From August 15th through 23rd, festival participants can engage with online events, virtual design challenges, and socially distant outdoor installations.

Back in fall of 2019, when the Seattle Design Festival (SDF) organizers chose “About Time” as SDF’s theme, the organizers made their selection based on the fact that 2020 marked festival’s tenth anniversary. Now less than a year later, new energy and urgency surrounding the topics of racial inequality and civil rights have given the theme additional significance.

“The coronavirus pandemic, growing impacts of climate change, and the current racial justice movement has forced us to fundamentally reckon with the ways our cities are designed, both physically and systemically,” said AIA Seattle Executive Director Lisa Richmond, in a press release. “The Seattle Design Festival has always aimed to unleash the design thinker in everyone. In our tenth anniversary, we believe more strongly than ever that we need many voices–residents, designers, businesses, public representatives–to collaborate on designing a city we all want to live in.”

Sponsored by AIA Seattle, nonprofit Design in Public, and more than sixty partner organizations this year, the Seattle Design Festival is a late summer mainstay for people who enjoy thoughtful programming focused on how design can improve people’s lives. While Covid has complicated things a bit this year, organizers were not content to simply shift programming, which typically includes an annual block party and neighborhood design crawls, over to Zoom. Instead they strategized over how to make the festival a more participatory experience and are largely pleased with the result.

“The creative elements have pivoted to a virtual experience, but the festival has preserved its essence,” said Annalee Shum, Community Engagement Member for Design in Public, explaining that new festival elements like augmented reality virtual murals, which will be possible view using smart phones at different locations around the city, surfaced as new concepts for engagement because of the constraints imposed by Covid.

Because of the organizers commitment to ingenuity, even with a pandemic and recession to contend with, SDF leadership remains optimistic that this year’s festival live up to people’s expectations for the ten-year anniversary.

“The festival is resilient because of resilient people. We have an amazing team of passionate volunteers,” added Bray Hayden, Communication Manager for Design in Public. “A lot of people don’t know this, but the design festival is really made possible because of the work of volunteers,” added Shum.

To see a complete list of events and activities go to the online calendar. Read on to learn more about programming and events recommended for readers of The Urbanist.

Credit: Seattle Design Festival 2020

Recommended Programming and Events

Date Specific Livestream Events

  • Architect’s Role in the Civic Conversation for Design Justice: a two-hour panel discussion furthering conversations around the impact design professionals have on the communities they serve. 10am-12pm, Aug. 15th
  • In Defense of Density after COVID-19: a talk about why density still matters in urban planning post-Covid hosted by MAKERS Architecture and Urban Design and partnering community organizations. 4pm-5:30pm, Aug. 17th.
  • Designing for Behavior Change: 90-minute virtual program that reviews concepts important to designing for behavior change and explores ethical considerations of these approaches. 5pm-6:30pm, Aug. 19th
  • Towards a Region of Short Distances: a two-hour virtual panel discussion that explores seeding areas of the greater Seattle region with poor walkability with incrementally developed micro-neighborhoods at walkable intervals to restructure the region. Panelists will be joined by the jurors of the larger design competition and showcase some of the work submitted. 3-5pm, Aug. 23rd. 

Ongoing Festival Exhibits and Activities: August 15th-23rd

  • It’s About Time to House Everyone: scavenger hunts that explore the “missing middle” of affordable housing in Seattle. Various Locations
  • Community Spotlights: physical displays and experiences throughout the city that are visible from the public right-of-way and can be visited safely and with social distance. Various locations
  • Running Dry: an exhibition featuring local Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) student perspectives on how water management could shape our future buildings and cities. Online
  • Duwamish Crossing: an exhibition that proposes replacing the West Seattle Bridge with a living system of green infrastructure instead of concrete infrastructure for cars. Duwamish Crossing is a platform to network and imagine design ideas, mapping, studies, and news about ecological alternatives for the West Seattle Bridge. Online
  • Iterations: the annual architectural model exhibit that showcases recent on-the-boards and built projects from local architects. Online
  • Design a Micro Park: submit your vision for a micro park to this THINKERCYZE challenge. Extra credit for those who complete and document a micro park “intervention” near their home. Online

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Natalie Bicknell is Senior Reporter at The Urbanist. She is a writer and community college instructor who lives in the Central District with her husband and two dogs. In her research and writing, she is always on the lookout for better ways of creating sustainable, diverse, and vibrant cities. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.

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