>This week I took time out of work to travel to London for design week. We (myself and Liam, another very inspired student on the furniture course) made an early start and got the train at 8am with a full day planned ahead.
A quick warning, I have a lot to say about this day, much of it would simply be rambling so I’ll try to keep it to key events.
Our first area was Farringdon to Covent Garden to look at some design shops selling well designed modern pieces. It was brilliant to see, inspect and even sit on all the contemporary pieces of furniture that have appeared in icon and wallpaper magazines, books, and all over design blogs on the internet.
A favourite shop was the Aram store www.aram.co.uk. Have a look, some wonderful pieces. Liam spent nearly an hour pouring over the Wassily chair and De Stijl table sat next to each other.
On the top floor of the shop there is a gallery space, ‘Grassworks’ was the exhibition. It really interested me; Jair Straschnow uses sheet bamboo to create furniture that is designed for flat-pack delivery, dry (no glue), and to assembled by the purchaser. The idea of flat pack furniture has obviously been done before, but I thought his methods were so simple and clever. Using the trusty dovetail, or dovetail rebate, his very lightweight and strong furniture can be put together in minutes with no need for metal or plastic fixings. At most you use (bamboo) pegs or wedges. This collection of furniture ticks the ‘eco’ boxes too. Bamboo grows in abundance in many Eastern countries, and reaches maturity in 5-7 years, and because it is a grass, once harvested it re-grows from the same roots. Rapidly. So in terms of a renewable resource this is a winner. And of course being flat packed the furniture can be piled into containers and shipped all over the world. I applaud this idea and credit must be given to Straschnow for producing functional pieces from renewable materials, and most of all for not forgetting to make them look nice.
Please check out his website, my photos don’t do the work justice.
As great as this collection was, a large part of me questions why we would want to buy a product made of bamboo harvested thousands of miles away in this country. I can fully accept that this is a good idea to serve Asia and other countries where the material naturally occurs and is grown. I might not be alone in wondering why people keep overlooking our wonderful abundant resources in this country, and always looking elsewhere for materials. I have recently been reading up on traditional woodmanship and coppicing and traditional silviculture, these involve managing woodland and forests in a sustainable way and harvesting timber as a renewable crop. Hazel, Sweet Chestnut, Sallow and Aspen are trees that have grown and been harvested in this country for hundreds of years and yet the average Brit may be unfamiliar with. In one summer, an established stool (root system from which new branches grow) will throw up shoots at a tremendous rate of 1.5m if it is Hazel, 2.1m if it is Ash, and an astounding 3m if it is a Sallow stool, that’s about 50mm in a day! Now obviously this isn’t quite as quick as bamboo, but if were to plant more woodland in the UK, and manage it properly we could perhaps at least serve ourselves. At the same time we’d be soaking up a load of CO2, which is always good. I am looking to examine the potential of green coppiced wood at some point this term and try to work out ways to utilise it.
Anyway, back to London. Whilst in the area we checked out the MA exhibition from Central St Martins. Holding a qualification from this institute will almost guarantee to set you up for a healthy career in any creative discipline – perhaps, my dear reader, this should be reviewed. There were a few good ideas, like re-branding the packaging for British cheese to re-ignite an interest in our British cheese industry, yum, cheese. And there was quite a cool tower storage thing, and some bricks that held plants/bird seeds – a semi-useful idea. But that was honestly it. The creative institute of London’s MA exhibition and that was it. Perhaps I missed the point, but I’m pretty sure Liam also walked out of there a little underwhelmed. Oh yes I nearly forgot to mention, there was another designer in this exhibition taking up the use of bamboo in furniture, however much less successfully. Her idea was supposed to be an environmentally sound piece using a renewable resource, but she didn’t put her argument across to convince me it was worth shipping the piece of furniture or even the material thousands of miles. The design also involved crosscutting the bamboo stems into inch thick rings, drilling holes in them and sewing them together. I’m not sure if there is a more energy and labour sapping way of manufacturing a chair. Not really an eco-product of the future in my mind. It wasn’t even attractive. Perhaps more information was needed to fully understand how this piece would benefit the environment.
The other main points of interest throughout the day were ‘Tent London’, near Brick Lane, ‘100% Design’, and an exhibition called ‘Making the future’. ‘Tent’ was great, a really mixed show of new ideas, good products, and innovative thinking. I was particularly taken with Jung Myung Taek and his ‘spring chair’ pictured below, and the ‘clock clock’ by Bastian Bischoff & Per Emanuelsson, where the hands of 24 small clocks turned to tell the time in digital format. Clever stuff.
After this was the ‘Making the future’ exhibition, but I’ll tell you about 100% design first. To be honest I wasn’t that impressed. It was right at the end of a very long day of walking, looking and thinking, so maybe I had begun to glaze over a little, but there wasn’t anything there that grabbed me. It was very much a trade show and I think that puts me off a little. Companies that need to employ blonde, tanned girls who clearly know nothing about the products to draw in customers suggests to me that the products that company are making aren’t all that great. Maybe that’s a little harsh, I suppose I mean the product can’t sell itself. I honestly can’t remember anything that I saw at 100% design that I hadn’t seen before or that inspired me.
What was highlighted the most by this trip was the gap between top designers and top makers. The highly anticipated (by me, not so much Liam) ‘Making the future exhibition’ didn’t exceed my high expectations. It reinforced my thoughts that our wonderful and celebrated designer makers are a little out of touch. Please don’t get me wrong, I do not wish to put down our designer-maker talent in this country, I think it is great and should be supported and celebrated. I understand the fight for recognition that our makers are putting up for their industry, and it has my support. I also whole heartedly agree that the work being produced in Britain is arguably the best in the world. But I do feel there is a notable gap between these guys and today’s top designers.
The exhibition showed some interesting pieces, and ideas that pushed some boundaries. There were also many beautiful pieces that have influenced my work, but there was a huge emphasis on the craftsmanship over the ideas and designs.
Perhaps I’ve got it wrong and this exhibition was simply supposed to be showing off how exquisitely a piece of furniture can be made, and how you can get an absolute mirror finish from some burr walnut. I do think that it is important to every now and again remind ourselves of the great things that man can do, as I commented in my ‘Design High’ post, however this exhibition was not called ‘Perfectly Made Furniture’ it was called ‘Making the Future’. I showed the catalogue to one of the tutors at uni, and he made comment about a piece, ‘my god is he still flogging them’.
So we were not treated with a feast of original ideas, but cabinets, chairs, tables, chests of drawers, that have been seen before, and didn’t really push as many boundaries as I was expecting. As a celebration of what man can do with wood, fantastic and stunning in parts, as an exhibition showing off the future of designer makers, I feel bold enough to say lets exhibit the next generation, perhaps they will be a little more in touch.
I won’t upload images but have a look for yourself on the website and pass your own judgements.
Many of the things I have written about may seem negative, this is not intentional but if I were to write about all of the good things I saw in London in a day I would be here for hours. In many ways discussing the points that bothered me allows me to answer the questions in my head and hopefully further my design ideas. I suppose I concluded that it is my aim as a proud Designer-Maker to bridge the gap between Tent London and Making the future, and it probably wouldn’t be worth the £6000odd fees to do an MA at CSM. The day was totally worth it and I came back hugely inspired and full of ideas and questions, which is arguably the main purpose of design. Below are a couple of things that I saw on my walks around the city that make London such an inspiring place.
Over and out.