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29 December 2022
Architonic articles of the year 2022
29 December 2022

The 12 Best Design Districts Around the World: An AD PRO Essential Guide


The Junction, Toronto

Photo: Roberto Machado Noa / Getty Images

The Junction, Toronto 

Located in a tree-lined historic area of the city, The Junction gets its name for its past as the heart of the Canadian Pacific Railway. Mix with locals on the main drag of Dundas West at boutiques including the minimalist homeware store Mjolk and modern stationery shop Take Note. A short 20-minute walk from this charming retail center, the Museum of Contemporary Art is worthy of a stop in too. (Current exhibitions include a site-specific commission by artist Sarah Badr and Seeing the Invisible, an augmented reality experience in the museum’s Jerusalem Botanical Gardens.) Then take a tipple at The Junction Brewery, which serves local craft beers within an Art Deco building that offers a glimpse of the neighborhood’s rich history.  

The Armoury District, Vancouver

West of Granville Island, The Armoury District is a haven for creative types, with interior design and architecture firms, boutique decor shops, galleries, antique stores, exotic car dealers, and fine food purveyors galore. Wander past the impressive residential Waterfall Building on West Second Avenue, an architectural landmark of concrete and glass designed by celebrated Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, before seeking inspiration for your own home at showrooms for Ann Sacks, Livingspace, Mint Interiors, and Stone Tile.  

South America

Calle Lanin in Buenos Aires

Photo: Diego Spivacow / Turismo Buenos Aires

Metropolitan Design Center, Buenos Aires 

Like many of today’s hip design districts, the home of Buenos Aires’s Metropolitan Design Center (a.k.a. Centro Metropolitano de Diseño, or CMD) has its roots in once-thriving former industrial buildings. From its start as a fish market in the 1930s, the airy steel-framed pavilion was given a new life by architect Paolo Gaston Flores back in the mid-2010s. At three and a half acres, CMD is the largest design center in Latin America and cultivates local creative talent with spaces including unique design boutiques, an auditorium, classrooms, a library, an exhibition area, workshops, a museum, and a café. Beyond the Design Center, visitors can explore local street art and stunning architecture of the surrounding Barracas neighborhood. The cobblestone-lined Calle Lanín stitches together colorful painted facades into a work of street art across 35 residential buildings on two blocks, and is a must for any design-loving flaneur. Get a flavor of daily life in this portside area of the city with El Regreso de Quinquela on Calles Lavadero and San Antonio, a street mural by Alfredo “El Pelado” Segatori (now the longest of its kind in the world, and still growing). Architectural marvels include the majestic Santa Lucia Church, named for the neighborhood’s patron saint, and the moorish-influenced Torah Jewish Temple. 


Maboneng precinct of Johannesburg, South Africa

Dubbed a magical urban neighborhood within South Africa’s biggest city, the Maboneng precinct offers a mix of restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and coffee shops housed within a collection of old manufacturing buildings retrofitted with a contemporary mix of concrete, steel, and glass. Located on the eastern edge of Joburg’s central business district, Maboneng has been compared to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in its cultivation of creativity. Rooftops here offer vistas of the South African city that has been given a new life since the 1991 fall of apartheid. 

Maboneng’s design-focused attractions include Arts on Main, a multiuse cultural hub housed in a converted industrial building. David Krut, an instrumental promoter of South African contemporary art for the past three decades, has a gallery-cum-bookshop in the area, where visitors can discover Jozi’s emerging artists. Nearby, the Museum of African Design offers multidisciplinary exhibitions and is the first museum of its kind on the continent. After a day of soaking in the local culture, relax at Hallmark House, a trendy hotel with two restaurants, a speakeasy, rooftop bar, and 46 rooms decorated in African textiles. 


