Highlights: London Design Week

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Speaking at a roundtable discussion with design festival organisers from around the world, Chairman of the London Design Festival, Sir John Sorrell, said that major changes in the way humans live have been affected by our journey from an agricultural society to an industrial and later technical one. What we are now experiencing, he says, is a ‘creative revolution’ – and I tend to agree.

There is a lot of talk these days about the way in which technologies are shaping the way we live, work and communicate. And this is certainly true – but technology, as it has always done, is simply offering faster and more accessible tools for us to realise our creativity. Designers have always been creative, they have always pondered about how to solve problems or construct the fancies of their imagination. The difference now is that even the most seemingly implausible constructions can be realised with the help of the tools at our disposal.

So when a contemporary designer like Thomas Heatherwick scrunches a piece of paper on his desk and proposes it as the basic structure for a building – we know that there is likely to be a range of tools and expertise which will help him realise this idea. The tools have allowed designers to escape from the drudgery of pre-conceived limitations and open up their minds to the most extraordinary creations. The rules of the game have been re-set and re-imagined!

Of course, brilliant, innovative and highly imaginative design has always been created. One only has to look at our own Sydney Opera House and marvel at how this building was fabricated with none of the computer modelling technologies available today.

In fact this building pioneered the use of the computers to calculate the stresses and loads on the two-way curved roofs as well as finding ways to build the roofs in concrete. The computer used to make the calculations was apparently the size of a room. 

These thoughts were at the forefront of my mind when I travelled to London recently to enjoy one of the biggest and most influential design festivals in the world – the London Design Festival (LDF). First stop was the Victorian & Albert Museum which was hosting a number of LDF events including the exhibition, Heatherwick Studio: Designing the Extraordinary.

After entering the museum via a stunning Heatherwick installation, a visit to the exhibition offered insights into a range of projects undertaken by the Heathewick Studio including buildings, public sculptures, installations, test pieces and other projects.

Heatherwick installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum entrance

Heatherwick installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum entrance

Most intriguing for me was the small section dedicated to the studio’s annual Christmas cards. Heatherwick wanted to continue the tradition of gift-giving which started when he was a boy designing cards for his family. The cards are sent each year to colleagues and supporters and each card becomes a way to test and experiment with design ideas as well as the physical qualities of envelopes and stamps. Basically, the notion of a standard card, envelope and stamp are thrown out the window and what you see is clever cut outs, objects and constructions which rethink the whole act of giving and receiving post.  One was simply an address and stamp encased in a block of acrylic another included each address being meticulously cut out in linked letters which then folded out to form a snowflake. See http://vimeo.com/43759746

I can only imagine how delightful it would be to receive a Heatherwick card each year and wonder why more of us creative types don’t have a go at surprising our colleagues, friends and family with these kinds of experiments and ideas.

As you can see from the above video, Thomas is a great speaker and was also in the line up of speakers at the Global Design Forum which was held on 18 September. But more about that in another article.

Big kids and little kids cavorting on the Heatherwick Spun chair set up in the entry area of the V&A.

Big kids and little kids cavorting on the Heatherwick Spun chair set up in the entry area of the V&A.

Giant contraption for the distribution of Heatherwick brochures at the entry to the exhibition.

Giant contraption for the distribution of Heatherwick brochures at the entry to the exhibition.

Next stop at the V&A was a visit to the Prism installation by Keichi Matsuda. Along the way I encounter Mimicry Chairs by Nendo – a collection of chair installations scattered throughout the museum. These subtle interventions by the Japanese studio Nendo float about like ghosts – morphing according to the space they are in.

Mimicry Chairs by Nendo

Mimicry Chairs by Nendo

Mimicry Chairs by Nendo

Mimicry Chairs by Nendo

I meet my fellow adventurers in the ceramics gallery for the guided tour to the mysterious and dark nether regions of the museum. After signing a risk disclosure statement, we are led through a secret chamber to an old circular staircase which takes us to the top of the cupola, high above the main entrance tower to the Museum.

Heatherwick installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum entrance

Heatherwick installation at the Victoria & Albert Museum entrance

Victoria & Albert Museum entrance hall

Victoria & Albert Museum entrance hall

Views from high above the ceramics gallery.

Views from high above the ceramics gallery.

The outer surface of the cupola.

The outer surface of the cupola.

Prism installation by Keichi Matsuda.

Prism installation by Keichi Matsuda.

