London's Month of Design | icon 005 | September 2003

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words Alex Wiltshire

This month marks the largest confluence of design-related events ever to be held in London. Established events Designersblock, 100% Design and Open House are joined by the first London Design Festival, the World Creative Forum, and the first European Design Biennial at the Design Museum. Icon spoke to the organisers of each of the major events to ask them:

Why London? Why September?

100% Design,
100% Guaranteed
100% Detail
Director: Ian Rudge

100% Design is the biggest design show in the UK. It started in 1995 and had 30,000 visitors last year. 100% Guaranteed is a sister event that encourages and helps off-site events, with about 40 happening this year, and 100% Detail is a new event focusing on innovations in building products and materials. There is also a huge range of unofficial fringe events across the city during the show.

What's 100% Design all about?
It is about producing an event rather than a trade show - we hope. We embrace the parallel events in 100% Guaranteed - the more that are happening in London, the better the show.

Why did you start it?
To provide a showcase for the amount of talent in the UK - primarily the smaller designer/producers. We wanted to give them a commercial platform alongside established manufacturers from all over the world so that they could compete on a level playing field. 100% Design is still the only show where you will find that smaller designer/makers have the same platform as the other exhibitors. 100% Design is an exchange of ideas and information - newcomers to 100% Design are an important source of new ideas and established exhibitors can relate commercial ideas.

Why is it held in September?
It fitted into the international design calendar and it's loosely connected with London Fashion Week, which runs straight afterwards. The start of the London Design Festival this year will help broaden the level of design-related events, and because it includes a lot more disciplines - architecture, multimedia and so on - it has to be encouraged.

Is London the most creative city in the world?
London has a mix of designers from all over the world in a city in which they can be allowed to be creative. It doesn't really have preconceptions of what designers should be, like in Italy - you can try things that you couldn't elsewhere. I don't think that 100% Design will ever really rival Milan as a commercial event. It's still very small in comparison, and London is geographically difficult for people to be able to see everything. But 100% Design does rival it in terms of importance.

Where: Earls Court Exhibition Centre, SW5.
When: September 25-28.
Sample: Inflate's Office in a Bucket installation at Purves & Purves, Tottenham Court Road W1. Office in a Bucket inflates from a bucket into a meeting area or exhibition space. September 24-30.
100% Norway, Deluxe Gallery, Hoxton Square - from September 25.

Open House
director: Victoria Thornton

Open House allows people to visit more than 500 private buildings all over London that they'd never otherwise be able to see. Last year, there were 350,000 visits in total, making it the largest architecture exhibition in the country.

What's Open House all about?
It's about getting people to look at architecture and design on the basis that you have to experience good design to know what good design is. We show good design at all levels to show creativity around us, so you can visit surgeries, schools and housing projects, not just iconic buildings. It helps people understand what makes up the city; but it's not just about the buildings, it's about the people who use them too.

Why is it held in September?
Open House is Europe-wide, so it coincides with the others, but we have a slightly different angle - our emphasis is on good design rather than historical significance. We want people to think about the past, present and future of building design.

Is London the most creative city in the world?
Yes, it is at the moment. It's very interesting what's happening right now - London is a centre of creativity, and many people are using London as a base for their creative offices.

Why is everyone holding design festivals and biennales these days?
I think it's the zeitgeist. People are used to having a lot of imagery in their lives today; there's a focus on the visual literacy of design. At the same time, people are thinking more about the present, and they feel that they should be aware of what is going on in this field.

Where: London-wide.
When: September 20-21.
Sample: Victoria House, Southampton Row, WC1 - Will Alsop's interior features "space pods" suspended in each of the central atriums that provide meeting-room space while retaining a 1930s ballroom and neo-classical facades.

co-founder: Piers Roberts

Now in its sixth year and its largest ever show space, Designersblock carefully selects and shows work from over a hundred of the best graduates, designers and architects and shows them in disused buildings with a party atmosphere.

What's Designersblock all about?
Designersblock is more appropriate to design than the trade shows are. Designersblock is set in a more interesting space and is much cheaper. It encourages boldness and better, more innovative exhibitions. Creative intelligence is sold at Designersblock, not products. Exhibitors don't get many sales out of showing; we're about providing audiences with varied values - launches, memory of products and experimentation with new ideas.

Why did you start it?
Designersblock is constructive - it allows local talent to mature by being a local platform that's worthy of presenting it. We want to fuel creative talent in London because it should be an international stage. The more things that are going on, the more vibrant and alive the city is. It's exciting that other people have followed our lead and do stuff at the same time as us.

