Cheltenham Design Festival: The design debate

  • Stephanie Kukulka travelled to this year’s CDF to participate in a forum of design related talks investigating the future of design and who should care about it

    Words Stephanie Kukulka
    Above: Courtesy of Sean Delahay

    “Who cares about design?” ­– this was the question headlining this years Cheltenham Design Festival (CDF) its second year running. Design affects us all, and to appreciate design in conjunction with it’s aesthetic, one must also consider its issues, its arguments, its duties, and its possibilities. Located in Gloucestershire – the perfect backdrop if one must take a weekend away – the CDF called upon some of the brightest and inspiring design specialists working in the industry to address these issues.

    Landscape architect Kim Wilkie talked us through some of his colossal projects, capturing my attention with his winning landscape design for the redevelopment of London’s Chelsea Barracks. Going back to the site’s original purpose, and addressing London’s need to grow perishable foods, Wilkie has designed a 13-acre space of geometric vegetable patches, all individually situated to catch their ideal angle of sunlight. The space also will include a restaurant, apartments, and communal garden spaces.

  • Wilke discussed the need to consider local history: “Of course you have to understand how a place works in term of geology and hydrology, but equally important is the consideration of how a culture works, and by this you have to understand the history, the people, and the place.” Because of this, Wilkie only takes on projects within Christendom, solely (he says) because of his inability to truly understand the foreign cultures of, say, the Middle East, or South America.

    Inherent in all of Wilkie’s projects is the constant need to enhance and create habitats for the surrounding wildlife. Such was the case for his Winchester Water Meadows project, where he designed a series of man-made water streams to aid the life of the Southern Damselfy. The result was an outstanding quilted pattern of criss-crossing streams and meadows, and yes, perfect for the Southern Damselfy.Wilkie garden

    Above: Orpheus, Kim Wilkie’s landscape architecture sculpture at Boughton House, Northants

  • Nat Hunter and Steven Johnson’s What is Sustainable Design? discussion caused a stir. While so many of us are now actively considering the products we chose in terms of longevity, biodegradability, waste, and so on, there is still so much more we (creative thinkers) can, and should, do in regards to sustainability. As two separate innovators of the industry, Hunter and Johnson presented creative ways of being environmentally friendly: shared ownership (i.e. cars), design for remanufacture (a scheme already underway in parts of Europe, but currently prohibited in the UK due to legislation), design for longevity, and design for waste. Johnson ended the talk asking, “Every brief is a sustainability brief; who, if not us, is to solve environmental changes and problems?”
    Right: Courtesy of Stephanie Kukulka


  • SeanDelahay-discussion-CDF
    Above: Courtesy of Sean Delahay

    Saturday’s schedule had multiple headliners, beginning with architect Robin Lee, and landscape architect Andrew Grant, whose discussion was titled Why not in Britain? Lee talked us through the admirable Wexford County Council Headquarters in Ireland – a building enveloped in glass, it was designed purely for purpose, yet illustrates proud artistic structural elements. When asked about his consideration of local materials Lee recalls proudly, “For Wexford… we went to local quarries and identified the local Irish Blue Limestone, the building was then made from the land, and belongs inherently to the land. For us this was important.” When starting new projects, Lee outlined the necessity for him to “think about its intended use, its occupants, and its growth; essentially designing suitable, yet creative backdrops.”

    Importantly the festival aimed, and achieved, to humanise the designer in the eyes of the public, and reconstruct their often “gizmo”-making persona to that of a crucial problem solver – working not separately, but collectively with various vertical and horizontal creative disciplines.

    Click for more information on the Cheltenham Design Festival and it’s speakers