London Design Festival: Clerkenwell, Bloomsbury, Shoreditch

Designersblock this year moved to the Farmiloe building on St John Street in Clerkenwell for more space to curate the show as part of the London Design Festival. From the outside, large white inflatable spheres and upside down furniture suspended from the rafters gave the warehouses the appearance of an inverted mad hatters tea party, but inside the designs were more down to earth.

John Galvin‘s handcrafted furniture is warm and tactile. His collection includes industral looking floor lamps fashioned out of solid pieces of wood, with suspended lightbulbs and brass turnscrews as dimmer switches – and a sideboard of solid wood and white gloss lacquer, with finely oiled drawers that open and close effortlessly.

Many prototypes were on display, such as Lucie Libotte’s interactive magnet Splintering Crockery wallpaper. A textile designer by trade, Libitte has combined weave, print and laser cutting to create pieces that form an ever rearranging mosaic on any given surface, with a lick of magnetic paint.

Furniture and product designer Minsung Lee‘s A-symetrical back-to-back bench has been designed for public spaces to encourage conversation and interaction – over sitting in a straight line, feeding ducks.

At Tent, in the Truman Brewery on Brick Lane, there was a healthy mix of bold designs, business cards transactions, and speculative interest.

One of the exhibitors taking their first trade show stand following Young Designers earlier in the year was Tamasine Osher, whose limited edition coffee table mixes Cedar wood and copper piping to create a piece of domestic carpentry sculpture. Her wall mounted bicycle rack and storage in walnut wood, displayed in partnership with Tokyo Bike Company, makes a smart crossover between functionality and design.

A new edition to LDF was DesignJunction, which launched in at the Milan fair this year and came to Victoria House Basement, off Bloomsbury Square; a well curated space with high-end compemparay interior brands.

The showstopper piece was by Benchmark, an 11.4-metre table called Tree, made from a single plank of oak, supported at the centre by a polished mirror stainless steel pyramid – a piece of structural engineering that appeared more fit for a bridge than a piece of furniture. The claim it could support four adults standing on one end was duly tested and validated on the opening night.

In terms of desirable domestic furniture, Another Country a Dorset based firm making contemporary craft furniture presented a sturdy range of indoor benches and tables that mix ash, walnut and copper. To round off the collection, it also showed a collection of updated terracotta pottery, Made in Hackney, along with day beds and benches upholstered in 100% organic cushions.

More contract-based brands also exhibited, such as VG&P (the company of design duo Ed Carpenter and André Klauser) who showed their powder coated steel and plywood Canteen Utility Chair (originally designed for the Canteen chain of restaurants in London) in a range of near-on neon colours.

Over at Tramshed in Shoreditch a more European collection of top furniture brands came together, many offering hotel luxury beds, lights, reception and room furniture. Benjamin Hubert Studio, for example, uses hand turned marble to create a range of pendent lights for De La Espada.

Across East London and Bloomsbury there seemed to be a strong vein of contemporary solid wood investment furniture. There was also a preoccaption with designing furntiure without screws.

New designer BeBenny, for instance, presented high-end flat back furniture that you assemble with just a mallot at Tent. There was an adjustable desk lamp held together only with very strong magnets – the only holdback being that paperclips fly towards it – exhibited at Designersblock. And finally a bench by Another Country at DesignJuncton can be assembled and secured using just a twopence coin – flatpack deluxe!

Guest blogger Rachel Calton 

The London Design Festival ran from 17-25 September 2011 at various venues around the city. Read about the other events at LDF2011 at its hub at the V&A and on emerging designers at the RCA.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Stirling Prize winner: Zaha Hadid’s Evelyn Grace

This year’s RIBA Stirling Prize winner Evelyn Grace Academy in London’s Brixon carries all the hallmarks of a Zaha Hadid designed building – strong outlines, futuristic curves, slants, jaunty angles and impressive dimensions. The exterior is an amalgamation of sheer metallic facades and sculpted reflective surfaces, making it appear from the outside a dynamic, streamlined, high performance building.

