There was concern that, after a summer of unprecedented pageantry, ceremony and activity in London, the city’s Design Festival might slip beneath the radar. However, such worries were unfounded as, in its tenth instalment, September’s London Design Festival was an emphatic statement of the capital’s global significance in design. With the royals and the athletes having taken their turn earlier in the summer, the creative community got its opportunity to show off the best of Britain and the world.
The V&A Museum once again operated as the festival’s hub venue, hosting a series of headline installations. Visitors were welcomed in from Exhibition Road by a dramatic canopy of white traffic cones designed by Thomas Heatherwick, who, following the acclaim that his 2012 Olympic Cauldron enjoyed, has cemented his position as a bona fide design celebrity.
One of the things that the London Design Festival has excelled at in recent years is the reinvention and reinterpretation of hidden spaces; this year the trend continued at the V&A in the shape of Keiichi Matsuda’s Prism. Accessed by a tight spiral staircase – the entrance to which is concealed in an anonymous corner of the museum’s ceramics collection – the installation appeared as a giant suspended iceberg set into the V&A’s uppermost cupola.
Information in the form of colour and patterns was projected onto different aspects of the installation via internal projectors. According to the designer, the work presented an alternative view of London that “exposed unseen data flows in the capital”.
Building on the success of 2011’s Textile Field by the Boroullec Brothers – a raised carpet that allowed visitors to lounge in the Raphael Cartoon room – the curators this year chose another installation that functioned in dialogue with the museum’s collection and architecture.
So-called Mimicry Chairs, by the Japanese design studio Nendo, appeared in various locations throughout the V&A. Using a simple chair archetype made from pressed and punched metal and painted white, in each location the chair (or chairs) were modified to mimic the particular space and objects with which they were juxtaposed. Particularly successful were the versions in the tapestry gallery, which played with the ideas of framing and looking, and in the daylight gallery where a series of stacked chairs mirrored a nearby staircase.
Activities continued in the courtyard for which leading furniture designers had been invited to create a series of one-off benches, each made from a different material. Visitors, with varying degrees of comfort it must be admitted, were able to rest their backsides on work by BarberOsgerby, Jasper Morrison and Konstantin Gricic.
Last year’s festival saw St Paul’s Cathedral host a destination design installation, in 2012 another famous London landmark, Trafalgar Square, got the treatment. For the duration of the festival a mysterious black rubberized pod appeared between Nelson’s Column and The National Gallery. This was the Be Open Sound Portal, an installation that promised to explore the concept of sound in design. Once inside the portal, which was design by Arup, visitors passed through a band of white noise before reaching a space filled by the sound of five specially commissioned works of music.
“It [the portal] offers an intimate number of sensations that will remove the perceived limitations of contemporary design,” commented Be Open’s founder Elena Baturina. The portal was certainly a diverting experience, but for me at least, was more an entertaining distraction than a significant statement about the future of design.
The major trade shows returned for 2012 refreshed and reinvigorated. 100% Design again occupied the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, with the event this year under the new stewardship of the Media 10 organisation. The show boasted a completely new layout with four distinct design zones: interiors, kitchen and bathroom, office, and eco design and build.
Alongside these four areas, Emerging Brands offered a space for young designers to show their work to an influential audience of design buyers, recruiters, and critics.
Devon duo Young and Norgate showed their exceptional handmade furniture, whilst Latvian-born London-based industrial designer Arthur Analts took the opportunity to exhibit a range of previous work, including his ‘Wow’ aluminium shelf, and new projects. Loughborough graduate Emma Britton delighted visitors with her ‘Up the Garden Path’ collection of laminated glass.
Undoubtedly, one of the highlights of 100% Design was the appearance of Yves Behar, in town to promote the launch of ‘Source’ his new concept for SodaStream. In conversation with Dezeen editor Marcus Fairs, Behar talked about industrial design’s “new frontier” being the simultaneous development of hardware and software.
“What I’ve been really interested in is, when these things get designed together as one, really new interesting paradigms, really new interesting experiences are happening,” he said.
Out east, sister shows Super Brands and Tent London took up their residency at the Old Truman Brewery on Brick Lane. Super Brands – as the name suggests – was home to a host of global design brands. Whilst Brick Lane might not be Milan, there were still a number of high profile product launches from the likes of Mosa, Prooff, Kallemo, and Allermuir, alongside a handful of companies, such as the furniture design studio Munna, that were entering the UK market for the first time.
Now in its sixth year, Tent was its typically colourful and bustling self. Over 200 exhibitors showed a diverse range of contemporary interior projects. If pale wood furniture dominated at 100% Design, Tent was a more eclectic affair: there was plenty of pattern on show, particularly on the Ercol stand, and a number of up-and-coming designers displayed work that experimented with knitting and other craft techniques.
Alongside interiors, excellence in graphic design was central to this year’s festival. Leading graphic art outfit Outline Editions oversaw one of 2012’s standout shows, exhibiting work by Noma Bar and Kristjana S Williams – two practitioners whose work, on the surface, could not be any more different.
Williams’ collection Anachroquarianism is inspired by 19th century natural history illustration. Her intensely detailed, intensely colourful work was pure joy. Bar’s work, on the other hand, is famed for its wry use of negative space and its trademark visual humour. The Israeli graphic artist’s work appears regularly in the Guardian newspaper and a number of his new pieces were available to enjoy and buy.
No doubt 2012 has been a vintage year for London. In the Olympic spirit, the London Design Festival was able to run with the baton of a city on top of the world. Now the festival appears to have truly carved its own identity in a packed European design calendar.