spot a good idea that when we discussed the idea of a UNESCO City of Design designation he immediately grasped what it implied: Columbus’ growth as a thriving destination city. Events like Design Week are the first step in the effort to collaborate together toward achieving the goal of this designation.

About the Center

When Columbus opened its Center for Architecture and Design two years ago, supported by AIA Columbus, it followed the lead of some of the country’s largest metropolitan areas – New York City, Portland and Philadelphia – which have opened design centers recently to bring together architecture and design professions with communities.

Columbus’ Center for Architecture and Design aims to enhance public understanding of architecture and the design of the built environment. People have a general idea about how great architecture and design affect the livability of our city, but the Center strives to increase that appreciation. The center offers programming for people of all ages to help them explore and understand our man-made environments. For example, programs like the successful Camp Architecture provide children the opportunity to take part in creative activities that enhance knowledge and shape ideas through the exploration architecture.

While Design Week is being run primarily through the Center, whose mission is to create moments of engagement between the allied design professions and the public, we’ve received a number of grants through AIA at a national and regional level. The hub of all Center activity will be its future home in a highly visible storefront space in downtown Columbus that will be announced shortly. The space will also serve as the home for AIA Columbus.

So, what are the events?

Design Week is a young event, but this year’s program shows just how much potential the week has and how, in the coming years, it can help enhance Columbus’ reputation for creativity and innovation.

Our kick-off event for the week, the CBUS Ideabook Exhibit and Opening Reception, will happen on Saturday September 29. The Ideabook project invited individuals and groups to share their ideas, dreams, visions and goals for Columbus’ future. 500 Ideabooks were letter-pressed by our good friends at Igloo Letterpress and are being distributed to a list of individuals that include architects, landscape architects, artists, entrepreneurial innovators, civic and business leaders, educators, community organizers and those in the culinary, fashion and other design arts. I won’t ruin the surprise and betray who the individuals are, but the list is stellar. Contributors can draw, write, editorialize, scribble, die-cut or paint their books – however they wish to express themselves – all in the spirit of big ideas. Singly the books represent one person’s or a small group’s views; collectively they offer an outward-facing vision of Columbus’ future. All the books will be displayed at a uniquely curated month-long exhibition at the Center for Architecture and Design during which the general public can browse through and muse over entrants visions for the future of Columbus. While this is not a competition, those books that “rise to the top” with content and ideas will be displayed at the idUS Space exhibition the weekend of October 5th – 7th. After The Center’s exhibition’s closing, all Ideabooks will be donated to the Columbus Historical Society for the enjoyment and curiosity of future generations. We will also produce a manifesto catalogue that will not only highlight the work of the Ideabooks but also serve as a call to action for the ideas contained within. We have held back some books just in case we discover more possible entrants, especially as a result of this article. If you are interested, please contact me at [email protected].

Our next two events will take place on Sunday September 30th. From 11am to 1pm, The Center will hold its 2nd Design Rolls, an architectural bike tour in and around downtown Columbus. Our first tour, a sellout, was a 9-mile loop held this Spring with stops in German Village, The Grange Insurance Audubon Center, Franklinton, the Arena District and the Short North. Look for the fall Design Rolls to surpass the spring event.

Following Design Rolls, from 3pm to 6pm, The Center hosts the CBUS Screening, a compilation of film shorts created by local filmmakers exploring unique perspectives of Columbus’s built environment. Unlike drawing or photography, the medium of film allows individuals to engage multiple senses using the dimensions of time and sound to portray Columbus’s physical environments in a fresh and unique way. The film screening will be hosted at the Gateway Film Center in the South Campus Gateway. If you are still interested in entering a short, visit the Design Week website for more information. This program is a joint collaboration with The Gateway Film Center, and Columbus Moving Image Art Review.

On Tuesday October 2nd, NBBJ in collaboration with The Center for Architecture and Design will host Fueling the Creative Economy: Columbus as a Design Incubator an event focused on future collaborations between the city’s business, art, and design communities. A panel discussion will consider how to fuel the physical and social infrastructure necessary to sustain these industries. Simultaneously, select area talent in the fields of architecture, interior, graphic, fashion, and product design will be invited to exhibit their work at NBBJ’s office. The program is a joint collaboration with NBBJ.

Two events will occur on Wednesday, October 3rd. First, AIA Columbus and the OSU Knowlton School of Architecture will host the free KSA Lecture Featuring Julie Snow, Julie Snow Architects at The Wexner Center for the Arts. The KSA lecture series invites prominent researchers and practitioners of architecture to present their work. These lectures offer a technical, cultural and theoretical understanding of the contemporary built environment. Julie Snow, FAIA, leads a studio-based practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and has been recognized with numerous awards including a 2011 AIA Honor Award for Architecture. Following the lecture, AIA Columbus and The Wexner Center for the Arts will host the AIA Columbus Design Awards. This ticketed event recognizes achievement and excellence in architectural design by Columbus architects and those within the boundaries of the AIA Columbus Chapter. Julie Snow, FAIA, will offer her critique of submitted projects, provide jury comments, and announce winners of 2012 AIA Columbus Design Awards. This lecture is a joint collaboration between AIA Columbus, the Knowlton School of Architecture, and the Wexner Center for the Arts.

On Thursday, October 4 Built In Cbus Live, the team behind Built in Cbus, is having a launch party and public happy hour. Built in Cbus will be screening a few short films that are behind the scenes tours of some of the most creative industries in Columbus. Doors open at 4pm and the screening begins at 5pm. Location to be determined.

Finally, on Friday, October 5th, The Center will host its 2nd Annual Celebration. This ticketed event runs from 7pm to 11 pm at COSI’s English Plaza and celebrates central Ohio’s rich built environment and design with a breath-taking evening view of the Columbus Skyline as its backdrop. Themed around vintage carnival, activities will include hair and makeup; photo booth; ice cream or dessert; upscale carnival games; caricature drawings; more. The event will feature the Hoo Doo Soul Band which returns for their second engagement for this event. After the event, guest may then wander over to idUS Space. idUS Space is a free multi-day, installation of innovative art, design, culture, and community that is the culmination of idUS. Features include interactive displays, immersive designed environments, and a party fit for a bicentennial celebration.

Other design-related events occurring concurrent with Design Week, while not official collaborators this year, include the International Interior Design Association’s (IIDA) Zero Landfill project and the Columbus Museum of Art’s 20th Century Design Fair – September 27 – 30. Falling just outside of Design Week this year (but sure to be included next year) is the Columbus Landmarks James B. Recchie Design Award Program happening at the Lincoln Theater on September 27th.

Design Week’s long-term goal is to raise public awareness of the impact that ALL design (graphic, product, interior, fashion, architecture, advertising, et cetera) has in Central Ohio. There are design institutions that are excited about future collaborations with The Center and future Design Week years. Design Week will be an annual event so if you missed out on getting involved this year, there will be opportunities to get involved in years to come. Our hope is to expand as our network grows and as more and more individuals and companies suggest and plan events.

Finally, I want to recognize that our organization is entirely volunteer-led. A group of smart, tireless, creative individuals from a variety of backgrounds, many of whom we are indebted toward beyond words, have poured their hearts and souls into this effort. They, and all of our sponsors, will receive due recognition during Design Week. If you are interested in helping out in some way either this year or next, please feel free to contact me.

We are excited for all of this and we hope everyone else will be too. For more information, visit Design Week’s website at columbuscfad.org/designweek/ and social media feeds (facebook, twitter) where you will find out more about events, partners and sponsors.

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