This year’s Winnipeg Design Festival, the ninth iteration of the citywide celebration of contemporary art and design, is focusing on firsts.
"No designer wants to copy anything," said first-time festival curator Jae-Sung Chon, who chose Proto — from the Greek protos, meaning first in time, original or primitive — as the overall theme for the fest, which kicks off Thursday and runs through Saturday.
Across a number of public installations and events across the city, designers will show off their own creative takes on that idea in everything from inventive everyday objects to creative residential spaces, showing off what Chon calls Winnipeg’s "frontier spirit."
He points to local institutions like The Forks, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s in-progress Inuit Art Centre as examples of dynamic, fresh thinking, and hopes the festival’s emphasis on emerging ideas will push more new design ideas to the fore.
The city can become a "living laboratory," said Chon, a member of the University of Manitoba’s faculty of architecture and the director of STUFF (Studio for Transformative Urban Forms and Fields).
In some cases, the lab work has begun, and the results are on display around the city as the festival nears. One festival program, Shade, challenged entrants to develop unique lampshade prototypes, and the winning designs are already installed in various Winnipeg cafés.
Another program, Pocket, asked designers to interpret "proto" to create exciting, interactive and accessible public installations. One winner was Joe Kalturnyk, who created an acoustic amplifier made of wood called the "Sonic Expander," on display at the Centennial Concert Hall.
For the Pocket challenge, local firm Architects at Play created FLATLINE, a plywood cabinet made of pieces with notches and holes that comes with three instructions: remove pieces, assemble with a friend, just play.
The challenge of coming up with a new prototype was a fun one, co-founder Paulo Castillo said. "We thought, what if we could build a line of furniture that was either flat-packed or origami-like?" The team pondered, and then they made it happen with help from Design Built, a local fabricator. The installation is currently up at IKEA.
And armchair designers can participate in the festival through the L_CITY exhibit at Polo Park on Friday, starting at 10 a.m., where they can help build an entire city out of Lego pieces. Volunteers will help connect different structures together, and all the pieces will be donated to charity.
Another first at this year’s fest will be the inaugural awards program, which includes prizes for "Young and Emerging" designers (30 years old or younger, with five years of practice or less), "Experimental and Madcap" creations, People’s Choice and Ex-Winnipeg, an award recognizing the body of work of someone trained or educated in the city now working elsewhere.
Each winner, to be announced at an event at the WAG Friday night, will also receive a trophy specially designed by Iqaluit artist Mathew Nuqinqaq, a member of the Order of Canada. The concept of a First Nations artist giving recognition for contemporary design also intrigued Chon, and fit with the theme.
In keeping with the spirit of spurring new thinking, the festival will also host a talk on design and change in the built environment, which Chon hopes will kick-start new approaches to building policy in the city.
The keynote speaker at the talk, hosted at Stantec on Thursday at 4 p.m., is Chris Higgins, a green building planner with the City of Vancouver. Higgins will discuss British Columbia’s Step Code, a building policy that aims to transition B.C. municipalities to a point where they produce as much clean energy as they consume. It’s a hot topic, especially during this week’s Global Climate Strike.
"It’s a global movement, not just Vancouver," Higgins said, adding, "The theme of a ‘prototype city’ and rethinking how we do things provides a tremendous opportunity (for Winnipeg)."
"We want to use Proto as an idea to illustrate a coming agenda," Chon agreed.
"We aren’t trying to achieve any huge milestones. We’re trying to start things."
A full schedule for the festival is posted at winnipegdesignfestival.net. The festival is put on by StoreFrontMB, a not-for-profit design initiative.