FOR a moment in time, it looked as though a second outing for Design POP, Cork’s innovative festival of food and design, might not go ahead, thanks to Covid 19. Originally scheduled for May, Design POP 2020 was forced to hit the pause button.
But thanks to some shrewd re-organisation, and the flexible nature of the festival, Design POP has reshaped, rescheduled, and returns from August 28 to 30, with three collaborative pavilions and an exciting schedule of talks and discussions.
I caught up with Amy McKeogh, founder of Design POP, to ask her about this year’s festival, and its theme of Resilience.
“My initial reaction when lockdown happened was blind optimism! I thought it was going to be fine, that we’d make a few changes and it would all be great,” said Amy.
“But about two days after lockdown, the realisation hit that this wasn’t going to be a lockdown for a few weeks, it was going to be a lot longer. So, we sat tight and let the designers know we would have to pause things and reassess.
“After that, it was a waiting game to try and figure out what was the best course of action,” she added.
The festival mixes food and design together in the public realm. Designers are paired with a food producer to create an interactive pavilion where ‘festival goers’ can interact and engage with the physical structure and tasters of food on offer. A programme of talks and discussions with leading thinkers in food and design gives opportunities for discussion on elements of both that are usually wholly ignored.
The inaugural festival in May, 2019, was an instant hit with Corkonians, who readily embraced all facets of Design POP, finding ways to engage with the spaces and consider the connections between food and design.
“The first thing I realised was just how responsive people were,” said Amy.
“Everyone just really engaged with Design POP. It was great seeing the pavilions busy, people queuing to use the Choice Machine at Good Day Deli or chatting with My Goodness. It was just amazing to see the festival for the first time being so celebrated by everyone in Cork. It made me feel there was an appetite for a festival that was in the public realm and providing direct engagement through the pavilions.
“There was a great reaction to our speakers and discussions too. A lot of people said it was an opportunity to talk about a different aspect of their food business they don’t necessarily get to speak about. People are so used to speaking just about one aspect of what they do or make, design gave them the opportunity to talk about all the different creative aspects of their process and the design elements within that — especially the food producers.
“For instance, Alan Kingston of Glenilen Dairy in Drimoleague, everyone talks about how wonderful their product is, and of course it is, but for Alan to get the chance to talk about the genesis of the idea for the labelling and their instantly recognisable glass yogurt pots — all those things you inherently know as the Glenilen brand, but wouldn’t necessarily talk about or had that direct conversation with them.”
The theme for this year’s festival is Resilience. This wasn’t always the plan, but the pandemic has required every aspect of how we live to show up with its own method of resilience: Design POP included.
“To introduce the theme of resilience, after everything that has happened, was a nice nod to the fact that we can’t pretend what kind of climate we are living in. It will add a secondary theme to the overall festival, alongside our central theme of collaboration, and we will encourage people to have conversations and discussions about the last few months: how they’ve changed, how they’ve diversified their work, how they’ve adapted and been resilient in the last few months,” said Amy.
Two of the pavilions will be at Elizabeth Fort and, new for this year, Blackrock Castle. Both buildings represent resilience in both their structure and longevity — fortresses designed to preserve and protect and yet reinvented as spaces and places for leisure, commerce and, yes, food too!
Amy explained: “We are using the term Resilience in relation to materiality and materials and how structures can be resilient and sustainable by thinking about how they live on; how they adapt, change and morph to their surroundings and are used in multiple ways that gives a longevity and resilience to a physical structure.”
Resilience, from a global and climate change perspective; with food sustainability and architecture and how architecture becomes a key part in society, is discussion that must begin, said Amy.
“On the programme, Architecture at the Edge founder, Frank Monahan, will give a talk on the resilience of architecture in the rural west of Ireland. Throughout this pandemic, people have flocked back to the west: what does that means for the architecture? How is rural architecture resilient against the elements? How does society use it?
“There will be lots of really interesting conversations and panel discussions based around different aspects of the word.”
