A centre for watch-making from the 16th century and printing from the 1700s, Clerkenwell has a long design heritage that continues today when it is home to hundreds of designer-makers, global branding consultancies and architects. No wonder German furniture design company Vitra chose Clerkenwell as its UK base, opening a showroom in 1999 that sparked an invasion of more than 60 furniture manufacturers including SCP, Moroso, Poltrona Frau and Toto, which arrived last year.
Only in its second year but growing fast is Clerkenwell Design Week, which follows on the heels of designer-maker festival Made in Clerkenwell in late May. This year, 35 showrooms will take part, with designers including James UK and Dari Bae choosing to launch products there instead of at Milan furniture fair.
CDW is broadening its appeal, with illustrator Lizzie Mary Cullen and handbag designer Lulu Guiness. Cullen will draw live in the House of Detention, an ancient underground prison beneath Clerkenwell Green that opens to the public for the first time in 11 years. Timorous Beasties and Vitamin are setting up shop in other cells. A fourth will house an installation simulating a lift rushing through fantastical cityscapes, by Neutral.
Above ground, inflatables company Plastique Fantastique is installing an ambient environment called the Emotion Maker, for which Musician Marco Barotti is creating an interactive sound installation. Nearby will see Guinness’ project, a scaling up of the metal pin toys that take 3D imprints of hands and faces, only this one will do entire bodies.