Why I design

Monday 28 September 2015

A group of designers gathered in London on Friday to describe why, exactly, they do what they do.

This was ‘Why I design’; the NLA’s latest pechakucha – an afternoon of quick-fire presentations organized at designjunction as part of the London Design Festival.

Introduced by Aidan Walker, Director, designjunction Theatre Programme, Mark Dytham, Architect and CoFounder, pechakucha Night, Tokyo described the origins of the phenomenon in Japan, where he and his colleagues had hit upon the format of presenters showing 20 slides of 20 seconds each. ‘It appears there is a need for sessions like this in cities where young architects and designers can share their work’, said Dytham. Dytham designs ‘to make a difference’ he said, showing schemes such as a laminated timber shelter and indoor play area in an area of Japan where there is still background radiation, and to ‘make cities friendly and warm and approachable’, such as Dytham’s project to design a police box open 24 hours a day in southern Japan. Lastly, Dytham said he designs to ‘right a wrong’, showing his project to ‘camouflage’ two 40-storey hotels in a national park in Hokkaido, and to ‘make people smile’, showing a new gallery in an airport for Toto, the toilet company.

Sally Lewis, Founding Director of Stitch, took the audience on a ‘journey’ around London, unearthing the ‘stories’ from buildings and council estate regeneration projects in Ealing, Walthamstow, Dagenham – even her own house. ‘We talk a lot about streets because that’s where we think there is a connected interest’, she said. One of the reasons she designs is so her children can they can tell their friends their mother creates housing albeit as ‘a parent who doesn’t have a very good work life balance, so I appreciate that’.

Landscape architect Andrew Harland, Director, LDA Design was up next, and talked amongst other schemes of Burgess Park in south London, which is a project he is most proud of because of its authenticity and closeness to the community. ‘It’s also a piece of city, that is also designed to fit in with the streets around’, he said, as opposed to the unwelcoming place it was before. It was this kind of transformation that was so exciting, he said, and one of the main things that makes Harland get up in the morning and go to work. ‘The real thing that drives me on is about people. You’ve got to have ‘lurve’ and space’; trying to raise public space so it has something else.’

Why does Ben Adams, Founder, Ben Adams Architects design? Well, architects are inspired by difficulty and finding solutions to things but as soon as they have ideas they don’t like to be critical, said Adams. But storytelling is key, doing more with less, and taking things away until it feels right. Adams’ college tutors Eric Parry and Simon Allford, the latter of which was Adams’ boss for five years, were inspirations in the way they instilled in him to ask the right questions, something many clients fail to do, Adams believes. And constraints that are in every project – neighbours, planning issues, rights to light, interest groups – should always be inspirations to work harder and ‘make something beautiful.’Ultimately, Adams seeks to make something wild, but which is also rigorous at the same tim.

For structural engineer Jane Wernick of Jane Wernick Associates part of the joy of design is the conversations she has with collaborators, such as with David Marks and Julia Barfield on an ideas competition for a bridge. Or on the Millennium Wheel, where one of the key moves was to allow the capsules uninterrupted views by placing them outside the trusses of the rim. Another is how design and a place really can affect the ‘psyche’, she said.

Finally, Colin Ball, Lighting Director at BDP, showed the UK pavilion at the Milan Expo, saying that lighting has been ‘misunderstood’ for the last eight or nine decades ever since it has been engineered as a product. ‘Lighting is the ability for people to be comfortable in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening’, he said. So the same principles are used in Milan, for an 800 year old timber barn or a special one off event to celebrate the Unesco Year of Light, next week. For retail people will spend more if the lighting is right, and in education pupils will concentrate more. But not everything is quite so serious. ‘Essentially I design because I don’t think anyone else would employ me’, said Ball.

David Taylor, Editor, New London Quarterly

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As part of the London Design Festival next week, NLA hosted an afternoon of quick-fire presentations at designjunction.