Regular visitors of the London Design Festival are used to the magnitude of walking involved in getting around as much of the ever-expanding show as humanly possible during its week-long presence across the city. But this year, walking between the spread of design districts, pop-ups and installations takes on an even greater significance.
For whilst there are arguably fewer events taking place than in any of the previous 17 editions of the festival, the very fact that there is any new work to stroll between is a major feat in itself. Only a few months ago it was an entirely novel sensation to be outside, let alone think about new ideas and creative outcomes. Even the press briefing for the show took place over Zoom, but as show director Ben Evans has said:
“The show must go on…showcasing is essential for the sector to survive and this year, more than ever, we are determined to offer every opportunity for designers to be seen and heard.”
A fitting coming together of ideas and answers for these peculiar times is Hothouse, a collaboration between Studio Weave and garden designer Tom Massey. Located in Stratford, a mere stones throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the structure itself is immediately arresting in it’s striking curved form, which is reminiscent of Victorian glasshouses. And not only is it a beautiful landmark, and with it distraction, for those lucky enough to make their way across London in September, it also addresses another challenge of our time – climate change. For within the glasshouse are plants, and not just any plants.
The specially designed environment can be adapted and regulated to grow plants from around the world, even those that would ordinarily prove difficult to sustain in the UK’s climate. Lemon, chickpea, sugarcane and quinoa are but a few of the crops found within the luscious jungle of edible species.
Another example of responding to the circumstances we find ourselves in comes from French designer Marlene Huissoud. Unity is a powerful beacon of hope and, as the title suggests, advocates a sense of togetherness.
Visitors to the piece in Coals Drop Yard in Kings Cross are invited to collectively engage with the piece, whilst remaining at a safe social distance, by activating foot pumps at 2m intervals. The action begins to inflate the layered animal-like sculpture, which in turn alters its form, makes it move and ultimately, breathes life into the piece. When no one operates the pumps it slowly deflates, inviting new cooperative interactions and thus underlining the need for people to work together. Although this wasn’t always the plan for the commission, as Huissoud explains:
“We completely changed the original project concept planned – as the pandemic urged us as humans to make a ‘last’ call for action. More than ever, artists and designers need to redefine their roles and use their skills to shake society. This installation is more than an interactive piece, it is for society to wake up and realise how vital it is for us to be united and act as a whole.”
It wouldn’t be LDF without awards and a series of lectures and even under such enormous constraints, this year proves to be no different. The Global Design Forum continues albeit it online, with the Circular Design Project at the heart of the debate. Led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation and LDF organisers, the initiative promotes stories and information that serve to aid designers in engaging with the circular economy with the much needed view of creating a positive, rather than damaging, global impact.
Every year, the festival celebrates the efforts of a handful of designers whom they feel have reached the pinnacle within a certain bracket and this year Paola Antonelli receives the London Design Medal.
Dame Ellen MacArthur gets the Design Innovation Medal, Yinka Ilori the Emerging Design Medal and the prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award is given to Ken Garland.