The annual citywide celebration of design, London Design Festival (LDF), with its theme ‘Design is in the Detail’, experienced its fourteenth edition in 2016 and attracted over 375,000 people from over 75 countries.
With Chairman Sir John Sorrell CBE and Director Ben Evans at the helm, the festival team also staged the inaugural London Design Biennale (LDB16) at Somerset House. This new addition to London’s creative calendar brought a greater international participation to the festival.
Meanwhile, the world’s largest museum of decorative arts and design, the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) played host as the festival’s hub for the eighth year. In July 2016, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge announced the V&A as winner of the UK Art Fund’s Museum of the Year £100,000 prize. This award follows successive years of success. In 2015, the temporary exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, contributed to attracting a record 3.9 million annual visitors to the museum.LDF at the V&A has also played a key role in attracting visitors to the V&A with a diverse programme of exhibitions, installations, activities and events. This year, 110,596 visitors attended the V&A over the ten-day festival, with an average 11,060 daily visitors, and on Saturday 24th September, the museum reached capacity!
During LDF16 a host of volunteer guides at the V&A, wearing red LDF T-shirts, escorted one hour long tours to experience a selection of the 25 festival highlights, among the museum’s vast specialist collections of: furniture, ceramics, glass, metalwork, fashion, textiles and jewellery, paintings, photography and architecture from across the world.
Timed during the V&A’s Engineering Season, the temporary exhibition: Engineering the World: Ove Arup and the Philosophy of Total Design featured displays about the design and construction of Sydney Opera House. While the carbon fibre canopy: Elytra Filament Pavilion expanded, responding to where visitors stood outside in The John Madejski Garden.
One of the site-specific installations was Foil, by British design entrepreneur Benjamin Hubert, of the experience design agency Layer. A 20 metre long undulating ribbon of mirror–finish stainless steel was kept in constant sine wave motion. LED lights reflected the undulating panelled surface, across 15th century hunting tapestries.
Beloved by Istanbul-based Tabanlıoğlu Architects, was designed in response to the publication in English for the first time of one of the greatest Turkish novels, first published over seventy years ago: ‘Madonna in a fur coat.’ Visitors got up close to the black reflective structure, peered inside and witnessed the interior life of the book, with atmospheric audio-visual scenes, objects, text and light.
In contrast to the decorative gilded 18th century interior of the Norfolk House Music Room in the V&A’s British Galleries, French designer Mathieu Lehanneur created Liquid Marble.He explained, “The piece doesn’t move, but the reflection of light on the polished marble makes it feel like real sea. The idea is to bring a piece of water to a place where there is none, to create a contemplative experience.”
A monumental 17.5 metre long, suspended, multi-coloured cylindrical curtain formed The Green Room. Developed in partnership with luxury watchmaker Panerai, the curtain was timed to move in a one-minute wave. Tim Simpson, founder of Glithero, alongside Dutch designer Sarah van Gameren, noted, “Museums are all about our perceptions of time. The artefacts speak of other time periods and transport you there or make those periods of time tangible.” Viewed from different landings around a stairwell, visitors dispersed to discover the V&A’s collections.
On the sixth floor, a more modest, low-tech intervention Cuckoo Eggs: Reconsidering Furniture at the V&A for 2017 and Beyond provided a break from the crowds. Temporary curator Ineke Hans revised a selection of labels for the present and future within the permanent furniture display in the Dr Susan Weber Gallery.
The Global Design Forum returned for its fifth year at the V&A. where speakers explored the theme of design in a sustainable and prosperous future. Masterclass sessions included Jonathan Barnbrook and Marina Willer (Graphics), Daan Roosegaarde (Future/Liveable Cities), Fredrikson Stallard (Makers), Doshi Levien (International). Alison Brooks (Engineering) and Patricia Urquiola (Working in Design).
Following record visitor attendance figures at the V&A, the future of the museum will soon be in the hands of a new Director. Two days before LDF16 opened, Martin Roth, Director since September 2011, announced his resignation. Nine months earlier the V&A opened their magnificent new permanent gallery Europe 1600-1815 with over 1100 objects from its collections. The recent ‘Brexit’ decision, following the referendum on 23 June 2016, in which 52% of British citizens voted to exit the European Union impacted Roth’s announcement.
However, in central London, the first LDB16 attracted a significant international crowd. Thirty-seven countries presented designs and installations in response to the theme Utopiaat Somerset House. Representing Australia was Tasmanian designer, Brodie Neill.
In addition to LDF16 at the V&A, and LDB16 the festival featured two Landmark Projects, The Smile and MINI LIVING, Your Side of Town: ‘Forrests’ received 140,000 visitors; over 2000 international businesses exhibited at five major Design Destinations: 100% Design, Decorex International, designjunction, Focus/16 and The London Design Fair. Whilst seven official Design Districts comprised 212 design businesses: Brixton Design Trail, Bankside Design District, Islington Design District, Clerkenwell Design Quarter, Shoreditch Design Triangle, Chelsea Design Quarter and Brompton Design District.
LDF will return from 16-24 September 2017 and London Design Biennale in September 2018.