For the last few years I have made the journey from Amsterdam to London for my birthday which falls around the time of the annual London Design Festival; a week long festival which “celebrates and promotes London as the design capital of the world”. 2017 was my first experience and I found it interesting enough to visit in 2018. With 2019 being my third time, it’s safe to say that I caught the LDF bug.
What I find interesting is how LDF have so many events — big and small — across the whole city of London; allowing me, as a visitor, to explore the city through design whilst discovering new designers and further learning about designers I know already. Before visiting the festival I made a list of the places and things I wanted to check out and managed to see almost all of these over the four days I was there. Here is a small selection and some information about some which I found most interesting.
Also, if you wish to read about my experience at LDF in 2017 and 2018 you can find that here.
Chelsea Space – Use Hearing Protection FAC 1–50/40
The work, both design and music, of the Factory Records label is something that holds a special place for me and is a source of constant inspiration. I studied the work of the likes of Peter Saville, Mark Farrow and Ben Kelly while at college and university where I started listening to the likes of A Certain Ratio, OMD and New Order. In July 2017 I travelled to Manchester for the day to visit the True Faith exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery which explored “the ongoing significance and legacy of New Order and Joy Division through the wealth of visual art their music has inspired.” You can read about my experience of this exhibition here.
As such, I am always interested to see new exhibitions about Factory Records whenever they happen, as well as continually digging and buying physical copies of the music in record stores. This exhibition at the Chelsea College of Arts: Use Hearing Protection FAC 1–50/40 celebrates and focuses on the record label’s formative years of 1978–1982 through the first fifty Factory artefacts — Factory Records are known for their discography categorisation in numerical order and using a coded system.
This exhibition is named after the first Factory ‘release’: FAC 1, a poster designed by Peter Saville in May 1978, advertising the first Factory party night at the Russel Club. This poster probably cemented the image of Factory Records for the public as the use of yellow, black, white and this USE HEARING PROTECTION image are synonymous now with the label and the Manchester music scene in the late 1970s/early 80s.
Inside are a number of the lesser-known Factory record sleeves such as Section 25–Always Now (FACT 45 design: Peter Saville), Stockholm Monsters–Fairy Tales (FAC 41 design: Mark Farrow), The Royal Family and the Poor –Art Dream Dominion (FAC 43 design: Trevor Johnson) and Kevin Hewick Ophelia’s Drinking Song (FAC 48 design: Martyn Atkins) which show that Factory Records was not just New Order and Joy Division. However, as you might expect, there is a section dedicated to the infamous Joy Division–Unknown Pleasures (FACT 10 design: Peter Saville) album which goes into detail about the ominous white lines on black.
Something I found interesting as a graphic designer was a piece of paper with scrawled words ZOO MEETS FACTORY HALF-WAY, ADMISSION £2, X-O-DUS, USE YOUR WITS OR USE THE BUS which I then realised was the information given to Peter Saville to design the poster for a festival, essentially the brief. The result being a simple, white serif text on black, perfectly typeset and communicating the information clearly aka FAC 15; it was fascinating to see the before and after.
“We are bored in the city, everybody is bored, there is no longer any temple to the sun… you’ll never see the Haçienda. It doesn’t exist. The Haçienda must be built.”
You can read more about the art and design of Factory Records here.
Pentagram – Uniqlo: The Art and Science of LifeWear
This exhibition at Somerset House was not strictly or officially part of LDF but it was on at the same time so I thought best to check it out. Spanning across 750-square metres, the immersive exhibition was designed as a collaboration between four Pentagram partners: Jon Marshall, Yuri Suzuki, Luke Powell and Jody Hudson-Powell and explores Uniqlo’s innovation in clothing in the fashion industry through its use of smart materials, collaborations with artists, its commitment to sustainability and overall brand aesthetic.
For those who don’t know, Uniqlo is a Japanese apparel retailer established in 1949 and now with 2,068 stores worldwide (10 in London and 1 in Amsterdam).
The Art and Science of LifeWear: New Form Follows Function (the full name of the exhibition) looked specifically at Uniqlo’s popular LifeWear concept from three perspectives: Art, Science and Craftsmanship. Uniqlo don’t just create standard clothing; they produce new, technically advanced clothing at an affordable price which is almost invisible; resulting in a minimal look. Some of the clothing technology which Uniqlo have created and were on show here include:
AIRism: a smart, breathable base layer that releases heat and moisture and adapts to any weather condition.
HEATTECH: Heat-generating clothing, lightweight fabric which creates heat to warm you up and keep you warm.
Ultra Light Down: A form of outerwear with a sleek design crafted with leading technology to retain your body heat without adding bulk.
Each piece of technology was shown through a way in which the viewer was able to understand how it worked i.e. AIRism was a walkable corridor with suspensed pieces of AIRism fabric which you could stretch yourself and Ultra Light Down jackets were suspended with helium balloons showing how ultra light it was.
The exhibition design itself featured many light and tracing paper-like walls — reminiscent of Japanese Shoji architecture — where the exhibition graphics and text was placed onto. This material can be reused, which is an important factor of Uniqlo brand of being sustainable.
Kengo Kuma – Bamboo (竹) Ring: Weaving into Lightness
Kengo Kuma is a Japanese architect and professor at the University of Tokyo and is known for using bamboo in his large-scale architecture work such as the SunnyHills cake shop and upcoming 2020 Olympics National Stadium, both in Tokyo.
