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London Design Festival: Democratic, Creative, Inclusive

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The London Design Festival gives a platform to new design and architecture talent, despite the corporate tone, says Crystal Bennes

It seems like every major city has some sort of design festival, from the Design Indaba in Cape Town and Berlin’s International Design Festival to Athens, Sydney and Tokyo’s offerings.

In contrast to that other stalwart of design weeks, the Milan Furniture Fair, the London Design Festival (LDF) is more about engaging the public with design than it is about selling products. London’s design week is about the exploration of ideas, often showing prototypes and unfinished materials. While this means that many promising new designers don’t reappear from year to year, at least they have a platform to exhibit on.

Trends that emerged during last year’s LDF, such as the emphasis on experiences rather than products, have returned stronger this year. Instead of minimalist showroom interiors, events like Tent Digital allow visitors to engage and play with new technology. Studio Toogood’s Super Natural shows how a group of designers can radically re-imagine the way we eat.

The LDF is sometimes criticised for being too commercial, more big industry and corporate branding than culture, but such a cynical attitude ignores some gems. Many events aim to engage the public, and while it’s unfortunate that major corporations have to stump up the cash to make them happen, at least they happen. Audi-sponsored Kram/Weisshaar light-tracing robots in Trafalgar Square and HSBC-sponsored Max Lamb Cast Courts at the V&A capture the public imagination and get people excited about design.

The Origin craft fair, Tramshed and What Women Make are good examples of another persistent LDF trend, promoting craft and hand-made design – a nice foil to the corporate-branded event. These events privilege process and presentation, and aim to create an environment, not a product.

The LDF allows us decide for ourselves what constitutes good design.

London Design Festival 2010, 18-26 September, various locations,www.londondesignfestival.com

What to see at LDF

  • Skyroom at the Architecture Foundation

    Designed by David Kohn Architects, the Skyroom is a rooftop venue constructed from steel with copper mesh facades. 136-148 Tooley Street, SE1 2TU,
    18-26 September
  • Super Natural

    Dedicated to foraging, Studio Toogood’s creation includes a mushroom installation and a pop-up café. North Terrace, SW3 2BA,
    10am-6pm,17-28 September
  • Max Lamb and Stuart Haygarth

    Look out for Max Lamb’s Cast Courts project and Stuart Haygarth’s ‘Framed’ installation. Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, SW7 2RL,
    10am-6pm, 18-26 September
  • Tent Digital

    A satellite event at Tent London, Tent Digital is like all the best bits of the Science Museum in one place. Truman Brewery, E1 6QL,
    10am-8pm, 23-26 September
  • Hel Yes

    A temporary restaurant and exhibition showcasing the best in Finnish food and design. 1-3 Wenlock Road, N1 7SL, hours vary,
    15 September-3 October
  • The Tramshed

    This former power station has been transformed into a slick venue for 25 international designers. 32 Rivington Street, EC2A 3LX,
    11-6pm, 23-26 September
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