Surry Hills, Sydney

Photo: Zetter / Getty

Surry Hills, Sydney 

Once home to Sydney’s clothing industry, this centrally located area is now considered one of the Harbor City’s hippest neighborhoods. A thriving culinary culture offers a veritable world tour including French, American, Japanese, and Middle Eastern offerings. Design enthusiasts should beeline to the Surry Hills Market with items from many of the city’s top artisans. Visit on the first Sunday of each month to explore Shannon Reserve on the corner of Crown and Collins; there you’ll find vendors selling everything from antiques and vintage clothing to handmade ceramics. Plus tour the Brett Whiteley Studio on Rapier Street, where the artist and sculptor lived and worked until his death in 1992. 


A mural in Shoreditch, London

Photo: Sam Mellish / Getty Images

Shoreditch, London 

Each September, the Shoreditch Design Triangle returns to this East End neighborhood, bringing with it an array of design-led events. Recent programming includes a wooden spoon carving workshop; a guided tour with curator Huma Kabakcı, the founder of Open Space; and a heritage crafts demonstration and exhibition. But Shoreditch is a destination for design year-round, too, with an array of street art (including an original Banksy on Rivington Street) and the sculptured faces by French artist Grego on Shoreditch High Street. Treasure hunt for antiques and furniture at Brick Lane’s Sunday market and discover the former industrial area’s bevy of contemporary independent boutiques and vintage shops.

Design District, Helsinki

Called the new Scandi star by CN Traveler, Helsinki has made waves for its daring fashion week, foodie scene, and design know-how—and has even been named a Creative City of Design by UNESCO. Built up around Diana Park, the Design District was initiated in 2005, and now encompasses 200 recognized members across 25 streets. While you’re there, make plans to stop in at the neo-Gothic Designmuseo on Korkeavuorenkatu Street, which is home to exhibitions of inspiring works across media from Finland and beyond, including graphic design, fashion, and industrial arts. (Through April, the museum is spotlighting the oeuvres of a Finnish creative power couple: interior architect Antti Nurmesniemi and textile artist Vuokko Nurmesniemi.) A short walk away is Lokal, a concept shop featuring funky textile, glass, and ceramic creations, as is Armas Design, a purveyor of chic furnishings and accessories. Restaurant Demo, a Michelin-starred eatery, fires up seasonal dishes in five-, six-, or seven-course servings; currently, diners can even pick up a chef’s selection of glogg syrup, mustard herring, and bird liver pâté to go. Before leaving town, drop by Marimekko—where else?—for a fabulously Finnish ensemble to wear home. 

Middle East and Asia

The National Art Center in Tokyo’s Roppongi District

Photo: John S. Lander / Getty Images

Roppongi District, Tokyo 

With a growing number of museums and galleries, the well-heeled Roppongi district will inspire creativity at every turn. The Mori Art Museum, located on the 53rd floor of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, offers views of the Japanese capital alongside exhibitions of design, contemporary culture, and visual arts. An art-lover’s mecca, other museums in the area include the National Art Center, (one of the largest in the country) which brings into their 150,000-square-foot space rotating exhibits from around the world, and the Suntory Museum of Art, with a collection Japanese arts and crafts that explore the common theme of beauty in everyday life.

Dubai Design District

Also known as d3—a shorthand for its alliterative title—the Dubai Design District has emerged as a creative nerve center of the Middle East. Each November, the neighborhood plays host to DXB, or Dubai Design Week, with a flurry of exhibitions, installations, and other activations that showcase the region’s commitment to design, craft, and technology. This past year, Stella McCartney got in on the action with her Future of Fashion installation, which incorporated self-sustaining materials, as did Sara Alrayyes, who used the familiar motif of fishing nets to construct an awe-inspiring environment. While in the d3, designers can shop in at showrooms for European brands like Artemide, Cosentino, and Ligne Roset, as well as Middle Eastern players like Aljoud Lootah, Ayah Al Bitar, and Zuleya (the proceeds from which benefit the social enterprises of the Fatima Bint Mohamed Bin Zayed Initiative). And when it’s time for bed, the Zaha Hadid–designed ME Dubai Hotel is a short drive away.


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