Bigger the better at London Design Festival

There's no need to register for trade shows to get a piece of London Design Festival - just look to the streets, says Annie Deakin
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The Independent Online

In just a few days time, London will resemble Disney World with a giant chess set overtaking Trafalgar Square and a cardboard tower perching beside a colourful monster mushroom on Southbank. The London Design Festival, which starts on 19 September, has commissioned giant installations in public spaces to allow the general public to get a slice of the action. The festival is for everyone, not just industry visitors of the trade shows.

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"The London Design Festival is now seven years old. And if superstition is to be believed, the seventh year is a pivotal one: when attention begins to wander or commitment is reasserted," wrote Ben Evans, Director of the festival. "We know things are different this year - economic conditions have ensured that - but in many ways it is a positive difference."

The oversized installations certainly give an optimistic message to the capital. They will challenge perceptions and intrigue those who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in design. The giant chess set called The Tournament will stand tall for five days in Trafalgar Square. It is gripping in a way that Anthony Gormley's fourth plinth project for One and Other (if we’re honest) failed to be.

Created by Spanish designer Jamie Hayon’s tall porcelain chess set, which will sit between the two fountains, is an invitation to the city to "come out and play". Pros will play in the morning and it is open to the public after lunch. Typically for Hayon, the project is adventurous in its conception and grand in gesture; the 32 hand-painted pieces are two metre high and mounted on wheels so they can be moved around. Hayon once created a full-size ceramic private jet for the mosaic tile company Bisazza (who incidentally supplied the chess tile board) and his shops for Spanish shoe company Camper are theatrical in design. The latest in Tokyo is a whirlwind of candy cane, mirrors and quilting.

Hayon had originally thought of creating a Gaudi-esque cathedral made of scaffolding but decided to focus instead on war and strategy. His chess installation reflects the battle of Trafalgar between the British royal navy and the combined fleets of the Spanish and French navy which the British won thanks to Lord Nelson. "If it wasn’t for that triumph, this country wouldn’t be quite the same," says Hayon. The irony is not lost on the fact that Hayon is Spanish himself. It is a reminder that London is a respected design capital of the world; Hayon could work anywhere in the world but he chose Soho.

Further East, Southbank will soon be turned into a temporary playground for weird and wonderful creations. The London Design Festival commissioned Marc Newson and Shigeru Ban to design thought-provoking art for the annual Size + Matter installations (19 September - 18 October).

Their aim was to challenge the perception of everyday material with dramatic outside temporary installations. Marc Newson, who is a member of the design board, created a vast steel form entitled Supercell that looks organic but also mathematical in spirit. Multi-coloured and cartoon-like in its scale, the steel sculpture will mushroom out of the ground more like something you’d expect out of a Disney cartoon than on London's grey skyline. He collaborated with Arcelor Mittal for the project and used 17 wafer-thin, brightly coloured enamel wafer-thin steel plates.

Nearby is a curious-looking 22-metre high cone shaped installation constructed from hundreds of cardboard tubes. Created by the Japanese architect and designer Ban, the sculpture called Paper Tower explores his fascination with the neglected material cardboard. When compressed, cardboard has industrial strength. Both pieces will be auctioned by Phillips de Pury & Company on 15 October.

It has not gone unnoticed that of the designers invited to build these monster-sized outside installations, none are British. Hayon is Spanish, Newson - Australian and Ban - Japanese. By showcasing the best of designers from all over the world, LDF is showing itself to be an international exhibition.

It has been estimated that over a million passersby will see the Disney-sized sculptures at Southbank and considerably more in Trafalgar Square. Hayon says, "It's the first time that people will play with my work quite literally, and for me, that is the most important thing. It's the social aspect that's important."

Annie Deakin is Editor of