The most impactful design and architectural events that made a comeback in 2021

The year that was – STIR rounds up design and architectural fairs and festivals that made a powerful comeback after delays and challenges of the years devoured by the pandemic.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Dec 09, 2021

The global design and architectural industry thrive on collaboration and communication. During the last two years or so, when the pandemic hit full swing, indoor confinement became the new normal, physical events took a back seat, and digital attendance became mandatory, resulting in intense knock-on effects on the industry, especially on design fairs and festivals. This year, however, some of the most anticipated fairs made a refreshing, resilient and powerful comeback, visibly better and stronger than their previous editions.

STIR rounds up the best design events that made an impact this year, from the London Design Festival to Milan Design Week’s special edition “Supersalone” and more, all carrying a message of hope, endurance, and a steadfast commitment to creativity and innovation.

1. STIRring Together: Best of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021

  • Obsidian Rain, suspended from the ceiling of the central pavilion at the Giardini in Venice | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Obsidian Rain, suspended from the ceiling of the central pavilion at the Giardini in Venice Image: Courtesy of Cave_Bureau
  • Overview of the Arsenale | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Overview of the Arsenale Image: Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Running from May 22 – November 21, 2021, the 17th edition of the Venice Architecture Biennale wowed with its mixed format of physical and virtual programmes, curated by architect and scholar Hashim Sarkis. “We need a new spatial contract. In the context of widening political divides and growing economic inequalities, we call on architects to imagine spaces in which we can generously live together,” said Sarkis, perfectly encapsulating the theme of the biennale, which was delayed twice before because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The theme, “How will we live together” inspired a robust participatory outline and multi-scaled dialogue via exemplary country pavilions, design and architectural exhibitions, talks and technology led events that lit up the city of Venice. STIRring Together, a multi-part series spanned the course of the decorated programme, highlighting inspiring ideas from the international exhibition, the national pavilions, co-habitates and collateral events as poignant and stirring conversations.

2. STIR at Supersalone: Salone del Mobile Milano 2021 will map resilience in design

  • Forestami, a planned forest of 100 trees runs from the entrance to the insides of the fair, as one of its sustainable strategies | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Forestami, a planned forest of 100 trees runs from the entrance to the insides of the fair, as one of its sustainable strategies Image: Andrea Mariani
  • The 'Dior Medallion Chair' Exhibition at Salone del Mobile 2021 | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    The 'Dior Medallion Chair' Exhibition at Salone del Mobile 2021 Image: ©Alessandro Garofalo

The highly anticipated 59th chapter of the Salone del Mobile.Milano made a powerful comeback this year, with a refreshing new hybrid format uniting the physical event with a digital one in Milan, Italy. Rechristened as “Supersalone”, the international design, furniture, and architectural fair took place from September 5-10, 2021, outlined by perseverance, safety, design transversality, innovation, cultural exchange, seamless digital experiences and a commitment to sustainability.

With renowned Italian architect Stefano Boeri as curator and Maria Porro as the first-ever woman elected as President, Milan Design Week 2021 championed inclusivity in design with 423 brands and 50 independent producers displaying their wares across four carefully planned pavilions, an exhibition traversing 170 projects from 48 design schools from the world over and another showcasing 110 ADI’s Compasso d’Oro award-winning chairs, talks and discourses held with and by some of the most influential figures on the creative scene today, as well as 200 trees from Forestami growing into the physical venue.

3. Expo 2020 Dubai

  • Al Wasl Plaza | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Al Wasl Plaza Image: Courtesy of Vladimir Belogolovsky
  • Netherlands Pavilion, V8 Architects | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Netherlands Pavilion, V8 Architects Image: © Jeroen Musch

Beginning with aplomb from October 1, 2021 and on show till March 31, 2022, the vastly decorated programme of Expo 2020 Dubai was a spectacle-driven affair, showing off Dubai as the new smart city of the future. With 192 freestanding country pavilions, and other special themed ones, entertainment, dining and cultural programmes, the Expo this year has been the most ambitious yet. From the Calatrava-designed UAE pavilion inspired both by the traditional Bedouin tent and falcon, the national bird of the UAE, to the biophilic, self-sustaining design of the Dutch Biotope, and the Al Wasl Plaza domed centrepiece, the Expo plans to retain at least 80 per cent of its infrastructure once it is over, augmented with other functional spaces to transform into a mini liveable city.

4. London Design Festival 2021

  • The Cube by VELUX® | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    The Cube by VELUX® Image: Courtesy of London Design Festival
  • Installation view of Yinka Ilori’s Happy Street | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Installation view of Yinka Ilori’s Happy Street Image: Luke O'Donovan, Courtesy of London Design Festival

September 18 - 26, 2021 boasted of a more robust series of installations, exhibitions and displays such as the immersive Medusa by Tin Drum and Sou Fujimoto at the Victoria and Albert Museum and Mellifera, the swirling, 3D-printed bioplastic beehives conceived by Arthur Mamou-Mani. The British capital transformed itself to highlight its residents’ diverse and inclusive creative spirit.

“Cultural and creative activity is a powerful tool to help reignite the city and kick-start London’s economy. London Design Festival will provide the public and visitors with an opportunity to take to the streets to discover new pockets of London, and find works by leading designers and emerging talent, while enjoying all that the city has to offer,” Ben Evans CBE, London Design Festival Director said.

5. London Design Biennale 2021

  • Featuring 17 mirrored pillars that correspond to the UN Goals, this space invites visitors to interact with and record a message about their favourite goal | 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Featuring 17 mirrored pillars that correspond to the UN Goals, this space invites visitors to interact with and record a message about their favourite goal Image: Ed Reeve
  • Proposal for India Pavilion at this year’s London Design Biennale 2021| 2021 Design and Architectural Events Roundup | STIRworld
    Proposal for India Pavilion at this year’s London Design Biennale 2021 Image: Courtesy of Nisha Mathew Ghosh

A global stage for world-leading contemporary design and design-led innovation, creativity and research, the third edition of LDB took place at Somerset House from June 1-25, 2021. Es Devlin, the biennale's artistic director, chose “Resonance” as its theme, for which up to 50 countries and territories responded with their interactive installations and powerful presentations. “Design is involved in everything,” she says, “and I think what we have realised as designers is that we need to be working to the parameters of what the earth can take. I think we are recognising that, if we don’t do that, the future won't look kindly upon us”.

A viridescent picture of trees, birdsong, and music graces the courtyard of Somerset House to welcome visitors to the event. Called Forest for Change, the miniature woodland landscape designed by Devlin is a highlight feature - the 'Global Goals Pavilion' - among the myriad international pavilions and installations decorating the historic venue. Putting forth a powerful, moving statement to combat climate change, the pavilion means to collect voices from all across society to craft a compelling message, a plea for the world to recognise and make strides towards the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

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