Wednesday. 21/9/2022

The Monocle Minute
On Design

Image: Dan Wilton

Creative endeavours

This week we are celebrating all things design in the UK capital as the London Design Festival kicks off its 20th edition. We peruse the city’s streets and squares to admire urban developments and interventions and speak to creatives as they forge a new path post-Brexit. Plus: Vitra’s new showroom in a historic location and Industrial Facility’s wide-ranging offering (pictured) and more.

Opinion / Nic Monisse

Capital gains

A design festival can do a lot not just for the status and future successes of a city’s creative community but for its international reputation too. Dubai Design Week, for instance, which has been running since 2015, has played a deliberate role in nurturing and championing the UAE’s scene. The best design festivals use their city’s streets, squares and venues to entice residents into taking part in the proceedings, as well as to showcase its most interesting urban developments to visitors. Stockholm provides a great example of how to move beyond the conference centre.

London Design Festival, whose 20th iteration kicked off last weekend, has always had a citywide, celebratory feel. However, according to co-founder Ben Evans, its ambition has evolved over the years. Its initial aim was simply to bring the city’s creatives together with a series of events, a jamboree more than a call to action. But now, he says, the festival has become crucial to keeping London relevant on the international design map.

“We’ve enjoyed a significant migration of talent to London over the years,” says Evans. “If you look through the greatest hits of our design scene, many of their creators don’t have British passports. But now that the UK has left the EU, it will go from a steady flow to a trickle. An event such as London Design Festival, with its commissions, forums and medals, is key to the city’s reputation as a design capital.” And that reputation, he says, is “key to keeping the scene here competitive”.

Keeping up with cities such as Milan and Copenhagen is more complicated than just putting on a temporary show. After all, a dwindling manufacturing sector, costly customs taxes and complicated visa rules are difficult obstacles to clear. But the chance for designers to connect with companies in Europe and beyond is essential to making sure that London’s excellent creatives don’t get left behind. Fighting for a positive outcome will ensure that, no matter how many things have changed, this festival’s celebratory spirit will stay alive and well. Fortunately, many of the installations around town, the best of which you’ll see below, are doing just that.

Nic Monisse is Monocle’s deputy design editor.

The Project / Swivel

It’s good to talk

As part of this year’s London Design Festival festivities, Rotterdam-based designer Sabine Marcelis has transformed a new public space in the centre of the city with an installation created in collaboration with Dutch material brand Solid Nature. Called Swivel and located in St Giles Square, a recent addition to the city, it’s a series of 10 seats made from travertine, quartzite and marble sourced from Europe, the Middle East and South America.

As its name suggests, each of the perches can be gently rotated, allowing those sitting on them to engage in conversation by turning to face each other – or find a solitary moment by turning away. Marcelis hopes that the work will entice people to spend time in the public space. “The whole point of this installation is to inject some colour but also a bit of fun,” she says. “It invites movement and encourages a bit of interaction between people and that makes the space more dynamic.” Significantly, Swivel will remain in the square after the festival: a reminder that such an event can leave a legacy.

Design News / Henge, UK

Come full circle

Canary Wharf’s gleaming towers and polished squares have attracted plenty of corporations to the neighbourhood but they frequently fail to entice employees to spend a little extra time here once the working day is over. That’s why this pavilion has been commissioned by the festival and built on Wren Landing. Inspired by Neolithic stone structures, Henge is a circular construction that’s intended to encourage visitors to dwell a little longer by using natural materials and shapes from a whole different era. “The circle, for us, is quite a powerful form,” says Alan Stanton of London-based architects Stanton Williams, who worked with Webb Yates engineers on the pavilion. “And you can’t get much more ancient than stone.”

Portuguese quarry LSI Stone supplied its 150-million-year-old Jurassic limestone for the project. The heavy material rests on timber plinths that give a surprising lightness to the structure and every stone slab is connected via benches. Lighting firm Seam Design has also devised a system that accentuates the circle’s textured surface by providing a warm glow underneath and around the pavilion. “The project comes from a very primordial idea,” says Stanton. “It’s small but I think it is, hopefully, quite powerful.”

