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This week: London's design festivals

Designers Saturday of the 1980s shows how important design is today, says Felix Mara

The London Design Festival, which began in 2003, is the culmination of three decades of evolution in British design culture and public attitudes towards design. Designers Saturday, an annual event held in London in the 1980s that originated in New York, was part of this evolution. Before this, Britain’s design community had a much lower profile. Although its output sometimes enjoyed great popularity, public awareness of design was relatively unsophisticated.

It introduced me to “networking” before the term had come to my attention.

Architects director Chris Roche says: As a Part 2 graduate arriving in London to start my career, I saw it as the highlight of the cultural calendar. It introduced me to “networking” before the term had come to my attention.

I particularly remember a stunning post-event party at the British Museum, at which I landed a life-changing job. It was years ahead of its time, with architects and students being ferried between showrooms by a fleet of free taxis.’

Roche remembers an event at which he was unable to get anywhere near his friend, the industrial designer Ross Lovegrove, as he was surrounded by people; an indicator of the emerging cult of design celebrity.

Architect and journalist Peter Murray notes that it was organised by a small consortium of competing furniture and lighting manufacturers, including Knoll, Aram Designs, Herman Miller, Hille, Artemide and Erco. ‘They needed to get together to make a statement about design, which was the unifying factor, but they all fell out badly in the end.’ He also remembers Zeev Aram being very upset after an incident involving an expensive ashtray.

The 1980s event seems amateurish today, and some wrote it off as more of a freeloaders’ paradise than a serious commercial or cultural event, but the formula took off. Designers Saturdays have been held in venues from New York to Oslo. As a vehicle for promoting design awareness, this can only be a good thing.

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