(Photo: February’s Design Connections in Savannah, GA, focused on the theme of community and how architects, designers and developers can bring people together and make impactful change.)
This was the premise behind the content of the bi-annual Design Connections event in Savannah, GA, from Feb. 12-15, produced by interiors+sources in partnership with conference chair Jane Rohde of JSR Associates.
Held in the historic Kehoe Ironworks building, the event brought together more than 50 designers, manufacturers and students for two-and-a-half days of inspiring speakers, engaging and interactive breakout sessions, and one-to-one meetings with attendees and suppliers.
Design Connections kicked off with a welcome message from Brand Director Steven Sloan, Editor-at-Large Robert Nieminen and Rohde, who discussed this year’s theme of “community.” They then turned the evening over to the opening keynote, Troy Johnson, founder/visionary of YM4C Enterprise.
Johnson shared his inspiring story of how he felt called to build community by creating positive, meaningful forums for young men in Raleigh, NC. Through programs such as ManUP Barbershop Talks, which brings together underserved youth, local law enforcement and community leaders for honest dialogue, and Balling 4 Brotherhood, which promotes physical activity and relationship building through basketball, YM4C is successfully changing its community.
Johnson is intentional about helping to promote cultural competency, deter gang affiliation and bridge the gap in community enforcement with law enforcement, and supports the development of skills needed for success.
Day 1: Creating Community ‘In-Between Spaces’
Anya Sirota, principal of Akoaki, and Darin Piippo, market specialist at Studio 431, opened the first full day with a keynote on “In-Between Spaces,” which explored the how to build community and connect indoors with outdoors more creatively and effectively.
Akoaki related real-life examples from the Detroit area where her team has leveraged the power of temporary (and sometimes unsolicited) architecture to activate the community by creating spaces where artists can perform and all are welcome (the firm’s replica of Parliament Funkadelic’s Mothership was mind blowing).
Piippo offered a number of examples of how abandoned or underutilized outdoor spaces, such as New York’s High Line, can become valuable public amenities.
Immediately following Sirota’s and Piippo’s keynote presentation, attendees broke into four groups for an interactive design charette, during which they brainstormed concepts and created sketches for community space between two real-life projects chosen at random.
Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) students Valentina Ruiz, James Jung, Tatiana Frias and Quitong Liu also participated in the design charette and chose one of the four projects presented to create a full-fledged design concept.
That afternoon, the students developed a creative and thorough solution for in-between spaces that supported community based on the group exercise that truly ‘wow’ed’ attendees during their presentation later that evening.
To round out the day, attendees were treated to a special walking tour of the event’s location in the historic Kehoe Ironworks building, led by Kevin Rose, director of design for Lominack Kolman Smith Architects, and Rebecca Fenwick, principal at Ethos Preservation.
The 6.3 acre brownfield site laid vacant for 28 years before being meticulously restored as part of Savannah’s National Historic Landmark District, and Rose and Kolman walked attendees through the property, detailing the challenges they encountered and the extensive renovation that took place to bring the site back to its former glory.
Day 2: Rebuilding Communities in Action
Day two opened with a keynote presentation by Necia Bonner, senior associate and director of Healthcare Interiors for Kinsey Architecture, and Joel Kalmin, director of facilities planning for Legacy Community Health, which explored how Legacy provides services to underserved locations and care populations in Houston.
The design of its new facility in Houston’s Fifth Ward demonstrated how a community based approach can be transferrable to all types of projects.
That afternoon, Derric Scott, CEO of Jefferson East Inc., discussed how his development group in partnership with community leaders and government are rebuilding community in the city of Detroit.
The grassroots community involvement effort is helping to create successful and inclusive communities in part by hiring from the local labor pool, offering accessible price points in businesses that open and establishing a sense of local pride and ownership. Scott shared a number of inspiring success stories of community engagement and entrepreneurship, including the opening of Norma G’s, the first new restaurant in the community in 27 years.
Sloan and Rhode presented best-of-show product awards during the final evening of the event to manufacturers representing the following practice areas:
1. Workplace: Aceray
2. Healthcare/Medical: Ecore Commercial
3. Healthcare/Senior Living: Sunbrella Contract
4. Hospitality: Concertex
5. Education: Aceray
An award was also given to the annual Disruptor in Chief, which went to Angie Fleshman, interior designer at Corgan. The annual Disruptor in Chief award is given to an individual who questions the status quo, pushing others to ask why they do what they do and if there is a better approach to take.
As always, attendees also participated in a Night of Giving, during which they painted works of art on canvas that were auctioned to benefit the Two Hundred Club of the Coastal Empire.
[More from the event: SCAD Students Talk ‘In-Between’ Spaces at Design Connections]
This is a local nonprofit charitable organization that provides financial assistance to the surviving spouse and children of law enforcement officers and firefighters who lose their lives in the line of duty while protecting their communities.
Throughout the event, attendees also spent time in roundtable discussions divided by practice (workplace, education, healthcare and hospitality) during which sponsors were able to dive deeper into the challenges and issues designers face on a daily basis.
These invaluable discussions helped foster a sense of community among designers and facilitate better understanding within the manufacturing community as to what designers need to be successful.
Further, attendees had an opportunity to meet one-on-one with suppliers at Design Connections to find solutions to projects they are currently working on. Fondly referred to as the “speed dating” session, designers were able to schedule up to 14 meetings during the two-day event, which also gave sponsors the chance to introduce attendees to new products.
Overall, attendees left inspired by new ideas and interpretations of community and equipped to make an impact in their communities—one conversation, one idea and one project at a time.
Inquire About Design Connections
The next Design Connections, which brings together architecture and design professionals with leading suppliers for unparalleled content, networking and business development, will take place this fall.
Design Connections 2.0 will be Oct. 14-15 at Pasea Hotel & Spa in Huntington Beach, CA. Learn more about the event and inquire about attending.
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