The London Design Festival is in full swing and we have a rundown of some of its many highlights, from the upholstery specialists manning a pop-up workbench to a colourful installation celebrating the appeal of cork (pictured). Our design editor kicks things off with an example of why such events are so important. Plus: AGI Open goes south (in a good way) and Feria Hábitat València.
Last Friday I bounced around the UK capital – from the Victoria & Albert Museum to the Strand and then on to the Shoreditch Electric Light Station – for the opening of the London Design Festival (LDF). The citywide event runs until Sunday with public installations (such as an interactive light display in St Paul’s Cathedral by artist Pablo Valbuena), furniture launches and open showrooms at the London outposts of international firms including &Tradition, Occhio and Molteni.
With this mixed bag of happenings, the LDF hopes to attract more than just design enthusiasts. “We take the view that everyone is interested in design but sometimes they just have to be reminded,” Ben Evans, the festival’s co-founder, told me on the opening day. “We have a dedicated audience that turns up to pretty much anything we do but I’m also interested in the passer-by. If we can catch that person – and if they go home with a new understanding or view – we have achieved something.”
Keen to test this, I asked a few friends – including a manager at a pharmaceutical company and the founder of a property-tech start-up – to join me for a tour of the city, taking in some of my picks from the LDF guide. We peeked through the windows of the newly opened Tala flagship and visited an exhibition of objects on show at the Hart Shoreditch Hotel London. The highlight, however, was Atelier100, an initiative that commissioned emerging designers to make new works with financial backing from industry heavyweights.
Here, I spotted some beautiful martini glasses by Ambra Dentella and my friends became enamoured with a chair called the Momentary Seat by London-based creative Jess Flood-Paddock. The chair’s oblong form, made from flax and leather, is bolder than anything in their own homes and an order for one – for a living room – has been put in. Thanks to a relaxed afternoon at a festival, an emerging designer will win a new commission.
My friends now have a new perspective on design – and their home, from their new seat. Here’s hoping that hundreds of these moments are taking place across the city, creating connections between designers and the public – and a broader appreciation of design.
Nic Monisse is Monocle’s design editor.
SCP is a retailer and manufacturer with its own specialist upholstery factory that’s known for collaborating with makers and designers who pay attention to detail and appreciate craft. For the London Design Festival (LDF), the British furniture firm is bringing some of this expertise to the floor of its shop in the city’s Shoreditch area by hosting a pop-up workbench for Sons of Beasley, a new design brand making colourful chairs from waste timber. Here, across the course of the week, the company’s co-founders, Alex Hellum and Carl Clerkin (pictured), will be assembling chairs to a Sons of Beasley design.
“For LDF we are using offcuts from furniture supplier Plykea, which we are converting into stock material such as legs, seats and backrests in standard sizes,” says Hellum. “We have four chair designs with different ergonomics but every chair is put together using the stock material in an unplanned way, allowing for randomness.” The result is not only a sprightly activation of a retail space in the UK capital’s East End but a truly transparent manufacturing process – one that all furniture firms should be striving for.
Sons of Beasley at SCP is showing at 135-139 Curtain Road, London, as part of LDF until Sunday 24 September.
Simone Brewster is a multi-hyphenate creative: an architect by trade, she is also a jeweller, painter and furniture designer who works across disciplines and mediums. A case in point is her contribution to this year’s London Design Festival (LDF), for which she partnered with Portuguese cork company Amorim to produce five sculptures that are bringing colour and playfulness to a pedestrianised stretch of the Strand. “LDF introduced me to Amorim, a company that is growing forests rather than deforesting,” says Brewster. “Through the LDF process, I learned about the benefits of cork production and how removing bark encourages trees to store carbon dioxide. That made it all more impressive.”
Called “Spirit of Place”, the installation is one of the festival’s official commissions and is intended to push the boundaries of design. Brewster and Amorim heated the material to form a cork block that is bound together by natural resins without the use of glue. They then carved the blocks to shape and coloured them. The process, says the designer, highlights the potential of cork to be used more widely. “We should be using it a lot more in architecture because it’s resistant to fire and mould,” says Brewster. “One of my intentions for the project was to make something beautiful, so that people would ask questions and, in asking them, find out about its potential.”
‘Spirit of Place’ is showing at Strand Aldwych, London, as part of LDF until Sunday 24 September
Dean Poole is a co-founder of Auckland-based studio Alt Group. A passionate advocate for Kiwi design, Poole was the first of his countrymen to serve as president of the Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI), a global club that brings together the great and the good of graphic design and typography. The latest edition of AGI Open, the group’s annual assembly, which Poole organised, ended yesterday in Auckland. This was only the second time that the event was held in the southern hemisphere. Here, Poole explains why it was a “dream come true” for him.
What was the significance of the AGI coming to Auckland?
