16 Essential Design Events to Catch This Fall

16 Essential Design Events to Catch This Fall

By Alia Akkam
Available to view virtually or at a safe social distance, these fairs, exhibitions, talks, and tours should be on your calendar.

The fall calendar of design events is typically a robust one, and while the listings are inevitably slimmer this year, there are still plenty of happenings to catch—even if it’s just from your laptop. The thought-provoking exhibitions, tours, films, and conversations below explore the impact of architecture and design during a time when new ways of thinking have never been more critical.

Poster House’s The Swiss Grid (February 27, 2020-February 14, 2021)

Concrete, instrumental to the Bauhaus design movement, greatly influenced the Swiss Style font, more formally known as International Typographic Style, in the 1950s. The Swiss Grid (through February 14, 2021) at New York’s Poster House museum shows how it was a graphic design powerhouse for decades, embracing geometric grid structures that yielded a crisp, streamlined, and timeless look. 

Detroit Month of Design (September 1-30)

Detroit is the sole UNESCO City of Design in the States, and that distinction is put front and center during Detroit Month of Design (MoD), produced by Design Core Detroit. Before the 10th annual event winds down on September 30, locals can hightail it to exhibitions like "Softhouse" (through September 28) for a look-see of soulful, ambiguous objects, or design studio Form&Seek’s "Never Normal" (through December 12), which reconsiders personal attachments to an ever-shifting domestic landscape, as well as pop into just-launched residential interior design practice Design Studio 6’s new workshop (September 26). Another clever, and democratic, design initiative: the local studio Donut Shop is hosting a Doodle Chair Competition that will add a winning drawing to its permanent collection and make a physical version to be auctioned to benefit activist organization Detroit Will Breathe.

The Design Museum’s Connected (September 11-October 11)

During the pandemic, the American Hardwood Export Council asked nine different design teams—Heatherwick Studio and Studio Swine among them—to create tables and seating that captured their work-from-home needs and desires. Then, they were paired with craftspeople at Benchmark Furniture, whom they only communicated with virtually, to bring these designs to life by hand in their Berkshire, England, workshop. This furniture, all crafted from a choice of red oak, maple, or cherry, is now on display in Connected (through October 11) at the Design Museum in London.

Exhibit Columbus (September 15-October 29)

What is the future of the middle city? That is the ultimate question in the 2020 Exhibit Columbus Symposium New Middles (through October 29), comprising a series of live-stream conversations among thinkers, designers, architects, artists, and landscape architects. Urban issues—resiliency and climate adaptation, arts and community, Indigenous features and radical thinking—are all interestingly studied through the lens of Columbus, Indiana. 

Brian Clarke is one of the world’s most esteemed artists working with stained glass today. In the comprehensive exhibition Brian Clarke: The Art of Light at the Museum of Arts and Design in New York (through February 21, 2021), which also includes compositions in lead and related drawings, more than 20 of the Brit's free-standing glass screens, their saturated colors playing with light, take center stage.

American designer Willi Smith aimed to democratize fashion, and by melding his clothing with contemporary architecture in the WilliWear boutiques and showrooms designed by New York architecture and environmental arts studio SITE in the 1970s and ’80s, he underscored that philosophy. In tandem with its exhibition Willi Smith: Street Couture, Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York offers the virtual panel discussion "Rebellion in Design: Developing a Blueprint for the Future" (September 23). Featuring SITE founder James Wines, interdisciplinary architect Oana Stănescu, and Virgil Abloh, chief creative director and founder of Off-White and men’s artistic director at Louis Vuitton, it examines the unlikely connections between fashion and architecture. 

Ruha Benjamin, professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, followed up her first book, People’s Science: Bodies and Rights on the Stem Cell Frontier with Race After Technology: Abolitionist Tools for the New Jim Code. During an online lecture (September 23) organized by SCI-Arc, she will highlight examples of "discriminatory design" and introduce guests to a socially conscious approach to tech development. The following week (September 30), Charles L. Davis II, designer, architectural historian, and cultural critic at the School of Architecture and Planning at SUNY Buffalo, will unveil a darker side of Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright’s romanticized Midwestern prairie life in "American Architecture is a Settler Colonial Project: Locating the Racial Politics of Modern Architectural Style."

LA Design Festival (September 24-27)

For its 10 year anniversary, LA Design Festival (September 24-27) boasts as eclectic a lineup as ever. Installations by the likes of Brendan Ravenhill, Block Shop Textiles, Stephen Kenn, Studio Warm, Liqui, and Concrete Geometric will brighten ROW DTLA. Here, designer and theorist Demar Matthews will also reveal his "Unearthing a Black Aesthetic" project, a sustainable live/work unit that embodies and grows out of Black culture, specifically capturing the lifestyles and values of residents in the Watts neighborhood. There is also a 3D-printed pop-up ADU from Mighty Buildings, virtual tours of Walter White’s midcentury Wave House in Palm Desert, as well as a trifecta of East Hollywood workshops, including Estudio Persona, Cuff Studio, and Bradley Duncan Studio.

