Iceland DesignMarch 2013 Highlights

By Tiffany Orvet
Iceland recently celebrated its biggest ever annual design festival, DesignMarch 2013. The fair featured some 150 events, ranging from fashion to furniture and architecture to food design, making the world’s northernmost capital of Reykjavik the place to be for the design-inclined.

DesignMarch is a relatively new event—it’s just the fifth time it’s been held. As many designers were quick to respond, Iceland doesn’t have a long tradition of design like other Nordic countries. "Just ten years ago," according to Sari Peltonen of the Iceland Design Centre, "there were next to no written sources on design. It seemed to simply..not exist somehow?"

Banners fly high in the atrium of the Reykjavic Art Museum during the opening party, celebrating the Icelandic Contemporary Design IV series of postage stamps that were released this month.  Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

Banners fly high in the atrium of the Reykjavic Art Museum during the opening party, celebrating the Icelandic Contemporary Design IV series of postage stamps that were released this month. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

But it was starting to. Then, the Iceland Design Centre opened in 2008, just as the country’s economy threatened to collapse. But what could have marked the end of a promising design scene has actually had the opposite effect—design consultants such as architects turned to handicraft and product design. They had to look locally for materials and production, and they had to work with the global marketplace in mind.

Reykjevik’s magnificent Harpa Conference Center hosted many of the events. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

Reykjevik’s magnificent Harpa Conference Center hosted many of the events. Photo by: Tiffany Orvet

What was discovered in Iceland was a vibrant and colorful capital city brimming with creative exuberance, a land ripe with inspiration in all of its raw extremes, and one that is still working to carve out a design identity of its own. No easy task when there’s already such rich heritages of Nordic design to live up to.

The festival’s branding was well done and well used. Graphic designers Jónas Valtysson and Ármann Agnarsson created large wooden architectural letters spelling out 'HönnunarMars' (Icelandic for DesignMarch).  The letters were photographed around Reykjavik to promote the festival and its many events. "In our view, DesignMarch is like an empty canvas set up for the local designers to draw on. We took that quite literally," said the duo behind the design. Photo by: Marino Thorlacius

The festival’s branding was well done and well used. Graphic designers Jónas Valtysson and Ármann Agnarsson created large wooden architectural letters spelling out 'HönnunarMars' (Icelandic for DesignMarch). The letters were photographed around Reykjavik to promote the festival and its many events. "In our view, DesignMarch is like an empty canvas set up for the local designers to draw on. We took that quite literally," said the duo behind the design. Photo by: Marino Thorlacius

So what is emerging as distinctly Icelandic? Will it move Scandinavian design in a slightly more edgy or exotic direction, perhaps? It’s not a question one could answer by the end of this short visit, but it’s exactly what anyone coming to Reykjavik will start getting their head around.

Four prominent designers with different approaches were given a letter to decorate. Marcos Zotes, an Iceland-based Spanish designer, known for doing installations and projects involving urban living, created the 'S'.  He made his letter into a podium and projector stand on wheels that kept popping up as a piece of practical furniture throughout the four days of the event.

Four prominent designers with different approaches were given a letter to decorate. Marcos Zotes, an Iceland-based Spanish designer, known for doing installations and projects involving urban living, created the 'S'. He made his letter into a podium and projector stand on wheels that kept popping up as a piece of practical furniture throughout the four days of the event.

DesignMarch was held March 14-17 in Reykjavik, Iceland.
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