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A 10-ton Ice Cube and More Family Fun at the Seattle Design Festival

The wonderfully weird Block Party this weekend offers free, interactive fun for the family

Ice block, Olson Kundig

What does a 10-ton ice cube have to do with city design? Find out this weekend at Seattle's Occidental Park in Pioneer Square, where  an enormous block of ice will be desposited as part of the Seattle Design Festival's free Block Party. This ice installation is just one of the creative activities on tap at the Block Party that let kids and families build, play and experiment with ideas around city design.

The Seattle Design Festival is a 6-year-old annual event (or series of events, really) that brings together designers, community members, experts and city officials to "celebrate and explore how design improves the quality of our lives and our community." Events and activities associated with the festival take place from Sept. 10–23 in 60 different venues around Seattle.

Seattle Design Festival block party
Seattle Design Festival Block Party. Photo credit: Trevor Dykstra

"The festival is focused on creating a city we all want to live in and what that looks like," says Molly Michal, who does public relations on behalf of the festival. With a theme of "Design Change," it aims to empower indviduals, even kids, to affect how neighborhoods and cities feel and function.

The festival's diverse offerings present multiple ways to engage with community design concepts over two weeks, but of most interest to families is the free Block Party that kicks off the festival. The Block Party lineup includes installations and activities ranging from a Young Architects Mapping Project to an Urban Air Market focused on sustainable design to a provocative performance piece on gasoline. Three particular highlights for families include: 

Tinker Tank
Tinker Tank

Tinker Tank: Presented by the Pacific Science Center and the Seattle Design Nerds, the Tinker Tank activity station will encourages visitors to build a collaborative contraption together, using element such as ramps, balls and pulleys, and playing with principles such as gravity, motion and chain reactions. Michal expects an "amazing structure" to emerge over the course of the weekend.

Dodecadron: Also courtesy of the Seattle Design Nerds, the Dodecadron is another interactive installation — a giant, Lite-Brite-style, 10-sided interactive mural/structure with inflatable pieces that can go in and out of the structure. Visitors will be able to stand in it, draw on it and play with it.  

The strucutre of the Dodecatron emerging. Photo courtesy of Seattle Design Nerds

• Ice Cube: All weekend, a 10-ton block of ice will be slowly melting on Occidental Park. The point, it turns out, is to help visitors learn about our city's natural water cycle. The mystery: No one is sure how long it will take to completely melt away. Look for opportunities to post feedback and estimates. Ths installation is presented by Olson Kundig Architects.

RainSound: Just in time for the wet season, this installation is a musical instrument powered by rain drops, which create different tones and sounds, depending on the flow of the drops. If no rain materializes, water will be dropped (dripped?) on the installation. 

More fun at the Seattle Design Festival

As the Seattle Design Festival continues, here are two other highlights for families. 

- Mini Maker Faire at EMP Museum

Officially part of the festival this year, this annual celebration of the maker movement (hailed as the “Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth”) is a family-friendly showcase of invention, creativity and resourcefulness. Takes place Sept. 17–18; tickets $12–$21.

- Youth workshops on "My Future Neighborhood"

Middle and high school students ages 12–17 are invited to spend a half-day imagining what a neighborhood will look like with the coming of light rail. What should stay the same? What might be different? How can we make sure everyone feels welcome? They'll discuss these questions with urban planners and designers, and then design their own ideas. This program takes place on Sunday, Sept. 18, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. Preregister. All supplies will be provided and participants are invited to bring their lunch.

If you go ... 

Block Party: The Block Party takes place at Occidental Park, 117 S. Washington St. Seattle, 98104

When: Saturday–Sunday, Sept. 10–11, 9:50 a.m.–5 p.m. All activities are free. 

What: Find a list of activities at designinpublic.org/event/block-party/. Filter by "family focus" to screen for family-oriented activities.

Seattle Design Festival: The Seattle Design Festival takes place Sept. 10–23 in venues around Seattle. Find the schedule at designinpublic.org.

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