by Dilpreet BhullarJan 08, 2021
Running from September 12-20, 2020, the London Design Festival is one of the first international design events to take place since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Returning for its 18th edition, the festival stays true to its founding idea to celebrate and promote London as the design capital. With an increase in digital activity, the festival hopes to continue engaging international audiences. Most design and art festivals have had to adapt their programmes to ensure a large digital presence. This is perhaps an aspect that will continue to evolve at all festivals moving forward. As one of the few events that was not entirely cancelled, the London Design Festival has the added advantage of pioneering and mediating the physical event experience and a digital one.
A returning feature of the festival is the Design Districts, a cluster of events that were conceptualised as an alternate lens to explore the city of London. A key component of the festival, it highlights four hubs namely - Brompton Design District, King’s Cross Design District, Mayfair Design District, and Shoreditch Design Triangle. Brompton, one of the first Design Districts, is showcasing new collections and exhibits of the area’s international design brands. In a pop-up space, Brompton is hosting Un(finished): a showcase supporting graduates from the RCA’s MA Design Products 2020, who have been unable to hold a degree show this year. King’s Cross, featured for the second time this year, is the location of the Coal Drops Yard, which is home to Marlène Huissoud’s Unity, an installation that emphasises the notion of unity and togetherness. The Mayfair Design District has always had a strong presence of galleries and auction houses. Recently there has been an increased focus towards contemporary design with new gallery spaces opening in the area. The Shoreditch Design Triangle, established in 2008 by design brand and store SCP, is a cultural platform that fosters collaboration within the creative community in East London. As part of this year's programme, SCP is presenting One Room Living, an exploration of practical necessity and the role good design plays in our lives.
Rounding up this year's installations at the festival is their Landmark Project 'The Hothouse', a unique look at urban gardening by London-based architectural practice Studio Weave. Located at International Quarter London (IQL), a thriving new neighbourhood in the heart of Stratford and adjacent to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, The Hothouse is an interesting commentary on the history of the district, and climate change. Je Ahn, founding director of Studio Weave, in conversation with STIR elaborates, “The area that this installation is in, is a new part of the city. It has quite a history of being a very productive ground, it had the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world in the 1930s and provided a lot of exotic fruits at the time. That got me thinking about what the place has become now. As a thriving new part of the city, with new parks, new houses, new offices, it now has more of a hard landscape. This got me wondering about what is going to happen to it in the future, what are we talking about here, what is our relationship with the natural world going to be? We wanted to make a commentary on that through the selection of plants”. Occupying 1,300 acre of land, stretching across 20 miles along the Lee Valley corridor, the district used to be home to greenhouses that grew ornamental plants and flowers, in addition to the exotic fruits.
Working with garden designer Tom Massey, to develop the planting scheme, the core idea of the installation is meant to be a commentary on the ongoing discussions of global climate change. A recent speculation postulates that temperatures could rise by 4 degree Celsius globally by the end of the century. This increase would see all of the crops inside the installation, potentially being grown outside in the UK by 2050. Another consequence is the change in our air quality, which scientists predict could be five times worse, leading to a 30 per cent drop in crop yields. The Hothouse as an intervention, is an outdoor urban garden with an internal environment that can be regulated and adapted to suit the plants within. Acting as a stand in to demonstrate both aspects of climate change. The crops that will be grown include guava, orange, gourd, chia seed, avocado, pomegranate, quinoa, mango, sweet potato, lemon, sugarcane, chickpea, loquat and pineapple. Currently all of them require a controlled environment to survive. Putting them on display in the middle of a busy and developing part of the city creates an interesting conversation regarding urban consumption.
The form of the installation draws inspiration from Victorian glasshouses and England's history of collecting exotic plants from their colonies. Je Ahn explains further, “It is the concept of the Wardian case, it is an early version of the terrarium. You place exotic plants inside, and it creates a microclimate that is controlled. So while you enjoy the plant, at the same time the plant can survive. This is a larger version of that”. The unit is about seven meters tall, eight metres long, four metres wide and can accommodate about three to five people inside. However, the core idea focuses on the plants inside rather than the interaction of people and space. Je Ahn comments on the design process of Studio Weave, further explaining their approach to the installation, “It has always been important to us to consider context, and how the building is responding to the surrounding landscape, and how the landscape is responding to the building. So the building does not stand on its own, it stands on the history of the site, and people's memory of the site. So, we are very aware of this from the early stages of our projects”.
As every year the London Design Festival recognises the contribution made by leading design figures with four London Design Medals awards, this year's winners are: