London Design Festival in King’s Cross is dominated by bright ideas that won’t cost the earth.
Words: Tom Kihl
Twenty-nineteen already stands out as the year that the agenda around product sustainability shifted quite dramatically. No longer a premium optional niche, eco-credentials have now become a mainstream consumer priority. So, it’s no real surprise that this year’s London Design Festival (LDF) is choc-full of innovative, environmentally minded creations. Interest in these kinds of designs is only going to move up a gear correspondingly, too. With the designer-makers of Coal Drops Yard open for business at the heart of the King’s Cross Design District for the first time during the festival, we’ve chosen some of the key projects aiming to make–rather than exert–a big impact.
Soapack by Mi Zhou, Central Saint Martins
You can rely on Central Saint Martins students to be pioneering when it comes to bold eco-concepts. The college’s Maison/0 partnership with luxury group LVMH focuses on sustainable innovation, and special LDF exhibition Designing in Turbulent Times showcases some of the graduate projects that offer real hope for the future. Qiang Huang exhibits Bike Scavengers, a collection of unfinished furniture bases that require the use of salvaged bicycle components to make stools, benches, lamps and trolleys. Her idea came from the urgent need to deal with the vast amount of waste being produced from discarded hire bikes worldwide. Similarly, Mi Zhou was motivated to design Soapack in response to the growing mountains of single-use plastic toiletry packaging. She makes a range of items, such as shampoo bottles, out of soap, which can be used when the product inside is empty. And Maël Hénaff, studying MA MaterialFutures, has created the sea money maker, an invention that tackles both unemployment and the hidden environmental costs of mining new cryptocurrency coins. It’s a small device that floats on water and harnesses tidal energy while generating income for coastal communities. These and other mind-blowing designs are on show throughout LDF.
Ceramic Tableware made entirely from waste, Granby Workshop
Liverpool’s Granby Workshop is launching the world’s first range of ceramic tableware made from100% waste materials at its pop-up on Lower Stable Street. The manufacturer developed beautiful products that reproduce the durable attributes of everyday glazed stoneware and porcelain, but are made entirely from resources otherwise destined for landfill. The team painstakingly analysed and experimented with waste glass, metal, steel and quarry spoils to create a durable, food and microwave-safe product in beautiful colours and one-of-a-kind finishes, achieved by drawing out the different metal and ceramic oxides from each waste material during the firing process.
Sofa For Life, Glasgow School of Art
Coal Drops Yard’s very own in-house design school, STORE Store, offers local state school kids the chance to design, manufacture and sell high-quality, sustainable products by attending its After School Club events. Royalties earned from the sales of the first collection of glassware during LDF will go to the charity of the students’ choice. Sofa For Life, a start-up that originated as a project at the Glasgow School of Art, is preparing to launch a Kickstarter funding drive hot on the heels of appearing at LDF. Drop by and put your feet up at its stall at designjunction to find out more about the sofa. The piece of furniture is not only made from impeccably sustainable materials, but is also modular, so it can be customised and modified as required, and it uses circular design methods to be fully recyclable one day.
House of Cans, Can Con Festival
Beer drinking can be sustainable, too, thank goodness. Can-only bar and off-licence House of Cans is doing its bit with one-day drinks festival Can Con (Sat 21 Sept). The bar and shop will be bringing together 15 designers and breweries for the event to showcase the intersection of packaging design and small-batch beers, in the infinitely recyclable medium of the aluminium tinny. While enjoying a chilled IPA on Lower Stable Street, look up to see a specially commissioned series of banners fluttering in the late summer breeze.
TOTTEX, sustainable sportswear
Curator Kiosk N1C showcases the challenges of waste in the textile and fashion industries in this installation created by Tottenham Textiles. The north London textile studio, an expert in eco-conscious urban threads, will be running a series of workshops based around their TOTTEX range of sustainable sportswear.
Tom Dixon, Swirl
TouchySmellyFeelyNoisyTasty, from industrial design leader Tom Dixon, aims to tickle all six senses in a special LDF exhibition at his canal-side Coal Office HQ, featuring new work from his studio and collaborators. Worth investigating is the Swirl family of tables, vases, candle holders and wall hooks, hewn from a material that is a by-product of the marble industry. A powdered stone residue is mixed with pigment and resin to create recycled blocks that can be sawn, sliced and turned on a lathe. English weaver Rush Matters, which makes furniture, baskets and accessories from harvested Bulrush, will demonstrate how to weave a chair frame using an entirely natural material. Scotland’s Bute Fabrics, which collects and recycles yarns during production to create wool-rich textiles, will be showing off its upcoming upholstery collaboration with Tom Dixon for the range of Fat chairs, sofas, chaise longues and stools.
Disco Carbonara, Martino Gamper
Bute Fabrics is also decking out the walls of the Textiles Arch with tweed wool and will be demonstrating weaving. LDF x CDY Landmark Commission Disco Carbonara is London-based Italian designer Martino Gamper’s take on a Potemkin Village. From the front, it is to all intents and purposes a nightclub, complete with a surly bouncer and banging music; from the back, though, it’s nothing more than a stage set. Inspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the temporary nature of design festivals, Gamper has constructed the entire façade from offcuts of Alpi wood – a composite veneer – and the panels on the reverse can all be reused after the festival is over. “By using waste wood, you get more creative licence, because the material is already un-precious,” he says. “The expectations that come with precious materials can be quite limiting, whereas if you use an offcut or waste product, you have to push harder, but the return is a lot more interesting.” Un-precious it may be, but Disco Carbonara at Coal Drops Yard, with its history as a nightlife hub of the 1990s rave era, is definitely interesting.
This article first appeared in the Autumn 2019 edition of King’s Cross Quarterly magazine. Read more about the people and stories that make King’s Cross, or find out where you can pick up the latest copy of King’s Cross Quarterly below.