Architecture & Design

DesignPhiladelphia 2018 Focuses on The Why of Design

This year's 14th annual festival features 120 events all over the city that will examine the purpose of design. It will also have a home base at the city's biggest maker and studio space.


design philadelphia 2018 weaver at work

Philadelphia’s diverse community of designers, architects and craftspeople are the reason for the DesignPhiladelphia festival. This year, the festival explores the reasons why they do what they do. | Photos: Courtesy Center for Architecture and Design

What’s new for DesignPhiladelphia 2018?

The biggest new thing is this: You won’t have to traipse all over the city in order to get the gist of it.

Yes, there will still be festival events at venues around the city. Design and architecture firms will still hold open houses and workshops, the city’s schools of design will still sponsor talks and exhibits, and the Design Crawls that took festival-goers to studios, showrooms and other design hotspots all over the city will return.

But this year, the Center for Architecture and Design, the festival’s organizer, decided to give the celebration of Philadelphia’s designers and architects a home base. That will be Bok, the vo-tech high school-turned-makerspace in South Philly.

From makerspace to base camp

“We were looking for a space where we could not only hold the kickoff party but also have exhibitions throughout the festival,” says Rebecca Johnson, executive director of both the center and the Philadelphia chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Philadelphia). “This way, if a visitor from out of town wanted to come to Design Philadelphia for just one or two days, they could see a lot of what was going on in the design community in Philadelphia.”

And if someone can only devote one day to DesignPhiladelphia, that day should be Oct. 12th, the final day of festival events. That will be the day of “Bok Night,” when the entire building will be open to visitors who can visit the workshops, artist and design studios, and community-serving businesses and organizations that fill it and meet the people who run them. Before they roam, they’ll hear a keynote address by Walé Oyéjidé, founder of Philadelphia fashion design studio Ikiré Jones, and afterward, they can enjoy drinks and the best view of the city’s skyline from the Bok Bar on the eighth floor.

design philadelphia 2018 festival-goers at bok girls gym

The girls’ gym at Bok, scene of several events at the 2017 festival, will become an exhibit gallery this year.

The festival begins Oct. 3rd with a kickoff party at Bok Bar, preceded by a 4 p.m. keynote address by Paula Scher of Pentagram, the world’s largest independent, creator-owned design studio.

In between these two events, the Girls Gym on the first floor of Bok will serve as an exhibition gallery hosting a changing array of interactive design exhibits and programs. The gym and the first-floor hallways will also display works from students and faculty at the city’s design schools. Jefferson, the architecture department at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art, the Integrated Product Design program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design, Drexel University’s product design program and the University of the Arts Department of Design will all have installations during the festival.

A new award lures designers out of hiding

The gallery will also display the work of the winner and finalists of the festival’s first-ever “Best in Design” competition, which Johnson says drew a number of local design firms out of the woodwork: “We heard from a bunch of designers we hadn’t heard from before. It’s an acknowledgment that there’s a lot of innovative and interesting stuff going on in the independent design space, and we wanted to highlight this side of the growing creative economy here.” Consumer products, tools for the industry and building projects are represented among the finalists, and all will get their star turn.

So will Mecate Studio, an innovative Mexico City design firm that is collaborating with NextFab on a site-specific project that will be displayed on opening night. “Mexico is a burgeoning center of design, and Mexico City is a world capital of design,” says Johnson. “We wanted to create a connection between Mexican designers and our design and maker culture here.” The project is the result of another collaboration, that of the center with the Consulate of Mexico and the Mexican Cultural Center in Philadelphia.

Purpose-driven design

The theme of this year’s festival, developed in collaboration with Cohere, is “Design Purpose.” This year’s festival aims to showcase the aims of the designers who produce our buildings, decorative objects and material goods. “Applying our skills and passions to any possible place, we can design the world we want to see,” is the way Cohere founder and CEO Antoinette Marie Johnson described this theme in a blog post.

The student exhibitions are integral to fulfilling that aim: “One of the most compelling aspects of DesignPhiladelphia is that we collaborate with our design schools and highlight the extraordinary young talent and innovation happening right in our own backyard,” Johnson says in a news release.  “As a result, the content is always aspirational, civically inclined and focused on designing with purpose. That’s why it’s a design festival and not an art festival – there is a purpose beyond aesthetics.”

A collaboration in more ways than one

Other local organizations are pitching in as well to drive this point home. One is the Philadelphia Design District, whose member studios, galleries and showrooms will feature exhibits of objects that highlight the ways in which design affects and delights the senses. The “Sensory Design” exhibition is the major event of the festival’s opening weekend, Oct. 6th and 7th, and the individual exhibits will remain on display for the duration of the festival.

The annual Philadelphia Open Studio Tours will also take place during the festival. The Center for Emerging Visual Artists’ annual event, now in its 19th year, will offer festival-goers a behind-the-scenes look at a day in the life of visual artists across the city. Studio crawls take place from noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 6th in West Philadelphia, Oct. 7th in Northwest Philadelphia, Oct. 13th in Northeast Philadelphia and Oct. 14th in South Philadelphia.

Finally, AIA Philadelphia, which oversees the center, has moved its annual fall regional interdisciplinary conference and expo to coincide with the festival. The annual Forum on Architecture and Design, formerly Design on the Delaware, will take place Oct. 3-5 at Bok. (Your section editor will be a panelist at one forum session.)

All told, there will be more than 120 events at this year’s festival. Johnson’s own pick for coolest event is Stantec’s showcase of all the high-tech tools design firms will be using in the future. But if you’d like to find your own coolest event, there’s now an app for that. The DesignPhiladelphia app comes in both Android and iOS versions and can be downloaded from their respective app stores.

More information about DesignPhiladelphia 2018, including tickets for the kickoff party, is available on the festival website.