For LDF he created a ring structure made from interlaced bamboo and carbon-fibre to show the strength of the material — apparently strong enough to build earthquake-proof buildings — and to show it could be “the material of the future”.
“This is a new materiality that we can try to bring to the city… Both materials are very light, but wood is not resistant enough in an earthquake. By combining it with these carbon fibres we can create a new kind of strength.”
The bamboo ring was placed in the John Madejski Garden at the V&A and sat in the pool of water there with one side raised up to create an arch. The arch was created naturally by pulling the two ends, allowing it to de-form and lift up. Kuma has a background with the V&A having designed the newly opened V&A Dundee design museum in Scotland which he says is “a conversation between nature and artefact”. It’s clear that either through the use of material or form that nature is an important aspect of Kuma’s work.
dn&co – Hey Neighbour!
The Ground Floor Space in Bermondsey, ran by the design studio dn&co, has been one of my highlights during the previous two editions at LDF as the exhibitions here have been very clear what they are about as well as being very clearly graphic design; sometimes at LDF it’s difficult to understand what you are looking at. This year’s Ground Floor Space exhibition Hey Neighbour! features a number of posters designed by 22 design studios who where asked what message they would choose to send to a neighbour.
This is a great question to ask a design studio or anyone in fact. Some people love their neighbours, some people hate them and some have never met one another. Either way, for the duration of you both living in each of your places; you can’t change your neighbour. It also looks at the idea of communication. Gone are the days of popping over to your neighbour’s house to borrow some sugar or milk, instead people would probably now just send a Whatsapp message at 1am telling them to turn the music down.
“Living as neighbours can be difficult, funny, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes dangerous. With 4 billion of us now living in cities, and even more of us online, we have to reconsider what being a neighbour is and find new, imaginative ways to communicate.”
Some of the studios and designers involved in this exhibition include Studio Lowrie, Hey, DIA, Colophon Foundry, Supermundane, OMSE and SPIN. Each of the posters are on sale in editions of 20 and can be purchased from the dn&co webshop for £40 each, with profits being donated to local homeless charity The Manna Society.
Interestingly, the Ground Floor Space gallery has short exhibitions on throughout the year, focusing mainly on graphic design and visual culture.
Paul Cocksedge — Please be Seated
Each year LDF have a couple of ‘landmark projects’ which are usually either large in scale, detail or level of design. Some years there have been three or four but in 2019 there are two. One of which is this project: Please be Seated by Paul Cocksedge , commissioned by British Land* and their most ambitious commissions to date.
Please be Seated is situated in Finsbury Avenue Square in Broadgate — London’s largest pedestrianised neighbourhood — made of three concentric rings of wooden benches which rise and fall like rippling waves. Designed so that there is space for people to sit, lie and relax but also walk through and, pause and find shade.
The wood used for this installation/bench is made from reclaimed scaffolding planks, working with Essex-based high-end interiors company White & White through a six step process to turn the planks from rough to clean including removing nails, precision planing, hand-sanding, smoothed and put in place with invisible joining before being attached to the installation’s steel frame; made from recycled scaffolding poles.
Despite this lengthy and process, this is probably more sustainable than creating something like this from new wood and steel and from looking at it, and sitting on its very smooth and comfortable surface, you would never know it is made from old, no-longer-needed scaffolding pieces which are known for being rough and ready.
“Every single aspect of the installation is tailored to its environment as well as the function it serves… It walks the line between a craft object and a design solution. It occupies the square without blocking it.”
*British Land is a property development and investment company in the UK who create and manage land and places across the country with £16.8bn of assets under management across 23.9m square feet of floor space.
Camille Walala – Walala Lounge
Camille Walala is a bit of a regular now at LDF having been featured in 2017 with a large scale, inflatable labyrinth and in 2016 with a colourful pedestrian crossing. It is clear to see that Walala’s style is inspired by Memphis style art and design of the 1980s through its use of bright colour and repeat, geometric patterns.
For the 2019 edition she created the Walala Lounge on South Molton Street in Central London, placing vibrant and extravagant benches and planters all along the street. She chose to create these benches to add some colour to the street while also being a practical addition as South Molton Street previously had no public seating.
The street surface is filled with her patterns and so is the sky above the street with several flags strung across the width of the street carrying Walala’s patterns and typography.
“I wanted to not only bring some colour to the street but to do something more interactive, more sculptural. I wanted Walala Lounge to be surprising and out there but also comfortable and home-like. And now that the benches are in place, it seems crazy that they weren’t there all along.
Cities can be so grey, it can feel really oppressive sometimes. I want to change how it feels to live in a big city, to inject some colour and light into people’s days,” said Walala. It means so much to me when I can make people smile. That’s how I feel I can have the most impact on the world. To take what I care about and share it with others.
I work very intuitively through any project. From early collaging and notebooks, to playing with materials and objects in space. Even though something might make sense on an architectural drawing or a computer render, it has to feel right in reality. There are practical challenges too, which I love responding to. A certain architectural detail, or like with South Molton, the sense of space along the street.”
You can read about other artists and designers who have been inspired by Memphis art and design here.
LDF returns in 2020 for its 18th edition, running from 12–20 September and I’m sure it will be full of interesting and inspiring design projects.