Best of London Design Festival 2018
It is officially design season in London, and to kick-start the creative calendar we headed to London Design Festival earlier in the week and to its hub at the V&A to see what is happening in the wider, more conceptual world of creativity. On until the 23 September, the festival is celebrating its sixteenth birthday as well as its tenth year collaborating with the museum. For 2018, LDF is bigger, bolder, more international and spread to almost every corner of this great metropolis. It is simply impossible to see it all, to take in the many lectures and debates happening in the in the evenings. Altogether though it makes for a vibrant start to autumn.
Entering the V&A via Exhibition Road Quarter is the striking MultiPly – the clean, clear Sackler Courtyard performing as the perfect set for this multi-storey timber structure. It forms part of the festival’s four key ‘landmark’ project to include the hyper-red ‘Please Feed The Lions’ poetry-spouting lion sculpture in Trafalgar Square. The landmark project here in the V&A is the collaborative work of Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council and engineers Arup who are exploring sustainable materials and modular systems that could help with today’s challenges, namely climate change and housing shortage. MultiPly is nine meters high and made from panels of American Tulipwood to resemble a series of wooden blocks, connected by bridges and stairs, with holes and open spaces throughout – perfect for climbing and seeing new views of the V&A and the surrounding South Kensington.
Sustainability – addressed in conventional and non-conventional ways – is also at the heart of many of the other installations at this year’s LDF. This month, alongside 18 other cities, London committed to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration for a carbon free near future. In another V&A festival highlight, London Fountain Co. has created a public drinking fountain. The project is an initiative by the curator Jane Withers and collector Charles Asprey who commissioned Michael Anastassiades to design a contemporary public drinking fountain to replace wasteful plastic bottled water consumption in the city. Installed permanently in the V&A courtyard, this elegant, sculptural piece is made from polished cast bronze to reference historical fountains as well as be hygienic. The Cypriot-born designer wanted his fountain to be an experience, but also blend into London’s furniture. So, the form is an abstraction of a classical column, and the scooped top is a nod to drinking from a bowl.
The V&A is a labyrinth of curiosities, and LDF is the perfect time to explore its hidden passages and less visited rooms. LDF tasks its designers to respond to a given room, which can be hit-and-miss. Some exhibitors have looked at how to enhance the museum experience by introducing sound to bring life and context to otherwise musical instruments displayed as just ornaments. Others, take us on a VR journey into other worlds from the museum’s archives to create more of an experience. Some, like the Onion Farm by Danish fashion designer Henrik Vibskov, have responded to their surroundings in more abstract forms. His long corridor of fabric onions and prickly car-wash style brushes, running the length of the elegant Tapestries Gallery (possibly the most exciting setting to work within), are comments on the ‘hyper-industrialised state of agriculture today’, according to the V&A.
Elsewhere, as part of the arts initiative ‘14-18 NOW’ for the First World War centenary, design studio Pentagram has covered the walls, doors and floors of the V&A’s Creative Studio with black and white graphics to dazzle the viewer. The concept is inspired by ‘dazzle’ ships, pioneered by the artist Norman Wilkinson, who took aspects of Cubism, Vorticism and animal camouflage, then painted the surface of vessels during the war to confuse the enemy as they struggled to make out the dazzle ships against shifting waves and clouds. Simply brilliant. Nargess Banks
Press photography © Andy Stagg for the V&A and LDF