London Design Festival offers a glimpse at the evolution of various creative fields. Sarah Maisey presents some of the highlights
Highlights from the London Design Festival
London is in the throes of its annual design festival, which means that everything from museums and river barges to city squares and streets are being temporarily transformed into a creative showpiece.
Building on London’s reputation as one of the design capitals of the world, this year’s ambitious festival runs until September 24. Launched in 2003, it has grown to become a solid fixture in the design diary, bringing together industry insiders and curious newcomers alike. It covers every aspect of design, from site-specific installations to lighting and trade-only platforms, and offers insight into a wide-ranging and fast-evolving sector through expert lectures and talks.
This year, the work of 18 designers from across the Arab world is being showcased at Designjunction, a trade exhibition taking place until Sunday. Co-curated by Suzanne Trocmé and d3, Middle East: Design Now! is an exploration of how traditional methods, materials and motifs are being reinterpreted in a modern-day context.
It features regional favourites such as Emirati designer Aljoud Lootah, whose work is based on ordered, geometric design. Delicate, structured patterns are transposed onto tableware and as structural elements on stools.
Also on show is work by Tinkah, the Dubai-based design company that created the graphics for the Etihad Museum, as well as guides for the Louvre Museum in Paris.
Kuwaiti designer Kawther Al Saffar, meanwhile, is showcasing her unique sand-cast dual-metal bowls, which draw together heritage elements such as hand-casting and sand from the River Nile. Also hailing from Kuwait is Loulwa Al-Radwan, whose linear, abstract furniture draws inspiration from peacocks.
The beauty of the festival lies in its diversity. So while Middle Eastern motifs are being highlighted in King’s Cross, in Broadgate’s Exchange Square, a huge, brightly coloured installation that resembles a bouncy castle is catching the eyes of commuters. Set behind Liverpool Street Station, one of London’s busiest train and tube interchanges, Villa Walala is an inflatable art installation created by textile artist Camille Walala and decorated in her trademark patterned motifs. The aim is to catch viewers off guard.
“I want to introduce a sense of the unexpected,” Walala explains. “I think that, to turn a corner into Broadgate, and find a huge, bouncy, pink and patterned house will be hugely entertaining.”
The Victoria & Albert Museum is a hub for festival activities, and home to a series of specially commissioned installations and displays from an international line-up of designers. Ross Lovegrove has created a soft, undulating sculpture for the museum’s Tapestry Room that takes its inspiration from a gown worn by a woman in one of the 15th-century wall hangings displayed there. Sensuous and fluid, the artwork snakes along for 21 metres, and is made from the sound-absorbent material Alcantara, providing an interesting meeting point between the past and present.
Also in the museum is Reflection Room by Flynn Talbot, an immersive light installation in the Prince Consort Gallery. Filling the 35-metre-long space with blue and orange strip lighting, and using black panels to reflect and distort the light, it is a site-specific work.
“I conceived the idea standing in the gallery, and wanted to add my story on top of the beautiful existing architecture, but not to take it over,” Talbot explains. “With all of my work I want to create new experiences using light that build a connection between people and place.”
Designer Tord Boontje is also using the festival to present his latest lighting series, Luminous Reflections, created in collaboration with Swarovski. Housed at the Swarovski Crystal Palace, the pieces are the result of Boontje challenging Swarovski to create a new shape of crystal. Turning away from the precision-cut crystals that the company is known for, Boontje sought a softer, more organic shape. Crafted into chandeliers and lighting pieces, the fluid and unfaceted crystals create softly dappled light, like sunlight reflected on water.
“Having worked with Swarovski crystal for 15 years, I understand how light and crystal work together – and for the first time I have had the opportunity to change the shape of the lighting crystals,” Boontje says. “I wanted a ‘soft light’ effect; the quality of light you see in a misty or snowy landscape or on a lake as dancing light reflections. For me, these chandeliers really celebrate an organic quality of light that crystal can create.”
Sound artist Manabu Shimada was involved in helping create a unique soundscape around the Luminous Reflections pieces, which listeners can alter via Twitter, using particular hashtags. Designed to be responsive in real time, from anywhere in the world, every moment of the soundscape promises to be unique.
Technology is also at the heart of the work of new brand Nolii, which launched during the festival and is the brainchild of industrial designer Benjamin Hubert and tech entrepreneur Asad Hamir of Kite. Seeking practical remedies to everyday tech-related problems, such as running out of battery or tangled charging cables, it offers sleek solutions such as Couple, a phone cover that doubles as a combined slimline wallet and charger, or Set, a portable power pack with multiple adapters, created for those on the move.
For those looking for more classical design solutions, designer Christopher Jenner has teamed up with silverware company E&Co to create the Epicurean Collection. The fine tableware line includes essentials for entertaining such as a butter dish, cheese knife and honey pot, all displayed in the grand environs of the ballroom at Thomas Goode & Co in Mayfair.
Meanwhile, on nearby Conduit Street, Sketch is hosting an exhibition of 13 designers, curated by Matter of Stuff. On show is the Club Chair by Glen Baghurst, which explores draping in fashion, and sees leather folded around the frame of a chair. Hailing from last year’s Designer Residency programme, which was masterminded by Matter of Stuff with students from Camberwell College of Arts, the work of several talented up-and-coming designers is also on show. Although still early in their careers, notable pieces include the Coulee side table by Nina Cho, Mirrored by Tim Vanlier and Echo by Uufie.
Although it may not be possible to buy into all these new talents yet, as ever, the London Design Festival is certainly offering a tantalising glimpse of the future of design.