The annual London Design Festival took place from 14th – 22nd September 2019. There was a whopping eleven different Design Districts, five Destinations across the city as well as two Design Routes.
This is the seventeenth year that London has come alive to design. Not unlike its sister design fair in Milan, the city was buzzing with not only pop up fairs but also, far more interestingly, lots of interactive episodes, installations and events. These interactive opportunities were as much for the design world of makers, journalists and buyers as they were for the general public to get involved with, connect with and enjoy. More than ever, London was alive with innovation and design for all.
For those that know Milan Design Week (Salone di Mobile), it started off as a trade fair in giant hangar-sized halls for industry professionals and slowly but surely spread across the whole city. Now every year the area comes alive with pop-up installations that encourage those in the industry to get involved with but also those living in the city.
It is fair to say that this inclusivity has spread to London Design Festival. During this year’s fair, the city was transformed into a living experiential hub and marked it a wonderful place to visit for all to engage with. Key to much on show was innovation, particularly green innovation. Up-cycling and sustainable design illustrated how technology can improve design whilst also adding to our world. New young talent was also in real focus.
As with the past few seasons, London Design Festival was very much about the health of the planet and the health of the human being. After all Terence Conran’s vision for design when he created habitat was ‘the enriching of everyday life through simple, modern design’. Now it goes further and looks to enrich the planet at the same time, with so many companies responding to green initiatives.
‘TouchySmellyFeelyNoisyTasty’ was an interactive performance put on by Tom Dixon design studio, focusing on the relationship between design and the human being. This installation, located in Dixon’s Coal Yard head office in King’s Cross, explored the realms of digital technology through a diverse range of events, installations and interventions. The event was built around the stimulation of human senses.
Visitor’s could wander through this multi-sensory lab as they pleased for the duration of London Design Festival. The space was filled with “the flavours, the fragrances, the sounds, the colours and the textures of the future”. The guests were invited to taste/smell/hear/look/feel how these five senses impact design through interesting installations, such as, carrot tasting stations. Dixon also collaborated with Harry’s Razors, showing off prototypes for a new ergonomic handle design that would allow users to custom make their own razor handle. Although only at the earliest stage, it was certainly an interesting concept.
Over in the City Design area, visitors could interact with ‘Please Be Seated’, a huge sculptural seating installation that took over Broadgate. British designer Paul Cocksedge sculpted wooden curves from scaffolding planks, creating an almost maze-like seating arrangement. The curves provided backrest and shelter; a place to sit, rest and pause.
In the V&A, the museum celebrated 11 years as the festival’s hub with a range of special displays and installations across the museum, plus a huge programme of events, tours, and workshops from the Global Design Forum.
Included in the V&A celebration was the 2m-diameter sculpture, ‘Bamboo Ring’, made from strips of bamboo and layered with carbon fibre. The sculpture experimented with the concept of weaving, exploring pliancy, precision, lightness and strength. A woven giant, seemingly floating above the water in the John Madejski Garden. The piece was created by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Kuma chose bamboo as a material for its sustainability but also as a hint to his childhood. Bringing together our emotion as people and the needs of our planet.
Also at the V&A Mathew McCormick presented ‘Avalanche’, a temporary experiential installation exploring climate change. The piece is a physical interpretation of the impact of climate change, giving people an insight into what it would be like to be stuck in a snowstorm. The high gloss structures were positioned to create the illusion of tangible restriction, inducing a feeling of utter isolation and distress. The wall was backlit using Osram’s LED strips, creating a dramatic contrast from the surrounding darkness.
On his website, McCormick notes that ‘Avalanche’ is a “poetic metaphor meant to offer visitors a moment to take pause between the darkness and light – even for a brief moment – and reflect on the limited opportunities we are afforded to make impactful personal decisions, specifically when it comes to our planet”.
Both McCormick and Kuma, in their own way, brought to the V&A visitors attention the most pressing issue for designers in 2019: the planet and sustainability.
