London Design Festival 2021 looks to help visitors “rediscover the entire city”

The festival returns for its 19th edition in September, with a more extensive programme planned than last year’s event, which was held in the midst of the pandemic.

Organisers of London Design Festival (LDF) have revealed the first details of the event, which is due to take place in September with a raft of commissioned projects including an “almost living” installation at the V&A.

In what will be the 19th edition of the festival, organisers are aiming to “re-ignite the capital and kick-start London’s economy” with a programme of events, installations and exhibitions.

“Nothing beats the live experience”

Due to the pandemic, LDF was one of the only design events to take place last year and it offered a reduced programme with more emphasis online and the omission of the V&A, which was going through a phased reopening at the time and now returns as the festival hub.

In a bid to offer a Covid-safe experience, organisers axed indoor events in 2020 and opted for a “hyper-local” approach when it came to outdoor ones. This segmented offering around the city aimed to minimise travel and thus spread of the virus.

For 2021’s event however, things are slated to be more connected once again. Organisers say: “this year’s Festival will provide an inventive enquiry of design and enable audiences to rediscover the entire city, playing a central role in London’s economic recovery.”

Meanwhile LDF co-founder Ben Evans believes the team has “learned a lot” from last year’s festival in terms of digital offerings, and confirms that a “hybrid model” would be used moving forward.

However he also stressed that “nothing beats the live experience” and that 2021 would offer plenty of this too. Evans says visitors can expect to see “eight or nine” commissioned projects this year.


An “almost living” V&A installation

Two landmark projects have been revealed so far. The first is an installation collaboration between mixed reality studio Tin Drum and Japanese architect Sou Fujimoto at the V&A.

Architecture + Reality (A+R) is set to examine “structure, natural and visualisation” according to its designers.

As visitors spend more time inside the installation, different natural and architectural features will “morph and evolve” based on audience movements. The aim is to showcase an “almost living” design that indicates how things are interrelated, especially in terms of things like nature and climate change.

Alongside the suspended forms that make up the installation, the collaborating team will also develop a score of natural sounds and original composition.

An outdoor art gallery for students to “tell their stories”

Meanwhile the other landmark project is being led by designer Yinka Ilori, the winner of last year’s LDF Emerging Design Medal.

Ilori will partner with students from University of the Arts London (UAL) to “transform central London and the City of London into an outdoor art gallery”, according to organisers.

The project is timely for several reasons, the designer explained at LDF’s press conference. “It’s been a year of no galleries, so I think having work in the public realm that is accessible for everyone is going to be important,” Ilori said.

As well as providing a space to see art the outdoor gallery – which will mainly be located along Tottenham Court Road – will give UAL students a platform to share their work. With most in-person graduate shows cancelled last year, this will provide them with a space to “celebrate their work and tell their stories,” Ilori said.

LDF identity

A “multi-dimensional” identity

As with previous years, LDF 2021 has been given a bespoke identity by Pentagram’s Dominic Lippa. This year’s look is “multi-dimensional”, Lippa says, which is reflective of our lives.

Titled Form, the 2021 identity also introduces black into the usually strict red and white colour palette. The look “needed something else” to achieve the three-dimensional look the team were after, Lippa says, which is why it has been introduced.

In the LDF press conference, Lippa also stressed that the annual identity needed to go beyond graphic design since it is used so widely across the festival. Form can “change and develop and can inform the space it inhabits,” he says.

“Serious” and “joyous”

There were no trade shows last year and organisers have committed to supporting these “commercial pillars” this time around. While some veteran shows like London Design Fair will not be making an appearance, new ones are scheduled to take their place.

Making its debut in 2021 will be Design London, a curated showcase of “cutting edge furniture, lighting and contract interiors brands”, organisers say.

Additionally, Tactile Baltics is a new this year. This Shoreditch-based exhibition-tradeshow hybrid will feature the work of 36 Baltic designers and explore topics like local materials, sustainability and tradition and craftsmanship. Products featured will be available to purchase via Adorno or NID Store.

Ending to the preview of the festival, LDF chairman and co-founder Sir John Sorrell explained that this year’s event would showcase design’s “serious side” as well as its “joyous” one.

And reflecting on how the capital and wider country can restart after the pandemic, he said: “It’s more important than ever to make design the centre of things.”

Contributors of the American Hardwood Export Council partnership

Other details:

  • LDF’s annual partnership with the American Hardwood Export Council will this year see 10 emerging design talents create unique “sculptural waymarkers” to welcome visitors to each of the design districts.
  • There will be 10 design districts spread across the city this year, offering more than 200 events.
  • A programme of installations, projects, performances and events will be hosted by the V&A in reaction to the international climate summit COP26, which is happening in the UK in November.
  • The V&A’s Digital Design Weekend will also return this year, with a weekend of workshops talks and demonstrations exploring the intersection of tech and design.
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