Prism is a beautiful suspended lighting structure where each coloured panel is a shimmering representation of digital data from all over London. One panel is reflecting the movement of traffic or the number of bikes being hired from city bike points while others relate to wind speed, condensation, humidity and even economic statistics. The data streams are live and are constantly updated as we watch.

Panels of digital data from the Prism installation by Keichi Matsuda.

Panels of digital data from the Prism installation by Keichi Matsuda.

Prism is compelling, but equally so is the knowledge that we are standing so high up in an area that museum visitors would normally never see. Up another spiral staircase and we are high up on the tower roof overlooking a stunning 180º view ofLondon.

Inside the V&A tower roof

Inside the V&A tower roof

View of London from the V&A tower roof

View of London from the V&A tower roof

After all this art and design I’m ready for a cup of tea and a scone in one of the world’s best places for that kind of thing. The beautifully appointed dining rooms decorated by William Morris are a close second only to the tea and scones at Kensington Garden’s Orangery. Both are musts on any trip to London.

That evening I attend the opening party for the Brampton Design District, at 4 Cromwell Place.

Lucky prize styled catering at Brompton Design District Opening.

Lucky prize styled catering at Brompton Design District Opening.

Building Baskets

Building Baskets

Building Baskets is a 2-year design project between Kingston University Design and Business Schools and the basket weaving enterprise, Lupane Women’s Centre, and the National Gallery Zimbabwe. The project explores identity and creativity in contemporary craft practice.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Poster printing project by Out of Print.

Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s handcrafted particle accelerator

Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s handcrafted particle accelerator

Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s handcrafted particle accelerator

Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s handcrafted particle accelerator

Very impressed by young designer Patrick Stevenson-Keating’s handcrafted particle accelerator. To find out more about how this works visit http://pstevensonkeating.co.uk/portfolio/handcrafted-particle-accelerator

Euro Bread by Michael Anastassiades

Euro Bread by Michael Anastassiades

And Kopiaste – a joint project between Haptic Thought and Design Marketo. In this exhibition, a series of objects are assembled with a tongue-in-cheek approach to design, food and cultural identity. Above is Euro Bread by Michael Anastassiades, a response to the current Greek Euro crisis.

Ice cubes moulded in the shape of a Greek column

Ice cubes moulded in the shape of a Greek column

Similarly, these ice cubes moulded in the shape of a Greek column are part of a wider range of products reflecting Greeks obsession with heritage in times of uncertainty. Design by Greeceis for Lovers http://greeceisforlovers.com/ – a company specialising in contemporary product design.

‘Your bread and butter is our bread and feta - Ye Old Feta Cheese'

‘Your bread and butter is our bread and feta – Ye Old Feta Cheese’

‘Your bread and butter is our bread and feta – Ye Old Feta Cheese’ reflects on heritage obsession and cultural stereotypes. Sarcasm aside, the product offers a humorous serving suggestion – where luxe design rubs shoulders with kitsch.

Mr Mitre by Philippe Malouin.

Mr Mitre by Philippe Malouin.

More designer fun by Canadian Philippe Malouin. Mr Mitre is a bread mould and a beech wood mitre box. The tin bakes perfectly fitted rectangular loafs and the box allows accurate 90 and 45 degree cuts- hopefully making bread taste that much better.

The following day I head to the new premises of Central St Martins in Kings Cross for the Global Design Forum. This full day of speakers included Sir John Sorrell, Alberto Alessi, Thomas Heatherwick, Tom Dixon, Charles Leadbeater, Eves Behar, Paul Priestman, John Thackara, Zaha Hadid and many more. Themes ranged from global warming to Beyonce? The conference deserves a more thoughtful review which I will do in a further article.

Matthew Daniel Siskin, creative director and founder of Designedmemory, a studio based in New York City talking about his work with Beyonce and creating the ‘Human Digital Self’.

Matthew Daniel Siskin, creative director and founder of Designedmemory, a studio based in New York City talking about his work with Beyonce and creating the ‘Human Digital Self’.

Thomas Heatherwick in conversation with educator and curator Daniel Charney. The conversations took place whilst seated on Heatherwick’s Spun chair.

Thomas Heatherwick in conversation with educator and curator Daniel Charney. The conversations took place whilst seated on Heatherwick’s Spun chair.

Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid, in conversation with Domus editor, Joseph Grima.

Pritzker Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid, in conversation with Domus editor, Joseph Grima.

