Highlights of 2016 London Design Festival

Urban life requires a little creative navigation. We benefit from the vibrancy of the city, and experience its diverse communities. Yet city living is noisy – physically, emotionally, mentally it can be a chaotic cocktail at times. Added to this, with many of us working away from the office desk, our work/life patterns have evolved to be so much less linear than they used to be. Then there is the high price of housing in cities like London which inevitably means shared living for so many, especially the young. A quite spot is thus essential – a space that allows us to gather our thoughts, one that encourages us to connect and helps us to create.

Forests offers exactly this. Asif Khan has envisaged a trio of ‘spaces within spaces’, according to the British architect – pop-up sanctuaries dotted around dense urban settings. They include an interactive workspace to promote creativity, an elevated hideaway to switch off and meditate, and a space designed to meet, make friends, share food. The project for the London Design Festival (17 to 25 September) forms part two of MINI Living, an initiative by the car marque to explore the future of urban life, which began at the Milan design fair earlier this year.

Whereas the Milan installation was a physical example of an innovative shared living concept, in London Khan is exploring the relationship between public and private space through the use of plants, in this case a gorgeously exotic selection by London horticulturist Jin Ahn for mini green jungles in this urban jungle. Khan explains, ‘There is a Japanese phrase shinrin yoku, which literally means forest bathing. It means every sense switches to absorb the forest atmosphere, what you hear, what you smell, even the feeling underfoot.’

Popped up amongst the housing estates and crowded office blocks of Shoreditch, east London, they are a welcome sanctuary, especially on the day of my visit as my guide greets me with news that her mobile phone was snatched en route. It certainly highlights the less tasteful sides of urban life. Yet as we climb into the meditative sanctuary ‘relax’ surrounded by exotic plants and the sound of silence, all our worries seem to wash away. MINI Living will continue is exploration later this year with A/D/O in Brooklyn – a long-term initiative to introduce a diverse programme of resources for creative professionals, including a prototyping studio, in-house accelerator and open workspace.

Elsewhere at LDF one of the main visual highlights is The Smile, a 3.5m high, 4.5m wide and 34m curved tubular structure, its two ends raised high in the sky, outside Chelsea College of Art. Here architect Alison Brooks has worked with engineering firm Arup using hardwood CLT – the engineered timber used by architects as an interesting replacement for steel – to push the limits of timber and explores an alternative material for construction. The installation is on until the 12 October and really worth seeing for the sheer scale and engineering craft.

Every pocket of the city seems to have come alive with LDF. A visit to Clerkenwell London and we were excited to see this innovative concept store champion creativity with a host of pop-up exhibitions, talks and workshops throughout the week. We particularly enjoyed graphic artist Camille Walala’s colourful takeover of the vinyl lounge, a space where incidentally I’ll be participating in a talk on our latest book The Life Negroni next month.

Over at the LDF hub at the V&A there are a number of exciting site-specific projects too. Foil is an immersive installation by British designer Benjamin Hubert of Layer in the Tapestry galleries – a room that seems to respond so well to contemporary conceptual design projects. Created for the German electronics brand Braun, and as a nod its famous shavers, Foil is made of 50,000 hand made metallic panels that dance slowly creating a sort of wave motion whilst LEDs splash small blades onto the rooms walls and corners for an incredibly hypnotic effect.

Other highlights include Elytra, a growing shelter in the V&A courtyard by the University of Stuttgart as part of the museum’s engineering season. Inspired by beetles, the robot housed inside this intriguing structure creates new components as it responds to our presence thus exploring possible futures for architecture. Whilst Beloved, by Istanbul-based architect Tabanlioglu, is a seductive introduction to Madonna in a Fur Coat. Here on the bridge of the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries we peak through tiny cracks in the 13-meter long mirrored black box to glimpse and hear teasing moments from the classic 1943 novel by Sabahattin Ali.

I always enjoy the V&A exhibits for they represent how contemporary creative work can interact with the treasures in this amazing space. The building holds a very special place for me too for it has been my urban sanctuary since childhood when I first stepped inside and was seduced by the incredible collection, seeing the power of art, of craft, of design, of creativity to help shape the world.

