Knowledge transfer for greater appreciation

This year, the Vienna Design Week offers a lot of space for design research, social design and experimental approaches. Its function as a multidisciplinary platform is underlined in numerous talks, workshops and tours. Our review.
by Anna Moldenhauer | 9/27/2021

15 years of Vienna Design Week – an anniversary for Austria's biggest design festival and at the same time the beginning of a new phase, as Gabriel Roland took over the leadership from Lilli Hollein, the festival's co-founder, a few months ago. On the future direction, he said in an interview with Stylepark: "I've been there for a few years, but will now look at the festival from a completely different perspective. Popular formats like the exploration of social design in urban work or the themes of craft and sustainability will remain. But the festival spirit is still dynamic and so should be the structure of Vienna Design Week. Of course, this raises the question of what a design festival needs in terms of content. I would like to offer a conference format on this fundamental topic." The Vienna Design Week has always known how to keep thresholds for the discussion and understanding of design low, in line with one of this year's mottos: "Bridges not borders!". The 20th district of Vienna was chosen this time to be the centre for the mediation work. "In the 20th district, Brigittenau, the Nordwestbahnhof site will soon be converted into an urban development project that will house up to 15,000 new residents. This incision will radically change the district. For us as a design festival, it is very interesting to determine the status quo and to see where common perspectives arise. This is especially important in our examination of social design, but also in urban planning and architecture," says Gabriel Roland. The programme offered many starting points for seeing public space in Brigittenau from new perspectives. One example is the project "Missing Link: Ein Versatzstück der Stadtbahn" by Marlene Lübke-Ahrens and Wolfgang Novotny: with a lot of commitment, the duo – initially for the duration of the Vienna Design Week and modelled on New York's High Line Park – opened up a former railway viaduct as a space for cultural events such as concerts. The project was also one of this year's winners of the Erste Bank MehrWERT Design Award.

Use potentials

Opening up spaces in the city and creating new networks whose potential would otherwise remain hidden: two of the festival's great strengths. "We want to highlight that the tools of design accompany us all in our lives," says Gabriel Roland. At the same time, research by universities and young designers is increasingly being given a stage this year – fortunately partly sponsored by companies. The sanitary manufacturer Laufen, for example, supports the project "Null Null Laufen x NDU", for which master's students from the New Design University St. Pölten analysed the sanitary rooms of schools. The results are prototypes for new spatial structures with corresponding material, light and colour concepts. Graphic elements such as pictograms were also developed to mark the washrooms and toilets. Many of the designs showed a gender-neutral orientation and a departure from the traditional white sanitary facilities in favour of a more pleasant atmosphere. The design duo chmara.rosinke also took on the multifunctional furnishing and interior design for the newly founded Design Campus at Pillnitz Palace in Dresden; some of the designs were exhibited at the festival headquarters.

“NULL NULL” Neue Sanitärräume für Schulen

In addition to fresh ideas for the interior design of school architecture, the circular economy is a defining theme for the exhibits - be it in the consumption of food, in product design or for mobility and energy generation. "Tomorrow. Fabric with the use of seeds" by Renata Ramola-Piorkowska from the Academy of Art in Szczecin thus raised the question of designers' responsibility for the life cycle of their products with a textile made of plant seeds connected to a biodegradable hydrofoil. The works "Orbio Blast", "Orbio Beam" and "Orbio Drop" by Robert Mrowiec, Adrianna Paśkiewicz and Aleksandra Rutkowska from the Academy of Fine Arts Krakow offers domestic miniature power plants based on renewable energies. The "Rain Wall" by Anna Ulmer, Natalia Rodríguez Ortega and Louisa Pankow from the Muthesius University of Fine Arts and Design shows a rainwater storage system that makes it possible to use daily precipitation to irrigate a vertical garden without having to install an underground cistern. Thanks to the modular design, a new façade or a freestanding structure can be created in the process. Meanwhile, the Vibrant Fields research project – based in the Department of Energy Design at the University of Applied Arts - explores climate change through artistic means: Together with the Department of Structural Design and Timber Engineering at Vienna University of Technology, the project team presents an installation at Vienna Design Week that aims to make the transience of energy and the versatility of materials comprehensible. A constructed microcosm depicted different climatic zones and tried to imitate the interaction of people and the built environment.

