Sustainability and mental wellbeing, the theme of London Design Festival 2018

There was a clear message of how design affects us, our mental wellbeing and the future of our planet at this year's London Design Festival.

It is, as we know, a conversation that's getting louder. A dialogue that encourages us to question our choice of materials – the very foundation of our projects, products and businesses – and how they impact humanity.

At this year's London Design Biennale at Somerset House, for example, the theme was "Emotional States" with 40 countries, cities and territories from six continents taking part. While the event considered how design affects every aspect of our lives, another clear message was environmental and how we are going to save our planet.

The Impenetrable Forest by Argentina presented a celebration of an ongoing story of self-sustainability. While David Elia's Desmatamento captured the vulnerability of Brazil's rainforest and the emotional toll of its continuing destruction. Pure Gold by Germany touched on the subject of upcycling, transforming waste into objects of desire.

We were also inspired by Variant Studio's Matter to Matter, which invited us to leave fleeting messages on a wall of condensation. It is a statement about culture and transience, and the ways in which nature can cover over human traces.

David Elia's Desmatamento
Matter to Matter by Variant Studio

The theme of mental wellbeing continued in the courtyard of Somerset House where Studio Ini's installation, Disobedience, was a 17-metre long kinetic wall that challenged our perception of design and architecture as something static, or emotionally inert.

Sitting above the Thames on the South Bank, meanwhile, Brit Steuart Padwick's Head Above Water installation, a giant head, aimed to spark conversations about mental health issues. It was built to support Time to Change, an anti-stigma mental health campaign that hopes to change attitudes.

Head Above Water by Steuart Padwick
Studio Ini's installation, Disobedience

At the Old Truman Brewery, London Design Fair chose plastic as its 2018 Material of the Year and celebrated just some of the designers who are choosing to address the issue of "single-use" plastic.

Material designer and Central Saint Martins graduate Charlotte Kidger works with polyurethane foam dust, a by-product of CNC fabrication, to create a versatile and durable composite material. The composite is processed by means of cold casting to create 3D objects. Kidger showcased her collection of large-scale tables and vessels at the Fair.

We also discovered Dirk Vander Kooij who is best known for his playful extrusions of reclaimed synthetics. Using an in-house-designed robot and materials recycled from a range of polycarbonate products, Vander Kooij applies low-resolution 3D printing in furniture production.

MultiPly at the V&A Museum
Pure Gold at Somerset House

Another highlight was Weez & Merl who design around the concept of a circular economy, crafting plastic designs from local waste materials. The duo literally melt plastic bags and packaging to make a selection of objects – it's a process that includes a distinctive marbling effect, achieved by adding coloured plastic bags to melted plastic.

Japanese designer and artist Kodai Iwamoto, meanwhile, showcased his latest work 'Plastic Blowing Project', which aims to transform cheap, easily-available materials into artworks by applying old-manufacturing processes and answering the question, what will happen if an old manufacturing process meets a cheap and mass-produced material?

Sustainability continued at the V&A with MultiPly, a giant carbon-neutral, wooden pavilion made entirely of American tulipwood. It hoped to address the world's pressing need for housing and the urgency to fight climate change with modular systems and sustainable construction materials as a solution.


At Brompton Design District, where we spent a happy hour, we discovered the running theme was 'Material Consequences'. Curated by Jane Withers Studio, it exhibited design projects that rethink attitudes to materials and waste, and the shift to a circular economy. Here, we popped into Studio 8Fold's Wasteline installation, which showcased a collection of office waste from 12 people over 30 days. Based in a mirror-clad room, it really hit home the magnitude of our waste problem in the UK.

Elsewhere, in the Crafting Plastics! studio, the 'Feel Free To Consume' was an interactive installation and collection of ready-to-wear products and objects based on its research in Nuatan – a new generation of bioplastic material.

We also loved London-based Mexican designer Fernando Laposse exhibition of his Totomoxtle project (also shortlisted for the Beazley Designs of the Year), a new veneer and sustainable material for interior surfaces and furniture that harnesses the brilliant spectrum of colour revealed in the husks of native Mexican corn.

This is also the District that saw the launch of Why Materials Matter by Ma-tt-er, a visually stunning book exploring both natural and man-made materials that hope to "change the way we look at the world around us".

Overall, this year's London Design Festival addressed many of the issues we strongly support at Alusid. We look forward to seeing how architects and designers translate the messages of sustainability and wellbeing in their future projects.