Sponsored by Design in Public, a strategic initiative of AIA Seattle, the Seattle Design Festival was founded to "celebrate all the ways that design makes life better for Seattle." (Credit: Design in Public)

The annual event will take place on Saturday and Sunday, August 21-22, 10am-7pm, at Lake Union Park.

What kind of world do we want to emerge to as the shared experience of the Covid pandemic ebbs away? According to the event’s organizers, the question of what we want to emerge to, and not from, is central to why EMERGE was selected as the Seattle Design Festival’s theme for the 2021.

“I want people to think about this festival as us emerging to something else,” said Annalee Shum, Senior Programs Manager for Design in Public, the nonprofit that sponsors the Seattle Design Festival (SDF). “People were dealing with isolation and the ever present connection of a shared traumatic experience during the last eighteen months… The focus of the festival is not to look back at that past, but instead to look forward to what we can emerge to — to heal and to gain new perspectives.”

As one of the Pacific Northwest’s largest and longest running design events, SDF seeks to explore how we can leverage design in new ways to “explore the opportunities of adaptation and change.” As part of that process, the festival itself has adapted to changing times. In 2020, the festival pivoted to an online and socially distanced format; this year, however, organizers have chosen to transform the festival into a two-day street fair at Lake Union Park.

“We wanted to the community to gather in an outdoor environment in a safe way,” Shum said. “I’m excited that we are not losing what the Seattle Design Festival is. It is a community generated event — we are really just holding a space for designers to come together.”

A rendering of Olsen Kundig's portable tiny house shows a simple wooden box structure on stilts with pop open window on each side, a large glass front door, and a overhanging slanted roof fastened to the ground to create a covered patio space on the side.
Architecture firm Olson Kundig has partnered with Camp United We Stand to create an affordable, portable tiny house for people who are living unsheltered. View a prototype and learn more about the design at the 2021 Seattle Design Festival. (Credit: Olsen Kundig)

Over more than a decade, 120 community partners have participated in the event by building installations, hosting speakers, and creating hands-on activities — among other means of engaging the public with design. Here’s a snapshot of some of highlights from the 2021 festival that might be of particular interest for readers of The Urbanist. A full festival guide is available online at the Design in Public website.

Saturday & Sunday, 8/21-22

  • Seattle Architecture Foundation’s 24th Model Exhibit View architectural models created in reference to the theme of “breathe,” 10am-5pm (Please note this exhibit is at the Center for Architecture and Design on Western Ave.)
  • Latinx Placemaking en Seattle View an installation that tells the story of Latinx placemaking in Seattle through traditional crafts and found objects, 10am-7pm
  • What Do You Need to Thrive? Learn about ecoTHRIVE Housing’s plans to create beautiful, affordable, resident-owned villages by bringing together two forms of shared equity ownership: Limited Equity Cooperative & Community Land Trust, 10am-7pm
  • Vacant Seattle Participate in an installation that encourages you to reimagine how we can refill vacant spaces in Seattle, 10am-7pm
  • LiteHouse Shelters View prototypes and learn about how structural insulated panels can be used to assemble modular backyard tiny houses with a few simple tools. 10am-7pm
  • Homebase View prototypes and learn about architecture firm Olsen Kundig’s partnership with Camp United We Stand to create an affordable and portable tiny house for people who are living unsheltered, 10am-7pm
The brick Tirto furniture store is shown with a few benches and light-strewn street streets. Text over the image reads "Map it, draw it, snap it, write it. Where do you emerge?" with a QR code.
Participate in AIA Seattle Urban Design Forum’s efforts to crowdsource a map of Seattle’s small neighborhood centers at the Seattle Design Festival. (Credit: AIA Seattle Urban Design Forum)

Saturday, 8/21, Only

  • South Lake Union (SLU) Walking Tour Dubbed, “Tech, Tech & More Tech,” this walking tour of SLU led by the Seattle Architecture Foundation will examine key ingredients for urban revitalization and discuss the design and architectural strategies at work in the neighborhood, 10am-11:30pm
  • Build Your Best Seattle Youth and families are encouraged to share their ideas for reimagining community gathering spaces in Seattle, 10:30am-12:30pm
  • Where Do You Emerge? Participate in AIA Seattle Urban Design Forum’s efforts to crowdsource a map of Seattle’s small neighborhood centers in an effort to push Seattle toward becoming a 15-minute city, 1:30-3:30pm

Sunday, 8/22, Only

  • Seattle Happy Hunts Share the places that bring you joy with other Seattleites in the scavenger hunt themed activity. 10:30am-12:30pm
  • Seamless Seattle Join Applied and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to learn more about the Seamless Seattle pedestrian wayfinding system, from conception to implementation. 1-2pm
  • Emergent Community Identify your design preferences and practice creating new interior and urban designs with graduate students from the Cornish College of the Arts, 1-3pm
  • Recycling with Recology Learn recycling tips and how to transform recyclables into art. 2:30-4:30pm

Article Author

Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is a reporter and podcast host at The Urbanist. She previously served as managing editor. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.