This year’s Sydney Design Week is based on the works of the late French philosopher, creative director Kenton Butler tells Dezeen in this interview.

Butler, who is also chief curator of design and architecture at the Powerhouse Museum, spoke to Dezeen ahead of Design Week to explain her curatorial approach to this year’s programme.

This year’s edition of Sydney Design Week takes place from September 15 to 24, featuring more than 60 events including tours, workshops and public architecture presented across the city.

Kenton Butler is the Creative Director of Sydney Design Week 2023. Photography by Sean Slattery

Under the title Amodern, the program will address six themes that explore the cultural and environmental challenges facing architects and designers.

Butler explained that the theme of the program this year is a direct response to the works of the French philosopher and anthropologist Bruno Latour, who died at the end of 2022.

Design Week title: “A Provocation to Rethink”

“It was around that time that I started formulating the Design Week programme,” she said.

“I was revisiting some of Latour’s prolific work – which anticipates many of the important debates that designers and architects engage in today about building stronger connections between society, culture and our natural and built environment.”

“The title is a kind of provocation to rethink established twentieth-century narratives and create new ways of thinking.”

Angelo Candalepas will lead a tour of the Punchbowl Mosque, which he designed and is located in one of Sydney’s largest Muslim communities. Photography by Brett Boardman

Latour is widely known for his work examining how humanity perceives the climate emergency differently around the world.

From an organizational point of view, one of the most significant departures from previous Sydney Design Weeks is the division of the program into six areas of research – ecosystems, material cultures, community cities, micro-cycles, connected threads and light fields.

Materials science is the main focus

Materials science, research and innovation are the main themes of this year’s programme.

“As a trustee, I wanted to shape the program in this way and design a program that prioritizes research-based practice, while embracing multiple perspectives from our local communities,” Butler said.

“Ultimately, I set out to create a planetary-focused program with a clear vision of the work that lay ahead.”

South Korean designer Kwangho Lee will deliver a keynote speech during Sydney Design Week to present his experiments with different materials. Photography by Jihoon Kang

South Korean designer Kwangho Lee was invited to give a keynote talk at Powerhouse Ultimo on September 16 to showcase his experiments in manufacturing using wood, stone and straw, and share insights into his recent works, such as his knotted nylon rope furniture, as well as his collection for Swedish brand Hem.

A workshop on making bioplastics will be hosted by designers Nahum McLean and Ella Williams.

Meanwhile, Australian fashion designer Gary Bigini and researcher Doris Lee will lead a demonstration of the Shima Seiki Wholegarment seamless knitting machine.

The Shima Seiki Wholegarment Seamless Knitting Machine can create an entire garment in one piece. Image courtesy of Every Fashion Future

The Japanese-designed machine can make entire garments in one piece, reducing the waste of thread and materials and supporting the production of customized and bespoke garments.

“Materials science, research and innovation have been at the forefront of design discourse for a number of years, and for good reason – materials have the potential to revolutionize manufacturing and large-scale production,” Butler said.

“The Design Week program looks at material resources and extractive practices in Australia in a time of climate crisis and investigates the cultural and political history of materials.”

Attendees are encouraged to participate in a workshop on the bioplastics industry. Photo by Dexter Cave

In addition, the program will examine Australia’s colonial past, she added.

“The program also provides a platform to interrogate our colonial histories and museum collections. This year, I wanted to prioritize new perspectives, multiple curatorial and industry voices, as well as expanded practices from our local communities.”

In a series of closed and public talks called Objects Testify, visitors are encouraged to explore the colonial legacy of Australia’s built environment and its continuing impact on Indigenous communities.

Multiple design perspectives

Wiradjuri artist Joel Sherwood Spring will present his work illustrating how colonists used ‘drilling’ and the extraction of raw materials as the basis for colonial exploitation.

Meanwhile, Clarence Sloak, director of Jiwah, a local cultural landscape and design firm, will lead a guided tour of Australia’s first rooftop Aboriginal farm.

Growing in the 500 square meter garden on top of a community building are native edible, medicinal and cultural plants, including a variety of bush foods.

Elsewhere, Punchbowl Mosque architect Angelo Candalibas will host a tour of the building, which is located in one of Sydney’s largest Muslim communities.

It includes 102 exposed concrete domes, each with a 30 mm opening in the center to illuminate the main prayer place as the sun moves from dawn prayer to noon and mid-afternoon prayers.

Jiwah has created Australia’s first Aboriginal rooftop farm. Image courtesy of the Australian Plant Society of NSW

“I like to think that Sydney Design Week is evolving alongside the industry, and I feel that this year’s program reflects the interdisciplinary nature of design practice today,” Butler said.

“Fundamentally, designers are tasked with responding to a changing society as well as a changing climate and have a great deal of cultural agency.”

Sydney Design Week takes place across Sydney from 15 to 24 September 2023. For more information on events, exhibitions and talks, visit Dezeen’s events guide.

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