As celebratory years go, 2016 was a perfect storm of design for Dundee. It was the first of our Dundee Design Festivals in West Ward Works, the Festival of Architecture with the finale in Dundee and lots of excellent new activity such as Make-Share from Creative Dundee – and it all fell under the unwieldy umbrella of the Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design
Throughout the year, Dundee and our designation as a UNESCO city of design was a story told to people in the city, across Scotland and globally. So as we race into 2017 and even more brilliant design moments, I wanted to take a look back at the highlights of our design year.
In May we opened the doors for the first time in six years to West Ward Works, the former DC Thomson print works which once produced five million annuals – from the Beano to the Bunty – each year. The building burst with energy at the four day festival which told the story of why Dundee became a design city and what it does now. Everything from textiles to jewellery featured, but there were also some harder tales to tell, including the design of smoke alarms.
Research has shown the traditional smoke alarms don’t wake children when they go off, so a team at the University of Dundee has rescinded the way smoke alarms work, replacing the loud beep with a voice telling children to wake up. The display was one off the many hits of the festival with our 7,000 visitors. There were many others, including digital design – Killbox from Biome Collective has gone on to win awards – and sound design, healthcare and architecture.
A highlight for me was seeing the design community in Dundee – and Scotland – come together to make an event like this happen. We worked with some of the best designers in Scotland, from Dundee, doing innovative and exciting work.
The People’s Tower was a moment of design that engaged the whole city. The sight of the 16 metre high tower constructed of cardboard boxes tumbling to the ground was a great one. I loved that the idea sprung from the original We Dundee work that was done for the UK city of culture bid in 2013. People asked for the Royal Arch to be rebuilt and it was, albeit briefly.
Working with Open Change, service design experts, has been scattered throughout the year, but a senior management meeting in June brought together some of the most senior staff in Dundee City Council together with service designers, to work to understand what it is that the customer wants – that customer, by the way, is you, me and everybody who uses the education system or walks down a road or has their bin collected. How can those services work harder for us? It was invigorating to see that the people who are decision makers in the council truly care that we’re getting the best from them.
The year ended with a flurry of brilliant activity, including NEoN Digtial Arts Festival which produced some outstanding pieces, utilising the West Ward Works once again in a unique way. They were followed closely by Architecture & Design Scotland who brought Lateral North’s Venice Biennale exhibition to us, a look at the future of Scotland’s relationship with the north, and in particular the emerging Arctic region. The exhibition also featured some of the fantastic work from Dundee Institute of Architects, including mini-golf that was a hit with my two girls.
We finished the year with a bang, with the finale of the Festival of Architecture – in partnership with the city’s home-grown ‘Light Nights’ event bringing huge numbers of visitors into the city-centre. The festive themed celebration commissioned spectacular lighting designs for Dundee’s oldest and newest landmarks – The Steeple Church and V&A Dundee.
The illumination of The Steeple Church, one of Dundee’s oldest surviving buildings, was designed by Biome Collective and invited passers-by to participate and influence the designs and music being projected onto the 160ft high church tower. This was a wonderful expression of Dundee’s design past meeting its future. As those surroundings change dramatically – the railway station goes up and up, the scaffolding comes down from the V&A Dundee design museum, we can look back on our brilliant year with confidence that there’s more to come in 2017.
Anna Day is Manager of UNESCO City of Design Dundee.