Designblok, Prague International Design Festival is the largest curated show of design and fashion in Central Europe. Every year, hundreds of designers, companies, studios, artists and schools participate at Prague International Design Festival. This year’s edition took place despite exceptional hygienic measures related to the coronavirus pandemic. Themes resonating among exhibitors included sustainable production, experiments with materials, but also passion, crafts and traditional techniques.
The 22nd year of Designblok Festival took place from 7-11 October 2020 in the premises of the former St Gabriel’s Monastery in Smíchov, Prague, and offered visitors an extensive selection of Czech design by local authors, established designers and top-quality companies. Traditional social events that would normally be part of the festival had to be cancelled due to the state of emergency and the side programme of lectures and discussions was moved online. Interviews with interesting guests were streamed in real time on social media. For the first time in the history of Designblok, visitors had the opportunity to view all 227 installations online via a 3D tour. The exhibition took place in its usual full extent except for international programme, which couldn’t be carried out as planned. Restrictions also impacted the international Diploma Selection competition: every year, an international jury composed of renowned international gallery owners and curators chooses the best diploma projects in design and fashion; however, this year the competition had to be cancelled.
What was new at this year’s Designblok?
After five years at the Výstaviště Exhibition Ground in Holešovice, Prague, Designblok changed location to the former St Gabriel’s Monastery. “For five consecutive years Designblok took place at Prague Výstaviště and this stability of place enabled us to elevate the festival to the desired international context. This year, we decided to interrupt this continuity and use the premises of the former St Gabriel’s Monastery in Holečkova St. as our main exhibition place. The building was originally built as an educational institution for young girls from good families. It was built in a unique Beuron style and much of its original elements have been preserved to this day. The contrast of historic space and contemporary design is certainly extremely attractive, both to visitors and exhibitors. We’ve tried and tested this principle already in the past, e.g. in Grand Hotel Evropa, factory halls in Karlín, or in Nákladové nádraží Žižkov,” says Designblok director Jana Zielinski. The unique building of the former monastery, located in the vicinity of the Kinsky Gardens, was built between 1888-1891 according to the design by Benedictine monks. It functioned as a monastery until 1919. Later on, it was owned by the Czech Post and functioned as Post Museum, Post Voucher Central Office and Prague Post Main Office. In November 2020, the monastery was acquired by Cimex Invest real estate company.
Designerie and Passion
Every year, Designblok presents a central theme weaving through the festival and appearing as a motive in many installations of exhibitors. After themes such as Icons, Childhood, Freedom, Sport, Food and Future, organisers chose Passion as the theme of the 22nd edition of the festival. Passion could be found in installations, main exhibition and side programme. “Passion in the sense of being absorbed in creation of something beautiful and perfect; something that exceeds us and touches the immortality. Beauty exceeding the common and ordinary and becoming timeless and eternal. We placed special focus on the connection of contemporary design and traditional crafts which have a longstanding history in our country,” explains Jiří Macek, creative director of Designblok.
This year’s Designerie, the unique installation in the heart of the festival, was designed by Jan Plecháč whose name has been a fixture on the Czech designer scene for years now. Plecháč collaborates with Henry Wielgus with whom he worked for top Czech and international brands and has also an extensive portfolio of his own designs. Jan Plecháč picks up on Lucie Koldová, Maxim Velčovský and Jan Rosický who designed Designerie in the past years. This year, Designerie will be located in Gabriel Loci, in the former cloister garden of St Gabriel’s Monastery. “We return greenery to what used to be the cloister garden, be it for a few days only. We create a pop-up Garden of Eden and in contrast with this paradisiac experience, it’s made of 222 ladders: a quite common, although not a superficial object that allows visitors to gain an incredible perspective. And perspective is indeed something our society needs so much. The motto of this year’s Designerie is: Don’t produce, don’t throw away. Borrow, play and give back,” describes his intention designer Jan Plecháč.