Nargess Banks


Read our previous reviews of London Design Festival here.

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Mobility examined at Milan Design Week

Up until a few years ago the automotive world came to Salone del Mobile Milano as spectators. The week is dedicated to product and industrial design; the venue acts as a platform for discourse on design and speculative debate. It isn’t meant to be a stage for showcasing new cars.

With more and more car companies participating now, what is the right way, the correct etiquette, when it comes to exhibiting in Milan? Unveiling a car is definitely not the right approach, and designing objects that directly reference the cars also lacks imagination.

Instead, the concentration of designers, architects, artists and critics gathered here from all around the world provides the perfect space for a dialogue on urgent matters namely the state of mobility, and the role of the automobile for future generations.

This year BMW, MINI, Lexus, Mazda, Hyundai and Ford exhibited in Milan, and how they chose to be seen by the wider creative world speaks volumes.

Ford played it safe, showing a range of products based on its latest GT supercar including a boat, guitar and table football, whilst Mazda took a similar assignment to a higher level examining its underlying design philosophy through non-car objects.

BMW and MINI initiated dialogues on the future of mobility, albeit with varying results. Hyundai looked at how a financial company can connect with the art world by turning spending into a sensory experience, and Lexus opted for a fully conceptual study that took on the universe and the meaning of life.

We start our journey at Mazda. The Hiroshima marque operates under the guidance of Kodo, a design philosophy rooted in old Japan, one that expresses the values of intricate craftsmanship – playing with contrasts and what director of design Ikuo Maeda refers to as Rin (self-restrained dignity) and En (alluring sensuality). Here the marque has worked with a variety of artisans to interpret Kodo through non-car objects (see images above).

Skilled Japanese artisans contribute crafted objects using ancient methods. It is fascinating watching these two objects come to life – the sheer amount of work, the patience and the passion that almost injects life force into these static objects. The lacquerware vase appears to have trickling tears. It is a pure work of art. ‘There is something very spiritual in the way they work,’ admits the design director.

The sofa, coffee table and bicycle are concerned with creative engineering and a more European approach to problem solving. The sofa is elegant and long – so long that it took the European team lead by Kevin Rice some time to find ‘a cow big enough to provide a single sheet of leather’ he jokes. The foam needed to be milled in a way that even the Italian furniture makers responsible found challenging. Underneath, the structure is made of red wood and the natural untreated red from the wood reveals itself on occasion, subtly without show.

These one-off objects are about creative engineering – they celebrate the art of creation, the skill, the journey, the people, the process – so rooted in old Japan.

Next we visit MINI who commissioned Spanish artist and designer Jaime Hayon to examine mobility in Urban Perspectives through the Citysurfer, the company’s foldable electric kick scooter concept (see images above).

Hayon’s Citysurfers are embellished with colour and texture. He explains that coming from the world of art allowed him the mental freedom to explore mobility, in what he says is his accent. He wanted to ‘create something more inspirational in terms of graphics and colour; give the object a more fantastical look’.

And they certainly look so, especially in Hayon’s ‘urban jungle’ – a cityscape of bold colours and shapes, of streets made of thick slabs of white marble, dots to direct the flow of traffic, giant copper street lamps, oversized helmets.

BMW has also used the occasion of Milan to address driving patterns in the future, albeit in a more quite manner. Here Zurich-based designer Alfredo Häberli re-evaluates future mobility in Spheres Precision & Poetry in Motion at a highly conceptual level (see images above).

Häberli believes ‘silence, space and time’ are what will constitute luxury in the future – that luxury is beyond the material dimension. His journey begins with childhood memories, sketches and formal studies. It ends with a large-scale model, a wonderfully dinosaurian 10-meter teak sculpture that resembles the skeleton of an old ship discovered at the very bottom of the ocean.

This isn’t about finding an appropriate form – instead the designer has created an associative world that lends new meaning to the luxury of mobility.

