by Almas SadiqueSep 14, 2023
A generously proportioned bench by Marco Campardo, crafted from a fallen walnut tree, with tactile fluted edges and whimsical brass inserts. A multi-coloured stool collection by Andu Masebo, covered with polypropylene ropes – not only as seat upholstery but also wrapped around the frame and stretchers and melted to form durable surfaces. Tino Seubert’s sculptural floor-standing lamp designs, whose forms reference both natural landscapes and a machine-filled metal workshop. Parti’s ceiling and wall lighting features bare bulbs backed by puddles of milled aluminium. These are among the pieces that feature in the Farm Shop, a design exhibition conceived by designer Compardo, architect Guan Lee and curator Luca Lo Pinto, within Brompton Design District at London Design Festival (LDF). The show’s modest title (corroborated by the availability of Buckinghamshire honey and Chiltern apple juice) may have belied its avant-garde content. But it conveyed a down-to-earth attitude and a sense of community, both of which characterised last week’s city-wide celebration of design (which was on from the 16th to 24th of September).
Varied though they were in authorship, form and material palette, the pieces at the Farm Shop (until 15 October) had an important common quality: that they originated from Grymsdyke Farm, Lee’s research facility and fabrication workshop in rural Buckinghamshire, which hosted a residency this summer. Eighteen participating designers were invited to consider the relationship between people and the spaces they inhabit, where the things around them come from, and how we can care for them. They were also asked to use the farm’s production facilities – a requirement that reinforced a close relationship between designing and making.
This thoughtful, hands-on approach may well be what sets LDF apart from its counterparts in Milan and Copenhagen, which seem to command bigger budgets, draw greater industry attention, and involve more furniture launches by leading brands. LDF’s flagship installations are ambitious, beautifully executed, and a testament to London’s continued willingness to invest in creativity amid the tribulations of Brexit – a highlight this year was Pablo Valbuena’s responsive design installation that transforms the sounds of St Paul’s Cathedral into a pulsating column of light, suspended from the cathedral’s soaring dome (until 29 October). But just as important is the festival’s emphasis on making, evident in the Farm Shop as well as in the Dalston pop-up of Atelier100, ‘a think tank and a store all rolled into one’.
The pop-up featured the work of 22 London-based creatives and design studios, briefed to channel the energy and hustle of the city into custom-made pieces that reflect local approaches to sourcing and making. These included architecture practice CAN’s eclectic ‘Mudlark’ chair, made from London plane trees brought down in storms and supported on an aluminium frame and 3D-printed recreations of rocks collected along the Thames; as well as Annalisa Iacopetti’s ethereal ‘Orb’ table lamp, which uses recycled glass from an industrial lens factory in the UK. Such pieces are not only rooted in their geographical context, they also breathe new life into discarded materials and highlight the integral role of sustainability among the work of emerging creative practices.
Collective, local creativity similarly abounded at ‘You Can Sit With Us’, an installation by interior design studio 2LG at east London’s Truman Brewery, presented as part of London Design Fair. Surrounding a long table with a waste tinsel surface were twelve chairs from designers of different disciplines: one comprising a patterned fabric cushion strapped on a vegetable oil can, another formed of shoelaces strewn on a collapsible frame, a third whose seatback is draped with a jumper, not in wool but rather carved out of the same alder as the rest of the chair. The project is a way of ‘giving a seat at the table to new friends with unique voices, and to celebrate identity through design’, say 2LG’s Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead.
Just a stone’s throw away, the Localist Café, a pop-up by Six Dots Design at the Shoreditch Arts Club took things to the next level. Six Dots Design founder Joe Ellwood brought together 40 creatives to populate a functional café, which served brunch and afternoon tea over a three-day period. Diners were invited to sit on chairs made in Peckham, eat with cutlery made in Elephant and Castle, and immerse themselves in what London’s makers have to offer. Again, there was a touch of whimsy throughout the pieces: Six Dots’ own tables, with puddle-shaped surfaces in raw-finish aluminium; a lacquered beech bench, formed of seven vertical layers in the colours of London’s Tube lines; a cabinet by Matthew Hearn, finished in fallen bark and bearing a vague resemblance to a monster from Where the Wild Things Are; all reinforcing the idea that local design can be incredibly fun.
And more than that – it can be life-affirming, as this year’s LDF Emerging Design Medal winners Power Out of Restriction (POoR) Collective showed. Its showcase of next-generation designers, titled ‘PowerShift’ and staged just down the road from The Farm Shop, used design and art as a lens to explore ‘how power can shift when people work together’. The star of the show was without doubt architect Giles Nartley’s ‘Interplay’, a tactile, sculptural creation in black-stained ash which combined the functions of bench, daybed, and board for the West African game Oware. In its reference to a childhood memory (the architect, now London-based, learned the game from his Ghanaian grandparents), a celebration of diasporic identities, encouragement of social interaction and alluring form, ‘Interplay’ was the perfect example of the kind of design that LDF excels at celebrating, the kind of design the world needs more of.
Could a piece like ‘Interplay’ have captivated as many festival goers as it had been in a solo show? Given the wide geographical distribution of LDF projects, a more emerging creative like Nartley, brilliant though he is, could have struggled to compete with established players for attention, which is precisely why group shows are important - they mean fewer, but better shows, and quality over quantity. They offer a snapshot of our city’s kaleidoscopic creative scene and bring together varied and wonderful talents, often in the service of specific themes. Just as significantly, the bulk of the aforementioned shows (except Atelier100, which is an initiative by H&M and Ingka Group, the latter being the largest Ikea franchisee) are initiated by designers, for designers, which offers a welcome counterweight to the uptick of big brand-driven activations at many other design festivals. Their success is a testament to the power of the collective.
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.
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position of STIR or its Editors.)