A 100 metre race track bisects the two school buildings, and thick white lines demarcating running lanes run around the school site, carrying the same impact as go-faster stripes against the bodywork of a suped up sports car. Whichever angle you catch this building at it looks ready for a cover shoot.

Inside, an architectural solemnity applies that doesn’t seem altogether fitting for a school; the music studios and sports hall are pale grey concrete, the corridors have grey floors and grey doors, the classroom signage is minimal and metallic, and the main assembly point has a wall of expansive glass wall which could as easily be overlooking an airport runway.

The school has only a small intake as yet, and requires some more time, and student input to shake off the slightly sterile edge.

As an academy, Evelyn Grace cost over £37 million to build. It is graced with considerable investment from a hedge fund manager and has an esteemed starchitect at the helm.

In the eyes of the Stirling Prize panel, Evelyn Grace is the best new buildings of the year. But its success as a school remains yet to be proven and teaching staff are anxious for the school to gain a reputation for its grades as well as its looks.

Guest blogger Rachel Calton 

The RIBA Stirling Prize winner of the £20000 prize was was announced on 1 October.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Chipperfield’s Turner Contemporary

David Chipperfield Architect’s new Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate does appear a little unworldly as you weave into the British seaside town that seems half stuck in the everyday grind of small town life and half harking back to its bygone glory days of British seaside resort.

It is stark, grey and modernist and not even in keeping with the accruement of more contemporary cafés and galleries that form part of the Margate regeneration team’s dream, of café culture coupled with creative start-ups escaping from excessive east London rents.

If anything, the building seems to abide by the aesthetic of the North Sea, which it faces onto, and the north Kent skies if frames; both expansive, understated, and arguably Margate’s most timeless features.

Inside the gallery, which occupies two large shed-like structures with oblique angled roofs, there is something formulaic about the polished concrete, large glass light wells, recessed staircases and soft backlighting, but it works.

The building brings natural daylight from the seafront in, which, it is in part a tribute to – Turner escaped to Margate from London for its quality of light, and captures silence, space and awe around the exhibits, bringing some of the essence of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall (the Turner is partner of Tate) from London’s Southbank to Kent’s coastline.

Inside, the etched and painted, classic and contemporary representations of Margate, together with the slick architecture and central sea-facing window, do only seem to capture one side of this seaside town; luckily we have artists like Emin to expose the other.

Guest blogger Rachel Calton . Images by Andrea Klettner & Richard Bryant

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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Clerkenwell Design Week: Highlights

The sun shone on the second instalment of Clerkenwell Design Week in May, which secured its spot in the design calendar this year with a steady throughflow of specifiers, architects and designers.

Devoid of the tired trademarks of traditional trade shows CDW showcased the parades of showrooms that populate Clerkenwell Road, St Johns Street and the surrounding area in central London, each branded for the event with hot pink signage inviting onlookers in to look, drink and chat.

The festival’s centre point the Farmiloe Building, an impressive warehouse a stones’ throw from Smithfield, showcased furniture and lighting from the likes of Ligne Roset, Nigel Coates, The Design Museum, Jennifer Newman and James UK, with a picnic area and coffee barista providing the perfect outdoor hub. Meanwhile the House of Detention (an old Victorian Prison off Clerkenwell Close) housed a contemporary crowd including Timorous Beasties, Droog and Hendzel and Hunt.

British designers such as Russell Pinch (Pinch Design) Sean Dare (Dare Studio) both stood out for refined and classic design. Jennifer Newman’s aluminium A-Frame Bench in signal yellow stood out, and Hay Bales by Richard Woods & Sebastian Wrong, cushioned seating blocks inspired by Woods’ childhood were fun. Dezeen’s watch store, with watches by big name designers and more boutique brands made a welcome break from desks and chairs.

Come Friday, as people nursed their heads wondering at what point they stopped counting the times their glasses got refuelled over the event, not a lot of desk work got done. Hopefully the mingling, debate and discovery of new nooks of this design district will have made suitable amends.

Guest blogger Rachel Calton 

Clerkenwell Design Week 2011 ran from 24 – 26 May. Read more about CDW 2010.

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | | Bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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