Words with... / Omer Arbel, Canada

Blown away

Vancouver-based Omer Arbel is founder of Canadian design company Bocci. The brand is known for creating products that embrace traditional skills such as glassblowing, which is being put on show at London Design Festival. Here, as part of a display at the Victoria & Albert Museum, Arbel is running a week-long series of glassblowing demonstrations called Material Experiments. In the museum’s John Madejski Garden, he will create iridescent sculptures that showcase his craft. To find out more, we caught up with Arbel for this week’s episode of Monocle On Design.

Image: Fahim Kassam

Tell us about your public glassblowing demonstration. What do you hope to showcase?
We are melting glass and copper antiquities. The aim is to show the [potential of materials] and how the form of these antiquities changes in the hands of a glassblower. First they form a glass shape and then that changes as liquid copper, from other melted artefacts, is poured in. While the two are hot, they coexist quite nicely. But as soon as they start cooling, they do so at different rates and the glass shatters off the copper work to create a new form. There’s a nice story about design and an object’s ability to tell a tale of transformation: I hope that people will consider the symbolic and emotional associations of these objects and how they might have had different lives in the hands of so many different people before being melted and then formed into a shape.

What have you learnt about your own approach to design and craft in the process?
I see myself as a symphony conductor. And the artefacts are the musicians. The same piece of music can be played by a different musician and sound completely different. Glassblowers can work with the same base materials but create an object with unique emotional qualities.

Are there any lessons you will take from the exhibition into your own work?
This practice is all about ways of transforming materials. The interesting thing about this work is that the sourcing of the materials became important. Previously I didn’t really care where the materials came from but working here it started to dawn on me that there’s a lot more being transformed than just the molecules. These pieces have emotional qualities, symbolic qualities, with everything that’s being transformed starting to have more meaning.

For more from Arbel tune in to ‘Monocle On Design’.

In the showroom / Vitra Tramshed, UK

Track changes

When Swiss furniture company Vitra decided to open a new showroom inside east London’s heritage-listed Tramshed building, a former electricity station for the city’s tramway, the team knew that the project would require a careful balance of renovation and restoration. “We got rid of what might distract from the old beauty, which took a lot of effort and time,” says Till Weber, Vitra’s creative director of scenography, of the company’s efforts to highlight the building’s early-20th-century charm. “We wanted to reconsider the space with minimal interventions, like a bar or curtain space, but also maintain the traces and cracks of history.”

Image: Kamila Lozinska

Built in 1905, the Tramshed building’s steel columns and extensive brickwork make for a characterful, industrial backdrop for Vitra’s pieces. The roomy, high-ceilinged main hall is outfitted with inviting pieces by Eames and the Bouroullec brothers, with an area softly separated by a silver curtain and another lined by a green-and-apricot terrazzo bar. A mezzanine displays a mix of up-and-coming designers and the familiar silhouettes of Iittala vases. In the basement, a gallery space will host temporary exhibitions; it was inaugurated yesterday with a Jean Prouvé show and is an essential stop on any London Design Festival itinerary.

New release / Industrial Facility, UK

Industrial action

London-based design studio Industrial Facility’s showcase at London Design Festival is called Some Recent Projects. The exhibition, as the name suggests, features a host of freshly completed works, with prototypes, first productions and books created for the likes of Italian timber-furniture specialists Mattiazzi and US firm Herman Miller on display. Set out on sleek podiums in Industrial Facility’s Clerkenwell outpost, the showcase highlights the firm’s ability to work across a range of disciplines, with visitors able to appreciate the breadth of their offering and buy a selection of their favourite pieces. The picks of the bunch? The Sling Chair (pictured), created for Danish furniture company Takt, and the Vaso pendant lamp for Santa & Cole.

New release / Punkt, Switzerland

Raising the alarm

When Petter Neby, founder of Swiss electronics company Punkt, wanted a stylish alarm clock but couldn’t find one, he turned to celebrated industrial designer Jasper Morrison. In 2011 they created the Punkt AC01. An analogue clock crafted from anodised natural aluminium, it found its way into museums across the globe, including the Centre Pompidou in Paris and Milan’s Triennale.

Neby and Morrison will be hoping for a similar fate for their newest creation, the AC02, which was unveiled yesterday at London Design Festival, alongside an exhibition showing an archive of Jasper Morrison’s work. Building on the success of the original iteration, the AC02 features subtle refinements to the aluminium body and a new deep black anodised finish. It’s a handsome addition to any bedside table and we expect it to feature in more galleries and collections, as people wake up to its potential.


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