London Design Festival highlights at the V&A

The London creative season is in full swing with London Design Biennale at Somerset House and London Design Festival spread to almost every corner of this great city. The hub at the V&A is possibly the best place to get a feel for the more conceptual work. The festival is celebrating its sixteenth birthday as well as its tenth year collaborating with the museum. For 2018 it is bigger, bolder, more international, and a vibrant start to autumn.

At the V&A’s Exhibition Road Quarter entrance is the striking MultiPly – the clean, clear Sackler Courtyard the perfect stage for this timber structure. One of the festival’s four key ‘landmark’ projects, it is the collaborative work of Waugh Thistleton Architects, the American Hardwood Export Council and engineers Arup who are exploring sustainable materials and modular systems that could help with today’s challenges – namely climate change and housing shortage. MultiPly is nine meters high and made from panels of American Tulipwood to resemble a series of wooden blocks, connected by bridges and stairs, with holes and open spaces throughout – perfect for climbing and seeing new views of the V&A and the surrounding South Kensington.

Sustainability has been addressed in conventional and non-conventional ways throughout the festival. This month, alongside eighteen other cities, London committed to the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration for a carbon free near future. In another V&A festival highlight, London Fountain Co. presents a public drinking fountain, commissioning Michael Anastassiades to design a contemporary public drinking fountain that would replace wasteful plastic bottled water consumption in the city. Installed permanently in the V&A courtyard, this elegant, sculptural piece is made from polished cast bronze to reference historical fountains as well as be hygienic. The Cypriot-born designer wanted his fountain to be an experience, but also blend into London’s furniture. So, the form is an abstraction of a classical column, and the scooped top is a nod to drinking from a bowl. London Fountain Co has plans to install more clean water public fountains throughout the city, each responding to the area and its history.

The V&A is a labyrinth of curiosities, and LDF offers the opportunity to explore its hidden passages and less visited rooms. I have been coming to this incredible space since my childhood, and am amazed at how many rooms have been undiscovered. LDF asks its chosen designers to respond to their allocated room, and the results are often hit-and-miss. Some exhibitors have looked at how to enhance the museum experience by introducing sound to bring life and context to otherwise musical instruments displayed as just ornaments. Others, take us on a virtual journey into other worlds from the museum to create more a bit of an experience. Some, like the Onion Farm by Danish fashion design Henrik Vibskov, have responded to their surroundings in more abstract terms. His long corridor of fabric onions and crude, prickly cash-wash style brushes, running the length of the elegant Tapestries Gallery (possibly the most exciting setting to work within), are, according to the V&A, comments on the ‘hyper-industrialised state of agriculture today’.

Elsewhere, as part of the arts initiative ‘14-18 NOW’ for the First World War centenary, design studio Pentagram has covered the walls, doors and floors of the V&A’s Creative Studio with black and white graphics to dazzle the viewer. This a brilliant concept inspired by ‘dazzle’ ships. Pioneered by the artist Norman Wilkinson, who took aspects of Cubism, Vorticism and animal camouflage, then painted the surface of vessels during the war, it was meant to confuse the enemy as they struggled to make out the dazzle ships against shifting waves and clouds.

See our previous LDF reports here.
Photography © Andy Stagg for the V&A and LDF.

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