Melbourne Design Week 2023 showcased the latest and greatest in design, from innovative technology to eco-friendly solutions. Whether you're a designer, architect, or simply interested in the world of design, our wrap-up will give you a glimpse into the many talks held and the future of this exciting field.
Collaboration and Diversity in Design
One key theme from Melbourne Design Week was the importance of collaboration and diversity in design. Speakers emphasised the need for designers to work together across disciplines and cultures to create truly innovative solutions. This includes collaborating with other designers and experts in fields such as engineering, psychology, and sustainability. Additionally, there was a strong emphasis on the need for diversity in design teams, which can lead to more creative and inclusive solutions.
Numerous examples of successful collaborations and diverse design teams were showcased throughout the week. One particularly interesting talk featured a panel of architects speaking about their challenges in working across communication and cultural barriers and the incredible richness and creativity from their diverse perspectives. Danielle Peck from Architecture Associates presented a concept design for the Olympic Leisure Centre in Heidelberg West that resulted from an inclusive co-design process with the local community. Through workshops, discussions, and iterations, the firm engaged in a dialogue with the community to incorporate their input into the design.
The design itself was influenced by the rich historical context of the site and the diverse, multicultural nature of the community. By prioritising inclusivity and reflecting the values of the community, Architecture Associates aims to create spaces that foster cultural exchange and strengthen social values. This approach helped establish trust with the community and gain the necessary approval to proceed with the project.
The Melbourne Design Week message is clear: collaboration and diversity are not just buzzwords but essential components of successful and innovative design.
Sustainable Design: A Focus on Materials and Processes
Sustainable design was a significant topic of discussion at Melbourne Design Week, with many speakers highlighting the importance of using environmentally friendly materials and processes in design. This includes using recycled materials, reducing waste, and designing products that can be easily disassembled and recycled at the end of their life cycle. There was also a focus on designing for circularity, where products are designed to be reused or repurposed rather than disposed of. Sustainability is increasingly no longer an option but a necessity in the design world.
In a significant move, the City of Melbourne held a pivotal event for Melbourne Design Week 2023 that aimed to explore the commercial viability of adaptive reuse and sustainable design practices, while discussing their role in enhancing the community and securing a greener future. Diverse participants shared insights on addressing the pressing challenge of buildings contributing up to 38% of global carbon emissions. By "re-lifing" existing structures instead of demolishing and starting anew, the city can create modern, comfortable, and eco-friendly homes and offices without the associated waste and carbon emissions. The event also highlighted the city's proactive stance, with unanimous support for a discussion paper proposing initiatives such as rate incentives and emissions caps to increase the number of adaptive reuse projects significantly.
Of course, design is not just about functionality but art as well. ENESS playfully highlighted artful sustainability with the “Solar Powered Bench That Spins Ever So Slowly”, providing users with a unique perspective on their surroundings. Powered entirely by sunlight, this whimsical installation interacts with the sun, spinning faster on sunny days and slower when clouds cover the sky. Designed in the shape of a ‘60s flower graphic, it creates an aerial view reminiscent of a spinning field of flowers. Children enjoy the sensation of dangling their feet while taller users playfully readjust their footing. Embedded solar panels capture sunlight, harmonising retro aesthetics with contemporary sustainability values.
HARD, curated by Calum Hurley, was a vibrant exhibition highlighting the talent of Queer artists across Australia. The show embraced the diversity of creative expression within the LGBTQ+ community by featuring innovative works incorporating found elements. By intertwining the exploration of Queer sexuality with the Australian tradition of nocturnal scavenging, HARD taps into the shared experiences of Queer individuals and their journey towards self-discovery in society.
Manisha Amin, Chief Strategist and Visionary at Centre for Inclusive Design, also spoke about the need for those with disabilities to be included and the importance of having different voices in the design team. She related a story about The Rolling Quads, a disability group in the late 1960s at the University of California, Berkeley. Through a series of protests, they challenged the campus' lack of accessibility and paternalistic treatment by the Disability Services Office (DOR). The protests opposed new regulations that limited disabled students' living arrangements and imposed constant supervision. Lasting several months, the protests gained national attention and resulted in the DOR retracting the regulations. The Rolling Quads' victory became a significant milestone for disability rights, changing societal perceptions, promoting accessibility, and inspiring equality. With the right stakeholder engagement, we can design spaces that make all feel welcome.
Another speaker, Jenna Cohen, Director of Honeycomb Access and Design, is an accredited Access Consultant under the Association of Consultants in Access Australia (ACAA). She iterated the need for designers to involve people with disabilities in the design process and to consider their needs from the outset. This includes designing products and spaces that are easy to use and navigate for people with both physical and intellectual disabilities. The current accessible standards are the “minimal requirements”, Jenna explains, and references a case where a hospital was sued because though they ‘ticked the boxes’ with accessibility requirements, the plaintiff could not find their way from A to B because of issues with glare and signage (the plaintiff won).
The panellists also discussed the challenges of designing for accessibility, such as the need to balance functionality with aesthetics and the importance of creating practical and beautiful designs. All agreed that minority stakeholders need to be involved, but to engage authentically takes time. Overall, the panel was a powerful reminder that good design should be accessible and inclusive for everyone, regardless of their abilities or disabilities.
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