Thursday, 28 June 2012


With the move to Battersea more or less complete, SHOW RCA has become a vast, sprawling event. 4 buildings in Battersea and 2 in Kensington Gore means you need your walking shoes on. The new Dyson Building is an impressive space, yet strangely empty, while the Design Products area felt a little hidden and cramped. There seemed to be several strange curatorial decisions with this years show, but perhaps that is simply a case of not being used to all this new space. Here are our Top 5 (in no particular order) from across the 2 venues:

1 Sam Weller Holdfast

Part of the team that made their own money in Milan, Sam Weller presented his own project Holdfast as part of Design Products. Inspired by the humble (but handy) workbench clamp, the metal elements for Holdfast are produced on a computer controlled machine and this single component can be used to form bookshelves, tables or stools.

2 Anton Alvarez The Art of Thread Wrapping 

Using his slightly odd but pleasingly home-made Thread Wrapping Machine, Anton Alvarez presented a whole series of objects, from stools, to benches to lights, all held together purely by glue coated thread. Each piece is unique as a result, a craft aesthetic with an industrial method. 

3 Évelie Moulia Untitled

A new jewellery collection shown in Kensington, this struck us for its utter simplicity yet innovation. Neat, sharp and precise, with the finest chains you are ever likely to have seen this held our attention for some time.

4 Jon Fraser WaterBuoy

Innovation Design Engineering projects had a decidedly social feel - simple ways to improve our communities and society. WaterBuoy is incredibly easy to install and communicates in a very simple, colourful way through "Droplets" how much water a household is consuming (and wasting!). Even though it may feel like it never stops raining, water is a scarce commodity and needs to be used with caution. WaterBuoy acts as a reminder each time we fill the kettle or run the washing machine and was a worthy winner of the Dyson Award. 

5 Stuart White and David Gibson Sharing Bin

Apart from their own projects, Stuart White and David Gibson collaborated on Sharing Bin, a closed network, ideal for creative places like art schools, where people can share the files in their computer's recycle bin. the idea is to encourage recycling and intellectual sharing. The item you have binned may not be the thing you needed, or may be obsolete in your work, but could be just the thing for someone else to spark their creativity. One mans rubbish is another mans gold. 

There was quite a strong social and even political focus in this years show, with an impromptu cafe set up in Kensington where people could sit, chat and share ideas or listen to talks and also a BUY/TRADE shop, where graduates accepted offers in the form of money or services for their work. A piece of art or design in exchange for some advice on setting up your own practise perhaps?

The political dimension came from Minjae Huh and the Future Without PSW project, protesting the governments decision to scrap Post-Study Work visas, which in effect means all students, who will have paid substantial fees to study in the UK, have to leave within 2 months of graduating. To support the protest, Minjae kindly pre-printed postcards addressed to  Damian Green MP. Are we seeing the start of a new overt political activism in our colleges?


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Heatherwick Studio at the V&A

As part of our cultural detours yesterday, we stopped by the recently opened Heatherwick Studio retrospective at the V&A Museum. Designed, presumably, to provide a sense of the working studio environment, it was full to the brim of models, details, prototypes, videos of everything from Doha desert hotel complexes to Christmas cards. A little too much on display, to be honest (something we heard from several other visitors) but once you get lost in the detail, it was fascinating to see the enormous range of projects the studio undertakes.

Image via It's Nice That
Image via It's Nice That
From early projects like Plank, and B of the Bang to more recent (and noticeably larger scale) projects like the multi-faceted skyscraper hotel in China and the celebrated Seed Cathedral, the show is arranged thematically - materiality, technology, collaboration etc.

The new bus for London, an homage to the 1950's Routemaster, and rolls of upholstery fabric designed by Heatherwick for the project sits alongside crumpled steel sheets used in the construction of the Aberystwyth Artist Studios project. 

Autumn Intrusion for Harvey Nichols, 1997
Smaller items such as the Spun chair and the Extrusions bench (which we mentioned way back here) sit on plinths in the centre of the room, along with an enormous chandelier for the Wellcome Trust. The Wellcome commission came after construction of the building on the Euston Road was complete, so the challenge was to design something that would fit through a standard door. Heatherwick went one further, creating a 30 metre high chandelier that could fit through a letter box. 142,000 glass spheres were threaded onto 27,000 steel cables by 3 teams, working 24 hours a day for 4 months. The result is Bleigiessen and can be viewed at the Wellcome trust on the last Friday of every month at 2pm.

Here's a handy hint - the studio have vowed that every Friday at 2pm, someone from the studio will be on hand to demonstrate the working models, including the 7 metre retractable bridge. It's well worth timing your visit to include that.

For added value, spend some time in the V&A central reception area watching kids, young and old, playing with the Spun chairs. You'll never tire of watching their expressions change from trepidation to pure glee.

Serpentine Pavilion by Herzog & de Meuron and Ai Weiwei

We decided to take early advantage of the extra long Jubilee bank holiday weekend and took a cultural detour to the new Serpentine Pavilion, designed by starchitects Herzog & de Meuron in association with Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, the team behind the Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing. 

This years commission used the blueprints for the 11 preceding pavilions as its foundations. Digging down to ground water level, as opposed to building a standard structure above ground, and then lining everything in cork, it has the appearance of an archaeological excavation. The mushroom shaped cork stools feel monumental, as if they were hewn out of the rock. Cool and calm, the experience is in stark contrast to the bright red Jean Nouvel pavilion of 2010.

Unfortunately, Ai Weiwei was unable to attend the opening of his own pavilion due to his being under "city arrest" in Beijing. Dezeen have a video interview with Jacques Herzog at the Pavilion HERE.