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UNESCO Creative Cities visit Singapore

7 min read

From 6 to 10 March 2019, DesignSingapore Council had the honour of hosting 33 delegates from various UNESCO Cities of Design as part of Singapore Design Week.

UNESCO Cities of Design (COD) is one of the seven subnetworks under the UNESCO Creative Cities of Design Network. Cities with this title are united in their goals of spreading design knowledge into different sectors of economy and policy, as well as implementing design thinking principles into everyday life.

On their first night of arrival, delegates had their first encounter with Singaporean design at Wallpaper* Handmade, an exhibition of original, one-off luxury items created by the best creatives and manufacturers commissioned by Wallpaper* for its annual showcase in Milan Design Week. The showcase included works by eight Singaporean pieces by Singapore-based designers and design studios. 

Delegates receiving a tour from TF Chan, Commissioning Editor at Wallpaper* about the exhibition.

Delegates spent the morning of 7 March at Brainstorm Design, a unique new conference dedicated to exploring the increasingly crucial nexus between business and design. Following that, they were then given a tour of the National Design Centre (NDC), the Fifty Years of Singapore Design  exhibition and the SDW events surrounding NDC, such as SingaPlural, The Community Thread and Urban Interventions. These installations and district activations gave delegates a glimpse into the growth and evolution of Singapore design over the past 50 years. 

Dinner at Folklore restaurant hosted by Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade & Industry and Ministry of Education Mr Chee Hong Tat.

After feasting their eyes on the variety of design highlights of NDC and its surrounding areas, delegates were invited to feast on a variety of Peranakan food at a dinner hosted by Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Trade & Industry and Ministry of Education Mr Chee Hong Tat. Over a delightful spread of uniquely Singaporean food, Delegates were able to form meaningful connections over their shared passions and experiences in design education and policy implementation. Conversations at the dinner table also featured light-hearted anecdotes about cultural experiences and childhood tales. “I think there was a lot of meaningful conversations that I’ll be able to take back home to the United States,” expressed Lillian Crum from Detroit.

Delegates sharing about design at the UNESCO Cities of Design Public Forum. 

All the delegates participated, as both presenters and audience members, in the UNESCO Cities of Design Public Forum held on the 8 of March. The forum, open to members of the public, involved presentations and panel discussions about design by a variety of policymakers, designers, educators and leaders.

The public forum, which had been split into four pillars – Design X Policy, Design X Education, Design X Business and Design X Communications – was well received as a place of knowledge and experience sharing. Each presentation was seen not only as a platform for spreading ideas about design policies and implementation, but also an opportunity for the audience to learn more about the various cities featured.  Panellists received a flood of interesting questions during the panel session, such as “How can the community influence policies if policy makers have yet to realise the importance of design?”, which prompted a robust discussion. 

Delegates enjoying dinner at Lau Pat Sat, a historic building located within the heart of the city and home to an array of local cuisine.

As closure to a fulfilling day of talks and discussions, the delegates were brought to Lau Pat Sat for a local dining experience. Here, they met a few Singaporean designers, and together they devoured a variety of local favourites, such as chicken rice, rojak, fried kway teow and satay.

On 9 March, delegates were brought to an array of Singapore Design Week programmes, such as the International Furniture Fair Singapore, where they learnt more about urban living. They were later brought to DesignOrchard, a new shopping space along Orchard Road that features locally designed goods. Many delegates appreciated the unique experience, such as Annie Marrs from Dundee, who mentions that visiting Design Orchard was one of her favourite parts of the visit as “It’s an impressive example of a local, well-run partnership, something many of us could learn from.” 

Delegates posing along Bukit Pasoh street, which was converted into a vibrant festival site as part of the Street of Clans creative festival.

Following that, the delegates visited Street of Clans, a vibrant and creative festival merging local clan history with Singapore’s creative communities. The delegates enjoyed the various clan houses and the design installations put up by local designers; they soaked in the festivities and the messages of kinship and unity. They later channeled these values during their farewell dinner, where they celebrated the bonds formed during this visit programme, even shouting “Yamseng!” (local slang for “cheers!”) with their newfound friends.

The UNESCO Cities of Design visit programme to Singapore stands true to the message of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which includes the sharing of best practices and forming bonds through shared values. As delegates from all over the world learned more about Singapore’s design landscape and the many local opportunities for design, many expressed a desire to collaborate with Singapore for future projects, with the hope of further improving cities by design. 

Article by Amidala Lee who interned with the Communications & International Relations team.

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Singapore’s highest honour for designers and designs across all disciplines
One of Asia’s premier design festivals that champions design thought leadership
National Design Centre