Amid the bleeding-edge eco materials and alien forms of the homewares on show at next week’s London Design Festival, interpretations of classics take centre stage. One event focuses entirely on the humble chair. Elsewhere a return to postmodernism is in evidence, that maligned movement of late 20th-century design, as Edwin Heathcote, the FT’s architecture critic, writes here.
From September 14-22 more than 300 events will take place across the capital. This is the 17th edition, and promises to be even larger than last year, which attracted nearly 600,000 visitors from 75 countries. The festival offers a dizzying array of architectural installations, talks, trade fairs, general fairs, new collections, strange smells — and even a little house for bees. Here is the FT’s selection of the best.
Lunar house by Bohinc Studio
As you may have heard, man landed on the moon 50 years ago. Bohinc Studio, led by Slovenian designer Lara Bohinc, has created the Lunar House “sensory experience” in honour of the anniversary and the big rock in the sky. She has taken over a Victorian townhouse in the King’s Cross design district, and her installation includes the new Jupiter vase and Juno box, the existing Planeteria collection of psychedelic 1960s sci-fi furniture — and an astrologist. The walls and floors will be painted a dark petrol blue “like the cosmos itself”, according to organisers. Open by appointment from September 16 to 21.
Emily Forgot at citizenM
Artist-designer Emily Forgot invents fantasy architectural spaces and compresses them into two dimensions. Her usual format of small wooden collage-sculptures is scaled up for 2019 in three dimensions by the citizenM hotel in Shoreditch, with a participatory installation called“Never Lost”.
Forgot’s strange, Escher-esque designs take the form of a maze — “one of the most surreal built structures” — that visitors can enter and lose themselves in. A soundtrack is provided by Erased Tapes’ CitizenM collaboration, Music for Brainwaves, with tones designed to alleviate anxiety and insomnia among visitors.
Nothing to see here. In response to our endless need for stuff (design events included), a “Non-Pavilion” is on show in the Sackler courtyard of the V&A museum, the festival’s hub.
Designers from Studio MiCat, There Project and Proud Studio conceived the project in response to the idea of “de-growth” — a movement that aims to shrink the economy in order to address climate change.
The courtyard pavilions were in previous years, large, bulky and spectacular, but Non-Pavilion draws on the simplicity of Swiss baugespann — “ghost buildings” consisting of poles that help the public envision proposed developments.
Six virtual-reality events will take place between the poles, including one by artist Arne Hendriks that will speculate on the consequences of downsizing humans to a height of 50cm.
Robin Hood Gardens, Do Ho Suh
Described by its architects Alison and Peter Smithson as “a new mode of urban organisation”, Robin Hood Gardens was a residential estate built in the late 1960s and an important example of both brutalism and social housing. Despite one of the biggest campaigns in architectural preservation, listed status was turned down and demolition began in 2017 to make way for a new development.
The V&A acquired fragments of the building, including the exterior façade and interiors of two flats. It also commissioned South Korean artist Do Ho Suh to commemorate the building with this film, to be screened during the festival. Suh uses time-lapse photography, drone footage and 3D scanning to pan the building, exploring the “energy, history, life and memory that has accumulated there”.
Marie Neurath: Picturing Science, House of Illustration
It is lower-tech than virtual reality pavilions and immersive mazes, but this look at midcentury graphic design and illustration for children is worth your time. House of Illustration, located in Granary Square near the Design Junction exhibits, is showing work by designer and educator Marie Neurath.
Working from the 1940s to the 1970s under the name Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education), Neurath led a team of scientists, artists and writers who revolutionised science communication and education by presenting complicated concepts through simple, easy-to-read infographics.
As part of London Design Festival — and Insiders/Outsiders, a nationwide festival celebrating refugees from Nazi Europe and their contributions to British culture — the gallery will hold a study day with talks and workshops on Neurath and her contemporaries on September 16. Topics include illustrated histories, leaflets and teaching writing as pattern.
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London Design Fair presents Biomaterials
The third edition of the festival’s Material of the Year exhibit takes on the waste produced by agriculture — including potatoes, palm leaves, corn husks and tobacco.
These byproducts have been converted into useful and aesthetically pleasing objects by four designers. One material, created by Rowan Minkley and Rob Nicoll, is “Chip[s] Board”, a biodegradable MDF substitute created from waste from McCain, the world’s largest manufacturer of frozen potato products.
Minkley and Nicoll have also created Parblex Plastics: translucent bioplastics that can be used in fashion and interior design. Their work also includes a collaboration with Cubitts eyewear.
At the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea is an exhibition dedicated to Italian design, curated by Giulio Cappellini, who over a 40-year career nurtured talents including Tom Dixon and Jasper Morrison.
In the same gallery, “Take a Seat”, also curated by Cappellini, is a satellite exhibition that focuses on the history of “the humble chair”, scrutinising its form and function (although I suspect you will not actually be permitted to take a seat). Exhibitors include Ceccotti Collezioni, Depadova, Driade, Flexform Furniture, Giorgetti, MDF Italia and Molteni & C. A partnership with ecommerce site Artemest means that many of the pieces featured will be available to buy.
Void by Dan Tobin Smith and the Experience Machine
Tobin Smith is a photographer, but this installation goes beyond the usual two dimensions.
Void is a multisensory installation in Islington’s Collins Music Hall. Mozambican rubies and Zambian emeralds, provided by ethical stone supplier Gemfields, have been photographed in extreme close-up. The abstract images are reproduced on a large scale so they are no longer recognisable.
An “electronic drone choir” called NYX will supply a soundtrack at performances throughout the week, and on Tuesday Tobin Smith will be in conversation with jewellery specialist Joanna Hardy.
Lucy Watson is the FT’s interiors editor
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