Within the massive turbine hall of the Sydney Powerhouse, something is taking off. Last November, two historic aircraft were taken down from within the Powerhouse to make way for a new installation. Designed by architectural firm TRIAS, four hanging periscopes now levitate in the cavernous hall. Allowing visitors to see each other across multiple storeys, this major architectural commission signals a change in direction for the Museum of Arts and Applied Sciences (MAAS), of which the Powerhouse is a part, and forms the centrepiece of the 20th Sydney Design Festival, which runs from March 2-11.
In a break from the past, this year’s Sydney Design Festival focuses on the processes and philosophies of designers, rather than previous iterations which highlighted the objects and outcomes of contemporary design. In the words of Anne-Louise Dadak, Program Producer (Applied Arts) at MAAS, “it has been a total refresh.”
From the curatorial focus of the festival to the place of the Powerhouse within the program of events, this year’s festival is looking to the future, both of the festival and design itself.
“A lot of the other transformations were trying to set up for what could this festival be in the future,” noted Dadak. “What could it look like and also what is the whole point of it? And that's why this year in particular we're a bit more critical of what is design.”
This core focus of the festival is on show at the Common Good exhibition. Curated by Keinton Butler, who has previously worked with the Tate Modern and the London Design Festival, the exhibition focuses on the connections between local designers in Australia and those working across the Asia-Pacific who are facing shared issues of climate change, sustainable community collaboration and responding to disasters.
Dadak expanded on the reasons behind the curatorial decisions taken by MAAS and the Sydney Design Festival team.
“We are facing a lot of critical issues in society, [and] rather than glazing over them and looking at just beautiful outcomes of design I think this festival is really talking much more about process and design thinking as opposed to design as a product, or design as a physical outcome.”
This change in thinking can be seen in the difference in the theme this year. While the last festival in 2016 was organised around the theme, Make or Break which highlighted the material qualities of design, this year’s program is structured under the banner, Call to Action. Developed out of consultation with the festival advisory board, the theme aims to tie the disparate events together and to generate critical thought, rather than just celebrating design. Both local and international designers will be giving keynote presentations at the Powerhouse and sharing how their work engages with these vexed issues. Some of the speakers include architect David Gianotten of OMA, who recently oversaw the design of MPavillion in Melbourne, as well as Zhang Ke of standardarchitecture studio, who won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture in 2016.
Reflected Dadak, “we weren't that interested in showcasing things in isolation but to have the methodology of what people are doing” on display.
Making use of the Powerhouse as a venue for these talks and the discussion that they will generate, the Powerhouse will be open for free until 9pm during the festival and entry to some exhibitions is discounted at night.
Dadak sees this as an opportunity to both provide a casual space to debrief and a familiar location to inspire further exploration.
“We're now trying to use the museum as a base, as an anchor so there is a place where people can navigate from and then move out into the public programs as well.”
Events that are part of the Sydney Design Festival are dotted in various locations across Sydney. These include visits to designers’ studios to hands-on workshops.
For Dadak, the events outside of the Powerhouse was where some of the most exciting programming could occur,
“I'd take a risk on all the public programming. It's always really dynamic because you're getting insight into people's practice or studio.”
There really is something for everyone at these events, from working with clay to questions around how to design financial products.
Ultimately, highlighted Dadak, “the festival is a way for the museum to express its intention and what its role should be so it should be a place of critical thought and discussion and debate and it isn't just about displaying beautiful things.”
To find out more about the Sydney Design Festival head to the online program which can be found here https://sydneydesign.com.au/2018