The theme of Passion was also reflected in the Main Exhibition: here Jan Plecháč imprinted his personal passion for motorcycles: “My goal was to breathe life into a morally and technically dated object with help of masters craftsmen who would probably never meet at a single project under normal circumstances. Masters of their craft who step out of their comfort zone, work at their shared goal and let audience look under their hands,” says designer Jan Plecháč, who brought together the skills of a team consisting of a motorcycle maker, saddler, cutter, but also a jeweller and illustrator.
This year, festival organisers focussed supporting local designers and design and fashion brands whose manufacturing and selling opportunities have been impacted by the state of emergency declared by the government in March 2020. Designblok also had a new addition to the programme: the Design Helps exhibition located in Kampa Park, Prague, presented designs and projects by designers whose designs help in the crisis in the field of healthcare, social services and environment. The second new addition was the My Dream programme created by Designblok to help bring to life unfinished projects by designers. “Considering this year’s global situation, we decided to focus on Czech designers and brands. We are pleased to be able to fulfil designers’ dreams they had not time or funding for as yet. My Dream project presented works created with the financial support by Designblok,” says Jana Zielinski, director of Designblok.
The 22nd edition of Designblok took place with a number of measures introduced to provide maximum safety to visitors and exhibitors. The number of visitors present in the premises at one time was strictly limited to avoid larger groups of persons. At the course of five days of Designblok, Gabriel Loci, Musaion and the Kinsky Summer Palace welcomed 15,231 visitors and registered VIP guests.
This year’s Designblok took place in the Gabriel Loci premises in Prague Smíchov neighbourhood. The main exhibition was located in the former monastery, while unique expositions could be found in Musaion (the Kinsky Summer Palace) and on the piazzetta. Collaboration with the National Museum enabled organisers to offer free entry to Art House in Musaion to all visitors. All outdoor installations and showrooms were also free of charge.
The space of Gabriel Loci was divided into several sectors with separate entrances and exits. Some were accessible with a ticket only, while others could be visited for free. The number of persons present at one time in one sector was strictly limited. Exhibitors were evenly divided between paid sectors A and B, meaning visitors could find manufacturers and designers, fashion and jewellery in each sector. Sectors accessible without a ticket included Art House in Musaion and its display of art design and the outdoor Design Helps exhibition in Kampa Park.
Superstudio, located on the ground floor and the first floor of Gabriel Loci, provided space to renowned Czech and international brands who displayed their new furniture, lights and home accessories designs in original installations. The exhibition presented new collections of furniture, electric bicycles, technologies researching acoustic possibilities of materials, mobile workstations, and car in-built camping equipment. Traditional manufacturers were represented by mmcité, Master&Master, Javorina, USSPA, Barrisol, Domark and others.
Openstudio, located on the second and the third floor of Gabriel Loci, was dedicated to designers and designer studios. Here, visitors could explore prototypes and products without a commercial producer. The 22nd edition of Designblok welcomed well-established designers, such as Dechem studio, LLEV studio, and Herrmann & Coufal, as well as new talented designers, e.g. IHOR, Lappa studio and Vykoukal & Navrátilová duo.
Designerie, an experimental landscape located in the former cloister garden, opened its doors for the fourth consecutive year. This year, Designerie, designed by Jan Plecháč, was a giant installation made of 222 ladders inviting visitors to interact or just sit down. Photo corner was also available to visitors who could take a picture here and keep it as a souvenir from the exhibition.
Art House opened for the seventh year now and offered 30 exhibition concepts by renowned Czech and international designers and artists. The classicist building of Musaion in the Kinsky Summerhouse presented collectors’ design by 21 designers who focus on product design, but also on fashion and photography. At present Musaion houses the Ethnographic Exhibition of Czech folk culture and crafts. The collaboration with the National Museum inspired Designblok curators to locate the exhibition of art design into its premises. “Passion, the main theme of this year’s Designblok, collocates enthusiasm and emotions which we can relate to Czech craft and traditions, our effort to get to know them and preserve them for future generations. This entails utterly personal, handmade products created in an intimate environment, evoking contemplation. Designers involved aren’t immune to the threat that the timeline of crafts and traditions can be cut off in the 21st century and they use their creations to ask what is the place of crafts in today’s production, explore their possible new meanings and interpret old things in a new way, thus building a bridge between the past and the future,” explains Danica Kovářová on behalf of Art House curators.
