PORT’s design editor, Will Wiles, reflects on this year’s London Design Festival
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
PORT catches up with Edward Tadros, chairman of furniture brand ercol, to discuss heritage materials and hybrid influences
Deeply woven into the fabric of British heritage design is a certain utilitarianism. When one thinks of British tweed, the subtly flecked texture of the material is, of course, a factor, but just as important is the protection it provides against the elements. Heritage design also appeals to a sense of sustainability, of utilising every part of the material so nothing is wasted. The resurgence of ‘up-cycling’ – transforming unwanted by-products or materials into something valuable – also speaks to this tendency at the heart of heritage.
Mid-century furniture behemoth ercol’s collaboration with textiles magazine Selvedge and start-up Solidwool uses the coarse fleece of Herdwick sheep – a breed synonymous with the landscape of the Lake District – to create an elegant, raw and irreducibly British piece of furniture. Their updated Svelto stool combines a solid oak frame with a cover designed by Solidwool, featuring a unique composite material comprising of bio-resin and the coarse fleece of Herdwick sheep that creates a subtle, marbled effect. Port caught up with Edward Tadros, ercol Chairman, fresh from the London Design Festival, to talk about the peculiarities of English heritage design.
How did your collaboration with Selvedge and Solidwool come about?
We were interested in creating a piece centred around sustainability, using this wool that is difficult to use for anything else. We were all interested in the longevity of this material, and combining it with our timber, but it’s hard to say exactly how the project came together – it really developed through so many different conversations and discussions.
What attracted you to the project, and how does it fit in with the ercol brand?
What attracted us was the naturalness of it. This unusual way of using wool is all about British heritage, making use of a material that has been part of the English countryside over the years. This combines with our own heritage and use of timber, making furniture that has its roots in English vernacular design. Using English countryside wool was, I suppose, a loose looping together of different ideas.
It’s interesting how that plays into ercol’s own history. Do you consider the brand to be British?
My grandfather was Italian, but he had this extraordinary recognition of English craft. He had an innate sense of the simplicity of the design and construction of a Windsor chair, and perhaps that was because he wasn’t born in the Buckinghamshire countryside. Maybe it does take someone from a different country, with a different perspective, to recognise some of the often unseen strengths of English heritage. We are a bit of a mixture, an Italian background with an English story.
Is it important for ercol to use British materials and to produce in Britain, both in terms of the timber you use and the wool for this project?
We’re quite global, in many ways, we do also source materials and manufacture overseas. However, the bulk of our manufacturing and our thinking comes from this country. It’s important – as with most things – not to be blinkered, to be open and international. It is also important to have roots and a solid base. I think that manufacturing, designing and being based in the UK, the Englishness of it, gives us our authentic roots. We’ll be 100 years old in 2020, and we talk a lot about maintaining that authenticity, but also about developing different ways to express those roots.
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.
In an extract from their new monograph, released this week for London Design Festival, Barber and Osgerby reflect on four of their most iconic designs
It has been almost twenty-five years since we first met while studying at the Royal College of Art in London, and only a little less time since we began our studio together. Throughout this time, we have collaborated with many individuals, companies, organizations, specialists and manufacturers, but our most important collaboration has been with each other. People are sometimes bemused by our long-standing partnership, and the fact that we work together in a world that is so often defined by singular visions. However, we are collaborators by nature, and it is this working method that we have used successfully for all these years.
Loop Table, 1996
The story of the Loop Table is significant – it was the first piece of furniture that we designed together and initiated their collaboration with Isokon Plus. Resulting from an architectural project we were working on at the time, the initial concept was to create a table that incorporated some storage space. The Loop Table was the first new design to enter the Isokon range for over forty years, even prompting the launch of a new company, Isokon Plus.
De La Warr Pavilion Chair, 2007
The De La Warr Pavilion was a public building commissioned by the Ninth Earl De La Warr and designed by Erich Mendlesohn and Serge Chermaye. With original furniture designed by Alvar Aalto, the Pavilion was completed in 1935, subsequently becoming an icon of Modernist architecture. After years of neglect, the building underwent major restoration in 2005 with the intention of creating a contemporary arts gallery.
The De La Warr Pavilion Chair was commissioned to coincide with the building’s reopening. Somewhat inevitably, the structural columns of the building – particularly the tubular metal rails and ceiling panels – had an impact on the design, and in tribute to Aalto’s original furniture, the outdoor chairs were painted tomato-red.
Tip Ton, 2011
Unlike an office chair, the Tip Ton has no moving parts, but, when the sitter’s balance is shifted to the front, it tips forwards, straightening the pelvis and spine and improving circulation in the abdominal and back muscles. This feature resulted from in-depth research into ergonomics and physiognomy, and drew on established links between movement and learning.
Thirty prototypes were made during the chair’s two-year development with Vitra. While the mould used to produce the chairs weighed close to 20 tonnes, the chairs themselves were defined by a distinct lightness, due to them being manufactured in gas-injected plastic.