Connecting countries is a big part of the AGI’s mission. We have been reaching out to India and now we are connecting the world of design with a few small islands in the South Pacific. Having design icons [such as Pentagram’s Paula Scher, Stefan Sagmeister and Kenya Hara from the Nippon Design Centre] onstage in Auckland was like hosting a World Cup of design. It was a once-in-a-generation event that I think will be a marker in time. When two minds meet, they don’t just exchange facts; these interactions change us. My hope is that we will become more exposed to different ways of viewing the world and that this affects our own world too.
What was New Zealand’s biggest pull factor when bidding to host the AGI?
Most of our members came down here for what we call a “congress”: we took them around on private tours and they could engage with local artists. They were interested in discovering new design languages and New Zealand has a very strong and distinctive indigenous expression. We lose a spoken language on the planet every two weeks, so can you imagine what’s happening with visual languages? The Open is the big public show that we put on for the community. Our speakers, who we invited to the event from across the globe, could see the best of this part of the region’s creativity. But they were really here to inspire the next generation of designers.
In a nutshell, what is modern New Zealand design?
When you open a copy of the Financial Times, it’s a New Zealand design. Kiwi typographer Kris Sowersby created the font that the newspaper uses. New Zealand design does its job. It’s not flashy and it doesn’t want to upset the neighbours with its awkward presence. That comes from an egalitarian society. Pragmatic inventiveness is a big part of what we do. Most design cultures are defined by the products that they live with every day. But New Zealand was one of the few countries in the world that didn’t have an industrial revolution. In that sense, we’re not like Germany. I’m writing a book at the moment on the subject and I see a warm humanism across a lot of New Zealand’s expressions.
For more on design events across the globe, tune in to ‘Monocle on Design’ on Monocle Radio.
The latest generation of Apple’s iPhone was presented last week but apart from about a millimetre in thickness and a higher price tag, there was little visible change. With this in mind, we wouldn’t blame you if you felt nostalgic for the 1960s, when a combination of technological advancement, novel materials and irreverent thinking resulted in genuinely surprising innovations. Few did it better than Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper, who long served as style consultants for Milan-based electronics company Brionvega. In the early 1960s the Italian-German duo designed the TS502, colloquially known as the Radio Cubo: a colourful plastic cube that hinges open like a book to reveal the speaker and controls of a radio.
When the Radio Cubo came out, it caused a small sensation. Radios have always served as decorative objects for living rooms but Zanuso and Sapper were the first to completely conceal the device’s functions when it was not in use. The design remains a success: Brionvega reissued the Radio Cubo in 2010 and it is now in the Italian audio manufacturer’s permanent collection. At a time when so much consumer technology has been bundled up into smartphones, there is clearly still demand for gadgets that offer an element of surprise.
The 57th edition of Feria Hábitat València, one of Spain’s foremost furniture and lighting fairs, opened yesterday. “We had a mock-up at Salone del Mobile but this is the real deal,” says València-born designer Ramón Esteve, smiling as he proudly shows a crowd of journalists and buyers a modular fabric sofa and armchair set called Hamptons. Designed for Spanish outdoor furniture giant Vondom, it is one of three Esteve-designed collections on display at the event. While the pavilions buzzed with retailers, designers and firms warmly greeting old friends and exchanging business cards with new ones, Vondom’s palm-lined stand (pictured, top) was an oasis of calm. And that is a reflection of the distinctive cool-toned, straight-lined furniture that the brand cultivates.
Appropriately, Vondom is not the only outdoor furniture brand showing exciting new designs. Under a hanging ceiling installation of handmade birds and lamps is a collection of sleek chairs and sofas by Barcelona-based brand Bivaq (pictured, bottom). Designed by Joan Gaspar, its Garda range opts for a light-touch approach, with slim cushions and understated frames. Displayed at Feria Hábitat València in a muted olive green, the minimalist range is a homage to the constructivist architects of the 1950s. In contrast to hospitality’s enduring penchant for flamboyant futuristic styles, Garda’s quiet charm is a timely reminder to buyers on the floor that less really can be more.
feriahabitatvalencia.com; vondom.com; bivaq.com
When Lausanne-based design studio Hymn took on the rebranding of Radio Télévision Suisse (RTS), the biggest challenge was in creating a unified identity. A public broadcasting organisation for French-speaking Switzerland, RTS has two television channels and four radio stations, as well as a website and various apps. A previously disparate approach to branding across the portfolio finally drove the broadcaster to put out a call for design proposals, which Hymn was happy to answer.
The challenge was to retain a certain “Swissness” while creating a singular visual identity across broadcast and digital platforms. “We used custom-designed typography in the Swiss typographic tradition, created in collaboration with Ian Party from Swiss studio Newglyph, and went for a minimalist and structured approach to graphic design,” says Alexandre Henriques, founder and creative director of Hymn. The result is a brand identity that revolves around a logo in the new RTS Neue font, which is as readable as it is easy on the eyes. “We hope that French-speaking Switzerland will recognise itself in our work because all aspects of this rebranding were carried out here – and that this approach will convince other Swiss brands to cultivate our national identity,” says Henriques.