Sabine Marcelis to enliven London's St Giles with her 'directionless' public seating

For London Design Festival 2022, the Dutch designer will be juxtaposing the grey commotion of St Giles with the polychromatic vibrance of an urban furniture collection.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : Sep 08, 2022

"Completely static artworks are a thing of the past I feel. Something or someone being able to participate somehow is more interesting to me."

– Sabine Marcelis

How should public spaces evolve within our transforming urban cities? Can public seating be designed not only to encourage a moment of rest but also as an element reverberating the spirit of a place?

Upholding the feeling of movement and transition but simultaneously allowing a moment of rest and interaction, Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis has created a set of 10 unique seats for the 20th anniversary edition of the London Design Festival. The collection titled Swivel will be put in place September 17 onwards at the St Giles Square as the design festival’s Landmark Project. The Rotterdam-based designer has, for this long-term public project, taken inspiration from the context’s brutalist architecture and its strong vocabulary of transition arising from it being one of the city’s most traversed neighbourhoods.

Combining her expertise in material exploration and vibrant aesthetics, Swivel is an exercise in letting natural materials manifest a sculptural identity and a surprising functionality. The seats have been crafted from a selection of travertines, quartzites and marbles that were sourced from Europe, the Middle East and Brazil. What’s interesting about the urban furniture's form is its structural flexibility that adjusts to the way a person wants to be seated in a public space. The context in the background thus becomes both a playground of conversations, or simply one’s own pocket of solitary rest.

A visualisation showing Swivel placed at the St Giles Square in London for the upcoming London Design Festival | Sabine Marcelis | London Design Festival | STIRworld
A visualisation showing Swivel placed at the St Giles Square in London for the upcoming London Design Festival Image: Courtesy of Sabine Marcelis

In an email interview, Marcelis tells STIR more about her design adventure with Swivel and her participation in London Design Festival’s 20th anniversary event.

Zohra Khan: What has been the biggest inspiration behind the design of Swivel?

Sabine Marcelis: The location of St Giles Square really was the main inspiration behind the installation. It's a space of transition, with different entrance and exit points connecting the underground, commercial areas, hospitality, as well as historical sites. I wanted to inject the square, which is mainly a grey concrete backdrop, with a bit of fun and colour. I also thought "how can people play a role in this activation?" Completely static artworks are a thing of the past I feel. Something or someone being able to participate somehow is more interesting to me. 

Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis’ practice is focused on material exploration and creating surprising visual effects within her works which include products, installations, and spatial design | Sabine Marcelis | London Design Festival | STIRworld
Dutch designer Sabine Marcelis’ practice is focused on material exploration and creating surprising visual effects within her works which include products, installations, and spatial design Image: Cleo Goossens

Zohra: With your works, you are always searching for magical moments around materiality and manufacturing processes. Have you managed to find those moments yet with Swivel? Or is there something that you are still seeking?

Sabine: I enjoy finding these moments within design. Moments where you are at the verge of sculptural and functional, neither one weighing heavier on the totality. With Swivel I am using a very engineered system and materiality which is normally more linked to formal settings, but in a very playful way. Making the material more accessible to interact with. I hope it surprises people and gives a moment of joy and pause in the busy city.

“The work is directionless, much like the square itself,” says Sabine Marcelis | Sabine Marcelis | London Design Festival | STIRworld
“The work is directionless, much like the square itself,” says Sabine Marcelis Image: Courtesy of Sabine Marcelis

Zohra: Swivel is conceived as a contrast to the St. Giles Square in London where the project will be located. How is the architecture of the context influencing the work?

Sabine: I absolutely love brutal architecture and the Centre Point building is such an iconic backdrop for this square. The form language of the swivel chairs definitely is a nod to brutalist architecture but then with a colourful twist. A myriad of worlds collide at the square. You have one of the most iconic music (guitar shops) streets which funnels into the square, simultaneously a food court and residences occupy the sides of the square. The underground station and brand new entertainment venue. There is a lot going on. Yet the backdrop to all this hustle and bustle is very bland in colour. 

Zohra: I read somewhere that you only work on projects that fascinate you from the very beginning. What is it about the London Design Festival and this work being a Landmark Project that piqued your interest?

Sabine: Ben Evans (Director of London Design Festival) and I had been looking for a project to do together for a while. This opportunity presented itself and it felt like a great fit to design something for this central London space. Also, this year is the 20th anniversary of the design festival, an important celebration to be a part of. There have been so many incredible installations and collaborations commissioned by the LDF team over the past 20 years, and created by talented designers such as Es Devlin, John Pawson, the late Zaha Hadid, and Yinka Ilori. And the landmark projects encourage visitors to rethink how we use public spaces in a city that’s always transforming. Taking my work outside is very exciting. 

Using a ball bearing mechanism, Swivel seats can be gently rotated, allowing visitors to interact in groups or create a solitary moment for themselves | Sabine Marcelis | London Design Festival | STIRworld
Using a ball bearing mechanism, Swivel seats can be gently rotated, allowing visitors to interact in groups or create a solitary moment for themselves Image: Courtesy of Sabine Marcelis

Zohra: While the design pieces encourage rest, your concept interestingly celebrates movement. What are your thoughts on this overarching contradiction?

Sabine: Yes, I wanted to keep that feeling of movement and transition but simultaneously allowing a moment of rest and interaction in this square. The work is directionless, much like the square itself. And individuals can decide how to use the swivel seats - for example either in groups facing each other, or as individuals turned away for privacy. Everyone can touch, sit, swivel and interact with the installation however they please. The idea that people could potentially have, create and share amazing moments and memories that my work can be a part of is such a nice thought. 

Zohra: What is NEXT – for you, for creativity, and for the world? 

Sabine: I have two other outdoor installations coming up. We are creating a 30m long installation in Riyadh for the Noor lighting festival in November. I love that when working outside you can let the work interact with not only its architectural surroundings and public audience, but also the natural elements. Sunlight, wind and water can all play a role in activating the work and adding another dimension to it. The other project is a permanent installation in Norfolk along the Weavers way, as part of the Norfolk Way Art Trail. Both of these outdoor installations work with mirrored and coloured glass, a material which lends itself perfectly to interact with water and sunlight. Other than those installations, I am very focused on new material explorations. We are continuously exploring new materials and material science. Transitioning to smart materials and a big focus on sustainability. As crazy a time as it is at the moment with politics and climate urgencies, it is also an exciting time with a lot of bio-based material developments what we as designers can explore and design with.

What do you think?

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