With more than 200 international brands fighting for prime position in seven exhibition spaces and more than 90 showrooms, the three-day festival has become one of the most important events in the design calendar.
As ever, the exhibition successfully drew together global brands alongside the conceptual artisan, manufacturing from his garden shed. Slick lighting components jostle for space next to handmade timber children’s toys and unexpected partners are collaborating with innovative results.
One theme, however, was repeated again and again at different stands: pattern. This year, seemingly far more than previous, CDW17 celebrated pattern, symmetry and interlocking forms. From the undulating cocoon-like framework of Shinola’s external exhibition space to Aldworth James & Bond’s Corian structure based on a historical motif – tessellated and modular, pattern and repetition were a recurring theme.
Hakwood’s Double Vision, a series of rotating geometric shapes grouping together to create a house structure, allowed the user to interact with the piece; temporarily putting their own stamp on the display before effectively passing on the baton to the next visitor to continue the story. Inevitably, at the close of the festival, the final layout is a culmination of every hand that touched the piece and every eye that sought a particular pattern.
The mood of the festival could be summed up by one of its destination sculptures. The towering geometric viewing gallery, aptly named The Beacon, bookended one end of the exhibition strip. Designed in collaboration with Perspex, the climbable structure was constructed from oversized iconic Perspex colour swatches. Each piece was labelled by colour, translated into one of the languages listed as spoken in Islington in the latest census. The reference code assigned to each related to the number of people who primarily speak that language in the borough. It was a striking piece celebrating the diversity of London’s premier design district.
Perhaps this is my lasting takeout of Clerkenwell Design Week 17; collaboration and community – the idea of designers, architects and residents coming together to discuss the future of design and, in turn, the future of our society. The tessellating shapes of the multiple displays becoming a physical metaphor for the merging of people and passions, to, together, create something new.
A significant number of exhibitors offered a customisation service or some form of direct interaction between consumer and brand and many offered workshops or tutorials, adding the personal touch. The exhibition stands felt very much about inclusion, passing on a skill, demystifying the creative process or simply engaging the visitor in a communal activity.
In total, more than 300 talks, workshops and CPD sessions were available over the course of the three-day festival. These ranged from the personalisation of notebooks at Altro to leatherwork tutorials at Bill Amberg Studio, terrarium planting at Botanique Boutique to a graffiti masterclass at Shaw Contract. All the above offered a human element, reassuring to see in a design world which is inevitably evolving with innovations in technology and production methods – both of which offer the vague threat of removing the designer from design.
The theme of humanity and the ties that bind a community together was something that was explored further as part of the Clerkenwell Design Week 17 talks programme Conversations at Clerkenwell. As the Museum of London prepares to launch a major programme of interactive content on the subject of ‘Future Cities’ and how we maintain ‘our sense of humanity in vast concrete jungles’, a panel of four discussed the theme of Man Made or Made for Man. The recurring theme was of the loosening connection between person and place. With mobile workspaces, the rapid decline in car ownership and even the demise of the statement hotel (with the rise of Airbnb), architects are exploring how the build environment can maintain emotional relevance for its citizens.
The conclusion was the need for spaces that adapt; spaces that can evolve with time, that are multi-functional and inclusive rather than exclusive; spaces that draw people together regardless of their job or their gender. And perhaps this is what CDW 17 does best – drawing people together to celebrate the excellent and the every day and offering a direct line of communication between the designer and user, sparking conversations, aiding collaborations and, most importantly, being human.