“I pick the building that I want to live in,” yips David Byrne, the one-time RISD and Maryland Institute College of Art student turned art rocker, in Talking Heads’ “Don’t Worry About the Government.” The song describes a person who’s unaware of the broad-ranging effects of modern consumerism, on the environment and their own humanity. That’s exactly the mindset Kyle Bergman set out to address when he founded the Architecture & Design Film Festival (ADFF) in 2008.
Now in its 15th year — and first, full in-person festival in the US since 2019 — the ADFF runs from March 24 to 27 at the National Building Museum. It will feature 12 full-length films exploring ideas from sustainable design and adaptive reuse, to ecology and design leadership.
“We all live in the built environment, and [almost] everything we look at is designed by humans,” Bergman says. “Design affects everything we do, from the cars we drive, to the magazines we look at, to the phones we use. Everything has been touched by designers. I think if we understand that as a society, we can help support better design.”
The selected films have an international scope, from a feature about Israeli environmental artist Dani Karaven to a documentary about seven diverse Indigenous North American designers, including Tammy Eagle Bull and Douglas Cardinal. Films highlighting iconic architects Frank Lloyd Wright and Marcel Breuer (designer of D.C.’s polarizing HUB building) are also on the docket.
Bergman, who considered a career in the cinema before becoming an architect, is quick to elaborate the potential of architecture and design which animated the festival.
“I believe we have designed ourselves into a lot of problems, and design is going to help get out of them. It has the opportunity to get us out of environmental issues, make the world more social, and connect us more humanely. Everyone has something at stake.”
Bergman and his team deliberately select films that appeal to the widest audience possible, from design professionals to those simply curious, eager to spark conversations.
“The goal is not just to show these films but to encourage dialogue among a really broad audience.”
The festival kicks off on Thursday, March 24 with “Spotlight on Design: Bruce Mau,” a film about the genre-defying Canadian designer Bruce Mau.
“He’s an optimistic human who is looking at design from a big perspective, and how we can use design to change the world for the better,” Bergman gleams. “You’ll come out of the film energized, like, ‘Okay, we can tackle big problems through design.”
Among Mau’s many globes-spanning projects is a 1000-year plan for Islam’s holiest site, Mecca. A Q&A with Mau follows the screening, before an opening night reception.
Bergman looks forward to the ADFF’s stop in D.C., before it heads to New York, LA, Toronto and Vancouver.
“Because I’m an architect, I have always loved the National Building Museum. The inside of that building is one of the most phenomenal interiors spaces in America, and it’s an amazing venue to see a film in.”
The Architecture & Design Film Festival runs March 24 through 26. For a full schedule of events and tickets, click here.
Enjoy this piece? Consider becoming a member for access to our premium digital content. Support local journalism and start your membership today.