On Repeat: Universal Design Studio

Port talks work and design – and makes sushi – with co-director of Universal Design, Hannah Carter Owers, at the studio’s LDF pavilion

For this year’s London Design Festival, Universal Design Studio – the interiors and architecture practice founded by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby – have erected a large, simple wooden structure in the heart of Shoreditch. Host to a series of events inspired by the theme of ‘On Repeat’, the pavilion aims to explore ways in which visual and physical repetition can induce a state of mind known as ‘open awareness’; a form of attention achieved by the repetition of manual tasks which allow the mind to wander and creative thinking to flourish. It’s an idea that has been extended to the construction of the pavilion itself – with the ceiling being progressively decorated by hundreds of paper forms that are made by visitors over the course of the festival.

Established in 2001 in response to the demand for Barber Osgerby’s unique use of material details and aesthetic in an interiors and architectural context, the Universal Design Studio has been commissioned by clients ranging from Google, Virgin Atlantic and H&M to Frieze Art Fair and the British Library, and the pavilion for LDF comes as part of a wider project with working space provider, The Office Group.

During the first event held in the pavilion – a sushi-making workshop – Port sat down with Hannah Carter Owers, Universal’s co-director to discuss the company, the project for LDF and designing around the modern nature of work today.

How does Universal sit within the wider group of Barber and Osgerby companies?

As well as Barber Osgerby, there’s us and our new sister company, Map, who focus on industrial projects and work on a lot of R&D, and technical and digital projects. We’re all based round the corner from here, in Shoreditch, in a collection of interconnected studios, and although we operate as separate disciplines and businesses, culturally we are all very much in it together – we all socialise and eat together, our workshop and materials library are shared, and we can bring in people from the other companies to collaborate.

Where did the idea for the LDF pavilion come from?

We’ve been thinking about how we work, how work is changing and what people need to work better and be happier. Today no one checks in at 9 and leaves at 5, it follows you everywhere – I often check my emails at 10pm, for example. In a way, it’s nice to have that flexibility and be able to change your day to suit you, but on the other hand there’s no way to escape from it, it’s all-pervading.

We thought LDF would be a really good opportunity to foreground some of those ideas that we’ve been playing with. When you’re working on a big project you can get overloaded with practical considerations, and it’s nice to be able to explore the idea in a space like this – through the events and participation of the visitors.

How much of your work now is concerned with behaviour and how a space is used, as compared to how it looks?

At the beginning of many projects, we now do a lot of research into how people behave – for us that’s what’s interesting, how people interpret spaces. We obviously want to create something that looks nice, but that’s almost secondary compared to actually how a space is used. And I wonder if that’s because we are an architecture practice that has grown out of a furniture practice, that so much of what we do is about function driving form as a philosophy.

There’s so much talk about flexibility today, but what we’ve realised is that people are the flexible part. What you need to do as a designer is to create spaces that have variety and choice, that people can interpret their own way and build in moments where they can decompress. For most people working today, our jobs are so multi-faceted, so stop-start, that it is vital you have somewhere in your workspace to have some space and breathe.

On Repeat runs at Black & White Shoreditch, 74 Rivington Street, EC2A 3AY, until 24th September. A full list of public events hosted at the pavilion – from pom pom making to breathing workshops – can be found here.

PORT’s top 10: London Design Festival

PORT’s design editor, Alyn Griffiths, picks his top 10 from the 400 events and exhibitions than ran across the capital during London Design Festival 2015.

© Ed Reeve
© Ed Reeve

Curiosity Cloud by mischer’traxler at the Victoria & Albert Museum

A highlight of this year’s strong programme at the Victoria & Albert Musuem was the Curiosity Cloud installation created by Austrian duo mischer’traxler for champagne house Perrier-Jouët. Two hundred and fifty mouth-blown glass globes were suspended in the museum’s Norfolk House Music Room, with each one containing a hand-made insect. Sensors that identified the presence of visitors in the room triggered a mechanism within the globes that caused the insects to flutter around and collide with the glass, creating a cacophony of noise and motion.

© Ed Reeve
© Ed Reeve

The Cloakroom by Studio Toogood at the Victoria & Albert Museum

Elsewhere in the V&A, Faye and Erica Toogood produced a participatory installation that encouraged visitors to don a utilitarian-looking garment made from Kvadrat’s Highfield fabric, which incorporated a sewn-in map of the museum. The map led them on a trail to discover sculptural representations of coats that responded to their setting in various galleries. Fusing Studio Toogood’s core competences of fashion and design, the project highlighted craft skills by reinterpreting the coat motif in materials including wood, marble, fibreglass and metal.

