London Design Festival 2017: The Round-Up

PORT’s design editor, Will Wiles, reflects on this year’s London Design Festival

Camille Walala’s ‘Villa Walala’, photograph by Gilbert McCarragh

Memories of the 2017 London Design Festival will inevitably be dominated by two colourful installations, both of which made inviting destinations for the Instagramming crowds. Tucked behind Liverpool Street Station was Villa Walala, a dashing inflatable pavilion designed by textile designer Camille Walala and intended as a space for play and wonder.

More formal, but no less jazzy, was Gateways at Granary Square, designed by ceramicist and writer Adam Nathaniel Furman. This was a sequence of four arches laid out in front of the Central Saint Martins building, each with a differently shaped aperture and all faced in colourful tiles.

‘Gateways’ by Adam Nathaniel Furman, photograph by Gareth Gardner

Gateways was intended to promote Turkish ceramics, but it far exceeded its brief, becoming the visual focus for the whole festival. This underscored the growing importance of Granary Square, home to an expanded Design Junction, and the multiplying locations of the festival – the traditional poles of 100% Design in the west and the London Design Fair in the east are now joined not only by King’s Cross but also by Somerset House, home to Design Frontiers (in an off year for the London Design Biennale). Kvadrat’s “My Canvas” exhibition of 19 emerging designers was the draw to the latter.

Kvadrat, ‘My Canvas’

Away from the big commercial shows in the Shoreditch heartland of the London design world, there was as ever much to be discovered and enjoyed in backstreets and unexpected corners. A particular highlight was Universal Design Studio’s “On Repeat” pavilion for The Office Group on Rivington Street. The pavilion’s simple, orthogonal wooden frame is given life by a ceiling of paper lanterns which sway and stir in the breeze like a shoal of fish. These lanterns are made by visitors to the pavilion as an example of pavilion’s guiding idea: the soothing, focusing power of repetitive creative activity. It formed a space for other demonstrations of the principle, such as a sushi-making workshop. See our interview with co-director of Universal Design, Hannah Carter Owers, here.

Interior of the ‘On Repeat’ pavilion

A few minutes walk away, on the far side of Old Street Roundabout, is Established & Sons’ new home on Tilney Court. Sebastian Wrong has again taken the helm at Established, the brand he founded in 2005, and has marked the occasion at LDF with the revival of new versions of old favourites. Barber & Osgerby’s Zero-In coffee table makes a welcome return, and there are refreshed additions to the Wrongwoods range, furniture stamped with Richard Woods’ distinctive wood patterns.

Established & Sons’ ‘Wrongwoods’ table

Another welcome return could be found at the Fritz Hansen showroom in the West End: the company is reviving Arne Jacobsen’s Oksen armchair, first launched in 1966 but only made for a few years and unavailable for decades. Oksen is a surprise for those familiar with Jacobsen’s sweet-tempered Scandic modernism: it’s an angular, charismatic, leather-clad brute well suited to the Bond villain or crime boss in your life. We wanted one immediately. 

Arne Jacobs’ Oksen chair


Remembering Arne Jacobsen

At the relaunch of the iconic Oksen chair, Christian Andresen, head of design for Fritz Hansen, remembers one of the greatest Danish designers and architects Arne Jacobsen was at the time, and probably is still, only one of a handful of Danish architects and designers who ventured beyond Denmark. A total designer – he was interested in everything, from objects and furniture to landscape and urban planning – he brought Danish design to an international audience.

Jacobsen was educated at the Danish School of Architecture at a time when the old masters of architecture – those who had grasped an industrial way of thinking about design during the 20s and 30s, and had pioneered Bauhaus-inspired Danish architecture – were teaching there. It was a breeding ground for some of the best designers to have come out of Denmark and yet, of his contemporaries, such as Jørn Utzon who designed the Sydney Opera House, Jacobsen was probably the most talented.

Both an academic designer and an architect, Jacobsen both made projects with contractors and clients on a professional level, and had a love for experimenting with shape. It was this approach that would transpire with Fritz Hansen. Hansen’s forward-looking son, Christian, and Jacobsen both had a passion for new technology and an interest in how designers like Charles and Ray Eames were making furniture in the US with plywood.

The Oksen chair
The Oksen chair

The ambition of Jacobsen was to do a one piece chair and in developing the technology to produce this – a mould that can press a two-dimensional shape into a three-dimensional shape – the core of our business was founded. We are slow making products compared to our competitors, but we want to challenge, and that always puts a lot of love and frustration into project. The way that Jacobsen and Hansen worked together has become part of our culture.

The Oksen chair took Jacobsen six years, and a lot of hard work at the company, to produce. He would die in 1971 and it was the last big project he worked on. I thought it was about time that we showed it off.