The London Design Festival 2010

Barbara Chandler guides you through thrilling developments for the future and traditional artists who are reinventing their craft at the London Design Festival's 200-plus events

Grand designs that will light up the capital

Starting on Saturday September 18, 2010, and cropping up all over the capital, the eighth London Design Festival is an in-your-face explosion of exhibitions, happenings, launches, talks, workshops and more.

For sheer showmanship, see the eight giant robots in Trafalgar Square that trace around-the-clock "light messages" coming in by email and text, and then flash them up on giant screens.

'The festival celebrates the new technology and materials that are redesigning our daily lives'

On the South Bank, a slender but substantial buckled brass disc is quietly accruing copper pennies on its magnetised surface. Larger-than-life luminescent chairs and lamps hover at the front of the Geffrye Museum, visible from any bus, and in the gardens of the V&A, reflected in the elliptic pool, are shiny steel discs inflated into random shapes by water and air.

So what's all that about? This flamboyant, theatrical side of the festival celebrates the new technology and materials that are redesigning our daily lives. Those robots come from an Audi factory and are the latest in digitally controlled production.

Bambi chair
Bambi chair, £2,200 from the Chair Project, at Mint, SW3 (
"They look like science fiction but are common in high-tech factories," say the installation impresarios, German/Swedish designers Weisshaar and Kram. Their antics embody groundbreaking design by a host of scientists. Book your slot for message posting on outrace. org. That brass sculpture (by Paul Cocksedge) more gently pushes materials to their limits, and the chairs and lamps feature fabric patterned by fibre optics.

Setting the trend

London was the first city to have a "design festival", in 2003, and more than 70 cities have now copied us - Beijing is the latest. Our 2010 festival has "the most exciting designs anywhere in the world", says Mayor Boris Johnson. Sir John Sorrell, the festival's founder, lauds London as "the world's design capital".

Get out there and judge for yourself. Join more than 300,000 visitors, from more than 50 countries. The dates are September 18 to 26, 2010. Visit

Cutting-edge design

The festival launches the newest furnishings, equipment and decoration. Much merchandise will never hit the high street because the designers sell direct, and subsequently retreat to studios/workshops but it's fun to know who made what, how, when and why.

This year's festival celebrates design is in its broadest sense, from products, technology and materials to craft, innovation, buildings and graphics, with a little softening art, literature and fashion. Events (about 240 of them) range from the frankly bizarre - a "mushroom installation" in South Kensington? - to a serious focus on London's infrastructure at the Royal Academy of Engineering in SW1.

Cristian Zuzunaga's colourful textiles
Spanish Cristian Zuzunaga's colourful textiles for Kvadrat (

Digital technology

Meanwhile, digital technology is seeping inexorably into every nook and cranny of daily life, from cooking controls to iPods and iPads. The festival shows what's happening now and palmreads the future. Digital printing has spawned audacious wall coverings - don't miss the wallpaper girls at 100% Design. Also at 100%, "3D printing" fashions artefacts on the spot - design one from scratch or customise standard versions.

Tent Digital in Brick Lane, E1, presents dazzling computerised and interactive displays that anticipate future design. In the same building is a show called Lab Craft, where technology has been cannibalised by designer-makers.

Handmade, but not as we know it

But the counterpoint to high tech is a UK craft renaissance already enriching our homes. Highly trained and inspired designer-makers and artists are working nationwide to make furniture, ceramics, glass, textiles, lighting and more, as one-offs, or in small batches. They are challenging old concepts of "handmade" with startling new shapes, colours and materials. Don't miss Origin, the "crafttacular" in Spitalfields Market for the first time.

"Pop-up" is a buzz-word meaning here today and gone tomorrow. Here there are hip boutiques in temporary premises selling stuff you won't find again. They are all over the place - but take cash.

Only advances in design and engineering will ultimately solve our environmental problems. Here, disappointingly, the festival does not throw up many radical solutions, apart from some seminars at the Royal Academy of Engineering (

At 100% Design, new surface materials are made from discarded waste, and magical light fittings beam sunlight down into a room for energy-free illumination.

Acne sofa
Acne sofa, £9,500, at Liberty (020 7734 1234)
Students at the RCA have a show called Sustain, where a new generation tackles the problems.

Meanwhile, displays of past classics look amazingly "modern", having stood the test of time. Vitsoe in Duke Street celebrates 50 years of its Dieter Rams shelving system. Aram Store in Covent Garden presents an absorbing show on Tecta, the German company that has made so many icons of the modern movement.

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