Highlights from London Design Biennale 2018

‘Emotional States’ sets the theme for the 2018 London Design Biennale with Somerset House once again forming the brilliant backdrop to installations conceived by architects, designers and artists from six continents. The responses are varied. Apart from a handful of pavilions seemingly concerned with pleasing the instagram crowd, most others have responded with emotion and urgency to the sustainability of our planet, identity and nationhood, war and destruction and lost civilisations.

Some offer intellectual solutions. At the UK pavilion, ‘Maps of Defiance’ by Forensic Architecture looks at how design can directly inform new perspectives and lines of investigation. This is an emotional project about preserving disappearing cultures. Through digital tools and image-capture the team record and preserve evidence of cultural heritage destruction and genocide, such as the savagely ravaged Yazidi community of Iraq presented at the Biennale. The idea is to eventually reconstruct the buildings and rebuild these communities.

At the US pavilion, ‘Face Values’ by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum explores alternative uses of technology, and consider the vast capabilities of digital design. We are encouraged to make expressive gestures and allow the machine to translate our emotions, so live facial data form the basis for a dialogue on the provocative relationship between man and machine.

A few pavilions take a dark dystopian turn. Austria’s ‘After Abundance’ asked us to enter a terrifying post climate change world where Alpine forests are fast disappearing and rain is artificially created. ‘Matter to Matter’, the LDB winning pavilion by Latvia’s Arthur Analts of Variant Studio, asks visitors to leave fleeting messages on his wall of condensation to explore the transience of emotions and the ways in which nature reclaims the marks we leave behind. Others offer a touch of hope. Over at the Brazil pavilion, London-based designer David Elia sets out to give a voice to ecological anger with his ‘Desmatamento’ (deforestation). This tranquil room shares the beauty and significance of the diminishing Amazon rainforest.

Finally, the Refugees’ Pavilion tells the story of the survival of displaced people through creativity. Housed within the flat-pack structure ‘Better Shelter’ (the winner of the Design Museum‘s 2016 Design of the Year), we enter the temporary world of refugees to see their stories through the objects they place on display, so as to humanise their conditions.

LDB opened its doors to the public last week and will be at Somerset House, London until 23 September.

Take a look at the inaugural 2016 LDB on the theme of ‘Utopia by Design’

All images © Ed Reeve

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Radical Essex: A complex county of raw beauty and modernism

‘Essex is neither part of East Anglia, nor one of the Home Counties; it contains both radical and conservative elements, and is therefore open to all possibilities,’ writes architectural critic Ken Worpole in Radical Essex. Sitting on the edge of east London, a rural refuge for much of the cockney diaspora, it certainly gets its fair share of crude stereotyping, and mockery – think The Only Way is Essex, spray tans and excessive makeup, bling cars and tacky bars.

There is, however, another Essex, one of raw rural beauty and elements of radicalism – in parts utopianism even, and Radical Essex is set to alter our views. There are the 1960s student halls at the University of Essex in Colchester, the bungalows at Silver End at Braintree, built by Francis Crittall and fitted with his famous steel frames, London Underground stations designer Charles Holden’s cottages near Maldon built in the 1920s and 30s, and there is the brilliant white crop of International Style houses at Frinton-on-Sea.

The initiative Radical Essex began two years ago with a goal to re-examine the history of the county in relation to radicalism in thought, lifestyle, politics and architecture. ‘Essex is a complex county, judged solely by more misguided stereotypes than perhaps any other,’ explains Joe Hill, director of Focal Point Gallery one of the founders of the project. She wants to ‘celebrate the extremes of this innovative and experimental county. From early modernist architectural experiments to worker colonies and pacifist communities, the county has always demonstrated its ability to be self-guided in its desires – to seek, experiment and redefine.’

A book of the same name, edited by Hill and Hayley Dixon, charts the project taking the subject further to include new writings and the photography of Catherine Hyland – featured here. This is a fascinating read that sheds light on the region’s pioneering thinking, and it certainly reveals an exciting side to Essex worth exploring.

Radical Essex is available to purchase at Focal Point Gallery or online at Cornerhouse Publications

Images in order:
Clacton Pier, Clacton-on-Sea, 2016, 
Essex University, Spender House Ulting 2016, and 
Lee Over Sands. All photographs © Catherine Hyland, Courtesy of Focal Point Gallery

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In talk with Land Rover design director Gerry McGovern

Jaguar Land Rover is going through an incredible time. The undisputed makers of sports-utility cars, way before SUV became a household name, is redesigning its core models and introducing new cars. Last week the marque revealed its new Discovery design, a pinnacle model in the Discovery range to bridge the more luxurious Range Rover and soon to be updated rugged Defender.

The new Discovery’s design is simple, yet clever with a focus on providing the perfect family car. Its optimised seats can be configured in seemingly endless ways through the car’s touch screen or remotely on your smart phone to sit seven adult size occupants comfortably, and the intelligently packaged boot almost encourages an active, outdoors lifestyle.