Over at Paddington Basin, car brand Lexus showed off their latest model in collaboration with new design company Tangent. Their car on show was the 2+2 luxury coupe for Lexus’s global model range. The brand utilised the opportunity to highlight the qualities of design, engineering and advanced technology that define Lexus as a premium vehicle manufacturer and as a luxury lifestyle brand. The exhibit presented the Lexus LC 500h self-charging hybrid electric coupe. This flagship model has its own distinguished design history, having won prestigious Eyes On Design Awards at the North American International Auto Show when presented both in original concept form and as a production-ready model.
The skills of Lexus’s master craftspeople – the famous Takumi – are central to the exceptional quality Lexus delivers in every car it builds. The LC benefits from this precise approach, not just in the intricate details of its fittings and finishes but also in the way the car rides and performs. Always looking to gain the best results, materials with different properties have been used in different areas of the coupe’s construction, giving strength, rigidity and lightweight in appropriate measure – in essence, “the right material for the right job”.
Luxury is again evident in the interior finish with precise stitching that maintains a flawless finish where leather spreads across complex surfaces. The draping effect of the Alcantara (a synthetic suede) in the door panels and the arrangement of the perforations in the leather seat upholstery are further hallmarks of the attention to detail invested in creating a perfect cabin environment.
Known for their use of luxury materials and quality, Lexus set up its own design competition in 2013 and every year since has looked towards designers creating a brighter future. As a company, they are committed to design and, especially, the next generation of makers.
The winner of the first Lexus Design Award in 2013 was the lighting installation, ‘Inaho’, a lighting system inspired by the subtle motion of golden ears of rice swaying gently in the breeze. It casts luminous dots, reminiscent of grains of rice, through perforated tubes. Motion-detection sensors embedded in the base cause the stems to sway as a person passes by.
Hideki Yoshimoto, creator of ‘Inaho’, went on to find his own company in 2015: London-based Tangent. During London Design Week, in its first major solo exhibition, Tangent showcased the full array of its light fixtures and sculptures. Among those showcased in this years London Design Festival were: ‘Idaho’ (2013), ‘Rise for Wonderglass’ (2017) and ‘Here’ (2019).
‘Here’ was a challenging project for Tangent, with the sculpture being a total of 3.5 meters in diameter. Originally commissioned for the luxury band Hermès for its exhibition at the watch fair Salon International de la Haute Horlogerie in Geneva. This giant earth structure sat in Paddington Basin for all to admire. Made of a carbon shell and covered in more than 20,000 triangular tiles made from recycled solar cells, the sculpture exudes a complex distribution of blue shades, acting as a metaphor for our “blue planet”.
Like Lexus, material and design royalty in the watch world, Rado, also presented their own design competition at Design Junction in King’s Cross. In its third year, the Rado Star Prize is a truly prestigious award aimed at young, up and coming, new talent who utilise quality materials as much as they draw on usefulness and forward-thinking ideals.
Over in East London, the Old Truman Brewery returned as the host of many events such as, Material of the Year exhibition and various Country Pavilions. There were also several new additions, including the International Craft Pavilion, replacing the British Craft Pavilion of last year.
As it did for the rest of the festival, sustainability also underpinned the events taking place at Old Truman Brewery. Some of the most notable green initiatives included ideas from Chip[s] Board, who created plastic alternatives made out of potatoes, and High Society, who crafted lighting fixtures from the waste of tobacco and wine production. Also of note was Mexican designer Fernando Laposse, whose work, ‘Totomoxtle’, used endangered species of Mexican corn to create a patchwork veneer material.
At the Swedish Design Pavilion, 13 exhibitors debuted their work in a beautifully designed, yet completely sustainable, space. Created by the team at Förstberg Ling, the maze-like area was made entirely out of sustainable Swedish wood.
Back at Design Junction, glass company, LSA, created ‘The Greenhouse’ – an oasis that transformed an urban space into a green haven. On show in this beautiful setting was the ‘Canopy’ range, a large selection of hand blown recycled glass which was originally launched in partnership with the Eden project.
