People were clamoring to honor Zaha Hadid during this year’s London Design Festival. Her Urban Nebula installation of jagged concrete modules sat in front of the South Bank Centre beside the Thames, her Aqua table was rendered in marble for furniture company Established and Sons, and London’s mayor Ken Livingstone awarded her the inaugural London Design Medal at the event’s opening.
The fifth annual London Design Festival, which also incorporates the longstanding tradeshow 100% Design, was—like Hadid herself—an intriguing mix of hard commerce and entertaining experimentation. The polished concrete wall commissioned by the festival organizers as part of the project Size + Matter aimed to blur the boundaries between architecture, design, engineering, and sculpture by partnering Hadid and Future Systems’ Amanda Levete with manufacturers of precast concrete and Corian, respectively, to create installations to be auctioned off by Phillips de Pury & Co. When asked to make a sales pitch for the installation during a series of talks hosted by Blueprint, Hadid expressed a desire to make her work accessible.
You might be forgiven for thinking there weren’t any other designers in the city, but not everything was Zaha-related. Tom Dixon demonstrated deft skills in public relations and reaching the public with his Glowb giveaway, in which 1,000 Dixon-designed energy efficient lightbulbs were given away on a first come, first served basis. His site-specific chandelier, a suspended carpet of his “Blow” bulbs, was the flame to crowds of mothlike customers swarming Trafalgar Square during the festival’s opening days.
The first Tent London product design show, set up by 100% Design founders Ian Rudge and Jimmy MacDonald, was staged in the former Truman Brewery building in East London. Rather than products, the highlight here was the Urbantine Project, an open competition aimed at budding architecture and design practices to design and construct a temporary pavilion that responds to the need for flexible workspaces. The winner, architect Alex Haw, built an concertina-like system of interlocking plywood panels to form a sequence of work/leisure spaces.
It was clear that the thriving and affluent commercial design scene and the designers/ makers still emerging remain disparate entities. Unlike in Milan, where the furniture show has roots in the city’s manufacturing industry and retains an affinity with the production process, it was evident this year that the lack of a coherent focus in London is what gives the festival its character. The charm lies in finding the oddities and individual highlights.