Back in 2017 I decided to visit London for a long weekend for my birthday celebrations and inadvertently ended up visiting around the same time as the annual London Design Festival was taking place; this was the first time I had visited the Festival which I found interesting and inspiring; equal but in a different way to Dutch Design Week, despite walking around a bit aimlessly without a proper plan.
In 2018 I decided to visit London again for my birthday but this time for longer and with a proper plan for the Design Festival. I picked out several projects and locations which looked interesting and in reality I didn’t see them all but I saw enough. Here are a number of projects which I found most interesting and inspiring; mostly exploring graphic design, typography, architecture and product design.
Kellenberger-White – Alphabet
One of the Design Festival’s ‘Landmark Projects’ this year was a project by the London-based graphic design studio Kellenberger White (Eva Kellenberger and Sebastian White) whose work often includes bespoke typography, print and digital technologies and craft techniques. For the Design Festival their project, Alphabet, was a human-scale typography/chair design exploration, encouraging users to sit and to play with 26 bespoke colourful metal forms.
Each chair is formed from folded metal with the project being informed by research into Bruno Munari’s 1944 photo series, ‘Seeking Comfort in an Uncomfortable Chair’. Each chair was finished in a different colour and chosen from a specialist industrial metalwork paint, used on famous bridges and structures internationally.
As impressive as these letters where on a typographic and design basis, it was great to see how they could be used by children, playing, creating abstract structures and spelling out words; using the metal forms as play tools.
Pentagram x 14–18 NOW – Dazzle
Pentagram are always prominent at the Design Festival having created each year’s identity and generally having some form of graphic design exhibition. This year they took the Creative Studio at the V&A Museum and filled it with a contemporary, typographic dazzle camouflage.
Dazzle camouflage was a style of pattern painted onto warships and merchant vessels during WWI (a lesser extent during WW2) where the aim was not to become invisible but become hyper-visible. The result was that through the disruptive pattern, enemy submarines and warships were unable to estimate the range, speed and heading of the ship in question. Each ship’s dazzle was also painted differently as to make them unique and so as their class was not recognisable instantly.
I found this exhibition particularly interesting and somewhat nostalgic as I studied the work of Edward Wadsworth, and his dazzle style, in one of the first art lessons I can remember at school. Wadsworth was responsible for supervising the painting of over 2000 ships and created his own artworks on canvas which featured the ships, their environments and crew all in dazzle in an avant-garde Cubist, or more specifically, a Vorticist style.
Pentagram’s iteration at the V&A features traditional disruptive dazzle, black and white stripes but uses typography as the medium to create forms. The words of Suspense, a poem by Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, had been used for the content and were abstracted through dazzle pattern to immerse the viewer in Gibson’s words:
“a contemporary perspective on the poetry of the era”.
Better Bankside x NB Studio – Flags of Bankside
Flags of Bankside was a project initiated by Better Bankside, a non-profit organisation aiming to improve the Bankside district in London, and developed by NB Studio. The Flags of Bankside where 45 physical flags which hung in Borough Market, created by 45 designers of varying styles.
Historically, Bankside was an area of culture and enjoyment being home to theatres, brothels, pubs and gambling dens in the 16th century; a natural home for outsiders, dissenters and free thinkers. Now Bankside, in the Borough of Southwark, is home to many cultural institutions such as Tate Modern, Shakespeare’s Globe and Borough Market as well as many design studios.
NB Studio commissioned 45 designers who were given two weeks to design their flags, under a relatively loose brief. The designers and agencies who took in this project included Alan Kitching, Michael Wolff, Supermundane, Morag Myerscough, Pentagram, Superunion, GBH, Atlas, Koto, Dalton Maag and many more.
The designs of the flags are all interesting and all have their own stories and rational; many pick up on the river and or the buildings which sit upon it. Others explore the use of the typographic initials of BS (including a few bs jokes) and there’s several skull or bones themed flags. This was a really nice and well executed project at the Design Festival; the only thing which marred it was they were all outside, in the rain, wet and stuck together.
