Designjunction London 2018 took place on 20-23 September 2018 at South Bank, London. I was walking along the River Thames and suddenly spotted structures and installations in the near and far distance. I unfortunately got there just as the design works were being dismantled and in some cases, shipped away. Having said this, I still managed to capture the essence of the designs.
Before spotting these art works, I had never before hearted on Designjunction. For those who are also unaware, it is London’s leading destination for design during the annual London Design Festival.
After further research, I discovered that this exhibition launched in 2011 by a team of industry experts and its aim is to connect the world’s most renowned design brands with some of the world’s leading architects, interior designers, specifiers and buyers. It really is a collaborative effort and this was very evident seeing the pieces in person; they are all very skillfully designed from an initial concept or idea and brought to life and erected by another team of individuals. This really demonstrated to me what art is all about: using expertise to team build a spectacular end result. Collaboration and networking really are key!
Designjunction continues to break the mould of the traditional trade show by presenting more than 200 brands in a series of inspiring and centrally-located venues. Alongside its core trade brands, Designjunction presents a unique experience by curating a host of design led pop-up shops, bespoke installations and PR savvy features. I was amazed when I read that this all attracted more than 28,000 visitors in 2017.
However, this year Designjunction moved to the cultural hub of the South Bank so I imagine that this attracted even more interest, especially as passerby witnessed the pop-up installations emerge and disappear just as quickly.
The festival took place across three main sites this year, Doon Street, Riverside Walkway and the Oxo Tower Wharf and Bargehouse. Doon Street hosted 200 international brands and pop-up shops for the fair, Riverside Walkway showcased outdoor installations, and Oxo Tower Wharf and Bargehouse were the home to brand installations, talks and exhibitions.
The programme and installations this year included an emergency shelter prototype and a colourful walkway. It was this walkway that was my favourite of all of the designs. To me, it just represented happiness, acceptance and freedom of expression; all of which are very prominent in today’s society. Gateway to Inclusion was created by Lisa White, head of lifestyle and interiors at WGSN alongside designer François Dumas. It is a pavilion on behalf of Saint-Étienne, in France. It was a structure made of steel and ribbon, and is a tribute to Saint Étienne’s traditional industries. It was effortlessly placed on a jetty overlooking the Thames.
Other installations on the Riverside Walkway included Mud Shell which I discovered is a housing prototype for emergency situations and developed by architect Stephanie Chaltiel. When I walked past this, I saw that the dome-shaped structure was made of a light fabric base, with layers of natural resources covering this. Unfortunately, it had barriers all around it and so I didn’t get to witness any of the programmed drones spraying the natural materials over the shelter. It was this that turned it into a more permanent, ‘sturdy and durable’ living environment. The idea of this innovation is to create housing solutions using sustainable and natural materials alongside technology; I really think that this will be the way forward, especially with today’s housing climate.
Another of the designs and concepts that I absolutely loved was the wooden giant head crafted sculpture, constructed on Gabriel’s pier overhanging South Bank. The aim of this creation was to raise awareness of mental health. ‘Head Above Water’ was designed by Brit Steuart Padwick and is very cleverly and deliberately neutral in terms of gender, ethnicity and age. To me, this timber-panelled engineered structure is an effortless symbol of hope and compassion for those who have experienced or are dealing with mental health issues, and the people who support them. It also is a very public way of showing that you are not alone and it is nothing to be ashamed of! I really wished I could have witnessed the sculpture as it was lit up at night with different colours, which was designed to reflect changes in mood. It is major issues like mental health battles that are more times than not swept under the carpet and have somehow become a taboo in conversation. I love how this structure helped to get the message shouted from the rooftops. To me, it represents an emblem of a healthy, compassionate and creative mind.
Not only do I think that Designjunction is an amazing way of showcasing upcoming talent and collaborations, but also using art to highlight current issues in today’s world. Not only this, I really hope it is festivals, like this one, that inspire budding architects from diverse backgrounds and introduces a broader range of young people to architecture and design. I am aware that there is now a much larger and broader engagement on digital platform, but in my opinion, nothing beats the showcase of physical works and the attention to detail of the craft that goes into every stage of the design and construction.