100% Design 2011

If there was a theme to this year’s 100% Design, it was encapsulated in the opening seminar chaired by design critic Justin McGuirk, which posed the timely question: is design post-national? With a particular focus, naturally, on Britain, the panel of designers and architects discussed what it means to be a British designer in this day and age, how it is perceived by other nationalities and whether British design has its own ‘essence’, especially when compared to more readily defined notions of, for example, Scandinavian or Dutch design. The openness of the British design approach was mutually agreed upon by the panel; the reason London remains an internationally renowned creative hub is that it generates designers, rather than a pre-formed design methodology or aesthetic. While there is a formidable lineage (Peter Cook and the AA School were mentioned), it encompasses other national identities to create its own unique ‘melting pot’ approach, as McGuirk suggested – and it is this in itself that is a uniquely British trait.

With 13 international stalls at 100% Design 2011, including new country stands from ‘emerging and far-flung’ Argentina, Chile, Taiwan, South Korea, Greece and China, it’s no surprise that the topic of national identity and its relevance to contemporary design would be raised. And it is with this in mind that we embarked, bleary-eyed with coffee in hand, upon our intrepid exploration of this year’s showcase.

To begin with one of the more familiar international design hubs, French company Atelier Polyhedre stood out for its cutting-edge approach to domestic ceramics – not an easy task to conquer. ‘Fluctuating between minimalist rigour and baroque exuberance’ as designers Baptiste Ymonet and Vincent Jousseaume express it, their tableware and decorative objects are pure and uncomplicated in natural terracotta and glazed white. Their fundamental forms capture the essence of sharp-edged simplicity that proved prominent throughout the better end of the showcase’s spectrum. Taking this simplicity a step further towards utilitarian, almost brutalist-looking design, was the prevalent use of industrial materials such as cast iron, concrete and thick rope to create intelligent storage systems. Defined by bold, undecorated and masculine shapes in either neutral greys or bright colours, strong examples are STEININGER’s Concrete Kitchen with contrasting ‘herb patches’ and young, Dalston-based Nick Fraser’s re-appropriation of common objects into no-messing domestic furnishings, such as coat hooks and candlesticks made from the humble water pipe. Fraser also nods to the new age of ceramics with his geometric pots in natural terracotta or half-dipped in a simple silver glaze. In contrast to this trend, textiles were thick and full, with heavy, tasselled clumps of fabric to create a cosy contradiction to their harsh surroundings, such as Patricia Urquiola’s MANGAS puff and con3studio’s Pompon.

From Taiwan came the appealing BlackDiamond by YANTOUCH, a ‘3D Ambience Dock’ for iPhone which amplifies music whilst charging the device in a compact, multi-faceted ball that comes in a range of nacreous colours. Clay Designs’ illuminated, cable-free coffee table, Sqill, their debut piece of 'ambience liberated furniture', is another example of clever, no-frills design.

Kiki Van Eijk’s range of decorative sculptures hyphenated Surrealist ideas with an ancient Graeco-Roman aesthetic. This theme, which has of course been increasingly present in the art and design world over the past few years, was also adopted in experimental ways at Mint’s showcase as part of the Brompton Design District. Here, .PSLAB’s lighting designs were heavily laden with references to antiquity, with golden discs atop sleek black pillars, while other designers nodded to the influence with huge marble-effect balls and table-tops. Here also, vases, chairs and cutlery formed from imperfect casts made a distinct impression.

In an internet age, design has no choice but to become post-national – to operate in an ‘economy of ideas’ and knowledge-sharing that is situated in a particular moment, rather than a particular place – and this is what London captures so wonderfully.

With a mix of British and international, established and up-and-coming, here is our pick of the top ten at 100% Design 2011:

Patricia Urquiola – NUB chairs and MANGAS puff – www.patriciaurquiola.com

Timur Gayrimenkul – nef – www.timurgayrimenkul.com

STEININGER – Concrete Kitchen – www.steininger-designers.at

Atelier Polyhedre – www.polyhedre.com

YANTOUCH – BlackDiamond – www.yantouch.com

Kiki Van Eijk – www.kikiworld.nl

Robofold – www.robofold.com

Kirath Ghundoo – Mix ‘n’ Match 11 wallpaper – www.kirathghundoo.com

Nick Fraser – www.nickfraser.co.uk

Amy Knight, Arts and Media Correspondent