Snippets of London Design Festival 2016

Once a year, London Design Festival descends on my fair city. Installations are highlighted by red markers outside the doors of tiny shops, to world-famous museums. Best of all, most of it is free! So I made a point of making time to see world-class design for nothing.

I mostly looked around the Brompton Design District, Clerkenwell Design Quarter and Islington Design District. The Interactive Sign Machine was installed in the foyer of the seven-star Bulgari Hotel in Knightsbridge. A wonderful thing about the London Design Festival is that you get to experience places that you never usually would, and suffice it to say I would never be able to hang out in the Bulgari Hotel of my own accord. During the festival week however, the frontage of the Bulgari was covered in neon letters, and the doorman asked to hear my views on the installation on my way out. Everyone was welcome.

The incongruity of this installation in the dark, masculine Bulgari foyer was striking. It is actually a fairly simple metal structure, bright green, with three suspended chairs for you to sit in and admire the colourful canopy. The structure’s ceiling is covered in bright, fluorescent signage and objects, arranged at angles and different heights. Signs are double-sided, usually with a positive on one side and a negative on the other – “simple” and “complex”. There are levers for you to pull while you’re sitting down that rotate the signs so you can see what’s written on each side.

I was also keen to drop in on the Indian Design Platform installation in King’s Cross after my trip to India in September, which featured art pieces made of from reused materials found in India’s megacities. “Light-Wallah” is a large installation made from several “kullahad” terracotta clay cups which are used for drinking tea. They’re readily thrown away, and the lighting installation repurposes them for the permanent rather than the disposable.

Lighting installation made of traditional Indian "dharavis" which are small terracotta lamps
“Light-Wallah”: A lighting installation made of traditional Indian “dharavis” which are small terracotta lamps

I couldn’t resist stopping by Present and Correct in Islington during the week. The store had a display of its eraser collection called “Error” which took up a big wall space.

Typically neat, co-ordinated and colourful display from Present and Correct. Very pleasing to the eye.

And while I was in Islington, I also stopped by Quill London. This was fun as I’d never been to this shop before, having attended two Quill London workshops at other London venues. This is a gorgeous and minimalist store, with the most stunning paper hydrangeas made by A Petal Unfolds scattered in the window display.

These hydrangeas are made of paper. Yes I know, unbelievable.
These hydrangeas are made of paper. Yes I know, unbelievable.

Nearby my place of work, I spent quite a bit of time looking at the installations in the various Kensington museums. The Victoria and Albert Museum is a truly amazing design museum in its own right, so it is a fitting venue to host some short-term installations, and they were dotted throughout the museum.

I visited the Ove Arup exhibition earlier in the year, although this was included as part of the London Design Festival timetable. This exhibition resonated with my career and I found it really interesting to see Arup’s sketches and letters, which give a remarkable insight into an incredible design mind. Arup is responsible for such landmarks as the Sydney Opera House and the Pompidou Centre in Paris.

Elsewhere in a tapestry room of the V&A, there was a long, undulating piece of material covered in tiny pieces of mirror called “FOIL”. Spotlights were shone along the length of it, and it was suspended to allow a machine underneath to move it slowly up and down. This produced beautiful reflections around the long gallery and highlighted pieces of the tapestries around.

Reflections on the gallery ceiling and on the wall tapestries
Reflections on the gallery ceiling and on the wall tapestries

Outside in the V&A Courtyard there was this strange structure, called Elytra Filament Pavilion. Designed by a group of experimental architects and engineers, this glass and carbon fibre pavilion is constructed by a robotic technique and inspired by the structures of flying beetles! Apparently its construction method makes it incredible light and strong, and it has been built, bit by bit, over the course of its stay in the courtyard. Unbelievably, sensors in the canopy monitor how visitors interact with the pavilion and inform how the structure grows. I loved the shape of the pavilion’s ceiling, hexagons surrounded by what appears to be webbing keeping it all together creating beautiful geometric patterns.

The Elytra Filament Pavilion in the V&A Courtyard

The Serpentine Architecture Programme just up the road in Hyde Park presented the annual Serpentine Pavilion (which I wrote about last year) and a set of Summer Houses in the park.

The 2016 Serpentine Pavilion, designed by Bjarke Ingels Group

This year’s Pavilion was mightily different to last year’s. This one was structured, tall and geometric. The whole structure was made up of hollow fibreglass rectangular tubes, open at both ends, and these tubes are stacked together to create curves in the walls. The construction seemed ridiculously clever, and simple. It creates different perspectives onto it from different places and the curvature of the walls means that you are never able to see directly through the tubes unless you stand directly in front of them, like this:

But from the side, stacked structure means the Pavilion looks like this:

And when you look at the whole structure head-on from a little way away, it looks like this:

Very clever and effective. It kept me walking around it for ages trying to figure it out.

There was so much more to the London Design Festival that I just didn’t have time to see! I barely scratched the surface, but I’m glad that I got to see a range of different installations.  In particular, I really wanted to take part in a Ghostsigns activity as I’m a big fan of Ghostsigns on Twitter, so hopefully I’ll be able to do that next year. My advice to anyone that wants to soak it all up next year is plan plan plan. A week isn’t long enough to see everything, but it’s a wonderful opportunity to see a whole range of design concepts in parts of London you wouldn’t normally venture into.

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