de­sign week

look­ing for solutions

The Georgia Straight - - Front Page - > BY LUCY LAU

Think de­sign and your mind may con­jure up build­ing pro­fes­sion­als in suits and hard­hats, ar­chi­tec­tural blue­prints in hand as they sur­vey the site of a shiny new con­struc­tion. Or per­haps your brain pic­tures graphic de­sign­ers work­ing dili­gently on Mac­books to dream up images that best rep­re­sent some new cut­ting-edge brand. Still oth­ers may imag­ine dec­o­ra­tors and con­trac­tors col­lab­o­rat­ing à la your favourite HGTV home-reno pro­gram to bring a client’s dream abode to life. And while it’s easy to in­ter­pret de­sign as th­ese very real, vis­ual con­cepts, the term en­com­passes much more than that.

“I think of­ten of a quote by [Amer­i­can ar­chi­tect] Michael Mur­phy.…‘de­sign is never neu­tral: it ei­ther helps or it hurts,’ ” Jen­nifer Cut­bill, di­rec­tor and co­founder of Van­cou­ver De­sign Week, says by phone. “Ev­ery­thing that we in­ter­act with in our built realm has been de­signed ei­ther in­ten­tion­ally, thought­fully, or not.”

In­deed, from the seem­ingly generic mugs that hold your morn­ing cof­fee, to the T-shirts, jeans, and shoes that fill your wardrobe, to the road- and bike­ways you nav­i­gate reg­u­larly to get to work—or any­where, for that mat­ter—de­sign not only af­fects, but forms the very back­bone of, ev­ery as­pect of our day-to-day lives. And it’s a point that the vol­un­teer-run team be­hind the in­ter­dis­ci­pli­nary VDW, which re­turns for its third edi­tion this year, hopes to con­vey with the fete’s adopted theme of “Im­pact” for 2018. “The idea of im­pact has kind of been there since the very be­gin­ning; it’s part of why we cre­ated VDW,” ex­plains Cut­bill. “Mak­ing it ex­plicit this year is a way to en­gage more of the gen­eral pub­lic in that con­ver­sa­tion.”

For Cut­bill, who is also an ar­chi­tect at Van­cou­ver-based firm Lo­cal Prac­tice Ar­chi­tec­ture + De­sign, this means view­ing de­sign as a cre­ative prob­lem-solv­ing tool that any­one—not just those who spe­cial­ize in cer­tain in­dus­tries—is ca­pa­ble of par­tic­i­pat­ing in. It also in­volves con­nect­ing Van­cou­ver’s de­sign com­mu­ni­ties with the pub­lic so that it can bet­ter con­trib­ute to and un­der­stand the work that such groups are do­ing to help make the city a more vi­brant and liv­able place. Th­ese in­clude artists ex­am­in­ing our rapidly den­si­fy­ing ur­ban en­vi­ron­ments, leather­work­ers craft­ing up­cy­cled shoes and bags, and land­scape ar­chi­tects im­prov­ing parks, al­ley­ways, and other pub­lic spa­ces.

In this city, bridg­ing th­ese wildly di­verse dis­ci­plines is a keen in­ter­est in the en­vi­ron­ment and a “re­gard for so­cial jus­tice”—char­ac­ter­is­tics that have long been “core to the DNA of Van­cou­ver de­sign”, suggests Cut­bill. The young age of Van­cou­ver as a city in com­par­i­son to ur­ban cen­tres such as Toronto, Lon­don, and Montreal af­fords our de­sign scene more au­ton­omy in the projects it car­ries out, too.

“We have this free­dom that’s un­en­cum­bered by decades or hun­dreds of years of in­sti­tu­tional mem­ory or bag­gage that other cities might have,” ob­serves Cut­bill. “So we’re kind of free to be a lit­tle bit loose to do some­thing in our own way.”

THAT CRE­ATIVE LIB­ERTY is a value that’s very much ap­pre­ci­ated by D’arcy Jones, prin­ci­pal and ar­chi­tect of D’arcy Jones Ar­chi­tec­ture, whose work ranges from funky res­i­den­tial restora­tions to the con­struc­tion of com­mer­cial and gallery spa­ces. The firm’s past projects in­clude a re­vamped ’80s Van­cou­ver Spe­cial that was ush­ered into mod­ern times thanks to an open-con­cept lay­out and un­con­ven­tion­ally placed sky­lights, and East Van’s Monte Clark Gallery, which was ren­o­vated in a way that re­tains the in­dus­trial bones of the 1963 con­crete­block build­ing.

