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London Design Festival: The punters' view

From Amanda Levete to John Pawson and David Chipperfield, Abigail Gliddon reviews the architectural contributions to this year’s London Design Festival

London Design Festival, 17-25 September, www.londondesignfestival.com

Architecture’s big names and their even bigger works at this year’s London Design Festival proved that bold ideas work best at involving people with the fabric of the city. Amanda Levete, John Pawson and David Chipperfield each designed installations at some of London’s most high profile sites, attracting attention from tourists and locals alike.

The festival is a rare crossover event between architecture, interiors, fashion, art and shopping, making design free and accessible to those without a background in the subject. For nine days in September, you can’t pass a shop or walk by a museum without thinking about shape or colour, and the way we use everyday objects or buildings.

The V&A is host to several of this year’s highlights, proving that it is as involved in contemporary design as it is in exploring its history. There are plenty of displays to explore within the museum, but outside, Amanda Levete Architects’ tsunami of American red oak rises from the road towards the great Victorian entrance, forming the Timber Wave. What’s clear is how people can’t resist touching wood; there are hands all over its shameless curves. Tourists, school groups and passers-by stop to gawp, and the crowd is by no means made up of people following the design festival trail.

Across the river, David Chipperfield’s Silence + Matter manages – just – to hold its ground among the throng of the South Bank. People walk around the tall panels of glass, with light reflecting on the copper fabric encased within, as they eat ice cream, take photos or talk on their phones. As with all public art, everyone has an opinion and some of them may be wondering what the plywood plank is doing where glass should be glass (a teething problem, quickly resolved).

John Pawson has taken a suitably respectful approach to St Paul’s Cathedral, magnifying the staggering geometry of Christopher Wren’s spiral staircase with a Swarovski crystal lens. Viewers pass through ecclesiastical black curtains and peer into a glass font to see another giant crystal hung on the ceiling, creating a labyrinth of reflections. But there’s no doubt that the installation comes second to the space itself, and is something of a let down compared to the huge stairwell and intricate ironmongery rarely seen by visitors to the cathedral.

Architects are involved in a number of other festival events around London, including Will Alsop curating an exhibition at the Testbed1 art space in Battersea and a talk with Rem Koolhaas at the V&A (30 September). Away from the confines of everyday practice, all these works offer unexpected, new ways of saying: ‘You’ve never seen something like this.’

What the punters said

David Chipperfield Architects’  Silence + Matter on the South Bank

It’s quite cool, very simple. I like the way it creates a room with all these different views through it, with layers of colour. I’m an architect so I was familiar with Chipperfield before this. It could have been any architect though – there are always good and bad things about a design, whoever the architect is. I definitely find this inspiring. Alina Urwin, Germany

Amanda Levete Architects’ Timber Wave at the V&A

It’s beautiful, and it really establishes the V&A as a design museum. It’s modern, and at the same time it fits with the Victorian architecture of the entrance. Stephen Barnham, London

You get a sense of the ocean, you can see the ripples it. It would draw someone from across the road even if they weren’t going into the museum. Willem Myburgh, South Africa

John Pawson’s Perspectives at St Paul’s Cathedral

It’s intriguing – when you look down into it, you feel like you’re going to fall in. You need time to wander around but it feels rushed, since you can only have a few in at a time. You need to stand back, poke your head in and out of the view. Christopher Wren was interested in perspectives, so it definitely works in St Paul’s. Chris Owen, London

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