Belgrade Design Week founder Jovan Jelovac (right) on stage with Oskar Zieta. The Polish designer was just one of the speakers from an impressive line-up at the BDW 2013 conference 'Innovation²'
It may have something to do with Serbia’s recent past and the realisation that you only live once – carpe diem, and all that – or it could just be the native love of making new friends and (as anyone who has been to Belgrade will testify to) having a good time, but at the region’s leading design event, Belgrade Design Week, it’s ultimately about people, rather than things. Living, breathing, creative, inspiring (and often partying) people.
Inspiring people, inspiring parties. Top: BDW CEO Vesna Jelovac (centre). Above: Two of top creatives speaking at BDW 2013: Sebastien Noel of Studio Troika (far left) and Daan Roosegaarde (far right)
For all its surrounding events – of which there are many, such as BDW DesignPark, a carefully curated exhibition presenting the work of designers from Serbia, Greece, Poland, the Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, Denmark and the USA – Belgrade Design Week’s main attraction remains its big-top, three-day conference, which year-on-year manages to draw some of the highest-profile names from the global creative arena to the Danube city.
The BDW conference 'Innovation²' saw the likes of French designer Christophe Pillet, award-winning art director Paul Belford (TBWA) and Fiat design chief Virgilio Fernandez take to the stage to share their inspirational thinking
Greece's Beetroot Design Group present their exhibition "The Greek Monsters" at BDW, which revisits Greek mythology, while, at the same time, commenting on their country's current international image
The secret? BDW’s founder, the entrepreneurial one-man dynamo and advertising bigwig Jovan Jelovac, whose address book, if we still lived in pre-digital times, would resemble a four-set telephone directory. For this year’s edition of BDW, Jelovac and his talented staffers – chief among them his wife, Vesna Jelovac, who, a force of nature in herself, heads up the team as CEO – brought together the likes of acclaimed French designer Christophe Pillet and award-winning ad agency TBWA’s art director Paul Belford, as well as Fiat design chief Virgilio Fernandez.
The main venue of this year's BDW was an attraction in itself. The Museum of Contemporary Art, which has been closed due to restoration work for years, opened its doors temporarily to host the region's most important design event
While 2013 saw the event’s eighth annual outing, it’s anything but tired or predictable. With ‘Innovation²’ as the title of the conference, new ideas and ways of thinking were presented by an impressive line-up of speakers, delivered to an internationally drawn congregation of professionals, journalists and students, while there was ample opportunity for everyone to share knowledge and opinions at the many dinners, parties and other gatherings across the city.
The Dutch innovator Daan Roosegaarde during his BDW 2013 talk about the future of transportation (top) and Oskar Zieta, sitting on his 'Chippensteel' chair and 'Plopp' stool, both of which he designed using his FiDU technology
Among those taking to the stage at BDW’s main venue – in itself a rare architectural treat; BDW pulled off a coup in having the Museum of Contemporary Art (Usce), designed by Ivan Antic and Ivanka Raspopovic and completed in 1965, open its doors temporarily to host the event, having been closed to the public for the past six years for restoration work – were the renowned Dutch technological innovator Daan Roosegaarde and innovative Polish designer Oskar Zieta. Roosegaarde shared his vision of the future of transportation, while Polish designer Oskar Zieta discussed his innovative inflatable-sheet-metal technology, which is forming new typologies in design. (See the link at the end of this article for the technology applied to the Architonic Concept Space III.)
A rendering of Belgrade's Beko Masterplan – an ambitious project by Zaha Hadid Architects, which will enhance the Serbian capital's credentials as a design destination
Amid the international roster of speakers at BDW was a local voice – Belgrade’s city architect, Dejan Vasovic, who presented the Serbian capital’s plans for a number of new architectural landmarks, not least Zaha Hadid Architects’ Beko Masterplan, which will involve almost 100,000 square metres of urban regeneration, turning the site of a former textile factory in a new cultural destination, with various buildings and public spaces. The first Hadid undertaking in the region, the ambitious Beko project will certainly help to boost Belgrade’s credentials as a design destination.
The brains behind it all: BDW's founder Jovan Jelovac (far left) with wife and BDW CEO Vesna Jelovac. With them, BDW 2013 Grand Prix-winner Sebastien Noel from Studio Troika (second from right)
But it was Troika – the London-based interdisciplinary studio, whose thinking and practice has been applied with striking results to the interface between architecture, installation and sculpture, their projects appearing in, among other places, the UK pavilion at the 2010 World Expo Shanghai – who succeeded in captivating the Belgrade audience the most. They rightfully picked up the BDW 2013 Grand Prix, a plaudit awarded by popular vote of the conference delegates.
Belgrade might literally mean ‘white city’ but BDW, with its continuous delivery of high-calibre, inspirational speakers, combined with its top-notch hospitality and networking, never fails to paint the town red.
To the Architonic Photo Tour of the Belgrade Design Week 2013 on Facebook, Part I
To the Architonic Photo Tour of the Belgrade Design Week 2013 on Facebook, Part II
Read more about Oskar Zieta's inflatable-sheet-metal technology, which was applied to the Architonic Concept Space III
Videos of some of the big-name speakers from BDW 2103:
Sebastien Noel / Troika UK
See more from Belgrade Design Week 2013 on the BDW vimeo channel