When we think of the places that are at the forefront of great design, the usual suspects come to mind – Berlin, Shanghai, Montreal. But of course these aren’t the only cities in the world that have strong aesthetic sensibilities – and Unesco knows that. Which is why this year, they’ve bestowed “Cities of Design” status on Dundee, Curitiba, Turin, Bilbao and Helsinki.
“What does Unesco have to do with this?” you’re probably thinking. “Isn’t it too busy completing a catalogue of the world’s marvels, like Machu Picchu and Angkor Wat?”
Yes, Unesco has for a long time been in the business of preserving the thousand or so World Heritage sites. But since 2004, it started promoting cultural diversity across the globe with a more forward-looking initiative: the Creative Cities Network.
To date, there are 69 across seven different categories in this growing network, and 17 of these are recognised as Cities of Design. There are specific criteria that need to be fulfilled in order to gain the title, such as having an established design industry or a design-centric landscape, or the presence of design schools or research institutes.
Dundee in Scotland, for instance, will soon be home to the Kengo Kuma-designed V&A Museum of Design. The city is also a hotbed of creativity, having previously been credited for the inventions of aspirin, marmalade, video games such as Grand Theft Auto and Lemmings, and the famous Beano comics.
Turin is famed for its design research labs in fields such as robotics, automotive modelling and prototyping, and cinematography, while over in Brazil, Curitiba has one of the world’s best examples of urban infrastructure. Bilbao, of course, is well-known for the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, whereas Helsinki has its own design week and design district.
The cities point us to newer and ever-evolving kinds of design, which will certainly give Unesco something to preserve in another 50 years.