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My Pick of London Design Festival 2015

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London Design Festival is an annual celebration of local, national and international design in its most varied forms. From the commercial to the conceptual, London was awash last week with installations and exhibitions to inspire and captivate. Seriously eye-popping stuff. 

Luckily for me, Confessions of a Design Geek had done all the hard work of sifting through what was on show, so I followed their Alternative Guide to help me navigate the busy festival. 

Here are my top 3 picks: 

#1 - The V&A Museum

The V&A was the 'hub' venue again this year and was buzzing as always. There is something incredible about seeing contemporary design nestled in between the museum's permanent collection of historic pieces - it gives all the exhibits a sort of gravity and context within the timeline of design which feels pretty weighty. 

From the shadowy concrete forest of The Ogham Wall in the tapestry galleries to the glimmering reflective surfaces of the Mexican Pavilion in The John Madejski Garden, there was plenty to explore and gawp over.

It would be hard not to fall in love with 'Curiosity Cloud' by Austrian design duo Mischer'Traxler in the V&A's Norfolk House Music Room. The project is part of an ongoing collaboration with Perrier-Jouët called 'Small Discoveries', which celebrates moments in nature and how people interact with the world around them. Visitors wander in between 250 mouth-blown glass globes, each containing a single beautifully-detailed hand-made insect. The closer you get to a globe the more it glows and the more the insect contained within it darts from side to side creating a surprising tinkling sound as it collides with the glass surrounding it. 

My other favourite installation was Barnaby Barford's 'The Tower of Babel' in the Medieval and Renaissance Gallery. Standing an imposing six metres high, the precarious tower is made of 3000 bone china shops, each depicting a real London shop photographed by the artist. At its base the shops are boarded-up and uninhabited, while at the top the barely visible shops are the most exclusive boutiques and galleries in London, just out of reach of the hoard crowding below. Blurring the boundaries of art and commerce, each exquisite shop was for sale - ranging from £95 to £6000 for the top tier. V&A staff were on hand to help you find properties in your postcode which became an afternoon obsession and I almost convinced myself I did need the tiny replica of Steve's Newsagent on my road for a mere £95 (oh go on, draw the parallel to my consumer habits Mr Barford). Sorry Steve, not this time. 



#2 - Somerset House

The historic setting of Somerset House was host to a broad range of work from installations by 10 leading international designers such as Alex Rasmussen and Arik Levy, to interactive displays by the winners of the 'Powered by Tweets' competition. 

Working with online design studio Hem, designer Luca Nichetto showcased his customisable Alphabeta lamps to playful effect by connecting 44 lamps to a grand piano so that as the piano was played the corresponding lamps to the keys being pressed were illuminated. Just like putting notes together to make a tune, the multicoloured and multishaped lamps were put together to create their own unique articulations. 

As if sitting in a darkened room listening to classical music whilst lights glowed above my head wasn't relaxing enough, the room opposite housed Faye Toogood's 'The Drawing Room' - a heady evocation of a derelict country house constructed from charcoal sketches on translucent plastic sheets hanging from the wall, and complete with her Roly-Poly collection remodelled in charcoal-coloured fibreglass to relax in. I adore the Japanese-inspired ceramics in the foreground of the below. 

In the Embankment Gallery at Somerset House was the sizeable installation by British Designer Max Lamb, titled 'My Grandfather's Tree'. The tree in question was a large ash that had started to rot in the plot beside the designer's Grandfather's cottage on his farm in Yorkshire, and hence had to be reluctantly felled. The ritual of the felling is meticulously documented and every section of the tree (130 logs in total) is displayed in the gallery forming the skeleton of the tree, soon to be utilised as stools and tables to continue the Ash's life with a new function. Each intersection of the tree is beautiful in its own right with the 187 annual growth rings clearly visible and the holes from the rot creating unique organic forms. 

#3 - Central Saint Martins

'The Intelligent Optimist' exhibition showcased the best design work coming out of Central Saint Martins this graduate year and by default the types of designers needed to bring about positive societal change through design. Amen to that.

'The work of our students is almost by default optimistic – why design the world as a worse place? – and is always shot through with a canny intelligence,' said a statement from the University. 'The Intelligent Optimist has never been needed more than in the current era of political and social despondency. We are all looking for alternative visions, but not naively hopeful ones. In their various combinations of wit, rigour, lateral thinking, sensuousness, ingenuity, social engagement and all round intelligence, these Central Saint Martins graduates provide a brilliant riposte to the novelist Howard Jacobson’s provocation that he has ‘never met an intelligent optimist.'' 

I fell completely head over heels for the playful ceramic lamps on show by Marta Bordes as part of the 'Material Explorers' section. Marta shatters the tradition of static, untouchable lighting with her series called 'Elastic Lamps' - a collection of ceramic lamps that are meant to be pinged, moved and played with.

Over in 'The Fixers' part of the exhibition Bridgette Chan's calming one-person tea set inspired by the Zen garden had me taking a deep breath. 'Ting' is designed to promote alone time and prompt self-reflection. The size of the tea cup forces you to keep brewing the tea and refreshing your cup, giving you a much-needed moment of calm. 

So, that's a few of my favourite picks from this year, what are yours?

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