The London Design Festival (LDF) has come of age. Now in its 21st year, the event provides a platform to promote British design excellence, unfurling across 13 different design districts. A smorgasbord of exhibitions, installations, pop-ups, talks and events across the city make up the nine-day celebration.

At a preview event held at the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), festival director Ben Evans remarked that this year marks the first full-fledged event since the pandemic. As our trends report The Age of Re-enchantment notes, the last few years have left their mark on many people, leaving a sense of disconnection and dislocation. In response, many of the designers and artists showing work at this year’s LDF channelled the restorative salve of community, togetherness and reconnection.

Ritual connections

A powerful installation at St Paul’s Cathedral highlights the power of ritual to bring people together in collective experience. Aura, by Spanish artist Pablo Valbuena in partnership with arts organization Artichoke commemorates the 300th anniversary of the death of Sir Christopher Wren by making the sounds of worship visible. A slender 20-meter column of aluminium studded with custom-made LED lights is suspended from the dome of the cathedral. The sounds of speech, music and singing are captured and translated via an algorithm into beams of light, which react to pitch, volume and intensity. By responding to the people and the building, the work creates a conversation across time delivered in the form of a ‘spectral aura’.

Upward view of cathedral dome with beam of white light suspended from the centre
LDF23 - Aura at St Paul's Cathedral - Pablo Valbuena - Supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies - Credit Ed Reeve

At the V&A, Unstruck Melody is a work comprising tapestry, sculpture and film that explores Sikh teachings of spirituality and self-discovery. Created by British-born Canadian artist Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu and UK arts organisation Without Shape Without Form, its title is a translation of ‘anhad shabad’, a term that describes an inner hum that Sikh tradition says we can all access through deep listening. By accessing the unstruck melody, we experience deep self-awareness, healing and unlock community with others.

Long arched room bathed in blue light in which large tapestries are displayed with an information board at the front with the words Unstruck Melody
'Unstruck Melody' by Nirbhai (Nep) Singh Sidhu and Without Shape Without Form (c) Victoria and Albert Museum,

Community creators

Other exhibits underline the power of creativity to bring communities together. The Lego Piece Garden by the Lego Group and the creative platform It’s Nice That, invites visitors to its Shoreditch pop-up store to ‘find a sense of joyful focus’ in creating their own floral art piece to add to a colorful community garden. “A playful approach”, says the brand, “is the best way to encourage collaboration between people.”

Hana Mikoshi is another collaborative floral project inspired by the traditional flower shrines central to the annual Mino Matsuri festival in Japan. Presented by the Gifu Prefecture and Hayatsu Architects, a seating installation is decorated with 50,000 pink cherry blossom flowers, all made of super-strong wasahi paper. In the same way that the local community in Gifu comes together each year to create the festival shrines together, these flowers were applied to the structure in a collective effort by visitors to the V&A over the summer.

Upward view of a floral shrine covered in thousands of pink paper blossoms
Installation image of 'Hana Mikoshi' at the V&A (c) Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Amplifying diverse creativity

In the Brompton Design District, Manus Manum Lavat (One Hand Washes the Other) is a living-room style exhibition created by the designer and woodworker Rio Kobayashi exploring themes of collaboration, conviviality and friendship. Not only has Kobayashi worked with other designers, makers and creatives to create many of the pieces on show, the space itself is designed to bring people together, to listen to music and to relax.

Meanwhile at the London Design Fair, which took over the Truman Brewery for four days of the festival, interior design studio 2LG (aka local design duo Jordan Cluroe and Russell Whitehead) presented ‘You Can Sit With Us’, a concept space that gives a much-needed platform to diverse talent in the design industry. Collaborators from different communities have contributed a chair design that represents them to a 14-seater dining table, in a piece that figuratively invites emerging designers to take a seat at the table.

Diverse mixed group of 12 people sitting in a studio some seated some standing Behind them on the wall is text You Can Sit With Us
You Can Sit with Us by 2LG Studio at the London Design Fair. Photo credit: Megan Taylor

The Intelligence Take

Our global research for the Age of Re-enchantment points to a widespread yearning for reconnection: 85% of those surveyed said they believe that “people seem to have less time for each other these days,” while 56% agree that “there’s no sense of community anymore.” This year’s festival delivers inspiration for brands to drive radical reconnection, through collective experiences that center on collaboration and mutual support.

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