by Jincy IypeDec 17, 2021
As the novel coronavirus ushers a new reality of long-term lifestyle changes with physical distancing taking the spotlight, many noted architecture and design festivals are investing in creative methods of acclimatising to this new environment. Most of these international festivals are annually planned for the summer months, as a way of capitalising on the good weather, influx of tourists and ease of travel for creatives who visit from around the world. There is, inarguably, a deep sensorial addiction to the way we consume design, art and culture. But with the inability to congregate in large groups, festivals have to reconcile their very existence moving forward.
While a handful do hope to resume their on-site activities in September/October, it still raises questions regarding safety and diversity of attendees, as international travel remains restricted and not advised. Art Basel, for example, has chosen to completely cancel its physical exhibition (which was slated for September) and is now only going to have an online version; the Venice Architectural Biennale has been pushed to 2021. Especially with architecture, one would imagine a re-think in terms of the materiality and tactility of a lot of the installations and pavilions. However, these festivals have adapted to formats that generate a vast amount of information instead of an experience. Their presentations online are accessible across the globe, and generally conducted in English so as to reach a wider audience.
Milano Arch Week
Italy has seen mass cancellations of events throughout the summer, as the country reopens there is a sense of trepidation. The Milano Triennale, however, has devised a rather simple means of maintaining their audience’s attention. Starting with a two-part version of the Milano Arch Week - part one was a live-stream on May 16; part two is hoped to be hosted in the Triennale building in September. The live-stream can be found on the institution’s YouTube channel. You will also find lectures and workshops from past Arch Weeks on this channel. In its new adaptation, information can be consumed outside physical experience and perhaps makes us re-evaluate the importance of physical attendance.
Towards the XXIII International Exhibition of Triennale Milano
True to its name, the institution is also hosting a tripartite series of talks featuring theorists, philosophers, designers from across the globe. The idea is to identify themes and ideas for the XXIII International Exhibition, which will be held in 2022. The second of this series was held on June 11, 2020. It streamed live on Facebook and YouTube channel.
Copenhagen Architecture Festival
A considerably younger institution compared to the others on this list, the Copenhagen Architecture Festival reacted almost immediately to the situation and began creating digital content from the beginning of April. The festival itself was to be held from April 23–May 3 in Aarhus, Odense and Copenhagen under the title 'Welfare City in Change'. The updated digital edition includes an ongoing series of essays acquired from across the globe on the ‘corona-crisis’, a series of five talks on the ‘Pandemic Resilient Cities’. Interestingly, the festival’s website was also hosting a running flow TV station called ‘watch more TV’. What is unique about this programme is that as of now, it does not seem to have any online archive - while this may change in the future, it does indicate an understanding of the importance of content creation and real-time consumption perhaps to reflect parts of the original format of a 'live' festival that you attend, or miss. While there are plans to exhibit the on-site installations and programme between October 1 -11, 2020, many of the planned exhibits may be cancelled, or re-conceptualised.
London Festival of Architecture
Possibly one of the better prepared festivals, the London Festival of Architecture responded to the lockdown and the situation in London to conceive a total of 120 programs and events across the month of June. These events range from online building tours, symposiums, talks and podcasts; and the London Festival of Architecture even managed to incorporate their trademark Architecture Bake-off. The festival also has an Instagram campaign called ‘30 Objects in 30 Days’ where 30 leading architects or designers nominate an object that best represents this year’s theme. The year’s theme is 'power', which seems even more significant given the global protests calling for systemic changes.
You can find all event details here.
If even a small percentage of these online activities continued to be a part of the festival schedules, there is a very good chance of a change in the scheduling in the global cultural calendar. Although the digital realm continues to assist in keeping creative conversations and discussions going, there is an absence of design experimentation. Originally, festivals have always acted as laboratories for architects to experiment with physical manifestations of their ideas and concepts. While the diverse variations of online engagement do keep the mind engaged, this brings to the forefront the harsh reality of the uncertainty that we face. However, as more and more design festivals and events evolve their programming formats with AI and AR tools, we hope to see a marked transformation that may slowly make up for human crowding and physical exchanges.