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From Salone del Mobile to Neocon to the Venice Architecture Biennale, major design events across the world suspended their 2020 editions as COVID-19 forced (and continues to force) international lockdowns and border closures. In London, where the creative economy continues to profoundly shape the urban centre, the organizers of the London Design Festival made the decision (after much consultation with the community) to continue mounting the annual city-wide showcase.

The 18th edition of the London Design Festival officially launched on Saturday September 12th, and runs until the 20th. For those in and around the metropolis, the festival’s must-see IRL events are set to provide a much-needed sense of community after months spent sheltering in place. And, for those unable to make the sojourn, there’s plenty of URL offerings, too, that grapple with a number of pressing issues.

“LDF 2020 will of course be different from any other,” explained chairman Sir John Sorrel and director Ben Evans in a joint statement. “With very little, if any, international travel, it will be a Festival for Londoners with a strong focus on the local.” From neighbourhood installations that emphasize conviviality and virtual exhibitions to the latest design collaborations, here are a few highlights: 

The Hothouse by Studio Weave

Riffing on the long tradition of Victorian glasshouse architecture — from Jospeh Paxton’s Great Conservatory at Chatsworth to the more than 1,300 acres of glazed environments that once inhabited the Lee Valley corridor — local outfit Studio Weave’s Hothouse installation appears like an inhabitable bell jar trimmed in bronze metal frames. To complete the project, practice founder Je Ahn tapped garden designer Tom Massey to conceive a planting scheme of various exotic flora — some even edible — to fill the bulbous structure.

The Houthouse will remain in the International Quarter London (IQL) neighbourhood for the next year, not only facilitating the growth of a wide selection plants but also highlighting our changing relationship with the natural world. 

Unity by Marlene Huissoud

Each year, LDF commissions a number of evocative projects by renowned designers to occupy sites throughout the city. This time around, experimental French designer Marlene Huissoud was invited to create a unique interactive installation at the Coal Drops Yard. Inspired by her previous participatory work as well as the impact of quarantine on community engagement, Huissoud’s work, titled Unity, allows visitors to “breathe” air into the structure via a series of foot pumps encircling the piece. (They are arranged two metres apart to ensure a safe distance). “The installation has an intention to send a message of optimism,” says the festival, “by standing strong together, we have the tools and power to create a better world and change the system.”

Virtual Design Destination by Adorno

The hallmarks of any international design festival are the enticing and provocative exhibitions that offer a critical lens into contemporary creative practice. As the pandemic has made such expansive mountings a liability, digital e-commerce platform Adorno has partnered with LDF to produce an entirely online showcase of curated “Virtual Design Destinations” by some of Europe’s leading design aficionados.

From Finland to France, Sweden to Romania, these intricately rendered exhibitions bring the most innovative work of each nation to the fore while providing a unique environment (some entirely fictional, others a semblance of the natural world) in which to present the objects. Daily guided tours with each curator are also featured as part of the virtual event, including a talk with Spain’s organizer (and Azure contributor) Ana Domínguez Siemens on September 20th.

Connected

Nine designers, three hardwoods, one workshop. That’s how the festival describes one of its most striking and timely commissions for the 18th edition: Connected. Gathering the combined talents of nine luminaries (from Ini Archibong to Sebastian Herkner to Jaime Hayon and more), each was tasked with responding to how the pandemic has transformed their practice by producing a combined table and seat that captures the new requirements for a blended home-office life. In addition, all pieces were hewn from solid maple, red oak and cherry woods in collaboration with the American Hardwood Export Council and Benchmark Furniture.

From Herkner’s pebble-like Stammtisch to Archibong’s emerald green and leather Kadamba Gate, these efforts will be presented virtually during the festivities, to be mounted in larger exhibition this fall at the Design Museum.

Global Design Forum

With an all-star roster of speakers (curator Paola Antonelli, interior designer Ilse Crawford, researcher Neri Oxman, art director Eddie Opara and architect Amanda Levete to name a few), LDF’s Global Design Forum is bringing together some of the sharpest minds shaping design today — all of which you can take in from the comfort of your home. Running until September 17th, the daily panels range from “Good Design for a Better Future” and “Design for Change: Exploring the Future of Work” to the five-part series “The Circular Design Project,” which explores themes of economies, materials, fashion, food and built environments. Registration is free for all talks.

Lead Image: RN lamp collection by Pani Jurek for Adorno’s Virtual Design Destination

What to See at the London Design Festival 2020

“LDF 2020 will of course be different from any other,” says the organization. But there’s still lots to see — on and offline.

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