With the U.S. presidential election around the bend, the Harvard University Graduate School of Design is investigating the relationship between architecture and politics via Zoom. First up, (September 28) Danielle Allen, the James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University and director of Harvard’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, joins Michael Murphy, founding principal and executive director of Boston-based MASS Design Group for a discussion about the 2020 American Academy of Arts & Sciences report, "Our Common Purpose." Hosted by the school’s dean, Sarah Whiting, it will probe the idea of voting as both a civic and design issue and sets the scene for next month’s fitting topic, "The Architecture of Democracy" (October 28) in partnership with MIT.

London Craft Week (September 30-October 10)

After the success of London Design Festival, it’s now time for London Craft Week (September 30-October 10), a celebration of makers, designers, brands, and galleries chock-full of demonstrations, exhibitions, and workshops. "The Natural Room" at Sarah Myerscough Gallery, for example, illuminates pieces that honor organic materials like wood, jute, sisal, and willow. The work of emerging makers is intertwined with those by established artists and craftspeople in "300 Objects," curated by heavyweights including Martin Brudnizki and Yinka Ilori, and handmade Mexican objects get the spotlight in "Revolution of Forms."  

Copenhagen has one of the world’s most impressive design scenes, and exemplifying it is the Copenhagen Architecture Festival (October 1-11). This year, it takes a close look at the evolution of Denmark as a well-developed classic welfare state, but there are also a number of films to see like Barbicania and Oscar Neimeyer: Life is a Breath of Fresh Air. Indian architect Anupama Kundoo will speak at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, and "Til Salg: Danmarks Billigste House" is one exhibition not to miss. Artist and documentary filmmaker Jutta Marie Jessen’s stash of photographs are all of homes, plucked from real estate ads and devoid of pricing and addresses so that the images are shorn of preconceptions. 

Archtober (October 1-31)

Archtober, a month-long tribute to architecture and design in New York, is turning 10—and the Center for Architecture has put together an impressive mix of in-person and digital tours, exhibitions, and events across all five boroughs for this year’s iteration. "Building of the Day," the long-popular architect-led tours, are now going virtual, and will include Little Island by Heatherwick Studio, the Marcel Breuer Buildings at the Bronx Community College, the High Line by James Corner Field Operations, and the Staten Island Museum at Snug Harbor by Gluckman Tang Architects. New Yorkers who would rather escape the city for a spell should consider the three-hour tour of Art Omi Sculpture & Architecture Park in Ghent, in the Hudson Valley, led by architecture director Warren James, or a tour of Steven Holl Architects’ the Ex of In House in Rhinebeck. 

As pioneers in the emergent Hip-Hop Architecture movement, Tajai Massey and Sekou Cooke will discuss their separate paths in bringing together these two seemingly disparate communities—hip-hop and architecture. Massey will discuss his journey from international rap star (he’s a founding member of Souls of Mischief and Hieroglyphics) to architecture student and practitioner. Cooke will discuss his journey into curating and reifying the importance of hip-hop culture within the discipline of architecture. Both will reflect on personal and professional experience to imagine new approaches and angles for developing this rich topic.

The traditional 17th century-style Shofuso Japanese House and Garden sits in Philadelphia’s West Fairmount Park. It is here that the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia is presenting Shofuso and Modernism: Mid-Century Collaboration Between Japan and Philadelphia. Also available virtually, the exhibition pays tribute to the friendship and cross-cultural exchanges between the house’s architect, Junzo Yoshimura—who first built it for an exhibition at MoMA in New York—woodworker George Nakashima, designer Noémi Pernessin Raymond, and architect Antonin Raymond through a collection of images, objects, and artifacts.

This fall, the Architectural League of New York is shifting its monthly First Friday series to Thursdays. Kicking off the new day (November 5)—and virtual format—are Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, founders of the social and sustainable-minded Oakland practice Rael San Fratello and 3D printing make-tank, Emerging Objects, who will delve into their project MUD Frontiers/Casa Covida, an earthen structure.  

The Architecture & Design Film Festival (November 19-December 3)

Sixteen different films are on the program for this year’s (November 19-December 3) virtual Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF). An in-depth look at the lives and works of such talents as Charlotte Perriand and George Nakashima is reason alone to watch, but considerations of urgent issues like racial injustice and urbanization educate as much as engage. Hollywood’s Architect: The Paul R. Williams Story, about the pioneering Black architect who despite a backdrop of entrenched racism became highly sought by L.A. celebrities, should be mandatory viewing.

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