“I per­son­ally get bored when I do the same thing more than once, and I think that’s a newc­ity thing,” Jones tells the Straight by phone. “When you’re from an old, es­tab­lished city, you just don’t rock the boat, right?”

Hav­ing lived and worked in Van­cou­ver for most of his adult life, Jones con­sid­ers the city’s de­sign fields to be in­flu­enced by ar­eas in Ja­pan, Cal­i­for­nia, and China due to our ge­o­graph­i­cal po­si­tion on the Pa­cific Rim. How­ever, he says the scene shines the bright­est when the de­sign process re­flects and ad­dresses uniquely

Van­cou­ver el­e­ments such as the city’s nat­u­ral land­scape and cli­mate. The renowned ar­chi­tect would also like to see lo­cal de­sign pro­fes­sion­als take more pride in their work—some­thing that VDW, which will in­clude over 100 de­sig­nori­ented talks, tast­ings, and free tours of stu­dios and land­marks around Metro Van­cou­ver, aims to make a re­al­ity. “The more you cel­e­brate it, the more it’s val­ued…and it’s kind of a cy­cle that raises ev­ery­body up,” says Jones.

D’arcy Jones Ar­chi­tec­ture is one of 40-plus de­sign spa­ces that will be open­ing their doors as part of VDW’S De­sign Stu­dios series, which will of­fer at­ten­dees a be­hind-the-scenes look at a firm’s work, per­spec­tives, and prac­tice. Other par­tic­i­pants in­clude mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary gallery MNSTR, be­spoke op­ti­cal bou­tique Mosh Framemak­ers, and SPACE, a col­lab­o­ra­tive cowork­ing room on Clark Drive founded by lo­cal wood-prod­uct de­signer Pat Christie in 2015. Home to artists, tech­ni­cal-ap­parel de­sign­ers, painters, met­al­smiths, and other cre­atives, the shared venue em­bod­ies the heart of VDW’S theme of im­pact through its em­pha­sis on com­mu­nity-build­ing and the process, rather than the re­sult, of de­sign.

“So of­ten we’re con­cerned with de­sign be­ing a thing—an ar­chi­tec­tural piece, a fur­ni­ture piece, de­sign as a pur­chasable prod­uct,” Christie

ex­plains by phone. “And I think we need to shift de­sign away from the con­sumerism la­bel that’s re­ally at­tached to it be­cause when you say ‘de­signer’…it re­ally sep­a­rates peo­ple. I think, fun­da­men­tally, peo­ple are ca­pa­ble of com­ing up with ideas and solutions to bet­ter our world— and some of them may not con­sider them­selves de­sign­ers. So by hav­ing de­sign take a back seat, it’s about un­der­stand­ing that we have a role in fa­cil­i­tat­ing the emer­gence of a lot of things that are pos­si­ble in this city.”

Above all, de­sign—in its broad­est sense— has the abil­ity to em­power ev­ery­day peo­ple as prob­lem solvers, whether they’re tack­ling small-scale trou­bles like find­ing stor­age solutions for Van­cou­ver’s spa­tially chal­lenged condos or a cri­sis as threat­en­ing as cli­mate change.

Cut­bill hopes that’s a feel­ing guests at this year’s Van­cou­ver De­sign Week can con­fi­dently walk away with. “De­sign is so, so beau­ti­ful be­cause it can let all of th­ese dif­fer­ent is­sues fall away, and [al­low you to] ap­proach prob­lems through an as­pi­ra­tional and ‘Hey, let’s do it dif­fer­ently and let’s do it bet­ter’ kind of lens,” she says. “So, re­ally, I hope peo­ple leave in­spired and that they think dif­fer­ently about de­sign.”

Van­cou­ver De­sign Week takes place from Mon­day to next Sun­day (May 7 to 13).

Lo­cal wood-prod­uct de­signer Pat Christie founded the col­lab­o­ra­tive cowork­ing room SPACE in 2015. Christie says peo­ple are fun­da­men­tally ca­pa­ble of com­ing up with ideas to bet­ter our world.

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