The spring-like weather not only brought a new energy to Vancouver last week, but to the entire pacific north west where the winter has hit us hard. The sunshine made a perfectly-timed appearance at Design Week Portland’s opening weekend, which welcomed registrants at The Redd, a former ironworks building in the central eastside industrial district in the process of being converted to an innovative foodhub by local nonprofit Ecotrust.

Green Loop Exhibit

The Green Loop Exhibit greeted us, a visual feast of community engagement relating to a proposed project linking the neighbourhoods around Portland through a six-mile park. The green loop is continuous, and links the entire circuit, and in turn the city, together. There are then inner loops which are broken down into districts, neighbourhoods and blocks; allowing the character of a certain area to shine through on one side, while unifying the city on the other.

Revolutionary Hall

Opening weekend meant a packed schedule of talks at Revolutionary Hall, an auditorium buried in the incredible Washington High School which has been renovated and re-purposed into a fascinating multi use, creative hub. Classrooms became studios, corners became cafes and most importantly, the atmosphere became pretty amazing.


Then came the talks. They were compelling and varied, tales of journeys and stories of how design has played a significant part in impacting both our world and the lives of individuals. Included was a conversation from a mother and daughter who collaborate in their multi-generational art practice, and another regarding an accelerator fund run by women providing business loans to other women.

There were some extreme statistics highlighted in this particular talk, for example, women get five cents on the dollar of business loans in the US compared to men…and that’s white women. Shockingly, non-white women statistically get 0% of US business loans. They made this point by handing out five cent coins to each person entering, with a bill taking its place on rare occasion. The dollar bills were stamped with the words “the gift must always move” and the receivers were prompted to pass on the money to another person. This made reference to the kissi penny, a west African currency of thin iron rods with winged shapes at the ends, which was circulated and passed rather than hoarded. The wealth moved.

The following talks ranged from high school students designing and building community projects, the creation of a Native American typeface, local garment manufacturers, bonsai meets local fir tree, graphics design in Zimbabwe, and much more.

The weekend left me thinking (a million things, but here are my top 5):

1. Women starting businesses are phenomenally underfunded. Let’s try and do something to help remedy this if we possibly can.
2. Participatory design and construction can have a profound effect on the relationship between a building and its users. (Em)power = impact. How could we further incorporate end users in the construction of our buildings?
3. The impact adding First Nation’s languages to an iPhone could have for the preservation of a community’s heritage. This could be incredibly relevant to many of our indigenous populations.
4. “Be Human” is one of the best company values I have ever heard.
5. Design can be a tool for cross boarder communication, and ultimately, diplomacy.