London Design Festival: The V&A

The last few years have seen official LDF hub venue the V&A exhibit the festival’s big names and even bigger commissions, with works bowling over the viewer both in their size and ingenuity, and this year is no exception.

Prism by Keiicki Matsuda
Prism by Keiicki Matsuda

While last year’s playful Bouroullec Brothers Textile Field installation was a fun and highly interactive piece on a physical level – encouraging people to roll about, cast off their stilettoes and cartwheel across it, this year’s central piece, the stunning Prism by Keiichi Matsuda, is interactive in a less immediate way – and even more beautiful.

Visitors get a sneaky glimpse at its multi-coloured wonder on entering the building – if, that is, they follow the small scrawled instructions on the Grand Entrance floor to ‘look up.’ As a teaser, it’s not bad – but to enjoy the Prism in full, be sure to not wear heels and clamber the tiny winding staircase to the V&A’s usually closed- off uppermost cupola. Set like an enormous, iceberg-shaped paper lantern, Prism is suspended from the ceiling, each panel flickering with a different colour and pattern, showing a live-feed off elements of data from around the city.

So, for instance, what may look like a psychedelic representation of shuffling triangles may be the relative areas of pollution around the capital, how many Boris bikes are left in a particular area, or the energy use at number 10 Downing Street.

Due to the limited capacity of the space, visitors need to book a free time slot from here , but it’s well worth the planning, especially for those who dare to scale further up to take in the breath-taking panorama of London viewed from the highest level of the space.

The Journey of a Drop
The Journey of a Drop

Perhaps reflecting the broader, more conceptual nature of this years LDF – as exemplified by its sound design debut in Be Open and Arup’s Trafalgar Square Sound Portal , is the captivating installation by Rolf Sachs, The Journey of a Drop. Viewed from the banisters of the sumptuous steps of the Henry Cole Wing Grand Staircase, it’s a brilliantly executed contrast to the grandiose architecture of the site.

Incorporating sound, light and gravity, the piece uses a large tank filled with detergent-infused water, mic’d up to amplify the sound of primary coloured droplets that fall from the ceiling.

Sachs says, ‘As the drops commence their journey, there is a sense of anticipation, followed by a visual spectacle. Each drop within the sequence creates a unique and magical colour explosion, mysteriously disappearing moments later.’

Mimicry Chair installation by Nendo
Mimicry Chair installation by Nendo Source: photo courtesy of Laura Snoad at Grand Designs

The rather more traditional, yet quietly beautiful in their minimalist aesthetic is the series of Mimicry Chair installations by Nendo that work their way through the V&A’s capacious interiors, mimicking the curves and patterns of the museum’s architecture  in stark white metal.

part of the Bench Years exhibition

Source: photo courtesy of Laura Snoad at Grand Designs

part of the Bench Years exhibition

Seating is also the star of the show at Bench Years, an outdoor exhibition of one-off benches from the likes of Barber Osgerby, Martino Gamper, Konstantin Grcic and Jasper Morrison; which range form a futuristic neon and silver tube to a huge cork hoofed leg. The show, a collaboration between LDF and Established & Sons, is on display in the John Madejski Garden.

Returning to the theme of interaction, this year it’s all about light – with the hilarious Walk the Light piece by Philips and Cinimod Studio, which seems to wryly play with the rather British hushed discretion that we all seem to adopt in a museum context.

Walk the Light
Walk the Light Source: photo courtesy of Laura Snoad at Grand Designs

Taking up the space at the underground tunnel entrance to the V&A, the piece illuminates visitor as they enter the tunnel, giving them their very own spotlight that follows their every move using heat sensors as they move in. It’s brilliant watching the very serious visitor scuttle away from their own spotlight as it follows them into the door – it’s a fifteen seconds of fame, whether they like it or not.

London Design Festival runs from 14-23 September. For more information visit

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