Often the asphalt at pedestrian crossings in London is emblazoned with an arrow and the words “Look Left” to remind visitors from the Continent to expect traffic from the unexpected side. However, on the third day of our tour around the London Design Festival we don’t always manage to look the right way. The city is simply so fast, so vibrant, so offbeat and so traditional. “We” is a group of German architects and interior designers invited by bathroom fixtures maker Axor to get an impression of the design festival and to be at hand to witness the premiere of the new “Axor One” mixer designed by Barber Osgerby.
A break on Paul’s stairs
Our guide is Antje Southern – art historian and Stylepark author. The tour begins with the Ampersand Building, an office block in Shoreditch that has just welcomed tenants. On one of the upper floors we meet Paul Cocksedge. The London-based light designer, who studied at the Royal College of Arts and has already developed the one or other impressive installation and ingenious product, takes up to the top end of an expansive spiral staircase that fills a good third of the airy atrium around which the office storeys are located. Cocksedge is really proud of his “Living Staircase”, which took up a lot of his time over the last two years.
The concept is as simple as it is pleasant, and it definitely sits well with the zeitgeist: When you reach the height of a storey, there’s a platform in the spiral complete with benches where you can take a short break from work. Along the railing plants grow in troughs and maintain the air quality. “Slowing down,” comments Cocksedge. He admittedly had to abandon the idea that office workers would care for the plants. The staircase cost 700,000 pounds and was assembled after the building was complete, which caused the one or other problem. “Wow,” sighs Anna Philipp, managing partner of Stuttgart’s Philipp Architekten. “The office building thrives on these stairs, it takes it to a completely different level.” Although she would have chosen different plants – and snips at an orchid. “More refined plants, ones with large white blooms.”
The caterpillar in Kensington Gardens
We’d spotted this year’s “Serpentine Pavilion” by Spaniards Selgascano from the air – a colorful splash in Kensington Gardens. And now, standing in front of it, even the dull weather can’t dim the cave-like structure’s positive, life-affirming radiance – with its colorfully shimmering skin it winds like an ever-hungry caterpillar outside Serpentine Gallery. But without the sun the reflections on the white concrete floor are a bit pale. So much for an architecturally inspired “LSD trip”. We’re also a little taken aback that the pavilion actually looks like the images of it in the media – just a tad smaller. And a little worse for wear. After all, the temporary edifice has been there since June 25 and its days are counted, as on October 18 the experiment with the visual effects comes to an end.
Any number of stimuli
The fact that the joyous caterpillar pavilion is especially popular in the social media (News & Stories, July 22, 2015) is also evident from the behavior of the German group of architects: Almost everyone whips out a mobile phone to photograph it. “A conglomerate of surfaces, networks and materials,” comments Harald Klein, whose architectural office of kA klein Associates above all created interiors for premium and luxury segment hotel chains. And then goes on to summarize: “A joyful overkill of the senses”. A quickly snapped group photo in front of the caterpillar and we are off, duly intoxicated and with colorful after-images on our cornea, heading away from the architectural intermezzo as if we’d just briefly visited the fair.
A becoated map
One thing’s for sure: Anyone visiting the London Design Festival simply has to drop by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Nowhere else in the world is contemporary design so incomparably presented against the backdrop of a grand history. In the lobby we’re already craning our necks and looking upwards: A stele festooned with large Swarovski stones and called “Zotem” heads for the heavens and pierces through several storeys. It was designed by Norwegian Kom Thomé. We’re then hastening like the dreamers in the eponymous Bernardo Bertolucci movie through historical chambers in which one really could spend “days on end without ever getting bored,” as Sabine Keggenhoff, an Arnsberg-based interior designer, says with stars in her eyes. In the “Cloakroom”, designer Fay Toogood has conjured up 150 coasts tailored from Kvadrat’s “Highland” upholstery fabric and together they resemble a vast textile cutting pattern. Toogood asks visitors to try one of the coats and follow the map stitched into it – round the museum. And where will the coat take you, perhaps? No one in the group really wants to don one, and time is short anyway.
The queue outside the hall with the installation by Austrian duo Mischer’Traxler is inevitable and we wait. As we simply all want to find out what is in the glass spheres that hang in bunches like drops from the ceiling and clatter away so marvelously. “Curiosity Cloud” was created in collaboration with champagne maker Perrier-Jouët and, or so word has it, references the Art Deco world. The 250 hand-blown spheres that were made at the Lobmeyr workshop in Austria, are home to artificial moths, which, triggered by a motion sensor, start to move and fly against the glass walls whenever people approach. And we see very many flapping wildly around. Jens Wendland from Cologne architecture office Raumlabor is busy photographing the installation and sums it all up with the words “creepy glory”.
Choose first, then shower
No London Design Festival would be complete without a grand reception complete with product premiere. Since most of the new products went on show in Milan in the spring, the number of real debuts is modest, but the event gets all the higher a profile as a result. There was another reason why Axor chose to present its latest product in London, however: For the new collection, the long-standing company from the Black Forest teamed up with London designer duo Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby. In the form of “Axor One”, the duo have created a control panel for showers that is “especially intuitive and simple to use,” as Jay Osgerby emphasizes that evening in conversation with Philippe Grohe. Philippe Grohe himself suggests that collaborating with the duo had been a real, positive challenge. Initially, the idea had focused on a touchscreen, but the fact that this would mean incorporating electricity into showers was something that troubled Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby, who had never before worked with a bathroom fittings manufacturer.