Häberli has looked at architecture, urban planning – roads expand into the skies, they wiggle around one another with no clear direction, the journey itself becoming the focus. Cities are built on sea, in the skies – it is a world of movies such as Gattaca and Fifth Element.

Karim Habib, head of BMW design, explains the project. ‘For Alfredo mobility in the future is beyond cars, beyond aeroplanes. He has visions of how cities can be. It is more about flying, coasting, gliding,’ he says as he directs me to a white abstract vessel that is a boat, a glider, a spaceship rolled in one.

The wall displays sketches and drawings, a moodboard of Häberli’s visions for the cities of the future. Habib says, ‘the idea of flying cars has been present for so long, there is something beautiful and positive about it.’

He notes such projects will impact on BMW on an abstract level. ‘It feeds into the act of automated driving. You see for a brand that has been associated with driving, what are the challenges and equally opportunities?’

Here roads are three-dimensional, and the vessels are not about dynamic driving but enjoying the experience from A to B, and the silence makes driving more like gliding – the experience is like a sailboat.

Autonomous cars can free the driver to take to the wheel only when they want– when it is a pleasurable experience. ‘Our job as designers is to create an environment for when you’re not driving,’ says Habib before adding with a genuine smile, ‘I’m super happy to be working in a time when we can do all this.’

The Milan automotive journey ends at Lexus where we embark on an exciting sensory experience that involves design and food. The theme in A Journey of Senses is the cycle of life – rain drops, nature, and earth – delicately directed by designer Philippe Nigro‘s latticework cocoons and Japanese chef Hajime Yoneda’s experimental tasters (see images above).

The theme here is the Lexus ‘inside-out’ design philosophy whereby driver experience is placed at the centre, and we are very much lead by chef Yoneda’s vision that challenges us to enjoy rain, love nature and be grounded by returning to the beginning of life.

We consume ‘raindrops’ made out of sparkling candy, that tickle and crackle releasing a refreshing sensation as we watch the illusion of falling rain in a darkened room. We experience nature inside out, as we stumble into a space much like the inside of a giant tree trunk, pop a ball of cacao butter wrapping, the aroma of fresh, verdant greenery washing over our senses.

Our journey concludes in the beginning of life where we are enjoy a bowl of delicious ‘earth soup’ composed of the essence of vegetables, meat and fish whilst taking in the universe with its twinkling stars in the peace of darkness.

Nigro calls it a ‘playground for adults’ where contrasting material and textures, metallic mesh, soft transparent fabrics, blond untreated wood – ‘surprise the visitor’. Crucially, he notes, his modular structure will be dismantled at the end of the week and used for other purposes.

Yoneda says he has created a space that will calm the nerves, a concept that is fundamental to the car of the future. ‘Joy has to be in everything we design and experience’ and this, he says, ‘is to return to the beginning to earth.’

There is a growing concern that Milan is turning into a marketing operation with too many straightforward product launches. The main fairground at Rho certainly feels so. With designers Jasper Morrison nicknaming it ‘Salone del Marketing’, and Hella Jongerius launching her ‘Beyond the New’ manifesto attacking it for being a ‘cornucopia of pointless products and commercial hype’, it seems that all within the design community at large need to carefully examine their exhibits at Milan.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Read our report in Wallpaper* Modern mobility, Salone drives a new definition of car creativity.

Read our previous Milano Salone del Mobile reports here.

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Colour One for Mini at Milan

Colour One is the work of Dutch design duo Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings of Scholten & Baijings, created for Salone del Mobile 2012. It aims to explore the design of the Mini One, the marque’s base model, by dissecting the car – examining its composition. It draws on the familiar stylistic devices of Scholten & Baijings who deal mainly with colour and material.

Working with the Mini design team, the Dutch duo almost peeled the car, removing layers for a closer look at the individual components, adding colour and texture to the stripped parts.

The result is quite intriguing as these so called ‘art parts’ – components that were extracted as a whole – take on a very different personality once removed from the car.

