Every year, London’s leafy Clerkenwell area turns into a buzzing design district, coming alive with a variety of exhibitions, workshops and showcases, series of events and fringe activities. Running from 19.-21. May 2015, and blessed by sunny weather yet again, an international as well as local crowd descended onto this square mile tucked between the Barbican and Angel tube station.
Much more manageable in scale and less bombastic than its big sister in Milan, even to the design-unininvolved a walk through the peaceful side streets presents itself as an enjoyable dip into the creative scene. Over the course of three days, the various businesses located in this neighbourhood presented themselves to a select and interested audience. Often cross-pollinating in terms of ideas as well as visual language across the London creative scene, the event is pleasant and refreshing with a grounded feel.
Since the Industrial Revolution, Clerkenwell has been the home to traditional crafts, and today the area accomodates printers and bookbinders, graphic and interactive design studios, new media agencies, fashion designers (Alexander McQueen is based here) and the nearby City University. However mostly, it is populated by over 60 design showrooms including world-reknowned companies such as Vitra, Poltrona Frau, Artemide, Bulthaup, Thonet, Moroso, and more than 200 architectural practices – purportedly more per square mile than anywhere else on the planet.
Making use of its unique setting, the Clerkenwell Design Week incorporates attractive (often historic) venues that are usually not open to the public. Similar to the Venice Biennale, the venues alone are worth visiting, where works are displayed in four main exhibition spaces: Platform, Detail, Additions and the Design Factory, located within the Order of St. John and its church gardens, the Crypt on the Green of St. James church, the House of Detention, and the exquisite and slightly crumbly Farmiloe Building (used as a set for several Batman films, among other Hollywood blockbusters). As the heart of the Clerkenwell Design Week, the Farmiloe Building’s warehouse stretches over four floors with an industrial flair, a spacious atrium where the main sponsor displays their central piece, the Retail Zone with glass cabins full of nooks and crannies (the former office spaces) and an outdoor courtyard for food and drinks. The Victorian lead and glass merchants George Farmiloe & Sons stored their goods in this warehouse, built with strong wrought-iron beams, which gives the venue its special character even today.
Covering areas such as architecture, lighting, furniture, materials, and even automobile design, the Clerkenwell Design Week is worth a visit for anyone involved in design. This year’s highlights were „London’s first sleeperie“ by Hassell and Draisci Studio to encourage daytime naps, the Venetian Murano glass-inspired pavilion ‘Glaze’ by architects Cousins & Cousins, and Johnson Tiles‘ ‘Verve’ at the entrance to the Farmiloe Building. Thousands of individually placed tiles seemed to be moving while one walked past the wall, playing with perception, colour and reflection.
Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (the creators of the London 2012 Olympic torch) made an appearance, as well as other prominent design personalities such as Ron Arad or Jake Dyson for design talks. Also, this year’s official visuals were created by the British illustration artist Stephen Cheetham. Present with his business All The Fruits that he runs with partner Jessica Pinotti, they produce quirky and cheeky wallpapers and prints. Working for clients as far as Japan (Takashimaya) or Heathrow airport, Stephen’s distinct designs are instantly recognisable and worth putting on your watch list.
This annual free event has attracted 35,414 visitors in 2015. Running since 2010, it has increased in reach and popularity, and is bound to bring on more exciting events in the future.
So if you want a bite-sized overview of what is going on in the design scene without joining the madness in Milano, hop over to London. The dates for 2016 are 24.-26. May 2016, so do drop by for your design fix and a few pints if you’re free. London being a hotbed for creativity, discovering the trends on a ‚local‘ level oftentimes means providing trends for the rest of the world further down the line.