Designed as a functional and sculptural piece of furniture, the table’s concept was built around the idea of the large stepping stones, often found in Japanese gardens – the name refers specially to those ornamental stones, which represent balance and harmony. The table has a monumental appearance, which changes according to viewpoint. Departing from the tradition of tables with four legs or a pedestal, its form is simultaneously ancient and modern.
In the midst of London Design Festival 2016, British lighting designer Lee Broom shares his favourite places to spend time in the city
For me, London is a design hub and point of inspiration all year round, not just during the London Design Festival. There is always something new and interesting to see and do which is what makes London such a creative place to spend time – a new shop, a new destination, a new place market etc. and I love discovering them. However, there’s also a few great destinations which I could never tire of and you will find me visiting time and time again.
SCP is just around the corner from our studio and is a Shoreditch staple. Its been here for such a long time. It always has a brilliantly curated range of product from furniture to ceramics to lighting. Like ourselves, it is part of the Shoreditch Design Triangle so there is often a new design launch happening adding a great buzz to the area.
Maltby Street Market
In London there are so many great places eat and drink. Maltby Street Market is a great destination and somewhere you’ll often find me on a weekend. Ropewalk, the most recent addition, is great for street food. From a design point of view, I love the way they convert all of the old carpenter’s workshop and antiques arches in to quirky pop-up up restaurants or gin bars for the day. The non-tourist version of Borough market, its definitely a hidden gem.
When I have free time I make a point of visiting galleries. They never fail to provide inspiration. The Tate Modern here in London is one I never tire of. There is always a new exhibition, a new installation or a new element to the gallery which always feels fresh. I recently visited the new Switch House and I loved it. The structure and design I find really interesting and the new roof terrace offers amazing panoramic views of the city.
Dover Street Market
The new Dover Street Market in Haymarket is a favourite haunt of mine. I was always a huge fan of the one on Dover Street but this mark II version is even better. I really like the mix of fashion and design. Set in a heritage listed building which for the most part has remained untouched, the overall interior is really striking and the dynamics and somewhat chaotic mix between each of the dedicated brand spaces is really cutting edge. I think it is definitely at the forefront of retail.
LN-CC in Dalston is a store I love to visit here in our studio’s East London neighborhood. The interior of the space designed by Gary Card is really conceptual and it has a great edit of individual product rooms as well as a library, a record store and a gallery space. An evolving platform of brilliantly curated luxe high end fashion, I very rarely come out empty handed.
The exhibition ‘Opticality’ will celebrate the retail launch of the Optical lighting collection by transforming the store Electra Houseinto a postmodern Op Art experience. Runs until Sunday 25 September
Atomik Architecture and the British Council transport us to Kazakhstan during LDF 2016, where we learn about the country’s vibrant cultural landscape 25 years after its independence from the Soviet Union
Running during London Design Festival 2016, City Nomads attempts to retrace the country’s history pre- and post-Soviet Union, showcasing the work of contemporary Kazakhstani artists. Through their work, these artists bring forward questions of identity, legacy and memory: have they inherited the nomadic spirit of their forefathers? Has Soviet propaganda erased their history? How has globalisation affected Kazakhstan?
“Participants found answers through different discourse,” explains the show’s curator Asel Yeszhanova, hinting at the wide variety of film, photography, fashion and architecture appearing in the show. Many of these contemporary artists benefitted from the opening of the county’s borders, enabling them to get an education abroad. Bringing their newly-learnt skills back to Kazakhstan, they have paved the way for a new Kazakh identity, found somewhere between their traditional Kazakh culture and their recently-acquired global status.
Here, Yeszhanova and her Atomik Architecture colleague Mike Oades reflect on the changes brought to Kazakhstan by globalisation, the revival of traditional Kazakhstani crafts, and the question of national identity.
Can you tell me about the history of Almaty?
Mike Oades: Almaty is the former capital city of Kazakhstan; Astana became the new capital in 1997 following independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It is the largest city in the country and could still be considered the cultural capital of the country.
Not all Almaty’s new citizens arrived willingly. A number of leading dissident politicians, thinkers, writers and artists were exiled to the region. During the Second World War, a number of prominent industrial manufacturers and cultural organisations were relocated there. The legacy of these actions is certainly still felt today and continues to be propagated by the children and grandchildren of a generation of Soviets that made Almaty their home.
How has Kazakhstan been impacted by the fall of the Soviet Union and the rise of globalisation?
MO: In Kazakhstan, the effects of globalisation can be seen in the cities, on the streets and in the hands of its people. I’m not convinced that the embrace of global brands and commodities is either blind acceptance or surrender, more an openness and acknowledgement that Kazakhstan is itself a global nation.
How has life been different for this new generation of artists compared with previous generations?