‘The Greenhouse’ was an immersive experience with workshops and displays, showcasing a selection of the most timeless design pieces, alongside more recent additions to the collection. The installation, designed by Andrew Martin from AMD Interior Architecture, reflected the botanical shapes and themes from the ‘Canopy’ range.
Key partnerships for LSA International’s installation were selected because of their shared values – a commitment to sustainable living as well as design integrity. Botanical Boys hosted terrarium workshops for the duration of the event while Pebble Magazine hosted a panel talk about sustainability. St Ives Liquor, who plant a tree for every bottle sold, provided the refreshments as did Double Dutch. Vitra provided iconic pieces from their collection to furnish the space and String Furniture was used to showcase LSA products suitable for the kitchen, living and workplace. Made to Stay created a lighting cluster installation, whilst Artcoustics supplied their hand made speakers for the duration of the event. DuraOcean® Chair by LifestyleGarden® is a shining example of a commitment to sustainable development practices, manufactured from 100% recycled plastics recovered from the ocean. They showcased their Bistro outdoor furniture set, out front at ‘The Greenhouse’.
Another immersive structure was ‘Never Lost’, a 3D maze at CitizenM hotel in Shoreditch, constructed by Emily Forgot who is best known for her architectural artworks. Designed to escape the bustle of the city surroundings, visitors were invited to meander through layers of brightly hued textures and archways, whilst a theme tune by Soundscape and CitizenM played in the background. The piece was created through research by neuroscientists into human brainwaves.
Also at Design Junction in King’s Cross, ex-jewellery designer turned interior designer, Lara Bohinc, took over a townhouse to present her first ever Bohinc Studio solo-show. The exhibition, titled ‘Lunar House’, celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moon landing by creating a multi-sensory galaxy experience, with items hanging like nightly stars against a rich blue backdrop. Items on show included the Planetaria rugs collection, created with Kasthall, as well as furniture pieces.
Design Junction was the biggest destination for interior design choices during London Design Week. The massive international show, held in King’s Cross, showed off not only design but exciting innovation. During the festival two hundred international brands showcased their designs with over seventy pop-ups, countless installations and a selection of programmed talks with prominent figures from the industry. There was a marque full of brands, exhibiting everything from lighting to furniture. There was also a ‘selling tent’ full of young designers and small brands offering gift items and new collections. It was a great place to discover small independent makers, for example, candle makers Abalon whose eco-candles are encased in unique and handmade porcelain pots which, on top of their beautiful design, are also refillable! Amongst other exciting discoveries to be found in the tent were Sevin London, a home and body brand, whose body lotions and reed diffusers smelt rather delicious. Dutch designer, Piet Boon, also featured in the tent and stood out for his divine concrete wallpapers and beam light fixtures made with curly shapes.
A real stand out piece in the King’s Cross area was Steuart Padwick’s ‘Talk To Me’: a powerful and engaging two-piece interactive installation situated along King’s Boulevard. Two large-scale wooden ‘people’ towering over 5 metres high were partnered with recordings of everyday people talking about mental health. The recordings were projected out to the crowd, engaging passers-by with, not only, design week but also the difficult subject matter of mental illness. Padwick’s ambitious sculpture was made in support of mental health anti-stigma charity, Time to Change, and illustrated the far-reaching concerns of designers taking part in London Design Festival 2019.
Another wonderful installation was Bim Burton’s ‘From Inside Out’, which worked perfectly with this year’s themes of Reimagine, Reconnect and React. The work consisted of chairs made from old baths, displayed in green outdoor space for people to sit and contemplate. Again, drawing on sustainable design and the importance of the natural world.
At London Design Week 2019, there was much to see and do and as the show grows, the idea of design being intwined with everyday life grows with it. Seventeen years on and the festival only gets more relevant, not simply to designers but to the everyday person wanting to make a difference. And what better way to educate oneself on impactful design than attending a fair full of designers, innovators and ordinary people all looking to interact with anyone, everyone and everything?
To browse the full range of projects that took place at London Design Festival 2019 visit their website here.