Partners and Pavilions
This year’s festival will feature three collaborative pavilions in three locations around Cork: Emmet Place, Elizabeth Fort and Blackrock Castle. This year’s concepts are innovative and exciting, backed by collaborations of exception design and food talent. Amy explained further: “The pavilion at Emmet Place is a collaboration between Crawford Gallery and Café and LOJ, a young architects collective of Laoise Quinn, Jonathan Blayney and Oisin Jacob. The pavilion will feature a large table-like structure to create a sense of community, but from a distance.
“At Elizabeth Fort, the pavilion is a Parametric Structure designed by Mark Horgan, a computational designer, paired with Ciarán Meade and Mark Cronin of Bobo Café at the Glucksman gallery,” said Amy.
Mark Horgan designed an algorithm, incorporated parameters and allowed the computer to design the pavilion based on those parameters. Could this be how structures are designed in the future?
“There are similarities between the structure of the Glucksman building and Elizabeth Fort: the grand mass; the huge weight and importance of that concrete structure and bringing it into Elizabeth Fort to almost mimic the environment. Mark and Ciarán have been working to create events and structures around the space that tie food with the pavilion.
“Blackrock Castle Observatory have a relationship with the Cork School of Architecture already and we’re using Design POP to execute some of the ideas that they’ve been working with. The Castle Café is collaborating on the food aspect, all working together to create the structure that will be sitting inside the castle.”
“We were really trying to stretch the limits of the festival to capture some of the more suburban aspects of Cork and get more people engaged with it, so when Blackrock Castle came to me and said they’d love to take part and be involved, I knew that would work.
“Not everyone gets the chance to come into the city, so it will be nice to push out. Blackrock Castle is such a beautiful place, and there’s a lovely architectural correlation between Elizabeth Fort and the Castle.”
Accompanying the pavilions is a programme of interesting talks and panel discussions at the old Thompson Bakery on MacCurtain Street — an area of Cork city that has seen a regeneration of its historic and, arguably, resilient buildings this past year. I asked Amy what are the stand-out talks for her this year.
She said: “On Saturday evening, our keynote speaker is Maser, a contemporary visual artist who has created some amazing work all over the world. He has a huge following in Ireland and has done a lot of work in Dublin.
“There are a number of really incredible architects speaking: Studio Inis, Dua and Rae Moore — all emerging award-winning Irish architects and ones to watch. They are all young practices and really pushing the boundaries of Irish architecture at the moment.”
In addition, two fringe events at Thompson House seek to raise the profile of Irish design during Design POP weekend.
“We’re running an Irish Design Shop featuring lots of Irish designers and the amazing things they are doing. This year, we really want to push the message of shopping local and supporting the incredible Irish talent in our design industry.
“In January, we contacted Irish furniture designers and gave them all the same brief: to recreate the traditional Irish milking stool. They were all given a piece of wood with the same specifications, supplied by Abbey Woods, and each came up with a different way of reimagining the milking stool. They will all be on display in an exhibition in Thompson House and silently auctioned over the weekend. The designers will receive 100% of the proceeds of the sale.”
As well as creating this wonderfully eclectic festival programme, Amy is herself an architect, a Masters’ graduate from UCC, with a burgeoning young practice herself, Fíor Studios. I asked her how life has been for her and her practice since the first Design POP?
“There was relief in a way to go back to the day job once the first Design POP had happened, just to settle back in and get designing again, and things have been really busy.
“It was a contrast actually to have an architecture practice that was relatively unaffected by Covid, there was no site work that had to stop, but there was so much design work yet to be done that it gave us the chance and the time to keep creating, getting organised and ready to go back on site.
“Design POP has been such an exciting way of meeting new people and more opportunities have come my way, thanks to doing this. It’s been a real blessing from a work front and from a passion project front.”
All pavilions are free to enter, but expect a small cost in relation to tastings. Most talks and events are free, but some are ticketed, such as the Maser keynote. A full programme is available online with links for booking tickets. See www.designpop.ie for more information.
Design POP is funded by Cork City Council, Cork City Local Enterprise Office and The Arts Council.