Turn on the taps!
It thus took four years until the development of “Axor One” was complete – the control panel is actually only the beginning of a complete line and further elements are set to follow. During the development, both the designers and Axor were interested more in the function than the visuals – even if the panel, which resembles an outsized iPhone, is a clear design statement in showers. As with a light switch, the overhead, side and handheld showers can be activated simply by pressing the corresponding “Select” button, called paddles. Moreover, the round central dial lets you regulate the temperature and water flow.
In the pop-up shop on Clerkenwell Road, which is where the premiere is taking place, we get to try out the new mixer. The architects rave about the Select function and the fact it’s operated by simple clicks; the switches are extra-large and thus impossible to miss – even with soapy fingers. Interior designer Susanne Brandherm from B-K-I reveals she would have preferred the mixer to be a little less fragile; nonetheless she is toying with the idea of using “Axor One” in one of her upcoming hotel projects.
The epitome of the perfect design studio
The next morning our group has the chance to visit the studio of the designer pair who masterminded the “Axor One” in Shoreditch. The place is just how you imagine the perfect design studio to be: The staff members are sitting in front of white iMacs, the prevailing atmosphere is one of calm and concentration, and there is nothing unaesthetic to hurt the eye. Skylight windows immerse the room in pristine white, while people’s neat racing bikes are casually leaning against the wall beneath the bookcase. Barber Osgerby has a payroll of 55 employees, divided up between three companies: They are Barber Osgerby design studio, for which the two do the bulk of their work, which is bringing out furniture and products under their own name; Universal Design Studio, which looks after interior design projects and is responsible for the design of the nearby Ace Hotel, which is a central hub of the festival and happens to be where we are staying. The third company, an agency for corporate and industrial design, is called Map.
A torch with 8,000 holes
We take a curious peek around. Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby are showing us the torch they designed for the London Summer Olympics three years ago. They punched as many as 8,000 holes into the fluidly shaped double-walled aluminum casing – one for each torchbearer. As we each get to hold the iconic item in our hands we cannot help but be amazed by its sheer lightness. Mind you, the shelf proudly boasts plenty more milestones of their career, which spans as many as 20 years at this stage. These include the “Tip Ton” chair for Vitra and the “Loop Table”. Launched by Cappellini in 1997, the latter marked the start of Barber Osgerby’s highly successful career. Indeed, at this year’s London Design Festival all eyes are on the two gents: Not only have they been awarded the “London Design Medal” and just published a new book, fittingly entitled “One by One”; they also got to outfit two rooms at Somerset House, which is LDF’s en-vogue venue.
Light from the mulberry tree
In the “Reading Room” at Somerset House Barber Osgerby are presenting large paper lanterns, like those that come from Japan, only their shape is not round. For this project the designer duo spent some time working with Ozeki, a manufacturer of traditional paper lanterns. Here too, the two of them recall, the challenge was that of breaking boundaries, similar to what they experienced when making “Axor One”. Unlike conventional paper lanterns, the luminaires “Hotaru Double Bubble” and “Buoy” are made using exceptionally high-quality materials: The papers are crafted from the bark of the mulberry tree, while the interior hoop design is made of bamboo.
And yet, Barber Osgerby are not the only ones to showcase their latest wares at Somerset House. Installations by nine other designers, including Arik Levy, Ross Lovegrove and Nendo, are on display in the west wing of the 18th-century building, leaving us astounded. The presentations are staged to perfection, we keep making oohs and aahs as we meander through the rooms – whether it’s at the products’ precision, their expressive ability or their masterful rendition in this historical setting. Imagine, for example, people having donned VR spectacles and sitting on a kind of rocket that virtually beams them up into space; it was designer Tino Schaedler who dreamed up the extravaganza together with the artists from Realities United. Alternatively, you can ride on the giant wave designer Alex Rasmussen pieced together using countless diamond-shaped anodized aluminum panels. By contrast, the darkened piano room, in which a pianist turns on luminaires by Luca Nichetto for Hem, which have been suspended in a semi-circle in front of him, by his play, has an almost old-fashioned and sentimental feel to it.
Is a simple phone enough?
Ending our tour, we get to witness the new “MP 01” mobile phone that Jasper Morrison designed for Swiss manufacturer Punkt. The stripped-back device only offers the ability to make telephone calls and send text messages – holding up a mirror to the likes of us who have been over-indulging these last few hours in taking countless phone snaps and posting on God knows how many social media. The question beckons: Would we buy this simple device that, just like the “Axor One”, sets out to make life a little simpler and more straightforward in today’s high-tech world? Would it perhaps prompt us to pay more attention when out on the road? Be this as it may, we still love the London pavement tattoo “Look left”.
Often the asphalt at pedestrian crossings in London is emblazoned with an arrow and the words “Look Left” to remind visitors from the Continent to expect traffic from the unexpected side. However, on the third day of our tour around the London Design Festival we don’t always manage to look the right way. The city is simply so fast, so vibrant, so offbeat and so traditional. “We” is a group of German architects and interior designers invited by bathroom fixtures maker Axor to get an impression of the design festival and to be at hand to witness the premiere of the new “Axor One” mixer designed by Barber Osgerby.3