What we learnt from the 2019 London Design Festival

The creative season has officially begun with the annual London Design Festival, now in full swing. Running from 14 to 22 September at its main hub at the V&A, the festival of innovation and ideas is bigger, bolder and more international –  the largest in its 17 years. LDF has now progressively spread to most of the city’s main districts. The displays of products and furniture in galleries and shops, the grand installations in public spaces, and the debates happening alongside the exhibitions form a compelling view as to what will drive trends and ideas in the coming year.

It is easy to get lost in the sheer volume of it all, yet there is a general theme running here concerned with sustainability. This includes renewing traditional materials and production methods in unexpected ways, a strong focus on the reuse and repurposing of products, and a critical dialogue on consumption.

Weaving into Lightness by Kengo Kuma

‘Urushi Wajima’ by Max Lamb’s for Fumi in Mayfair sees the designer investigate the ancient Japanese technique. The lacquer comes from the sap of the urushi tree – a poisonous ingredient which, once extracted and applied in multiple layers to a surface and dried, creates a smooth and resistant coating. Lamb exposes the rough wood grains, usually covered with the lacquer, highlighting the beauty in natural material.

Also concerned with material and process is Bamboo Ring by Japanese architect Kengo Kuma. Set in the V&A courtyard, the work is inspired by the John Madejski Garden, and the nest is made by weaving rings of bamboo and carbon fibre together. For Kuma, the installation is an exploration of pliancy, precision, lightness and strength: by pulling two ends, it naturally de-forms and half of the woven structure is lifted into the air.

Sam Jacob, Sea Things (c) Ed Reeve V&A

Paul Cocksedge’s ‘Please Be Seated’ in Finsbury Avenue Square Broadgate, is designed to encourage the public to sit on, walk under, and interact with one another. Working with engineer Arup, the large-scale structure is made of scaffolding planks and re-used building wood, and is designed to respond to the changing rhythm of the community.

The theme of sustainability and our role as humans occupying this planet is at the centre of Sam Jacob’s installation ‘Sea of Things’ at the entrance to the V&A. The architect is asking visitors to rethink the global plastics system; to consider its full lifetime journey and to design future-use into every product. The idea came from a pattern by Charles and Ray Eames in the V&A’s collection. Jacob’s two-way mirrored cube suspends above us as we enter the museum, offering an animated motion graphic, internally reflected to an infinity so as to appear as wide as the ocean and as large as the challenges we face.

aul Cocksedge’s ‘Please be Seated’

Consumer culture is under inspection by Studio MICAT, There Project and Proud Studio, and their project ‘Non-Pavilion’. The plain rods in the V&A’s Sackler Courtyard form a three-dimensional canvas for augmented reality projections with various digital artists projecting alternative worlds. In one, the courtyard fills with terraced houses that shrink as the viewer enters for the illusion of a world where humans are tiny and therefore need less space.

Martino Gamper’s engaging ‘Disco Carbonara’ offers a touch of escapism. Envisaged as a gateway within Coal Drops Yard in King’s Cross, the designer’s idea comes from the concept of a Potemkin village – the stories of a fake portable village built to impress Empress Catherine II by her lover Grigory Potemkin during her 1787 journey to Crimea. The colourful façade of timber off-cuts and recycled materials, as we find out, lead to nowhere.

Demond Melancon and Assemble

Then there are the huge and vibrant Mardi Gras Indian suits, composed of intricately hand-sewn beadwork, theatrically installed in the V&A to the equally theatrical backdrop of the Tapestries Gallery. The creation of the contemporary artist Demond Melancon and London architectural and design collective, Assemble, the work addresses stereotypical representations of black people and explores the experience of the African diaspora.

Finally, LDF saw a touch of post-modern revival with its kitsch, playful, empty, pop-coloured forms and themes. Most notable at this year’s festival is the ‘Walala Lunge’, an installation by the famed artist Camille Walala in South Molton Street which uses her primary shapes, bold colours, and black and white grids to engage with the public.

Walala Lounge (c) LDF

Images: Max Lamb © Max Lamb, Kengo Kuma, Sam Jacob © Ed Reeve, Paul Cocksedge © Paul Cocksedge, Studio MICAT © Ed Reeve, Demond Melancon, Martino Gamper © Studio Stagg, Camille Walala ©  LDF.
Take a look at the 2018 London Design Festival and 2018 London Design Biennale here.

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Martino Gamper Disco Carbonara (c) Studio Stagg
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