By Lucretia McCarthy
This week sees the annual London Design Festival, a seven day celebration of London as the design capital of the world and a gateway to the international creative community. Throughout the week the festival takes over 7 ‘design districts’ with a range of fairs, exhibitions and talks across the capital. I went exploring to see what we could learn from the great and the good of our peers, taking in JRA’s stomping ground Bankside and the first London Biennale at Somerset House.
The buzz of the festival is palpable, and the theme that struck me across the board was the introduction and importance of places to gather. Not restaurants, bars or parks, but informal places, set inside and out to allow for contemplation and engagement with others. This was apparent in interventions to public realm, like that of Camille Walala who has transformed a crossing with her un-ignorable trademark prints (Southwark Street, SE1) and All for Love who’ve brought typography to life with an installation on Price Street. Both works are situated in the ‘gaps in between’, encouraging passers-by to pause in ordinarily unoccupied – or uninteresting spaces, whilst creating conversation pieces to forge connection between existing architecture and the passers-by themselves.
These spaces to gather were also presented strikingly by a number of countries at the Biennale under the year’s theme of Utopia by Design. Utopia is defined as ‘an imagined place or state of things in which everything is perfect’, a term coined by Thomas More 500 years ago in his book of the same name which describes a fictional island society. Perhaps the most effective example was from Pakistan’s Coalesce Design Studio who created a playful world to encourage people to converse and share ideas free from anxiety using Lattoo Stools, hand drawn artworks and screen prints in natural henna. Similarly, Albanian Institute New York and artist Helidon Xhixha created ‘Bliss’, a concentric arrangement of mirrored columns and benches, positioned to facilitate democratic exchanges and reflection. Both point to the need in society to connect both spaces and people, providing opportunities to interact freely.
This is an idea that has become a top priority more recently in commercial design for most businesses. The increase in co-working spaces and the demand for public realm to create connections between buildings has highlighted the need for spaces for chance encounters in order to produce satisfied staff and innovative ideas. It is heartening to see real world examples taking the building blocks of utopian thinking and creating microcosms which facilitate a sense of community and exchange.
However, we must question if spaces allowing for contemplation and interaction are the stuff of Utopia, or if they are actually a necessity in the here and now? Exploring the London Design Festival is a good place to start the conversation…
The London Festival Design Festival 2016 runs from 17-25th September. Throughout the week JRA will be exploring key themes raised by the material in the exhibitions.