London Design Festival 2023 first Look: ethereal installations and emerging talent

Responding to dips in the number of students taking design subjects, LDF is making an effort to showcase and support young designers.

London Design Festival (LDF) is set to return for its 21st year this September, bringing back London Design Fair after three years and focussing on nurturing emerging young talent.

LDF highlights that the design industry has grown 1.5 times faster than the wider economy over the past decade, contributing £108 billion in GVA annually. The festival organisers describe the industry as a “a powerhouse of the UK economy” and reinstates its commitment to positioning London as a “global design capital”.

Despite this long-term sector challenges have also been highlighted including the number of students opting to take design subjects at GCSE and A level continuing to decline. LDF director Ben Evans says: “This year’s programme promises fresh perspectives and boundary-pushing ideas that will inspire audiences but, just as importantly, the festival provides opportunities for emerging talent and promotes inclusivity in the sector.”

In line with this, the festival is introducing a new initiative called Launch Pad, which looks to elevate designers who typically face barriers to accessing LDF’s partnership scheme. It invites emerging designers, recent graduates, charities, not-for-profit organisations and small businesses to apply, giving them an opportunity to share their work with new audiences.

Design Fairs

An exhibit to be included in London Design Fair’s Design Alumni pavilion

Returning as the largest commercial exhibition at LDF, London Design Fair will run from 21–24 September, showcasing innovative design, brands, international pavilions, and makers. It can be found at Truman Brewery in Shoreditch and boasts an extensive talks programme as well as interactive workshops and opportunities to experience installations and spot trends. London Design Fair will also include a Design Alumni pavilion, showcasing recent graduates’ designs as part of the festival’s wider commitment to help young talent increase visibility.

Planq Rezign Materials at Material Matters

Following its successful debut last year, Material Matters will return to Bargehouse, Oxo Tower Wharf as part of the Bankside Design District. Running form 20 – 23 September, the fair will exhibit leading design brands, designers, makers which are investigating the importance of materials and how they shape our lives. The line-up includes Headline Sponsor, UK lighting specialist Bert Frank and the Milan-based platform Isola.

Landmark Projects

In homage to English architect Sir Christopher Wren on the 300th anniversary of his death, LDF – supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies – looks to interpret his legacy with modern twist. The two Landmark Projects will form part of the festival’s Wren 300 celebrations and seek to encourage festival goers to engage with his architectural and scientific heritage while exploring how he his work is still relevant in the present day.

Aura by Pablo Valbuena

Inside St Paul’s Cathedral, LDF in association with Artichoke will present Aura by Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena. Aura is a live installation that aims to transform choral performance into a pulsating line of light projected at a large scale. Valbuena approach interrogates what a temple means in today’s world and looks to examine the role of time, sound and light in contemporary rituals.

Halo by Studio Waldemeyer

Elsewhere Studio Waldemeyer will present Halo – another installation that centres around “transcendent light” – within St. Stephen Walbrook Church. It involves a conical pendulum which traces a circular “celestial” path around Henry Moore’s altar, designed to mimic “planetary motions and create an ethereal Halo”, according to the studio. Projected colour transitions above on the grand dome, inspired by natural phenomena like the aurora borealis, seek to enhance the meditative aura of the installation.


Spirit of Place by Simone Brewster

LDF has commissioned Simone Brewster to create an installation of five large scale sculptural vessels, which she will present collaboration with Amorim on The Strand. The objects in Spirit of place reach up to 2.5m high and represent Amorim’s cork forest at Herdade de Rio Frio, Portugal. The forest’s future is dependent on four factors: drought resistance, fungal resistance, upright expression, and fast voluminous growth. Brewster used these factors act as the foundation for the visual language of the piece.

Mandala Lab by Rubin Museum. Image credit: Vicente Paredes

Visitors can also expect to see an installation inspired by Buddhist principles by the Rubin Museum’s Mandala Lab. Based in Canary Wharf, the interactive installation is designed to explore challenging emotions and consider how they can be transformed into wisdom. The freestanding structure’s floorplan is a metaphor for our emotional well-being, featuring five thought-provoking, experiences that aim to encourage self-awareness and awareness of others.

Designer and artist Morag Myerscough has partnered with LDF automotive partner MINI to unveil an immersive installation at Shoreditch Electric Light Station. It hints at was we can expect to see from the brand in the future and sits at the intersection of tradition and technology.

LDF’s V&A programme

Once again the V&A serves as the main home for the festival. This year it will house projects that reveal how design can bring communities together, as well as designs that rethink our relationship with materials.

Part Exchange by Andu Masebo

Part exchange by Andu Masebo is the V&A’s 2023 Emerging Designer commission and retells the life story of a scrapped car through a series of objects inspired by the people whose lives it was part of over 25 years. After having conversations with the car’s previous owners, Masebo has reworked components of an Alpha Romeo Cloverleaf into domestic furnishings.

Hana Mikoshi by The Gifu Prefecture and Hayatsu Architects

The Gifu Prefecture in Japan and London based Hayatsu Architects have designed Hana Mikoshi, which translates to ‘flower shrine’. Taking inspiration from the Mino Matsuri festival, Hayatsu Architects devised a sculptural seating installation which will be decorated with 50,000 sakura-inspired washi paper flowers handcrafted by Japanese craftspeople.

Unstruck Melody by Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu

Other works to appear in the V&A include objects that reframe the history of glass in Greater Syria and Palestine by Palestinian architect, artist and V&A Jameel Fellow Dima Srouji. A tapestry, sculpture and film is the result of a collaboration between British-born Canadian artist Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu and UK arts organisation Without Shape Without Form, and an immersive installation and VR experience is being created by Poulomi Basu & CJ Clarke.

Global Design Forum

LDF’s talk series Global Design Forum will return to the V&A for five days, seeking to cover some of the most challenging and future-forward topics in design. Global Design Forum partners this year include SAP, Pearlfisher, Istituto Europeo di Design and UAL.

Design Districts

An additional four design districts will be included in this year’s festival: Dalston to Stokey Design District, Battersea Design District, Chelsea Design District and Fitzrovia Design District. Other districts which have been part of LDF previously and return again this year are: Bankside Design District, Brompton Design District, Greenwich Peninsula, Islington Design District, Kings Cross Design District, Mayfair Design District, Park Royal Design District, Shoreditch Design Triangle and Southwark Design District.

LDF 2023 Graphic Identity

LDF 2023 graphic identity by Pentagram

For the 17th year, Pentagram has designed LDF’s graphic identity, responding to, and anticipating trends in design and typography. While the red and white colour palette has been retained as one of the festival’s most recognisable elements, Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa came up with a new typographic style for LDF, taking cues from film and TV titles.

“We started working with the typography with a nod to a cinematic feel”, says Lippa. “I love the way films can stretch one’s experience and be dramatic in its form. The more acute and extreme the angles of these designs reflect the power and strength of the festival itself.”



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