Asel Yeszhanova: With the acquisition of independence we have more freedom, cultural exchange and access to information resources. Open borders have enabled young artists to get an education abroad. There are new formats including art festivals and exhibitions that bring artists together. It is under these conditions that the work exhibited in City Nomads has been developed, as the younger generation of artists seek the connections to their historical heritage.
It was this awareness of the values and authenticity of Kazakhstan’s cultural and physical landscape that inspired the previous generations of Kazakhstani artists. Their young followers continue this process by bringing a balance between an appeal to the global community and the local audience.
How have the artists tried to tackle the relationship between Almaty and its nomadic past?
AY: The project participants are all residents of the city. As artists, however, they are always in search of the original and its various meanings. At this historic juncture in the creative industries, there is a tendency to focus on the nation’s roots, on the pre-colonial past; and the work in the exhibition results from the symbiosis of the language of contemporary art and nomadic heritage.
For example, in the collaboration between Assel Nussipkozhanova and Kairat Temirgali, the main character of the story is a girl from a village who comes to the city to study. Her experience is manifested in the form of ornaments and embroidery on her coat (Shapan). Her coat is itself a symbol of nomadism, an element of steppe tradition, which wanders through the territory of the city. The route leads from railway station, to a hostel and eventually a night club. There is a kind of initiation, but the transformation on the Shapan is only external: despite the fact that its surface is generously covered with new illustrations, its shape remains unchanged.
What other questions are these artists bringing forward?
AY: One of the goals of the project was to explore the theme of new identity, which may be a constantly changing phenomenon. Nevertheless, for the purpose of the exhibition, we decided that it was important to fix this reality and asked the participants what is valuable for them at this point in time.
Memory has become a key component of the identity of the participants, but for each of them, memory is encoded in different images. For Bota Serikova, it was the ‘dastarkhan’ (a traditional tablecloth used for meals), which in the exhibition takes the form of a folded felt handbag – a container for the possessions and identity of an Almaty citizen.
How are the inhabitants of Almaty forging a new identity for themselves?
AY: Almaty is at the forefront of creative industries in Kazakhstan. The resources from the Soviet past were concentrated here and a good foundation for future development.
Due to the fact that the status of capital was given to Astana, a void was left for the self-construction of a new identity. It is important for the city to be a cultural centre. To date, the main initiatives that form the image of the city come from below rather than from above. A revival in traditional crafts to invent new forms of art: film; fashion; photography. It is this that is the treasure of Almaty’s cultural landscape – the new identity of the city.
Italian designer Martino Gamper delves into his design process, and explains why his latest project brought 10 creatives including Max Lamb, to a pottery class in west London
Martino Gamper has made a name for himself in recent years for furniture design that is bold in form and unapologetic in its challenge of the status quo. In 2015, he proved his assertion that “there is no perfect chair” through a demanding project that saw him create ‘100 Chairs in 100 Days’, using scrap materials.
Opening during London Design Festival 2016, Gamper’s latest exhibition entitled ‘No Ordinary Love’ continues his rebellious nature and provokes the unwritten regulations of commercial design through a pottery class containing participants including Max Lamb, Gemma Holt, Bethan Wood and Faudet Harrison. Here, we chat to Gamper about the exhibition, his career, and why he believes “clay is a very social material”.
You trained under Ron Arad whilst at the Royal College of Art. How has he influenced your own work and what are the key lessons he taught you?
Ron Arad was my longest professor, we met in Vienna at The Angewandte (University of Applied Arts Vienna) and later he taught me at the RCA. His style was to create a course with a great diversity of teachers and platforms – his key lessons were to play, try new things, not to give up to early, believe in yourself, and find your own voice.
Do you think that design should be created with the artisan in mind, or the artisan should adapt to create what the designer requires?
I had a very early start with crafts and artisans, because I had an apprenticeship at the age of 14 years old with a local cabinetmaker in my hometown in Italy. So from very early on, I was thinking with my hands. For me, the thinking and making need to be equal in the design progress.
How important is the customer in the process of design?
The customer is a fictional character: he or she doesn’t take part. Somehow, I haven’t got an image of my ideal client. But when I work on private commissions, I like to include the client in the process.
How can design act as a tool to bring people together?
Design does not always manage to bring people together – that would be amazing. Some design, however, is very egocentric and singular, but the mix between food and design can help.
How did you come up with the concept for ‘No Ordinary Love’?
I like to bring people together and to share experiences, in this case it’s to work with friends on a new show where we can play and have fun together while designing and making new work.
Why did you decide to bring the designers together in a pottery studio?
Clay is a very social material, it’s a very fast and slow material at the same time. It doesn’t need many tools and can be worked very spontaneously. I wanted to share some time with my friends in a space while making work.
What’s next for you?
The Vienna Design Week, where I’m working on a glass project with the great Viennese Glass Manufacture Lobmeyr. Then I have a show in Rome at the Quadriennale, and then we’ll see…
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.