Discussions on smart cities tend to miss the cultural side – the various social landscapes, which is why these designs by Royal College of Art Intelligent Mobility students – asked to imagine a taxi in a speculative megacity of 2040 – are worth looking into. A couple offer some sophisticated critical design thinking too with ideas that may have seemed impossible dreams before the pandemic made all things impossible possible. Take a closer look here
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.
‘A Place for All People’ begins in July of 1971. Narrated by Richard Rogers, it is a passionate tale of a young British architect and his friend and colleague Renzo Piano, and their sheer surprise at winning the Centre Pompidou competition with their brilliantly left-field entry which had at its heart Rogers’ philosophy of adaptability, affordability and colour. It lit up and brought cultural life to an otherwise run-down Paris neighbourhood. It also gave Rogers his career break.
Up until then, Rogers had been designing minor residential buildings. He writes of that moment: ‘Ruthie and I dashed around London collecting partners and passports – we had so little work on that people weren’t coming into the office – and made it over to Paris just in time to join the celebration dinner.’
The competition had been to design a cultural centre in this neglected urban area. Rogers and Piano’s flexible structure had at its centre a public piazza. The young architects’ vision wasn’t for a ‘temple for high culture’, but rather a more utopian one. ‘A public space for all people, he writes, ‘a place driven by social and political responsibility.’
‘A Place for All People’ is part autobiography, part cultural manifesto. It is a collage of Rogers’ life, his work and crucially his ideology – his utopian vision to help forge better, fairer societies through architecture and design. He writes ‘architecture is inescapably social and political’. For many who may question this in connection to his more commercial buildings, most notably the Lloyds Building in the City of London, a stark symbol of capitalism, he has this to offer: ‘[it] was designed as a flexible machine for a financial marketplace, but also as a carefully considered expression of those activities, designed both for the user and the enjoyment of the passer-by.’
Born in Florence in 1933 to atheist Italian parents – his father a doctor, his mother a potter – Rogers was exposure to culture, travel, ideas from a young age. The family fled to London and then Surrey just before the war and; his childhood a mix harsh boarding school years, less harsh day school and exploring Europe, mainly Italy before embarking on a career in architecture.
Like him or not – and there are many who form the latter group – Rogers is one of the most interesting living architects of our time. For he is unpredictable both ideologically and stylistically – never being stylised or finding that fixed signature style in the way of other ‘starchitects’ like Frank Gehry.
Study his most famous civic and public buildings: the Pompidou Centre to the Lloyds Building, Madrid Barajas airport and Heathrow Terminal 5. They all make their own bold visual statements yet share very little else. Unlike most architects who profess to being collaborative designers, Rogers work, from the start, has been about collaboration. It is about the wider thinking of his practice. It is more about the building than the architect. It is about responding to its place and the use of space. Perhaps this explains this absence of a signature style.
Throughout the pages of this engaging book, Rogers writes passionately of architecture’s role in shaping society. ‘Architecture creates shelter and transforms the ordinary,’ he writes. ‘Good architecture civilises and humanises, bad architecture brutalises.’ Once a radical thinker, even if his work may no longer reflect that, Rogers remains an idealist and an architect who has left his bold vision on the architectural map.
The creative industries are worth close to £90bn a year to the economy, offering some three million jobs here. It is a ‘serious, big, wealth-earning and reputation-enhancing’ sector, Sir John Sorrell told the Financial Times this weekend. These numbers came back to me as the London Design Festival (16-24 September) kicked off bringing colour and creativity to pockets of this dynamic city.
In its fifteenth year, LDF is expecting some 350,000 visitors. Sorrell founded the festival. He feels London’s advantage over copycat events has always been our rich creative education system which dates back 180 years when the state set up the Government School of Design in Somerset House to improve the quality of design. It is also thanks to an open city, an international city that embraces people of all colour, race and religion – something that became rather clear when, unlike most of the nation, the majority of Londoners found the concept of leaving Europe completely absurd.
Fifteen years on and LDF is bigger, bolder, braver and crucially more inclusive – representing voices from the international community and not only star designers which seemed to be the case in previous years. This year’s festival, which officially began on Saturday and will go on all week, feels more confident. LDF has grown to include Design Frontiers at Somerset House, Landmark projects around the city, Design Junction at King’s Cross and a whole host of pop-ups from Brixton to Clerkenwell and around the city.
Sir John Sorrell seems pleased with the event as he joins our group for a preview walk around the Victoria and Albert Museum. This is traditionally LDF’s main hub where exhibitors are asked to choose a room and create work that responds to the space and collection. For me the V&A exhibits are the most exciting part of LDF, for this unique place is a living museum, constantly evolving to be an expression of my city, its past, its now and its future – and it carries infinite personal memories.
The exhibits are a big mix tackling various themes from sustainability, ageing to materiality. They include Leaf, a bionic chandelier by the V&A’s emerging talent medallist Julian Melchiorri. Here his chandelier explores how biological micro-organisms and materials can convert waste and pollution into valuable resources. Then Scooter for Life by transport designer Paul Priestman addresses ageing and mobility. Whilst Czech glassmaker Petr Stanicky works with the possibilities of materials with two installations – a mesmerising site-specific work offering pixelated vistas of the surrounding V&A in the delicate September light, and a geometric thick glass structure that plays with our sense of perspective. Then, set designer Es Devlin’s High Tide for Carmen takes us on a bit of Alice in Wonderland trip to the making of her scenes for the Georges Bizet’s opera.