We caught up with director of design Gerry McGovern at the show to learn more.

The new car is visibly much more polished

I love the ruggedness and hardness of this car, and yes I know some people will complain that it has lost its boxiness but that’s deliberate. A box is a brick and a brick doesn’t sail through air well. So we needed to make the car more aerodynamic, we deliberately put more form into it, and yes I wanted it to be sexy. Why shouldn’t a seven seat be handsome.

It feels closer in spirit to the Range Rover. Was this intentional?

We are deliberately moving Discovery closer to Range Rover as customers want it to be more luxurious and more premium but we will always retain the versatility. The main difference between Range Rovers and Discoveries is that level of versatility. So we would never do a Range Rover like this. Their identities are very different.

You are going through an interesting time with the entire family being redesigned, and new models being introduced.

Yes, we are on this journey of transformation, and until the Defender comes it won’t be clear what the strategy is. We’ve had the Evoque and Range Rover Sport but there will be more to come on the Range Rover family, and the Discovery family has only two members, this new car and the Discovery Sport, and it will also be growing. It will be so much easier to talk about this strategy when the Defender is out.

You’ve just shown the world’s largest ever Lego structure, an interpretation of London’s Tower Bridge, for the launch of the Discovery. I guess your work with the brand is also much like building blocks?

Yes, absolutely. It really is!

Can you explain the three sub-brands, so to speak, within the Land Rover group: Range Rover, Discovery and Defender?

Their identities are very different: Range Rover is about luxury, Discovery versatility, Defender durability. Range Rover is formal – it is the most luxurious interpretation of a Land Rover product and the new Defender will be the absolute polarisation of the Range Rover in every way.

I’m looking forward to seeing your vision for the twenty-first century Defender. How do you design durability?

You just have to wait… it’ll be worth waiting for.

So we should look forward to a much larger family of cars?

When you consider that there will be over twenty million SUV type products by 2020 then yes, we have a case for expanding the range. When the Discovery first came out, people weren’t doing the multitude of different lifestyle activities as they do today. SUVs enable people to do more for they are more flexible and spacious, and for me this Discovery is the optimum expression of this. It is flexible, connected, modern and sits beautifully and yet you can still see it is a Discovery and that is no easy task. It is a tribute to all the people who built it who took Discovery DNA and made it more relevant.

The concept of luxury is evolving to mean so many other less tangible things like time, authenticity, sustainability… How is Land Rover responding this?

Part of my job as the custodian of the brand is to make sure I make the people in the business who are signing the cheques realise they need to move on and embrace change. The automotive world can be traditionalists, a little old fashioned, and often to them luxury means leather, shinny metal. Wait till you see what’s coming next!

The interior, colour and trim, are interesting areas to explore new thinking, materials and ideologies, such as the vegan movement…

Yes, colour and materials is a great brand differentiator. If only you could see some of the work we’re doing in the studio… there is huge potential to do some incredible stuff. I completely agree that the days of shinny metal and leather are numbered, but there will always be people who will want this so it is a balance.

Is this something that the Jaguar Land Rover sub-brand SVO (special vehicles operation) can focus on more than the mainstream brand?

Yes, it is something we’re very focused on especially through SVO where we can be more experimental. We do one-off cars here, but everything we design with a client needs to be balanced and relevant to the brand.

Does the prospect of electrification and autonomous driving excite you?

I am and I am not. I am in terms of the opportunities it allows you to review the architecture of the vehicle in a different way. What can the occupants do when not driving? What will the cabin look like without a steering wheel? I do, however, always think there will be the desire to take control of the wheel, and to be fully autonomous will take a bit of a mental shift. But yes it is the most interesting and challenging subject in the automotive business.

Nargess Banks

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Introducing the softly radical future Bentley

Last month we were given an insight into the future of Bentley Motors design. Although not radical in the obvious sense, it is a very interesting and subtle approach to the evolution of luxury.

The marque is viewing new materials in terms of sustainability and usability, and is looking at how the interior, especially the interface, will evolve – in this case radically – to speak the language of digital natives with bendy, wrap-around screens projecting a virtual butler of sorts.

We saw some pretty innovative work. Production-ready 0.7mm stone veneer – slate and quartz – for interior elements, vegan luxury alternatives such as man-made leather that will have its own identity in smell and texture, as well as durable silk and cashmere. We were shown beautifully carved wood inspired by old guns for the dials and switches, and quilted wood for door panels that utilise the skills of the Crewe artisans.

The company is exploring 3D printing to help create intricate radiator graphics. Inspired by the cut crystal whisky glass, it is looking into animating the inside of the exterior lights so that, much like a kaleidoscope, they can welcome you and reveal the Bentley logo.

These are all highly intriguing ideas that are completely feasible in the near future making the second stage of the life of the automobile all the more exciting.

Read the full report published in Wallpaper* here 

Design Talks | The Textile Building | 29a Chatham Place | London | E9 6FJ | UK
Design Talks is published by Spinach Design
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