DESIGN Canberra festival guide: The modernist – Design Canberra Festival

Photo: Lean Timms
Photo: Lean Timms

DESIGN Canberra festival guide: The modernist

A modernist is a believer in or supporter of modernism, especially in the arts and design, where form follows function and mid-century modernist tendencies become a way of life. Sounds like you?

Then the 2020 DESIGN Canberra Festival is your chance to really immerse yourself in the world of modernist craft and design. Here is our pick of what you won’t want to miss on this year’s program:

Edmund Barton Building. Photo: 5 Foot Photography


Kick things off by popping on your comfy shoes and heading out for a walking tour of the Edmund Barton Building on Tuesday evening. The building, initially known as the Trade Group Offices, was designed by world-renowned architect Harry Seidler, and is a significant Australian landmark. Join University of Sydney architectural technology lecturer Paolo Stracchi on this tour around the exterior of the building, to learn more about Canberra’s architectural and cultural history.

It’s been a zoo, the Institute of Anatomy, a morgue and now a cutting-edge preservation facility – learn more about the National Film and Sound Archive, one of Canberra’s most fascinating buildings, in a free presentation, If These Walls Could Talk, on Friday morning. You can then grab a map and head on a self-guided tour to see the features up close.

On Saturday evening at 7.30pm, join artist Hannah Quinlivan as she speaks about her signature DESIGN Canberra installation, Desiderium, followed by an intimate performance where acclaimed classical vocalists respond to the sculptural elements as they move through the space, materialising the atmosphere of Desiderium into sound and movement.

This week is also a great time to familiarise yourself with DESIGN Canberra festival hub in the Monaro Mall on City Walk. Here you can explore engaging exhibitions like A Common Thread, which is a contemporary and multidisciplinary collaboration between emerging makers Sam Gold and Harriet McKay, or see the works of Canberra’s artists of the future at Emerging Contemporaries, featuring local early-career artists. It will also be home to talks, workshops, events and wellbeing sessions throughout the whole festival.

Round out week one with City Sessions at the DESIGN Canberra festival hub, from 4.30pm on Friday. Sit back, relax with a drink from the Pop Inn wine bar and take in live music from Cathy Diver against the backdrop of iconic mid-century design and architecture, complemented by a contemporary art installation by Canberra artist Hannah Quinlivan and a graphic intervention ground mural by fellow Canberra artist Hannah Gason.

Image: 2020 DESIGN Canberra signature artwork, With care, created by glass artist Kirstie Rea. Timber fabrication: Zeljko Markov. Photo: Lean Timms.


So, with Week 01 complete, let’s take a look at what’s in the program for the remaining two weeks of the festival.

Tuesday evening, settle in for DESIGN Canberra’s keynote talk by Bernard Salt: Suburbia’s time in the sun, looking at how the coronavirus is reshaping the narrative of Australian urban life. Bernard is widely regarded as one of Australia’s leading social commentators by business, the media and the broader community. The talk will be live streamed at the Shine Dome or you can join virtually.

On Thursday night, head to the Shine Dome for Design revisited: architect Michael Dysart, and catch the premiere of a short documentary-style film interview between comedian and design nerd Tim Ross and Michael Dysart, specially commissioned by DESIGN Canberra.

And on Friday evening from 5pm, head to the DESIGN Canberra festival hub for the opening of the c/o Craft ACT: 2020 Annual Members exhibition, showcasing current trends in contemporary craft and design.

Then prepare yourself for a big Saturday out. Spend the day exploring and stepping into the studios of some of Canberra’s best designers and makers with Week Two of the Open Studios. This weekend’s open studios include Kirstie Rea and Lucy Palmer, Monique van Nieuwland, Valerie Kirk and Avi Amesbury and Kindly Ceramics at Canberra Potter’s. If you can fit it in at 11am, pop into the Monaro Mall where some of the artists from the Canberra Centre exhibitions will discuss the works on display.

Then from 2pm, head to Midnight Hotel where you can experience the immersive process of mindful menu design at Immersion: Cause and Effect. Taste selected wines against individual ingredients ranging in flavour, texture, and acid profile, in search for a unique match, and the process will assist the Executive Chef with menu design and curation for future events. If you’ve still got some gas in the tank, that’s followed directly by Saturday Sessions at Midnight Bar where you can join like-minded, design lovers for a weekly design unwind over a curated cocktail or locally brewed lager.

Jodie Cunningham We dance together. Photo: 5 Foot Photography


Two weeks down, one more week left filled with plenty more design goodness.

Two Minutes to Midnight is a new DESIGN Canberra event series which invites designers and thought-leaders to engage in deeper conversations with the community about the spaces, places and values we need in order to survive and thrive. In Monday night’s session at Midnight Bar, the expert panel will look at how Canberra’s mid-century architecture fits in with a contemporary vision.

Or want to know more about the Shine Dome? On Wednesday at 12.30pm, explore some of the rarely accessed areas of this unusual and captivating building on the Shine Dome: behind the scenes tour.

And then on Friday night, round out a big three weeks with the final City Sessions at the DESIGN Canberra festival hub, where you can settle in and take in live music against the backdrop of iconic mid-century design and architecture. Grab a drink from the Pop Inn wine bar while you’re there – you’ve earned it!

Hungry for more? There’s plenty more to see, do and experience during DESIGN Canberra 2020. Head to for the full program.

DESIGN Canberra acknowledges the Ngunnawal people as the traditional custodians of the ACT and surrounding areas. We honour and respect their ongoing cultural and spiritual connections to this country and the contribution they make to the life of this city and this region. We aim to respect cultural heritage, customs and beliefs of all Indigenous people.