Lilli Hollein

Oh, Vienna!

The founder and director of the Vienna Design Week, that just turned 11, questions: do we need other design weeks?

I have the ability to fall in love very passionately and enduringly. My relationship with Vienna is such. I was born in this city and all attempts to leave here for a longer period or to completely move away have failed. I confess there are many days and occasions that make me think of how much in the right place I feel here. Even given the city's dark past during the Nazi-Regime that we have obviously not overcome as recent elections show with terrifyingly good results for the right and far right.

Still I would say Vienna is in full bloom. The art world and many others are seeing the city in a different light. It is no longer only the beautiful historical stage but a truly contemporary and vivid city with a very particular charm. It is a wealthy and social city with a high quality of living for all citizens. It embraces the arts and has a long tradition in manufacturing and crafts. The other side to this is that Vienna has a certain lazyness if not ignorance towards processes of radical transformation, renewal or even the acceptance of something new.

The historical attitude of the city leaves traces on everything. Being Viennese is like bearing a famous name: Everywhere you go you are met with the same comments over and over again: the history! The beauty of the Ringstrasse, Loos and Wagner! Wiener Werkstätte! Klimt! Schiele! At a certain point this starts to hurt when you are a member of a current generation and want to write your own chapters in history.

Vienna is in full bloom. The art world and many others are seeing the city in a different light. It is no longer only the beautiful historical stage but a truly contemporary and vivid city with a very particular charm.

That was a reason for founding Vienna Design Week in 2007 together with two colleagues: We wanted to build a platform for the contemporary, add to the perception of Vienna as beeing a vivid, transforming organism. At that point Vienna was nothing of a design capital and we carefully worked on reasons to make an international crowd of professionals come here besides the audience of locals. Still the question we asked ourselves was: Does the world need another design week? In the meantime dozens of design festivals have popped up in all parts oft he world and still my answer is: Yes, the world needs more Design Weeks, if they work with the cities where they are staged in. Vienna definitely needed one for two reasons: to encourage the local scene and to contribute to the new popularity of our city.


“The city is a state of mind”, Robert Park, 1915
Vienna is at its best when it is experimental and nonconformist (the Viennese have the ability to be like that in a very charming way). Oliver Kartak, who is Dean of the Institute of Design at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts, the Angewandte, claimed on a panel discussion on design education at this year’s Vienna Design Week that change comes from disobedience towards the status quo. He argued that we have to educate students in the first place as critical thinkers. I agree to the fullest. And it is not only the creatives we have to educate this way. The festival also tries to encourage the commissioners, entrepreneurs, politicians to think in this manner.

Vienna Design Week is a curated event that tries to deeply link with the city in various aspects. Its tasks and approaches are as diverse as is the notion of design. We have a format, Passionswege, maybe the most popular of the festival, where we comission designers to work with manufactures but to engage the whole process different than you would for a normal job. We foster knowledge transfer and exchange between the partners and do not necessesarily ask for a product.

Yes, the world needs more Design Weeks, if they work with the cities where they are staged in.

This year's cooperation between Jolan van der Wiel and J. & L. Lobmeyr is an example of challenging a long term partner like the glass and chandelier manufacturer,  whose excellence lies with the fine details, the quality of the glass, its engraving or painting, by teaming them up with a designer who takes a very different approach. Jolan is not so much interested in the formal aspects of design. He is a radical thinker, starts his work by coming up with a process and lets nature or gravity do the design as in his stunning magnetic series. For Lobmeyr his smart and poetic contribution was replacing glass with water.

Don't ask what the city can do for you, ask what you can do for the city. Vienna Design Week finances these projects wich is a major effort for us. We are a non profit cultural association which receives no basic funding and our budget consists of 50% public and 50% private money. Many manufacturers would never agree to participate in such an experimental process if they had to invest more than time and material.

After more than a decade of Passionswege projects we have a range of cooperations with very different results and learnings. Each of them was worth the effort from all sides. We have proven that it is important and rewarding to experiment with projects like this, were people are forced to look at what they are good at from a new perspective.

Vienna Design Week is a curated event that tries to deeply link with the city in various aspects. Its tasks and approaches are as diverse as is the notion of design.

A change in perspective is also a main objective of the festival when it comes to our venues. We change the area where we stage the festival every year. This focus district is not necessarily a glamouros or commercial area, since we want locals to see their city in depth and visitors from abroad to experience the true faces of Vienna. Stadtarbeit, our social design format normally deals with topics that are specific to this very area. Whether we are in a residential area for well-offs or like this year in Vienna's poorest district with the highest rate of migrant population – it is this variety that describes the tasks that we as designers have to articulate and solve for society and it can be negotiated with a public in the course oft he festival projects.

The same is true when it comes to the yearly guest country. We try to come up with new territories rather than top destinations. Romania was our guest country this year, showing us the way they work with crafts and their young design scene. We invited the Architectural Faculty of the Polytechnic University of Timisoara who conceived “The Answering Machine”, an impressive exhibition and analyzing Romania's Diaspora, which is the second biggest in the world even without a war, with most of the students leaving for an Erasmus semester never to return.

All of this has made Vienna Design Week a festival with a special character and position. The great thing about being non-commercial, curated, yearly (and always short on money) is that it enables you to stay nimble and react quickly.  Making unexpected links and matches is what we are really skilled at. That gives us a lot of freedom. We like to smoothly open up towards other disciplines, like we did for Virgil Widrich, a filmmaker, who did a simply wonderful installation at one of our venues, a architecturally outstanding bank interior from the 1970ies, where he unfolded film into the third dimension in the former vault.
We have also been doing projects with people from the field of biotechnology in the past years, which is something I find extremely interesting in combination with design. Interdisciplinarity without becoming random, this is what we are trying to achieve.
I am passionate about design and I truly believe in its powers. I believe that design can change and should influence the way we live. So do we need more design weeks?
How could I say no?

Sodales purus vel vero possimus temporibus venenatis

Sodales purus vel vero possimus temporibus venenatis

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