The Design Helps panel exhibition, located in the public space of Kampa Park, was made-to-order for this year’s edition of Designblok. It reacts to the contemporary global situation in the time of pandemic and presents design as a tool for change and a solution to problems, not merely something extra. Selected projects present Czech and international designers who discuss a broad scale of pressing issues, ranging from healthcare to education. Designers deal with issues with ecologic and social subtext, such as lack of foodstuff and water, population aging, the necessity of searching for new materials, dying bees and poaching: their approach is purely pragmatic and conceptual. Twenty-eight projects can be viewed free-of-charge in the outdoor space in front of Sova’s Mills, Prague.
The programme of this year’s Designblok included 18 Prague galleries, showrooms and concept stores who organised events and launches of their new products for their visitors.
73 manufacturers, distributors, companies and media titles had their presentations in Superstudio. In Art House visitors could view 30 art projects by 22 artists, while Openstudio presented 111 presentations by designers, designer studios and school studios.
Designblok 2020 Visual
The visual materials of the 22nd edition of Designblok capture young and progressive Czech designers Jan Plecháč, Barbora Procházková, Luisa Bělohlávková and Herrmann & Coufal duo. Their faces were hidden from the viewer on the pictures as objects symbolizing their personal passion for design took the central place. “The visual materials for this year’s edition of the festival themed Passion reflect mainly the way designers approach their work. Each one of the four designers photographed by Salim Issa approaches his/her work differently: Barbora Procházková deals with fashion sustainability, Jan Plecháč melts hearts into craft, Eduard Herrmann and Matěj Coufal research the DIY phenomenon, and Luisa Bělohlávková proves that research sometimes leads to interesting results. Despite that, one thing connects them: passion for the sense of design, perfectly executed craft and the beauty it brings into life. We believe they will make people excited and interested,” says Jiří Macek, creative director of the festival.
Graphic design was made by Martina Černá from the Imagery Studio.
This year, Designblok extended the exhibition into the online space: on the festival website visitors could view all installations by designers and companies thanks to special 3D scans. While the festival was still underway, virtual tours attracted 100,000 users and were available on the Designblok website until 31 October 2020.
Designblok included two discussion platforms: Reflex Stage and Hospodářské noviny Stage supported by CzechTrade, backed by Designblok’s two main media partners. The programme had to be moved online: discussions were streamed live on social networks; lectures are available to view at the Designblok website and count dozens of thousands of views.
Designblok Awards 2020
Every year, the best projects and installations at Designblok are awarded by a jury of curators and representatives of design and fashion media. This year, due to safety measures, the vote took place online and the contactless announcement of winners was carried out in a limited mode. The jury evaluated the best installations of manufacturers, distributors, school studios, designers and designer studios. Awards went to the best twelve authors. All nominees and winners got a certificate and a special badge that helped visitors to map out the most outstanding presentations of Prague’s week of design. The main winner of this year’s Designblok was Jan Plecháč, who designed the central space of Designerie and the Passion exhibition.
“This year, Designblok Awards were decided online. Selected collections and installations are of top quality: new designs by Czech producers, displays created by established designers and architects, products deserving international attention. It’s a symbolic closure of this year’s Designblok edition. We could have presented bold works by Czech designers by means of an exhibition, but as it is, much of their fame will be spread online. Despite that I believe that not giving up on this year’s Designblok edition was worth it. I am proud of what Czech design succeeded to do in the time of the crisis. The message is clear: let’s keep working, no matter what! I believe that design makes the world a better place, and that’s not a little. Ecology, social issues, and aesthetic quality: these were aspects the jury took much into consideration when deciding about the Awards. If design can help spread diligence, responsibility and a sense of beauty among people, then its role is irreplaceable. I would like to thank all exhibitors who didn’t give up this year, accepted strict safety measures and didn’t hesitate to exhibit their works despite difficult circumstances. And of course, my congratulations to all winners! Excellent work!” says Jana Zielinski, director of Designblok.
