Dezeen Magazine

Dezeen x Exhibit Columbus symposium 2020

Exhibit Columbus launches online symposium to explore the future of mid-sized cities in the American heartland

Dezeen has teamed up with Exhibit Columbus to live stream four talks exploring how architecture and design can act as catalysts in the centre of the USA, with topics including indigenous design, climate resilience and technology.

Taking place fortnightly between 15 September and 29 October 2020, the talks form part of the Exhibit Columbus symposium titled New Middles​: From Main Street to Megalopolis, What is the Future of the Middle City?

What is the future of the middle city?

Exhibit Columbus is an annual exploration of architecture, art, design, and community in the city of Columbus, Indiana. Previous editions have seen street installations by design duo Formafantasma and architect Snarkitecture, and a giant hammock by SO-IL.

The 2020-2021 edition, curated by Iker Gil and Mimi Zeiger, takes Columbus' central location in the heart of the USA as its departure point. Speakers include designer Radha Mistry, futurist Dan Hill and designer-activist De Nichols.

All four talks will be streamed at

"Exhibit Columbus' 2020 symposium New Middles, in partnership with Dezeen, gathers thinkers, designers, architects, artists, and landscape architects to discuss 'What Is The Future of The Middle City?'" the curators said.

"This question, posed from Columbus, Indiana – in the middle of the US heartland and rooted in the Mississippi River watershed – is one important to many urban centres locally and globally."

"The series builds on Columbus' role as a historic host and speculative think tank on design, asking the city and sister mid-sized cities to consider the role of design and architecture as civic catalysts, especially when faced with the most pressing issues of our time: from community health to climate change impact, from equity and social justice to emergent technology."

Thematic Conversations

The New Middles symposium will explore four topics: Futures and Technologies; Resiliency and Climate Adaptation; Arts and Community; and Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking.

For each talk on Dezeen, referred to in the symposium programme as Thematic Conversations, there will be a corresponding Columbus Conversation talk later in the week hosted by Exhibit Columbus featuring winners of its annual prize. These conversations will be used to inform a series of public installations that will be unveiled next year.

"Each bi-weekly topic is structured as a call-and-response between Tuesday 'Thematic Conversations' hosted by Dezeen featuring national and international thought leaders, and Thursday 'Columbus Conversations' that localise the topics, bringing J Irwin and Xenia S Miller Prize recipients into discussion with local experts and community stakeholders around future-forward initiatives being undertaken in Columbus during its bicentennial year," the curators said.

"These dialogues serve as foundational research for all New Middles participants—as a kind of Exhibition Design Brief and 'Community Design Brief' that identifies topics, themes, and writings for community partners while growing exhibition participants' understanding of Columbus' culture and context as they conceptualise their commissioned installations for the fall 2021 exhibition."

Symposium aims to "positively move our cities forward"

The curators hope the symposium will address current local and global issues and help to shape the future of cities not only in central USA but also around the world.

"In a moment when we most need reflection, creativity, and innovation to envision new ways of being, New Middles considers Columbus a place to destabilise assumptions, and imagine new architectures and landscapes as a way to positively move our cities forward," they said.

Read on for details of the full programme of talks on Dezeen and find out more about the Exhibit Columbus programme at

Dezeen x Exhibit Columbus symposium 2020

New Middles: Futures and Technologies
7:00pm, Tuesday 15 September 2020

The first live talk, called New Middles: Futures and Technologies, will take place on 15 September at 7:00pm UK time (2:00pm EST).

Moderated by Dezeen's founder and editor-in-chief Marcus Fairs, the talk will bring together futurists Dan Hill and Radha Mistry to discuss the uses of strategic foresight and storytelling in design. The panellists will also examine how current conditions in the Midwest might speculate the future of middle cities everywhere.

Dezeen x Exhibit Columbus symposium 2020

New Middles: Resiliency and Climate Adaptation
7:00pm, Tuesday 29 September 2020

Exhibit Columbus curator Iker Gil will host the second conversation, in which designer Iñaki Alday and landscape architect Kate Orff will reflect on how their practices respond to local and planetary climate crises.

The talk will focus on the Mississippi Watershed and the ecosystems and habitats of its plains. It will be broadcast on 29 September from 7:00pm UK time (2:00pm EST).

Dezeen x Exhibit Columbus symposium 2020

New Middles: Arts and Community
7:00pm, Tuesday 13 October 2020

The third talk, New Middles: Arts and Community, will take place on 13 October at 7:00pm UK time (2:00pm EST). It will look at how arts spaces and cultural organisations are shaping the future of rural, urban and in-between places in response to recent calls for equitable civic space for a diversity of communities.

Hosted by Exhibit Columbus director Anne Surak, the panel discussion will feature architect and urban designer Paola Aguirre, artist-writer-researcher Matthew Fluharty and artist-cum-design strategist De Nichols.

Dezeen x Exhibit Columbus symposium 2020

New Middles: Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking
7:00pm, Tuesday 27 October 2020

The final talk in the series, New Middles: Indigenous Futures and Radical Thinking, will stream on 29 October at 7:00pm UK time (2:00pm EST). It will explore time, indigenous design, landscape and how alternative perspectives might reimagine North American narratives.

The panel will feature designer Chris Cornelius, The Land Institute founder Wes Jackson, artist-architect Joar Nango and speculative artist and designer Ash Eliza Smith. Exhibit Columbus curator and Dezeen columnist Mimi Zeiger will moderate the discussion.