Five of the best design installations at London Design Festival

By Penny Craswell

As a fan of multi-disciplinary design as well as experimental projects, I was pleased to see so many design installations at this year’s London Design Festival. I have already covered three of the best installations in this blog: Heartbeat, an installation of 100,000 white balloons by French photographer Charles Pétillon, and two Faye Toogood installations (The Cloakroom and The Drawing Room) incorporating fashion, curatorship, making and sculpture. Here are five more and why they are interesting.

1) Curiosity Cloud by Viennese studio Mischer’Traxler at the V&A Museum

Curiosity Cloud by Mischler Traxler. Photo: Penny Craswell
Curiosity Cloud by Mischler Traxler. Photo: Penny Craswell
Curiosity Cloud by Mischler Traxler. Photo: PC
Curiosity Cloud by Mischler Traxler. Photo: PC

You enter an ornate room of the V&A filled with 264 suspended blown-glass bulbs hanging from the ceiling. In each bulb, a small insect hand-made out of transparent foil flutters against the side of the glass when it senses your movement. Katharina Mischer (1982) and Thomas Traxler (1981) met while studying at the Design Academy Eindhoven and started their practice in Vienna in 2009. Curiosity Cloud is part of their ongoing collaboration with champagne brand Perrier-Jouët exploring “small discoveries.”

2) Alcoholic Architecture by UK-based “jelly architects” Bompas & Parr

Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr, best enjoyed with friends (Melonie Bayl-Smith to be exact). Photo: PC
Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr, best enjoyed with friends (Melonie Bayl-Smith from Bijl Architecture to be exact). Photo: PC
Breathe Responsibly at Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr. Photo: PC
Breathe Responsibly at Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr. Photo: PC
The bar at Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr. Photo: PC
The bar at Alcoholic Architecture by Bompas & Parr. Photo: PC


Not really part of the London Design Festival, this installation by British food and design duo Bompas & Parr gave visitors the chance to breathe in their gin and tonic (rather than the boring, old-fashioned method of drinking it). It’s a strange experience. You put on a poncho and, after buying a drink at a subterranean bar, enter a small room filled with mist via a sign that says “breathe responsibly”. You breathe in about the equivalent of one drink during an hour. This is part of a series by Sam Bompas and Harry Parr which is coming to Brisbane, so get ready to get your mist on.

3) Connected by Pattern by UK-based Patternity and US-based Paperless Post at Somerset House

Me being part of the pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post.
Me forming part of the black and white landscape, Connected by Pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post.
View the other way Pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post. Photo: PC
View the other way Connected by Pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post. Photo: PC
The view in the mirror, Pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post. Photo: PC
A round mirror reflects the installation from above, Connected by Pattern by Patternity and Paperless Post. Photo: PC


This installation began as a black and white stationery design by Patternity for Paperless post. The three-dimensional version of this graphic expression featured a range of black and white objects on a black and white field. For those who want the full experience, a poncho allows you to blend right in. Patternity is a pattern archive and research hub in the UK, while Paperless Post is a US company allowing for personalised stationery.

4) My Grandfather’s Tree by UK designer Max Lamb at Somerset House

A tree wedge, part of Grandfather's Tree by Max Lamb. Photo: PC
A tree wedge, part of My Grandfather’s Tree by Max Lamb. Photo: PC
Some of the items Max Lamb created for Grandfather's Tree. Photo: PC
Some of the items Max Lamb created for My Grandfather’s Tree. Photo: PC


A poetic story is at the heart of this installation. An ailing tree of huge proportions at the farm of Max Lamb’s grandfather needed to be cut down. So London-based furniture designer Max Lamb created 131 separate objects out of the tree, providing a unique perspective on the use of natural resources. My London-based friend and design writer Giovanna Dunmall wrote a great interview with Max, published at Cultured Mag online here.

5) Straight by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei at the Royal Academy London

Straight 2008-2012 by Ai Wei Wei, steel reinforcing bars, 600 x 1200 cm. Photo: PC
Straight 2008-2012 by Ai Weiwei, steel reinforcing bars, 600 x 1200 cm. Photo: PC


This installation is not part of the London Design Festival either but was one of the many powerful and important installations by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei shown as part of a large retrospective at the Royal Academy. Called Straight, this work is particularly moving. In 2008, the Sichuan Earthquake claimed many lives, including those of thousands of school children attending school during the time of the quake.

Here, 90 tons of steel reinforcing bars from the schools that collapsed have been straightened to form an undulating field. The work is a comment on the substandard building methods of the schools built, due to the corruption of Chinese authorities. Ai Weiwei also collected the names of the children killed and published them, first on his blog and now as part of the work. For more on this exhibition (and some better quality images of this work and many others), read the excellent article by another design writer friend Dana Tomic Hughes over at Yellowtrace. This video is also great.

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