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Barbara Chandler

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3 posts from May 2011


Looking forward to the future: London Design Festival and more

London design festival logo My next big excitement was a preview at the V&A of the forthcoming September London Design Festival. For the third year, the museum will be the festival’s “hub”. 

The festival – which will run from 17 to 25 September - will be "the largest and most significant yet," say the organisers, chairman and founder Sir John Sorrell, and director Ben Evans, who were there to start the ball rolling. There will be more than 250 events presented by around 180 partners.
We’ll see a huge doorway of whirling wood pieces in front of the museum, designed by architect Amanda Levete. And the Bouroullec Borthers – those clever young(ish) French designers who have a certain celebrity status in the design world – will fill the huge Raphael room with a 30 metre carpet-cum-lounger, angled and  padded with foam so we can all stretch out and admire the original artwork (the “cartoons”) for the stunning tapestries of the Sistine Chapel. “

It’s going to be a key place to hang-out," says festival director Ben Evans (who is married to Amanda Levete) – adding "I for one can't wait to lie down."

I hope the Gallery is easier to find by then – I tried and nearly gave up, as all ways of approach are currently sealed, apart from a rather tortuous access from the second floor of the British Galleries.

Londoners will get another fresh perspective at St Paul’s, where architect John Pawson will install a “meniscus” at the bottom of the usually shut-off Geometric Staircase in the South West Tower. This is a curved mirror, he told me, which will give you a wide view of the dome above.  Sadly the staircase itself will still be out of bounds.
RCA tutor Daniel Charny has made quite a name for himself as an exhibition curator, working with the Design Museum and the Aram Gallery. Now comes the big one. Power of Making, which opens ahead of the festival at the V&A on 6 September, celebrates “the ongoing importance of making and skills in our lives.”

The word eclectic could have been invented for this rich show, which is a collaboration with the Crafts Council. It will be "a true cabinet of beautifully-crafted curiosities," promises Charny. They will range from a length of dry stone-walling at the entrance to a Makerbot 3D printer at the exit. Also expect to meet a huge gorilla of coat hangers and a life-size crochet bear. Daniel said: “I’m celebrating time-honoured ways of making things, of course, but also highlighting the extraordinary innovation taking place all around the world."
Emamoke Ukeleghe London Design Festival I first met Emamoke Ukeleghe (left) at 100% Futures a couple of years ago. This talented RCA-trained textile designer – so charming and enthusiastic - is now project coordinator of the African and African-Caribbean Design Diaspora (AACDD), which will celebrate black creativity throughout September and October all across London.

Taking part will be AACDD members who live and work in the UK, along with artists and artisans from Africa and the Caribbean. The big news is RCA Black, to run at the college from 31 August to 6 September, and then at the Bargehouse Gallery from 9 to 25 September. It will do what it says on the label – celebrate past and present RCA artists and designers of African and African-Caribbean descent.
I’ve also been out to ExCel for KBB – basically a kitchen and bathroom show for the trade but with bedrooms as the third “B”. I was part of a panel – with Ercol, The Conran Shop, Savoir Beds and designer Shaun Clarkson) discussing “dream bedrooms”, chaired with great charm by TV presenter Naomi Cleaver, whose book The Joy of Home (Conran Octopus), is not only the most useful of the ten or so tomes I’ve been sent recently, but also full of warmth, inspiration and conviction. 

At the show was a fascinating “innovations” feature, sporting hobs and ovens that work out your cooking at the touch of a panel (“ditch the switch” as one slogan said”). I also bumped into designer friend Rock Galpin, whose ideas on an imaginative “concept” stand were truly dreamy: all-white visions for a bathroom of the future. I desperately want the shower that delivers water jets and steam as you revolve on a turntable, and dries you off with hot air. But it’s not actually working yet. That’s the future for you.
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Cities of Tomorrow: architects take over shop window displays on Regent Street

Regent St Levis installation The RIBA has currently infiltrated Regent Street, with ten shop windows designed by architects – they’ll be on until the end of the month. The theme is Cities of Tomorrow, but it’s interpreted fairly widely – well, loosely you could say. There lots of metallic surface, from a revolving sculpture with angled shapes (no two are the same) to a single sheet of aluminium as an avant-garde display unit.