With "Waste Ware", Studio Barbara Gollackner and Peter König explore the potential of food waste as an organic printing material for products such as cutlery or bowls that benefit the household again. Using small 3D printers, these could be produced directly in one's own kitchen. Fittingly, the design team around Lukács László Vienna is offering a parallel introduction to 3D modelling and 3D printing as a workshop. The industrial design studio EOOS next presented the "ZUV" (zero-emission utility vehicle) in the "Climate Care" exhibition as part of the Vienna Biennale for Change 2021 at the MAK - Museum für angewandte Kunst, a climate-friendly vehicle with an electric motor, the structure of which is inspired by a cargo bicycle and can be fitted with individualised superstructures. The self-supporting polypropylene body comes from the research and design studio The New Raw and is 3D-printed from recycled plastic using an industrial robot.

ZUV (zero-emission utility vehicle) by EOOS next

In parallel to the research approaches in design and architecture, there were also some interesting new products to discover, such as in the "Design Everyday" exhibition series, which presented selected works by Austrian design studios – this year for the fifth time. Klemens Schillinger, for example, designed the "Neubau" stool series made of bent birch plywood in convex shapes. In different dimensions, "Neubau" serves as a stackable stool, desk or two-seater. Tischlerei Trewit presented the stackable cantilever chair "Trax" by Robert Rüf made of solid wood, whose rounded shape lends the robust material a gentle softness. Stefan Sagmeister created "Beautiful Numbers", eight variations of the beer glass from the drinking service No. 4 from 1856, with illustrations by Raxenne Maniquiz based on environmental data that provide a positive view of the future – be it the decreasing material consumption per person and year in Great Britain or the increasing number of countries that have signed the UN Climate Convention. The latter is intended to help reduce greenhouse gas concentrations to such an extent that dangerous disruption of the climate system is prevented.

Part of the presentation by Trewit - cantilever chair and chair "Trax" at the festival headquarters

Strong together

Together for the big picture – the collective idea can be found in many programme items of the Vienna Design Week. As with regard to the guest country this year: instead of a single nation as usual, this time the festival presented a multinational cooperation project. With the support of the Federal Chancellery, the format questioned what the EU can do for the creative industries and what the creative industries can do for the EU as part of the conference on the future of Europe. The EU Village Square, designed by auf'strich and studiotut, served as a meeting point at the festival headquarters on Sachsenplatz, where complex contexts around the topic could be bundled, presented in a low-threshold way and discussed together. In general, this year's Vienna Design Week offered numerous talks on various topics of design: from the project presentation by Christoph Huber and Ralf Steiner from AW Architekten, who are currently realising the medical centre "MED 23" in Vienna, to the lecture by lawyer Philip M. Jakober on the topic "Your design is your intellectual property: the tension between successful use and unlawful exploitation".

This year, Vienna Design Week once again manages to put together an exciting programme that gives the creative scene in Vienna an international visibility despite pandemic-related restrictions. In addition, the festival does a comprehensive and exemplary job of mediation and shows how strongly design is linked to our everyday lives. It stimulates interdisciplinary discourses for common perspectives, questions patterns of use and promotes social interaction in urban space. Significant aspects - for Vienna, but also far beyond.

Vienna Design Week

24 September to 3 October 2021
Festival headquarters: Sachsenplatz 4-6, 1200 Vienna

The Vienna Design Week Team: Marina Weitgasser, Alexandra Brückner, Laura Winkler, Gabriel Roland, Hanna Facchinelli