From Iceland — What Now? DesignTalks 2023 Addresses Global Issues

What Now? DesignTalks 2023 Addresses Global Issues

Published May 4, 2023

Photo by
Joana Fontinha

In the face of the challenges the world is currently facing — from wars to the repercussions of the pandemic and the climate emergency, the role of design and architecture in societal and global change has never been more important. DesignTalks 2023, an international conference that took place within DesignMarch festival at Harpa on May 3rd, addressed these issues, and highlighting the power of creativity in finding solutions.

DesignTalks 2023 brought together a diverse group of experts — sci-fi architects, designers, bio-designers, artists and curators to explore the question of “What now?”. Unfortunately, a few speakers had to cancel last moment and couldn’t attend the conference. Two speakers connected online due to personal circumstances.

The Grapevine spent the whole day at the conference. Here are some of our impressions and takeaways.

Trees on stage

There were at least 10 small pine trees, as well as birch trees, bushes, and an abundance of moss on the stage. Despite claiming that the trees were donated by Kópavogur forestry and rescued from trash bins and such, the view was rather surreal, especially since the first few talks heavily focused on sustainability. Some of the attendees, including us, were puzzled about whether having real trees on stage helps support sustainability solutions in any way, considering the carbon emissions involved in bringing those trees to Harpa.

AI in art: a blessing or a curse?

The first block of talks was titled “What now? Let’s talk about creativity” and featured talks by Liam Young, a sci-fi architect and director, and Refik Anadol, a media artist director and data and machine intelligence enthusiast. Both artists focused on using technology to maximize creativity. “I’m trying to bring inspiration, joy, and hope, but not necessarily ignoring the problem,” says Refik Anadol, speaking about the threats that AI and other technologies currently on the rise pose to artists. “I do believe in the power of the education part. We do have more chances to communicate.”

“Climate change is no longer a technological problem. There’s no billionaire who can deliver us a magic bullet solution. Climate change is now a political and cultural problem,” stressed Liam Young.

Lab-grown leather

Ingvar Helgason, designer and founder of VitroLabs, spoke about his company’s research on growing real leather in a lab. By taking a single biopsy from a cow, they can produce enough leather for millions of handbags. The product uses 98% less land, emits 76% fewer greenhouse gases, and does not harm any animals in the process. “How do we work with customers to replace the leather, rather than adding new alternatives?” — is one of Ingvar’s main goals as he talks about the fashion brand Hermes willing to add lab-grown leather to their product chain, rather than saying no to real leather in general. 

Outerwear that lasts

Bjarney Harðardóttir, CEO and owner of 66°North, spoke about the importance of creating performance outerwear that lasts and putting repairability at the forefront of her brand. She stated that “It became the outerwear of the nation,” and emphasized that creativity thrives when working within limitations.

The talk featured examples of how 66°North have been repurposing leftover materials, as well as a conversation with Charlie Constantinou, an aspiring UK-based designer that has just released a limited collection with 66°North.

Human shells for introverts

One of the most inspiring talks in our opinion turned out to be a keynote by Sigríður Sunna Reynisdóttir, artistic director and founder of ÞYKJÓ, a brand that designs toys, costumes and furniture for children, with children.

The talk guided us through the creative process of the brand as well as well the ins and outs of featured projects. “Kids are being experts on being kids,” says Sigríður.

From waste to well-being

After attendees were treated to some ugly veg soup, it was time for a talk by Sigurður Þorsteinsson, Partner at Design Group Italia and Chief Brand, Design and Innovation Officer at the Blue Lagoon, who spoke about how the Blue Lagoon has reinvented its brand over the years. “This wouldn’t be allowed today,” he laughed, saying that the blue water in the Blue Lagoon is just the waste water of a power plant. As tourism in Iceland grew, the Blue Lagoon focused on attracting affluent visitors rather than everyone. Sigurður also unveiled a few plans that the Blue Lagoon has in store for 2023.

While DesignTalks 2023 might be over, the DesignMarch festival continues. Today, we’re planning to pop in to the following events:

Pizza time, Studio Flétta and Ýrúrarí invite you to grab a pizza made of wool offcuts (Gallery Port, Laugavegur 32, 101 Reykjavík, 16:00-19:00)

Bespoke rugs, a collection of rugs by Lilý Erla Adamsdóttir inspired by nature — heather, moss and Icelandic rocks (Sjöstrand, Hólmaslóð 4, 101 Reykjavík, 17:00-19:00)

Jewellery at The House of Collection, an exhibition, showcasing works of students (Technical College Reykjavík) in gold and silver smithery (Safnahúsið, Hverfisgata 15, 101 Reykjavík, 15:00-17:00)

Quarter to Five, a new scent presentation at Fischersund (Fischersund, Fischersund 3, 101 Reykjavík, 16:45-21:00)

REEL, a coffee table collection made of recycled and discarded materials (S/K/E/K/K, Óðinsgata 1, 101 Reykjavík, 18:00-20:00)

These are just a few of our picks, there is much more! Choose your favourite and prepare for design inspiration this week:

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