A visual treat is Flynn Talbot’s Reflection Room which looks incredible in the Prince Consort Gallery, a vaulted space rarely visited. It is dramatically illuminated on either end by the Australian artist’s trademark blue and orange lighting. He says the blue is symbolic of the ocean and the orange of the vast sunsets and sunrises of his childhood.
While We Wait by Palestinian architects Elias and Yousef Anastas explores the cultural claim of nature and is inspired by the Cremisan Valley between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. The lace-like structure of local stone spirals softly up the Medieval and Renaissance rooms as we are encouraged to enter and take a meditative and reflective moment inside. Form and objects also chart cultural identity and ideas by V&A artist-in-residence Lobna Chowdhary.
Yet my pick of the V&A exhibitions is Transmission by London designer Ross Lovegrove in the incredible Tapestries room. His 21-meter-long flowing installation and free-standing three-dimensional tapestry works are made of tactile Alcantara – the colours offer the exact pigments of the stunning renaissance textiles that surround it. Lovegrove was inspired by the Devonshire Hunting Tapestries on display at the far end of this dark and mysterious room. In a reflective moment, he expresses his longing to explore such non-commercial projects, of taking this installation to other historical locations and to see how it responds and lives on.
Away from the V&A, as part of the Landmarks projects, architect Sam Jacob Studios presents Urban Cabin, the fourth project in the Mini Living research initiative to see how intelligent design can help city life. Sitting on the Southbank behind Oxo Tower, it explores London’s identity and what the city means to its inhabitants. Jacob questions the concept of private home, how we can challenge the existing (possibly outdated) model to be relevant for today and future urban inhabitants living in crowded cities where property is limited and expensive. He proposes a mixed private and shared space explored through food and books. Urban Cabin offers a shared open kitchen to evoke the feeling of street food and markets, and a micro-library, a cross between grand library and the books piled by our bedside. It is brilliantly constructed with opposing materials – precious stone, building foam, expensive timber, cheap wood – stacked sculpturally to create both shelving and exterior structure. Then the communal modular structure is covered in copper mesh to reflect the surrounding city life.
Elsewhere, Stellar Works presented Indigo: A Cultural Iconography at the Design Museum, an installation by design duo Neri&Hu exploring materiality in manufacturing, the craft of making and the associations between old and new and east and west in attitude, form and application.
Finally, at Design Junction Campari offers Campari Creates a stylish floating bar on the canal at Granary Square, King’s Cross to serve classic Campari cocktails and launch La Vita Campari. This lifestyle book is a hybrid of arts and ideas, design history, liquid history and cocktail book, and it was created by Spinach for Campari and authored by me. The book will be available at the barge until the end of the festival.
Ecological packaging material made from seaweed, an instinctive children’s toy-set to promote the imagination, modular clothing that shifts according to shape and desire, and a clock that visualises the present by marking the passing of time, these were just some of the intriguing ideas presented by a team of young creatives in Milan.
This is the annual Lexus Design Awards, an ambitious project for the Milan Salone del Mobile created as a way of nourishing emerging international talent with typically thousands of entries from all over the world. This year the Japanese carmaker took over a former metal factory in the Tortona design district to exhibit projects by the 12 finalists.
The winning project, Agar Plasticity by AMAM, explores sustainable packaging using a gelatinous material made from red marine algae. The young Japanese studio worked with British designer Max Lamb to explore the material. Its flexibility means that it can be used for both cushioning and packaging; it can be ecologically disposed of and won’t harm marine line if it should drift into the sea.
Elsewhere, Myungsik Jan was inspired by the Korean ceremony doljabi when on a child’s first birthday a range of objects are placed in front of the toddler. What they choose is said to reveal their career. DADA is a modern interpretation utilising a range of natural blocks, cylinders and fabrics to also entice the child’s curiosity and imagine their future path.
Shape Shifters by Angelëne offers a new form of textile cutting for adaptable clothing to promote personalisation and reduce consumption and waste. With a masters in material futures from Central Saint Martins, studio founder Angelene Laura Fenuta looks at how modular principles can help create dynamic garments with embedded silhouette versatility.
We were also intrigued by Trace, a project by RCA graduate twins Ayaskan. This is essentially a clock that visualises the present by marking the passing of time through a liquid that changes colour under ultra-violet rays. Conceptualised by the London-based Turkish studio, here a UV light beam rotates around the face of the clock to mark every second, minute and hour, leaving a trace of colour as time sweeps by, then fading back to transparency.
Finally, Plants-Skin by Hiroto Yoshizoe is a moderately permeable ‘intelligent’ flowerpot that is made from coloured mortar coated with hydro-chromic ink. When the surface absorbs water the white ink becomes transparent and colour appears, the gradation revealing the level of moisture, so as to indicate when the plant requires feeding.