by Jincy IypeDec 27, 2022
As the London Design Festival 2023 prepares to kick off later this week, a distinguished panel of judges awarded four medals to professionals and practices pushing the boundaries of the architecture and design industry. The honour recognises individuals and collectives who "embody the spirit of design excellence and its transformative power."
The jurors included festival founder and director Ben Evans, Yinka Ilori, Sarah Douglas, Es Devlin, Alice Rawsthorn, and Pentagram’s Domenic Lippa, among others. Uganda-born structural engineer and the design director of AKT II, Hanif Kara OBE is the recipient of the London Design Medal; Mumbai-born architect and co-founder of Public Practice, Pooja Agrawal, gets the Design Innovation Medal; London-based social enterprise POoR collective has been awarded the Emerging Design Medal; and artist Magdalene Odundo is honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Medal.
The London Design Medal, described as “the highest accolade bestowed upon an individual who has distinguished themselves within the industry” has been awarded to engineer Hanif Kara for his 'design-led' approach and interest in innovative form. Through his work, he has consistently pushed innovative material uses and sustainable construction practices. His complex analysis of design allows him to constantly push the possibilities of architectural form while addressing the many challenges the built environment faces today.
In 2022, Kara was awarded an OBE for his services to architecture, engineering and education. On the occasion of being felicitated, he spoke to STIR in an exclusive interview, expanding on the ethos of his practice, which balances creative form and ingenuity in engineering.
Speaking about the win, Kara said, "The goal was to do well by designing a non-combustible model of practice, one that doesn’t simply light up bright like a star and burn out but goes on to make a wider impact on the field beyond the narrow gaze of our own profession. This is why wider peer recognition and awards like this one specifically, matter. I am so grateful to the jury.”
Innovation in architecture must ultimately serve public needs. However, navigating the intricacies of the public sector to actively affect change in the built environment can seem like a challenge. The Design Innovation Medal recognises Mumbai-born architect, Pooja Agrawal’s efforts in helping to educate architects and designers in this area. The medal, which celebrates entrepreneurship in all its forms, is awarded to Agrawal who co-founded the NGO Public Practice, with Finn Williams in 2017. The practice works with local authorities and has initiated a learning programme to train architects with the skills to navigate the public sector.
Expanding on the social enterprise’s work, she says, "As a framework, it enables passionate and socially-led designers and architects to make meaningful changes within local authorities. We emerged out of London but continue to design and scale the organisation to ensure we can spread its impact across the country.” The practice has till date placed 296 associates into 78 authorities, expanding nationally this year with two new programmes in the north and southeast.
London-based social enterprise POoR Collective, launched in 2019 and helmed by architects Shawn Adams, Larry Botchway, Ben Spry, and accountant Matt Harvey-Agyemang, similarly believes in the power of the community to positively create an impact within the built environment. The winners of the Emerging Design Medal, their work seeks to empower young generations to voice their opinions in the planning of their locales. Through community-led projects, they work with school children, communities, and local councils to give under-represented groups a voice in governance and planning. Apart from that, POoR has facilitated initiatives including the Makers & Mentors scheme, in conjunction with The Office Group (TOG).
To the group, the medal is not just a win for them. As they elaborate in an official statement, "(It’s) a win for the numerous communities we have connected with. This award reinforces that there is value in championing young voices and providing opportunities for others.”
This year, the winners of the medals represent the diversity of voices in the design world, and the forces that drive the industry: engineering, craftsmanship, social justice, to name a few. The winners show how we can empower the youth of tomorrow, and cultivate positive change within the industry. It is equally important to recognise the dedication to one’s craft. The Lifetime Achievement Medal this year has been presented to Kenyan-born British studio potter Magdalene Odundu DBE for her significant contributions to the practice of ceramic art, and her commitment to fostering cultural identity and craft through her work. She was previously appointed an OBE for services to art in 2008, and a DBE in 2020 for services to art and art education.
Odundo’s work, primarily in ceramics references a wide range of craft traditions, from Mexican pottery to sub-Saharan ceramics. Her lush, deep-hued sculptures are part of the collections of nearly 50 international institutions and museums including The Art Institute of Chicago, The British Museum in London and African Heritage in Nairobi. Her work deftly dovetails functionality with art. As Odundo says, “I have always been curious to discover why human beings make and surround themselves with objects that are not just utilitarian, but also give pleasure, have spiritual significance, and tell the stories of the people who made the objects”.
This year, the medal winners showcase the wide spectrum of contemporary design practice, and its meanings and possibilities—from the power of the collective and social design, to the values of craft and engineering. It also marks the first time that the medal has been awarded to an engineer, a ceramicist, a public sector innovator, and a collective, as the editor of the London Design Festival elucidated. It highlights how young designers are engaging with and driving positive change in the world.
London Design Festival is back! In its 21st edition, the faceted fair adorns London with installations, exhibitions, and talks from major design districts including Shoreditch Design Triangle, Greenwich Peninsula, Brompton, Design London, Clerkenwell Design Trail, Mayfair, Bankside, King's Cross, and more. Click here to explore STIR’s highlights from the London Design Festival 2023.