The 10 best events at DesignTO 2019

This year’s festival explores weighty themes like affordable housing, mortality and Black and Indigenous identity

Now in its ninth year, DesignTO Festival (formerly the Toronto Design Offsite Festival) always boasts a mix of exhibitions, events, workshops and window installations showcasing veteran and rising designers from Toronto and beyond. In addition to innovative new furnishings and awe-inspiring installations, this year’s fest explores weightier themes like affordable housing, mortality and Black and Indigenous identity – all from a design perspective.

Here are our top 10 picks for the festival, which runs from January 18 to 27. Full info via the DesignTO site.


Tired of the miniscule green spaces in condo land? Toronto-based architecture studio superkül is setting up a reflective forest at Delisle-St. Clair Parkette. The exhibit, designed to be accessible for anyone walking by, is made from reflective film and examines the ways we confine nature to small, manicured lots. The installation asks the question: what if this tiny bit of forest wasn’t so contained?

January 18-27. 17 Delisle. Free.

Massages By Strangers  

A lot of negative connotations surround the experience of getting a massage. In an era of high-profile sexual harassment allegations, this exhibit aims to remind us of massage’s therapeutic roots by putting massage therapists to work during musical performances by local acts such as Korea Town Acid, WeTurnToRed, Depression Era and more.

January 19, 8 pm-2 am. Viz @ Viz (772 Dundas West, second floor). $15 at door.

Before I Die…

Artist and urban planner Candy Chang’s exhibit is one of several at DesignTO this year rethinking the ways we deal with death. This interactive installation asks people to write answers to the prompt “Before I die…” on a wall. The idea is to get people talking about anxieties with those around them. Chang has staged this performance in other cities, and there are now over 4,000 Before I Die… walls in more than 75 countries and in 36 languages.

January 18-27. OCAD University. (100 McCaul). Free.

DesignTO Talks: Studio Swine

British artist Alexander Groves and Japanese architect Azusa Murakami of Studio Swine combine water conservation and art to highlight the issue of water scarcity. They will be at DesignTO to talk about the challenges of working with an issue that’s often invisible to the public. The cross-disciplinary studio launched in 2011 and has produced films and exhibited work at Paris’s Pompidou Centre, London’s Victoria and Albert Museum in and more.

January 25, 7:30-9 pm. Studio Theatre (235 Queens Quay West). $17-20.

Living Studio

Over three days, Toronto-based innovation and design consultancy Doblin are inviting the public to help them solve “a problem of public importance.” To do that, Doblin, which helps big companies clean up organizational messes and strengthen and focus innovation, has created a “Living Studio” that allows the public to play with prototypes and talk about solutions they’re working on.

January 23-26. 10 am-4 pm. Deloitte (8 Adelaide West).

Now 40% More Housing!

With Toronto’s vacancy rate at less than 1 per cent and housing prices on the rise, there’s never been a more apt time to think of new solutions for affordable housing. And right now, nearly 40 per cent of Toronto dwellings are single-family homes on lots that have the capacity for more units. In this exhibition, Toronto-based firm Architecture for All presents ways to better utilize that space, from laneway house models and inventive additions to prefab strategies and space-efficient floor plans.

January 19-26. “The Fountainhead,”  Berczy Coffee Bar (1 Esplanade, unit 2). Free.

One Who Protects A Sibling

For this exhibition, OCAD University students examine the history of Indigenous and Black relations in Canada, exploring the issues that affect both marginalized groups, as well as speculations on the shared futures of their communities. Four pairs of Indigenous and Black students are exhibiting objects that reflect these conversations.

January 18-February 3. Band Gallery and Cultural Centre (19 Brock). Free.

Ideas Forum: Watershed To Waterfront

This jam-packed, one-time-only event features a mix of artists, designers and architects proposing ideas on water through cultural, political and ecological perspectives. The catch? Each presenter can only show 20 slides for 20 seconds each. Presenters include photographer Victoria Piersig speaking about the Great Lakes, architecture firm DTAH’s Yvonne Battista and James Roche on water management and The Bentway’s director of programming, Ilana Altman, on the urban park’s proximity to Lake Ontario.

January 24, 6:30 pm-8:30 pm. IBI Group, Multipurpose Room (55 St. Clair West). Free (preregister at Eventbrite).

The Aberrant

Every year during the festival, artists and designers transform the windows in storefronts across the city into mesmerizing site-specific installations. One of our favourites this year is by Cat Lamora, a Korean-Canadian artist who’s designed a three-dimensional paper sculpture for the window of Xspace Cultural Centre. Featuring eyeballs, monstera leaves and cacti made of brightly coloured paper, the sculpture is based on the experience of a gyopo, the term for Korean expatriates who have been citizens in their new countries for more than a decade.

January 18-February 16. Xspace Culture Centre (2-303 Lansdowne). Free.  


Objects are what make a space feel like a home. In this exhibition curated by Craft Ontario, 15 artists examine everyday household objects, some by subverting their purposeful forms – for example, a silver spoon with holes in the bowl – others designing beautiful functional items like marbled incense holders or a padded bench.

January 19-March 2. Craft Ontario (1106 Queen West). Free.


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