© Marius W Hansen
© Marius W Hansen

Ready Made Go at Ace Hotel London Shoreditch

In east London, the Ace Hotel is establishing itself as one of the festival’s key venues – for both exhibitions and late-night entertainment – and this year it presented the results of a project that invited local designers to produce items for permanent use in its communal spaces. Organised by Laura Houseley of Modern Design Review magazine, the outcomes of Ready Made Go included a door handle, a stool, ashtrays, lights and decorative objects that, unlike much of the more speculative design on display during the festival, will remain in use long after the event has ended.

04 Brandub_Designed and made by Tom de Paor_Bandub 03_www.makersandbrothers.com

The Souvenir Project at the Rochelle School

Nine objects designed to challenge perceived notions of Ireland were displayed at The Souvenir Project, an exhibition curated by Jonathan Legge of online retailer Makers & Brothers. The esoteric products were intended as alternatives to more conventional souvenirs and included a towel printed with a graphic pattern based on dry stone walls, a solid bronze paperweight shaped like a potato and a board game with pieces made from compressed peat sitting on a felt mat. According to the organisers, “each souvenir embodies cultural and material characteristics unique to Ireland and of each of their designers and makers.”

Rochester sofa by Michael Anastassiades for SCP

Sofa in Sight at SCP

Shoreditch design store store SCP celebrated its 30th anniversary by launching a collection of six sofas designed to utilise the expertise of staff at its upholstery factory in Norfolk. Among them was a boxy timber-framed design suited to commercial projects by first-time SCP collaborator, Michael Anastassiades, and a comfortable hammock-inspired sofa by Lucy Kurrein, featuring a canvas sling supporting its plump cushions.

Factory candle by Benchmark and 1882Ltd

Benchmark and 1882 at The Future Laboratory

At The Future Laboratory in Spitalfields, furniture brand Benchmark and ceramics manufacturer 1882 collaborated on a candlestick that is part wood, part porcelain. The products were being produced in a makeshift workshop, with visitors invited to get involved in the making process. Benchmark also presented a range of simple furniture with concealed storage by British designer Max Lamb. The Planks collection uses boards of different sizes to create functional furniture that reduces waste.

Matter_Living in a Material World exhibition at One Good Deed Today

Matter at One Good Deed Today

Artist and designer Seetal Solanki launched her new materials research consultancy Matter at a shop in Shoreditch with a group show that demonstrated different approaches to exploring materials through design. The exhibition included Amy Radcliffe’s “scent camera”, which captures the scent of an object so it can be distilled and translated into a perfume, and edible materials by Miriam Ribul that can be cooked in an everyday kitchen. “It’s about challenging the perception of materials,” said Solanki, who hopes to help people from different industries understand how they can use and adapt materials in new and innovative ways.

AA Desk by Spant Studio for Woud

Woud at Designjunction

The Designjunction trade fair relocated this year to the former home of Central Saint Martins art school. Within its maze-like corridors and rooms I came across Danish brand Woud, which launched earlier this year and was showing pieces from its debut collection. The company focuses predominantly on working with emerging designers to develop products with a Nordic sensibility. That means pared-back, elegant forms combined with refined materials and characterful details.

© Ed Reeve
© Ed Reeve

The Gem Room by Studio Appétit and Laufen

Also at Designjunction, Ido Garini of Studio Appétit created an experiential eating event for Swiss bathroom brand Laufen that challenged ideas about the value of various foods. Situated in the school’s old jewellery workshop, The Gem Room took inspiration from Laufen’s SaphirKeramik material, which contains a mineral also found in sapphires to enhance its hardness. Among the unusual foodstuffs devoured by the guests were highly concentrated cheese and oysters in a powdered form, crystals made from pure sugar and a chocolate bar with no nutritional value spray painted in gold.

© Chris Tang
© Chris Tang

2°C: Communicating Climate Change at The Aram Gallery

One of the more thought-provoking events during the festival was an exhibition at The Aram Gallery that explored the possible implications of climate change. Organised by design publication Disegno and curated by The Aram Gallery’s Riya Patel, the exhibition included contributions from 10 designers and studios who were each given an identical booth in which to communicate issues associated with this pertinent global issue. Local firm PearsonLloyd used balloons and bottled water to represent the 890 grams of CO2 emitted and 380 litres of water used to produce a small morsel of beef.