The transparent tyres, for instance, in their deconstructed form are made of cast resin produced in cooperation with industrial designer and polyester specialist Vincent de Rijk. Or the seats and seatbelts have been lined with specially developed fabrics and recall the brand’s rally heritage.

The doors have been taken out and are displayed separately from the car with three-dimensional golden textures or a matt porcelain paint finish developed jointly with Mini.

Colour One was exhibited at Milan as part of the Interni Legacy exhibition at the University of Milan. See our report from last year here. Also read our reports on Salone del Mobile 2011.

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Milan Show: Mutant Architecture & Design

Installations by Zaha Hadid Architects, Ingo Maurer, Mini and other world architects and designers decorate the gardens of the Università degli Studi di Milano. On this dazzling spring day their presence visually contrasting with the crumbling beauty of this magnificent sixteenth-century state university building in Milan.

Initiated by design magazine Interni, Mutant Architecture & Design proposes an exploration of the notion of mutant in architecture and design in the context of this space.

The responses have varied from innovative and avant-garde to playful – a giant, somewhat intrusive blue mesh ball named Plasteroid by Jacopo Foggini, to Carlo Colombo’s Green Tower, a large white space housing a tropical garden that creeps up the internal walls. University students lounge in the deck chairs soaking in the northern Italian April sun.

In the peaceful Cortile d’Onore, architect Hadid’s project Twirl is a modern interpretation of the architecture of this courtyard, translated and transformed from rigid Cartesian geometries into the linear fluidity of dynamic space.

The large-scale installation for Artemide almost melts into its surroundings by adapting the natural contours of the courtyard. It emphasises the slopes of the arches, creating a powerful vortex of special distortion that ultimately hopes to create a dialogue with its surroundings of five centuries ago.

Hadid worked closely with Lea Ceramiche, the producer of floor and wall ceramics; manipulating its flexible Slimtech laminated stoneware. Seen from various angles, especially from above, Twirl is quite a spectacle.

At the entrance of the main square carmaker Mini’s Sintesi is another impressive installation, albeit with a completely different purpose. The idea behind this playful sculpture is to capture the evolution of the iconic car, turned brand, through contour lines of various profiles – from its birth as a tiny car in the sixties to its twentieth-century recarnation, and projecting into the future with its twenty-first propositions.

The contours of the classic Mini, framed by the silhouettes of the Hatch, Clubman, Countryman and the most recent arrival Coupe Concept represent the centre point of the installation.

The structure references a fundamental design principle of the Mini family: that all family members emerge from the same core and share the same genes, yet also display some very different and individual characteristics. Therefore the overall form of the installation changes as you move around it, encouraging the visitor to view it from various angles.

The marque’s creative director Anders Warming explains that although Mini is no longer the original micro car, its identity is still of a car that is as small as it can be relevant for its time and purpose.

‘First the theme mutant architecture threw me off a little bit as the word had a negative ring – it has an association with deteriorating,’ says the German designer. ‘But then I got out the dictionary and found out the actual verb is a good enough word, the word is holistic enough.’

The name Sintesi, synthesis, represents the positive side of the word mutant, he explains. He wanted the sculpture to conveys a positive message about mobility. ‘We take peoples’ fears away of ruining the environment just by the positive nature of the product,’ he says.

‘We’re talking about something that is supposed to transfer into the future,’ says Warming, ‘and I believe that’s our job in Mini design is not to constrain ourselves but also not to break with the past. The famous word for Mini is from the original to the original and if it is mutating along the way or continuing, authentic.’ In this context Sintesi works perfectly.

Mutant Architecture and Design was exhibited as part of Salone Internazionale del Mobile, a yearly event held at various venues around Milan from 12-17 April.

Read our other coverage from the show Sestoseno and RCA Intent.

Nargess Shahmanesh Banks

Design Talks | 5 – 25 Scrutton Street | Old Street | Shoreditch | London | EC2A 4HJ?W | UK | www.d-talks.com | Bookshop www.d-talks.com/bookshop | Published by Banksthomas

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