London Design Festival, day 1: Awards and installations 21.09.15

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Icon kicked off LDF by scoping out the festival’s main venues, as well as a few smaller shows we had our eye on. We also checked out the work of our next cover star...

The week commenced on a pleasing note for the Icon team: Marjan van Aubel, the cover star of our upcoming issue, was this morning [21 September] named as the winner of the Swarovski Emerging Talent Medal as part of the London Design Festival’s annual awards. Last week, we photographed the Dutch designer (above) at the Soho gallery 19 Greek Street, where her Current Windows are part of a beautifully presented exhibition of “ethical lifestyle products” for the duration of the festival.

The winners were announced during the highly-anticipated opening of the festival’s new venue, Somerset House, where Van Aubel’s work is displayed alongside products and sketches by fellow medal recipients Barber Osgerby, set designer Ken Adam and the inventors of the “Concrete Canvas” building material. In previous years, Somerset House was occupied by London Fashion Week, but the event’s move to Soho opened up an opportunity for the design festival to expand. Early plans for a large-scale installation by David Adjaye in the building’s courtyard were eventually scrapped, which means the large exterior space is disappointingly empty, but a host of big-name designers have spread their works comfortably across its generously-sized interior spaces of varying character, making apparent Somerset House’s potential as a permanent venue for future design festivals, as well as next year’s inaugural London Design Biennale.

Among the more captivating displays are Faye Toogood’s range of furniture shown against a backdrop of genteel country living room, drawn by the designer in charcoal, and Luca Nichetto’s collection of modular lamps for Hem, that illuminates as the grand piano connected to it is played. Elsewhere, the Bouroullecs unveiled a series of television sets for Samsung – an effort to bring a touch of elegance to domestic technology. “They aren’t very big, so may not sell well in America,” joked Ronan Bouroullec at the launch. “But I don’t mind too much.”

The next few years could see the area around Somerset House becoming another of London’s design hubs. Already this year, the Foster-designed ME London hotel across the road is dipping its toe in the water with a small, but assured display of design that is well worth checking out, including a marble and brass dressing table by Nika Zupanc for Se, Terence Woodgate’s table and pendant lights in marble, and a range of sculptural porcelain tableware by Nigel Coates.

Time will tell whether Aldwych will take over from the V&A as the go-to destination during London Design Festival, but for now the Kensington museum is holding its own, with a range of striking installations within its galleries – although arguably none as spectacular as last year’s efforts. While the installations at Somerset House are mostly creative displays designed to present products in their best light, those at the V&A this week sit more in the realm of art. Among them is, Mischer Traxler’s series of bulbs containing moving replicas of insects, Grafton Architects’ interpretation in concrete of the ancient Ogham alphabet, and Kim Thome’s “Zotem” near the main entrance, which creates a visual link between the ground floor and upper gallery. Barnaby Barford’s Tower of Babel, a pile of 3,000 tiny ceramic shops, is a sure-fire way for a Londoner to while away time trying to spot familiar storefronts and signs.

The museum devoted this weekend to graphic design and Icon went to one of the programme’s talks – a lecture by Tony Brook, director of Spin, who talked about his inspiration and passions, fielding questions about his work, as well as requests for internships at his practice. Over at the Forza showroom on Great Portland Street, we attended another lecture, the first in a series of aperitivi talks organised by INTERNI magazine and Milan’s Salone del Mobile. Each aperitivo features one architect or designer, and the first in the series was the biggest name: David Chipperfield. Inevitably, the venue was absolutely rammed, with Chipperfield focusing on museum design, questioning their use in regeneration projects (they are more than just buildings, and not magnets themselves, but need a collection to show) – and praising Switzerland as “a heaven for architecture. And building a museum in Switzerland is a double heaven!”

We also popped into an exhibition at the Royal College of Art of some of its most intriguing student projects. The theme this year is sustainability and perhaps the most immediately applicable projects in the show are those that experiment with materials: among them, Yurii Kasao's Jellyfish leather clutch and pineapple-fiber faux leather by Carmen Hijosa of Ananas Anam. Another interesting project, and one of the winners of the RCA's own graduation award, is Yu-Lin Chen’s We-Charge, a system for charging e-scooters in Taiwan.

On Friday evening, we visited the opening of Plants Out of Place, a celebration of weeds (the garden variety). This small exhibition in Queen's Park is a little out of the way, but worth the visit for an insight into the variety and potential usefulness of plants, from Alexandra Stück’s moss-extract-perfumes, to dandelion-based fabric and dyes by design studio Gutedort. Part of the exhibition is a multisensory dining experience Whispery Savoury, for which Jialin Deng has given each basic flavour its own distinct crockery set. We finished off with a “Thistle Collins” cocktail.

For more LDF highlights, pick up a copy of Icon’s current issue



Debika Ray, with additional reporting by the Icon team


Portrait: Leon Chew

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Time will tell whether Aldwych will take over from the V&A as the go-to destination during London Design Festival, but for now the Kensington museum is holding its own

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