Over the last couple of years, one of the great highlights of the London Design Festival has been theTrafalgar Square installations. The Be Open: Sound Portal inTrafalgar Square was no exception. Co-produced by the creative think tank, Be Open, Arups and London Design, this black rubberised structure is home to very precise audio technologies which deliver pour acoustic sound to visitors in the middle of one of the busiest and noisiest environments in London. Upon entering, I am cocooned from all external sounds and I relax against the central seating structure, close my eyes, and listen to the hypnotic chants of AEIVAAII – 12 Sonnets for Humankind by Ivan Pavolov (COH). Each day, the Sound Portal hosts commissions by five leading composers and sounds artists. On the day I visit the Pavolov piece turns the portal into a chapel offering a universal religious experience to visitors of all persuasions.

Be Open Sound Portal at Trafalgar Square.

Be Open Sound Portal at Trafalgar Square.

Next port of call was Design Junction at the Sorting Office at New Oxford Street. Covering three floors and over 10,000sqm of space, major design brands, small labels, creative enterprises, pop up shops, installations as well as restaurants, bars and cafes and a program of entertainment and seminars creates a vibrant and dynamic design scene. I thought I was at a pop concert when I saw the queues lining up Oxford Street- all clambering to get a taste of the latest in design. The industrial setting is the perfect backdrop for many exciting new designs and trends.

Cute take on the classic Thonet Bentwood chair.

Cute take on the classic Thonet Bentwood chair.

If you’ve ever wondered about the bent wood process.

If you’ve ever wondered about the bent wood process.

If you’ve ever wondered about the bent wood process.

If you’ve ever wondered about the bent wood process.

More on bending wood.

More on bending wood.

The bent wood process explained.

The bent wood process explained.

An interesting recycled rubber tyre mascot.

An interesting recycled rubber tyre mascot.

The next range of pop phones you can expect to see in stores soon. Making the most of popular culture and kitsch

The next range of pop phones you can expect to see in stores soon. Making the most of popular culture and kitsch

The next range of pop phones you can expect to see in stores soon. Making the most of popular culture and kitsch

The next range of pop phones you can expect to see in stores soon. Making the most of popular culture and kitsch

ever wanted a handle for your ipad?

ever wanted a handle for your ipad?

The classic Lloyd Loom revisited with a contemporary twist. Five designers invited to visit the famous Lloyd Loom factory in Spalding and experimented with components of this famous twisted paper and wire chair.

The classic Lloyd Loom revisited with a contemporary twist. Five designers invited to visit the famous Lloyd Loom factory in Spalding and experimented with components of this famous twisted paper and wire chair.

Concrete pavers.

Concrete pavers.

Space saving furniture for children’s rooms

Space saving furniture for children’s rooms

Space saving furniture for children’s rooms

Space saving furniture for children’s rooms

New takes on design classics.

New takes on design classics.

Natural materials and traditional techniques are making a big comeback in lighting.

Natural materials and traditional techniques are making a big comeback in lighting.

Simple modular shelving.

Simple modular shelving.

The trend for all things humble continues in London.

The trend for all things humble continues in London.

Simple box constructions.

Simple box constructions.

Visitors enjoy a taste of authentic Spanish Jamon.

Visitors enjoy a taste of authentic Spanish Jamon.

My final call for London Design is to drop in to Tom Dixon’s new premises at the Dock. This canal-side design destination is located in the industrial estate of Portobello Dock. It includes a restaurant, concept store and meeting rooms. As well as checking out a bunch of pop up displays (my favourite was by Studio Toogood), I attended Talented Ten – 10 short and sharp presentations by some fascinating new and established designers and studios including BERG, Hendzel and Hunt, CohenVanBaalen, APFEL, Benjamin Hubert and TimourousBeasties.

The workroom by Dutch Studio Toogood.

The workroom by Dutch Studio Toogood.

An eclectic mix of Dixon design at the restaurant at Tom Dixon’s The Dock at Portobello Dock.

An eclectic mix of Dixon design at the restaurant at Tom Dixon’s The Dock at Portobello Dock.

Views from Tom Dixon’s The Dock

Not for the faint-hearted, London Design Festival boasts a massive program of events in locations all over London. Armed with a large dose of design passion and truckloads of stamina – a week in London at this time is ultimately a rewarding, albeit exhausting, experience. Not only do you get to the see what this city – arguably one of the strongest hubs for contemporary design practice in the world – has to offer, you will also have the opportunity to spend time in a vibrant, multi-cultural city hell bent on changing its stuffy image and surprising visitors with the unexpected and the bold.