UNESCO recognizes five cities for exceptional design

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has officially recognized five global cities for demonstrating exceptional contributions to design. The “City of Design” awards went to Dundee, Scotland; Turin, Italy; Bilbao, Spain; Helsinki, Finland; and Curitiba, Brazil. The announcement came on December 1st in Paris. The City of Design award is part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, a program established in 2004 to recognize standouts in design, film, media arts, literature, gastronomy, music, and more.

These five new cities join twelve other previous City of Design award recipients. They’re in lofty company, with Berlin, Seoul, and Montreal on the list.

city of design

UNESCO named Bilbao a “City of Design.” From Jean-Pierre Dalbéra.

According to a feature from Shaunacy Ferro of Fast Company‘s Co.Exist, the City of Design award is intended to accomplish more than simply recognize a city’s design efforts. It’s also supposed to “foster cooperation between some of the great epicenters of design worldwide.” (No pressure, guys.)

So what does it take to be a City of Design?

Dundee, Scotland is home to the (soon to be opened) V&A Museum of Design, which will be the UK’s first design museum outside of London. Fun fact: The Co.Exist feature makes a point of noting that Dundee is the birthplace of aspirin. We suppose pharmaceutical design counts?

Helsinki, Finland hosts Design Week (like fashion week for designers), and they even have their own dedicated design district.

Bilbao, Spain attracts design junkies to its Guggenheim museum, which was famously designed by Frank Gehry.

Ferro reports that Turin, Italy is known for “its design research centers and laboratories in robotics, automotive modeling and prototyping, virtual reality, cinematography, and more.”

Last but not least, Curitiba, Brazil is known as a leader in urban design. The city has experienced exceptionally rapid growth, and they’ve managed it masterfully with a pioneering initiative called Bus Rapid Transit.

As is evidenced by the above descriptions, the diversity of design specialties in each city is as varied as the cities themselves. (It’s not too often that Curitiba and Dundee land on the same list!) Indeed, UNESCO’s City of Design award has an extremely broad definition of design, and crosses industries ranging from architecture and urban design to “interaction design.” (Does that last one leave you scratching your head? Interaction design, or IxD, is about the way humans interact with the digital sphere.)

Farro writes that the five award recipients each have a special reason to celebrate: All five cities are “the first cities in their respective countries to receive the City of Design” designation. Add these cities to your tourism bucket list and see why they’re on UNESCO’s radar.

And if you’re looking for more cities to add to your tourism bucket list, check out the full list of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, including 28 new additions.

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