I went to meet the perpetrators at an evening launch and walked along from Oxford Circus, enjoying the twin thrill of grand buildings and top brands. Passing the Levi’s store, I saw a huge blue circular denim tower, tapering off at the top, `which was actually made of jeans. This turned out to be the most spectacular of the installations, created by architect Ian McChesney, who is known for his outdoor sculptures.  His project highlights Levi’s introduction of the “WaterLess jean” which cuts the amount of water used to process the world’s most popular item of clothing by at least 28 per cent, and up to 98 per cent for some new lines.
I met Ian a little later. He said he’d been inspired by the vortex created by a whirlpool, and mimicked its shape with a fabric “former” over which were stretched around 100 pairs of jeans, forming a sequence of elegant V shapes. They were riveted together, and then the underlying structure taken away. Magically the intriguing cut-away shape remains, taut and upright, to hover just above floor level, “Using jeans as a building material presented some technical challenges, but we had a lot of fun with it.”
Marks Barfield installation at Gant It was a privilege to meet Julia Barfield of Marks Barfield, the architects who created the Millennium Wheel, as this popular London landmark features in so many of the photographs that will be my book, Love London, to be published later this summer. Julia and her team have planted the windows of Gant with birch trees and mirrors, in a lyrical plea for a greening of the city.
Ladybird detail at National Geographic Also good value are architects John Pegg and Paula Craft (who are married). They colonised the window of the National Geographic store with elegant stacks of old magazines, lots of cardboard tubes and a small-scale vertical “green wall”, made from “Woolly Pockets”. This is a brill idea from the States which I first saw at Chelsea last year.  It makes it easy to have a vertical small-scale green wall at home, inside or out, and it’s made from recycled plastic bottles (

“All cities are, of course, manmade habitats,” say Paula and John.  “And their survival will depend on us cutting back our insatiable demands on resources, and balancing our consumption with recycling.” It’s well worth popping inside the store to see their installation from the inside, where it reveals all kinds of details, from a simple bid to turn off the lights, to a fragment of a Wordsworth poem (the beautiful one from Westminster Bridge), a tiny suspended globe and a toy ladybird. Enchanting.

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Grand Designs is a cracking good show this year

Longform Library by Thomas Mills I managed to get there on its Saturday opening day – despite those sneaky weekend track closures on the District Line which can snare the unwary. The show looked crisp and clean thanks to brightly coloured carpet, a clear layout and good lighting.

Kevin McCloud’s Green Heroes feature has become my favourite part of the show. With characteristic energy and enthusiasm, Britain's most charismatic eco-warrior tracks down products that currently cut the eco mustard. It's always an eclectic and very personal mix. “I keep a list in my phone or a note of who I meet,” Kevin said. “It’s great to see the exhibit taking shape. The focus is on brilliant people not yet in the public eye – but who really deserve to be.”

Leading the style stakes is Anna Bullus with her bright pink (but very “green”) Gumdrop bin to collect all that chewing gum which would otherwise stain the pavements. I first met Anna (fresh from Brighton Art College) at Young Designers in Islington a few summers back. Her idea goes much further than a bin. She has spent over four months in a chemistry lab developing a new plastic polymer for recycled chewing gum to use in commercial moulding processes.

Also appealing – romantic even – is furniture by Sebastian Cox, who uses coppiced hazel. This is the wood that very vigorously reappears after trees have been cut to the ground – shoots can grow at a rate of 30cm a week, it seems. Sebastian’s chairs have the honest simplicity of Arts & Crafts furniture, but are more elegant, slender and delicate.

And I loved the Once a Door Chair by Claire Heather Danthos, who holds together off-cuts from timber doors and window frames with steel cables, to make an undulating chair/lounger.

Suitcases used as bedside tableTechy new materials include a “carbon negative” cement that absorbs CO2 during manufacture (by contrast traditional cement production accounts for 5% of CO2 emissions worldwide). There is also a new wood-plastic composite made from sticky label waste, and a wind turbine that fits in a chimney pot. Alongside all Kevin’s products is breezy text explaining his choices in very much his own words – you can almost see/hear him on the screen.

I love the Philips Light My Home feature, clearly divided into rooms and showing off all the latest clever lighting tricks, with fittings and controls to demonstrate. LEDs are where it’s at – clever little light bulbs that last – well, probably as long as I will.

The House of the Future has an amazing stone clad kitchen that looks like a sleek long box until buttons are pressed – and up comes the oven, out glides the hob, and even a huge TV hovers into view.

But vastly more seductive was the round and slightly rolling (rocking at any rate) Longform Library (pictured, above right) by Thomas Mills, a Manchester lad who graduated from the city’s Metropolitan University last summer with a degree in 3D Design. Since then he’s been a designer-maker, with his own well-equipped workshop in the middle of Manchester ( Apparently, in internet-speak, “long form” means books and films that take more time to access than instant “short form” which is emails and texts. But although rooted in traditional reading, the designer was inspired by the Kubrick film 2001; and a futuristic touch is the lights which dim as the day changes into night.

Four lavish room-settings were designed by my friend Naomi Cleaver, each inspired by an “iconic” piece of furniture, with colour schemes by Dulux. I loved the pile-up of suitcases used as a bedside table (pictured, above left).

Evening view towards docklands I’ll be back at Grand Designs Live on Sunday (the last day) for a talk I’m giving on eco-textiles. I’m still collecting lots of bright recycling and sewing ideas from my designer friends, who are supplying ample inspiration. Christina Moore has sent pictures of the patchwork curtains at the lovely Prince’s House she created at the Ideal Home show, and Camira are sending samples of their stinging nettle fabrics. Come and have a look/listen if you’re around (granddesignslive,com).

Coming back was a big thrill as I got a seat at the front of one of those whizzy DLR trains – they don’t have drivers and the evening view into docklands was pure magic (pictured, right).
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