Happy Birthday Clerkenwell Design Week

As the days get longer and brighter and nature pops back into life, bringing with it some welcome colour and fruitful vibrancy, Springtime never fails to offer a renewed sense of hope. Going hand-in-hand with this annual reinvigoration, and now for the past decade, is Clerkenwell Design Week. The 3-day festival brings together a series of special events, installations and talks in showrooms, old prisons, marquees and the streets of one of London’s leading design districts. And designers and architects are drawn out of their studios like bees to a flower, on the lookout for the newest furniture, material and colour trends as well as the odd free beverage and Instagram-able spot along the way.

To celebrate its landmark tenth year, the organisers commissioned 10 specially designed outdoor sculptures under the Decade banner. Each unique piece operates as a celebration of creativity and the individual maker’s style as well as acting as helpful way-finders for visitors looking to navigate the myriad routes that interlink the show (not always the easiest of tasks at CDW… particularly after a few free beverages.) Each represents a playful celebration of the shows anniversary with each designer asked to create a final outcome standing at 3m in height and acting as a candle-like beacon.


Tucked down the always-evasive Clerkenwell Close are Russell Bamber’s colourfully clad laminate structure and neighbouring Hot Wall. Immediately arresting yet visually bamboozling, each piece is formed of geometric planes whose size and configuration are exaggerated and misconstrued by colour and reflection. Colours, supplied by Italian manufacturer Abet Laminati, have been carefully chosen to create a beguiling interplay with the simple forms and offer an unexpected moment of joy amongst the busy streets of EC1. (Photograph by Tom Oldham)


Taking influence from the surrounding architecture, London based design Smith Matthias have created a candle from modular wooden panels in collaboration with timber supplier James Latham and timber care specialists Osmo. Noticing the patchwork of old and new buildings and the variation of shades that this creates the pair have chosen a form and palette that are subtly in keeping with the area, “the sculpture pays homage to the utilitarian brick, which is prevalent but often unnoticed.”


Returning for their fourth year and during their own strangely appropriate 40th anniversary for all you maths fans, Dutch brand Hakwood creates an absorbing candle that celebrates some of their significant achievements to date. Titled The Beauty of 40, the 4-sided form is covered with 40-mirrored panels that can be spun to reveal information about landmark moments in the company’s rich history, whilst creating a fractal snapshot of the surrounding courtyard that is St John’s Gate.


Elsewhere, other standout moments from outside of the tents and traditional exhibition spaces include Bottlehouse, a pyramid structure created almost entirely from waste plastic bottles collected from our shorelines. Created by small. (Six Miles Across London Ltd) with the support of WSP Design Studio the habitable structure is designed to raise awareness of the damage that excessive plastic consumption causes, whilst showing how we can make positive change with simple yet innovative technologies and social enterprise. Empty plastic bottles are literally transformed into ‘building blocks of future,’ creating temporary but thermally comfortable and structurally sound shelters.


Once Upon a Time invites BA Graphic Design students from UAL, Chelsea College of Art to explore and highlight elements of Clerkenwell’s rich but, at times, untoward history. Some of the more sinister instances have been selected and prove to be popular. Alistair Ramage’s 66 Martyrs graphic at St James Church has certainly featured heavily on Instagram, yet whilst the neighbouring stain glass windows inspire the colourful design, the design also acts as a reminder of the horrific tale of 66 Protestants being burnt alive in the church because of their religious beliefs. Natasha Lopez also draws light to a dark moment in history – that of the failed breakout from the prison (now home to the House of Detention) in 1867, which culminated in a huge blast that killed 12.


Thankfully, EC1 enjoys brighter times nowadays, particularly when Clerkenwell Design Week is on – roll on next year!

Photography by Sophie Mutevelian


About Jim Biddulph

Jim Biddulph is a freelance materials, colour and interior specialist with over a decade of experience working with architects and interior designers. Communicating ideas about design through creative copy has always been at the core of his work, something he has shared with Design Insider for a number of years.
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