words William WilesThe Serbian capital Belgrade was briefly the centre of the European design scene last week as it hosted the fifth annual Belgrade Design Week (BDW). Three days of talks and presentations from leading architects and designers drew an enthusiastic crowd of locals and international observers, including icon magazine.
London-based Spanish designer Jaime Hayon scooped the week's Grand Prix for the best presentation, followed by fellow Spaniard Marti Guixe and David Linderman of interactive design studio Hi-Res. These three all gave their presentations on the last day, Saturday, a rousing finale for the crowd in the Atelje 212 theatre. Hayon and Guixe both provided the right blend of charismatic delivery and offbeat design approach for an audience looking for originality and excitement. Linderman combined deadpan American charm with pyrotechnic visuals.
Visitor numbers were blunted by unseasonable torrential rain and the venue's fire restrictions, but that did nothing to dampen the ebullience of BDW chairman Jovan Jelovac. “I'm 100 percent positive that this was not just the best design week so far, but the last day of the week was honestly the biggest privilege on earth for me to sit in the first row and listen to these people,” he says. “I was totally surprised with David Linderman and Marti Guixe, but … I laughed my arse off, which is a rare situation in creative festivals.”
Other highlights from the week included the Danish architect Bjarke Ingels, always an entertaining speaker, Jacob van Rijs from MVRDV, and Slovenian designer Nika Zupanc. But often the best part of this kind of conference is the treats that come as a surprise. Dutch intellectual property lawyer Aernoud Bourdrez, for instance, proved electric on the subject of conflict resolution in the creative industries. Simon de Pury of auction house Phillips de Pury gave an interesting overview of the market for limited-edition design on Thursday – and then astonished nearly everyone by DJing in the Magacin nightclub the following night.
The real selling point of Belgrade's design week is its amazing spirit – the event is put together with near-zero state support on a shoestring budget through the intense enthusiasm of a small team determined to bring the creative industries to a neglected corner of Europe. “It's completely privately run, and it's completely one-to-one in its relationships – it's kind of like a family affair, where everybody is instantly local upon arrival, rather than a business affair like Milan or the London Design Festival,” says Jelovac.