Why is it held in September?
Because of 100% Design, to get the international audience it attracts. We piggybacked on it but we're mutually supportive.

Is London the most creative city in the world?
London is a fantastic creative capital in itself. It's a unique communication centre and very diverse, with a wide range of creative ideologies. Milan is very expensive and is just about furniture. Stockholm and Amsterdam are too far out of the way. Spain has a communication problem. London is the one city with the communication resources - we've known this for six years.

Why is everyone holding design festivals and biennales these days?
I think because they're a more intelligent way of communicating to audiences. They create a critical mass, so it's harder for people to ignore or miss what you're trying to show.

Where: Tea Building, Shoreditch High Street, E1.
When: September 25-28.
Sample: "10,000 people smiling".

London Design Festival
World Creative Forum
festival chairman: John Sorrell

The London Design Festival is a new annual event that hopes to gather all the September design events under one umbrella. This first year it is working with over 40 organisations, including Riba, the CBI and the V&A, and holding more than 50 events in 30 locations. The World Creative Forum is a conference with an eclectic range of 70 speakers for delegates from all over the world.

What's the London Design Festival all about?
We'll be inviting people to stage events - launches, openings, parties and more. There will be some amazing things happening - it will be a festival that will be informative, entertaining, fun, and very interesting intellectually on the debate about why creativity is so important to all of us.

Why did you start it?
To make sure London keeps its position as the focal point for creativity in the world. We asked: why not international, why not London? Design is fundamental, and London represents a unique opportunity and a high level of skill in this area.

Why is it held in September?
Open House and 100% Design are absolutely vital to us. We talked to them right from the start, saying that it makes sense to run the festival at the same time and asking Ian [Rudge of 100% Design] and Victoria [Thornton of Open House] how they'd feel about that link. They said, yes, great idea - it benefits everybody and they're delighted to be part of it.

Is London the most creative city in the world?
I'm absolutely convinced that London is the world's creative capital. It has achieved critical mass in terms of design in the last six years across a broad range of disciplines. Design is a key driver of the creative industries because it runs through all disciplines. Most people we've spoken to around the world said they couldn't do it in their own countries because they don't have the range of disciplines that London has.

Why is everyone holding design festivals and biennales these days?
I think that countries around the world are recognising the importance of design and creativity; not just the commercial sector but public as well. Governments are realising the importance of creativity in their nations - not just cultural importance but economic as well. It's a much better climate, we have moved from the age of technology to the age of creativity.

Where: London-wide.
When: September 20-28.
Sample: London Design Festival Party, V&A Museum, September 26.

World Creative Forum
Where: Bloomberg Building, Finsbury Square, EC2.
When: September 23-25.
Sample: Panel talk: "What is our creative future? What is the future of creativity?" Panel includes artists Anish Kapoor and Lucy Orta, designer Richard Seymour, trendspotter Martin Raymond and writer Ekow Eshun - September 25.

Somewhere Totally Else -
European Design Biennial
curator: Donna Loveday

The first European Design Biennial will feature the best innovations in every area of European design from the past two years - from fashion, furniture and film titles, to video games, cars and websites.

What's Somewhere Totally Else all about?
The theme of the exhibition is that we are living at a time when advances in technology are changing the way we lead our daily lives. The design biennial will show how today's designers are deploying those new technologies to create products, concepts and environments that are transforming our lives for the better.

Why are you doing it?
The Design Museum's first biennial comes at a time of unprecedented public interest in design. Thanks to advances in technology we can choose to change the way we lead our lives: by living and working in the same place or working while we travel. The same new technologies are enabling today's designers to work more creatively than ever before. By exhibiting the best of every area of design, visitors will be gently encouraged to ask serious questions about the role of design in their lives.

Is London the most creative city in the world?
London is, without doubt, an important centre for creativity and innovation in all areas of design. However, design can no longer be confined to physical boundaries. We're seeing that many UK-based designers are choosing to spend time working in Europe.

Why is everyone holding design festivals and biennales these days?
Design is having such a huge impact on the way we live, work and interact with each other. Festivals and biennales are an effective way of getting the message across to a much, much wider audience.

Somewhere Totally Else
Where: Design Museum, SE1.
When: September 27 - January 4.
Sample: Vote for the best and worst designs
in the exhibition, which include Tom Dixon's mirror-ball lights, the Rolls-Royce Trent engine for the new Airbus double-decker plane (to be the largest ever passenger aircraft) and the Bouroullec brothers' Joyn office system for Vitra.

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