After the Festival, the flags were auctioned and sold to raise money for a trio of local community partners picked by Better Bankside.
Place Press – Roberto’s Rio
This exhibition was very similar to something that I witnessed in 2017, at the same place in Bermondsey and in particular the Ground Floor Space: a gallery owned and ran by dn&co. The 2017 exhibition focused on Otl Aicher’s modernist identity for the German town of Isny; this time in 2018 it focused on Roberto Burle Marx and his landscape architecture firm’s work in the public parks and promenades of Rio de Janeiro; in particular how these modernist spaces shaped the city, its culture and its identity. This exhibition was put together by Place Press in collaboration with The Plant Magazine and Studio MAIO.
Roberto Burle Marx, born in Brazil (1909), is accredited with having introduced a modernist landscape architecture to much of Latin America but his greatest impact was in the city of Rio. This exhibition focused on a number of specific public projects in the city such as Aterro do Flamengo Park, which did for Rio what Central Park did for New York, and the modernist Copacabana pavements, which informed a graphic language for the city; the latter I found the most interesting.
The story, process and outcome of the Copacabana pavements were clear to see in the exhibition space through detailed sketches, blue-prints, high quality photographs and 1:1 scale floor graphics; paired with a vibrant colour scheme and an assortment of potted plants. The patterns on Copacabana, I had seen before on TV, (World Cup 2014/Olympics 2016) but being able to see these sketches at a detailed, large scale and then seeing directly related photos of the physical patterns together was fascinating.
I was amazed at the scale of these graphics and how such a precise level of detailed pattern was created just using black and white mosaic floor tiles. The patterned, curved pavement in Rio runs for nearly 3km and contains geometric shapes, waves, stacked blocks and blobs which are a direct inspiration from 1930’s Portugese pavements.
Urban Splash – It Will Never Work
I first discovered the work of Urban Splash in 2015 when a friend and I visited the Park Hill Flats in Sheffield to document the demise of the area, where we saw the re-development work undertaken by Urban Splash. Urban Splash are a British architecture firm known for not following the rules or doing things how they are supposed to be done, hence the title of this exhibition named after something they hear often when discussing their ideas: “It will never work”.
Urban Splash are known for their architecture work across the UK but particularly in the North of England and this exhibition celebrates 25 years of award winning project;
it is “an unplanned trip from Madchester to Brexit via Easyjet and driverless cars, with a quick history of unorthodox thinking and a few buildings along the way”.
Housed in the prestigious RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) HQ in Marylebone, the exhibition filled one of its large display rooms: full of tables containing photographs, descriptions, sketches, publications and ephemera related to their projects. Urban Splash are known for their architecture, re-development and regeneration of buildings and areas particularly in the North of England where cities such as Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds and Newcastle which were once homes to great industries began to decline in the 1990s.
Jason Bruges Studio – Brutal Tapestry
This design piece attracted me for two reasons. Firstly it was at the Barbican Estate, the massive brutalist masterpiece in the City of London and secondly it was by Jason Bruges Studio whom we recently had at VBAT as part of our C-Word Talks series.
Called Brutalist Tapestry, it is a kinetic and interactive, 21 metre, wall installation in the Beech Street Tunnel which runs beneath the Barbican. The ‘tapestry’ is made from programmable panels which act as analogue pixels generating patterns, designs and words to passers-by. The pixels use the existing colour pallet of Beech Street to subvert the tunnel wall and create an alternative narrative for Beech Street. This handmade and analogue technology of the moving pixel is a reference to the bush-hammering process that was used to create the distinctive Barbican Estate concrete textures.
The artwork and installation reflects its surroundings and is drawn from creative content in Culture Mile. Whether imagery, sound or data the artwork translates this into physical marks on the tunnel wall.
For the second time round, the Festival was inspiring and eye-opening; I learnt about many new studios and design methods which I can take into my own practice. Look out for September 2019 when I will no doubt again visit London for my birthday and the Design Festival.