Designblok Awards Winners 2020
NOMINATION: LE BON / NOMAD programme (Atelier Pelcl), Kaplan furniture / Elica, Todus collection / Baza collection, Branta table (Studio Segers)
WINNER: Todus / Baza collection, Branta table (Studio Segers)
NOMINATION: David Valner / Fungus collection, IHOR / collection of accessories, LLEV / Myceelium collection
WINNER: IHOR / collection of accessories
NOMINATION: LampLab / OHM lights (Kauppi & Kauppi), OVA Pearl lights (Christian Morgenstern), Lappa studio/ Eclipse acoustic panels (Anna Leschingerová, Lenka Preussová), Lasvit / 2020 news
WINNER: Lappa studio/ Eclipse acoustic panels (Anna Leschingerová, Lenka Preussová)
NOMINATION: Janja Prokić / Ineō collection, Maria Kobelova / EUPHORIA collection, Zdeněk Vacek / BÁZE collection
WINNER: Maria Kobelova / EUPHORIA collection
NOMINATION: DECHEM / new collection of accessories, Terezie Lexová & Štěpán Smetana / Infinite collection, M.P.K.J.V.L.J.S. / new designs by a collective of authors
WINNER: DECHEM / new collection of accessories
NOMINATION: Egoé / Nestbox car-to-camper installation, Master & Master / UM chair collection (Jiří Pelcl & Michal Malášek), Rudolf Kämpf / SOLO porcelain collection (Antonín Tomášek, David Síla, Netoliko)
WINNER: Rudolf Kämpf / SOLO porcelain collection (Antonín Tomášek, David Síla, Netoliko)
NOMINATION: Aldit, mmcité, Rudolf Kämpf, Vitra / Křehký
WINNER: Vitra / Křehký
NOMINATION: PÁR, Vobouch, Zdeněk Vacek
NOMINATION: UMPRUM (Studio of Ceramics and Porcelain), UMPRUM (Studio of Architecture III), UMPRUM (Studio of Photography II and Studio of Fashion and Shoe Design)
WINNER: UMPRUM (Studio of Ceramics and Porcelain)
NOMINATION: Jan Plecháč, Designerie and Passion exhibition, Herrmann & Coufal, DIY project lights (HORNBACH), Moravská galerie in Brno, acquisition of Czech design
WINNER: Moravská galerie in Brno, acquisition of Czech design
NOMINATION. Project SAPIENCE / new patterns, Made by Ordinary / new edition of clothes, Soolista / Together collection
WINNER: Soolista / Together collection
WINNER: Jan Plecháč / concept of Designerie, Passion Exhibition
Designblok 2020 Awards Jury
Pavlína Blahotová, editor-in-chief of Nové proměny bydlení Magazine; Petr Jansa, editor of Esprit Lidových novin Magazine; David Kalista, editor-in-chief of H.O.M.i.E. Magazine; Danica Kovářová, editor-in-chief of Dolce Vita; Tereza Kozlová, journalist and publicist; Jiří Macek, creative director of Designblok; Kristýna Mazánková, editor of Harper's Bazaar; Gabriela Marešová, editor-in-chief of PročNe Magazine; Valentina Nízká, editor-in-chief of ELLE; Eva Slunečková, chief editor of ELLE Decoration; Matěj Šišolák, editor-in-chief of ARCHITECT+; Jana Zielinski, director of Designblok
Each year, Designblok supports a specific non-profit or charity project. This year, we chose Centrum Paraple, a charity that helps people with spinal cord injury to return to their daily life. Designblok donated to Centrum Paraple the proceeds from the sale of entrance tickets in the total of CZK 68,000.
22. 10. 2020