Czech design festival showcases high level of local creativity

Photo: CTK

This week Prague is hosting its biggest annual design festival, Designblok, with dozens of presentations, exhibitions and fashion shows taking place in the city. Unlike in the previous years, when it occupied various industrial spaces, Designblok has now moved to the centre of Prague. The festival’s main exhibition space – the so-called Superstudio – is located right on Wenceslas Square. When I spoke to Jana Zielienski, the director of Designblok, I first asked her why they decided to make this move:

“As you know, we always try to find new locations. This year, we decided to put together the design of the historical building and contemporary design.

“We had an excellent opportunity to use the Grand Hotel Evropa, the geometric Art Nouveau building at Wenceslas Square, which is beautifully preserved. It is a unique opportunity for the people to see the building before it is going to be reconstructed into a luxury hotel.

“I really loved the idea of the rooms full of contemporary brands of Czech and international producers and I think it’s a very interesting contrast to see the novelties of design in this very specific historical building.”

What are the other main venues?

“We have five venues this year. We have one directly on the Old Town Square by the Orloj. It is a Renaissance building, it is the Open Studio and it is a building devoted only to designers.

“You will find more than 100 designers from 15 European countries under one roof, and people can visit the exhibitions, talk to the designers and maybe even buy from them directly.

“Then we have a former basic school in Mikulandská, which is very close to Národní třída, it’s a former basic school with more than 30 classrooms and we have put there all the installations which are connected to the main topic of this years’ Designblok, which is childhood and game.

Grand Hotel Evropa,  photo: CTK
“The fourth building is the same as last year, The Art House, at the Colloredo Mansfeld Palace by the Charles Bridge. So all the main venues are in the centre of Prague and you can walk from one to another. The last venue is the Church of Saint Simon and Judah and this is the venue for the fashion shows.”

As you have already mentioned, the main theme of this year’s Designblok is childhood. Why have you chosen this topic?

“The festival is now in its sixteenth year. The last anniversary was the fifteenth, which was very important for us, and the topic was quite serious – it was icons, and we looked at the past and contemporary icons. So after that we have decided to play again and we were thinking about some lighter topic that could be playful and that would interest people, so they could actually feel to be part of Designblok.

“And so we thought of childhood. But that doesn’t mean that Designblok this year is about toys or things for children. Childhood means openness to new ideas, fantasy and open mind. We wanted to show that design is something you can play with and it doesn’t have to be only serious business.”

The main exhibition is called Hra or Game. Is this why you have chosen to locate it into the building of a former school?

One of the expositions at Superstudio Evropa,  photo: CTK
“We already had three venues but then we got this offer to use the school which is now owned by Academy of Applied Arts. And we were thinking that it could be interesting to make one topic dedicated only to the topic of childhood. So that’s why we put the main exhibition there and it fits there perfectly.”

Will the visitors really have a chance to revisit their childhood? Will they have a chance to play?

Yes, a lot of the installations are interactive, a lot of them are very playful and they are interesting even for the children. So I think families with children can visit especially this building which is very friendly and very open to all the public.”

Can you mention some of the specific installations?

“I would definitely mention the café U Lípy. It’s a tree house built by the Czech designer Maxim Velčovský together with the Vitra company. The bar or the café will be located right in the tree house and it is going to be furnished by the Vitra iconic furniture.

Jana Zielinski,  photo: Ian Willoughby
“There is a very interesting installation by Veronika Jiroušková and Lenka Míková, which is called The Workshop. These two designers want to show that manual work is the best form of relaxation. So people can come and work with different tools as they used to do in school in the past.

“Then we have a beautiful exhibition of Swedish toys and we also have a Playmobil exhibition because the company celebrates a big anniversary and they wanted to celebrate it here at Designblok. So there are a lot of playful and interactive exhibition that people can join.”

Last year you launched a co-called Diploma Selection, an international contest of student graduation works in the field of design and fashion. Can you tell me more about that?

“We have started last year with only fashion and this year we have decided to include product design as well. We had more than 80 applications from the whole of Europe and in the end we have chosen 29 best diploma works.

One of the expositions at Superstudio Evropa,  photo: CTK
“The works are exhibited at the Open Studio U Minuty in the Old Town Square and the selection of the best fashion diploma works can be seen on the fashion stage in the church.

“What is really interesting is when you see the Czech diplomas and diploma works from Europe, you can see how high the quality of Czech students is. And we have the best European schools here, such as St. Martins or Royal College of Arts in Antwerp and I think it is great to know that Czech diplomas are very much comparable to these best schools.”

What about Czech design? How does it stand in comparison to other countries?

“I think there is an enormous difference. When you travel to Vienna, Berlin and Budapest, or other central European cities, and visit their design weeks, you don’t see many local producers participating.

“We are very happy that we have more than 30 Czech companies at Designblok who present their cooperation with designers. I think this is really the best result you can get. This was our aim from the very beginning to connect designers and companies so that the companies use designers for their innovations.

One of the expositions at Superstudio Evropa,  photo: CTK
“It is great that if you go to Milano or London Design Week the Czech companies are presented there as well. So I think it is really interesting to see their production in comparison with the international brands which are being presented at Designblok as well of course.”