The annual DesignMarch, or HönnurarMars as the locals call it, is Iceland's most important design festival organized by the Iceland Design Centre. This year the design festival was hosted in collaboration with the Embassy of the United States in Reykjavik and took place for the 7th time from March 12-15. Over the course of four days, dozens of events from all fields of design were concentrated around Reykjavik's city center.
On Thursday the design festival kicked off with the DesignTalks, a design conference with the subject "Play Away" featuring lectures by international designers and design thinkers with different backgrounds such as Marti Guixé (SP), Anthony Dunne (UK), Walter Van Beirendonck (BE), Julien de Smedt (BE) and Jessica Walsh (USA).
The fully booked conference took place in the futuristic Harpa concert building, a cultural and social center of the city which is worth a visit on its own. It is located along the harbor and is designed by the Danish firm Henning Larsen Architects in cooperation with Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. Since its official opening in May 2011 the building has attracted over 3 million guests.
After the DesignTalks, with a surprising lunch break in a docked ship, the opening ceremony for the design festival took place in the entrance hall which also hosted the Reykjavik Fashion Festival on Friday and Saturday. Several design exhibitions in galleries, design stores and even in banks downtown were opened until Sunday. This year's festival was accompanied by unusually stormy weather but luckily, most people dressed accordingly and were able to see most exhibitions.
We experienced that the Iceland Design Festival gives a great overview of the local design scene. Especially because it did not feature a central exhibition but challenged its visitors to explore a city filled with exhibitions and presentations at walking distance. In a country where a lot has to be imported, it was impressive to see the craft skills of many designers working with local materials varying from lava rocks, sheep wool, fish skin and even fish bones. Living on an island with limited resources, it makes sense that nothing is wasted, also in the field of design.
What we appreciated most is that even though a lot of Icelandic designers have also studied abroad, their work does not follow mainstream trends and developments. Design in Iceland is very pure, unique, "A marriage of imagination and craftsmanship" as Illugi Gunnarsson (Minister of Education, Science and Culture) called it during the opening talk. The project "Austurland: Design From Nowhere" which received Iceland's first Annual Design Award is a good example of the importance of design in reviving the human aspect and culture of crafts in creating the products for tomorrow.
Instead of trying to become an international star designer, designers are more focused on serving the local needs and local economy. Unlike creating big brands or fashion labels, the value of Icelandic design lies in the process of making and various collaborations between the local creatives. In a way, design seems to have a lot of similarities with the music scene which is more about playing together, enjoying the moment and trying out new collaborations. We were curious what Björk would say to this but unfortunately she was already on her way to the MoMA in New York.
Check out the photo gallery and enjoy a our impressions from this year's DesignMarch in Iceland. Happy browsing and as the Icelanders would say: "Bless bless!"