Design graduates showcase brilliant new ways to tackle climate change

The flurry of summer graduate shows at London’s finest art colleges has produced a wealth of innovative work confirming the city’s status as capital of design.

It would not be the same if the shows did not have their share of wild and wacky among the many graduates launching their well-crafted projects and functioning websites. 

Jeremy Till, head of Central Saint Martins, says these graduates are launching themselves into a difficult world. “There are democratic deficits, a climate emergency and social divisions. But today’s students brilliantly channel these external problems into their work.”

Thus we saw new materials, ways to use waste and cut energy use and pollution, sophisticated devices for health care and even fittings for a redesigned prison cell, among many exciting products and textiles.

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Waterside Gobbler Olga, designed by the Royal College of Art’s Kenneth Arnold, has jaw clamps to pluck litter from canals

The graduate degree show at Central Saint Martins in Granary Square, King’s Cross, pulled in a big audience and the Material Futures MA is well on trend.

Nathalie Spencer won the LVMH Green Trail award for her beautiful wool-like fibres spun from pineapple waste and woven into cloth. We also saw “coffee” made from dandelion roots complete with a roaster to “reclaim the weeds”.

Upstairs in MA Design, showcasing ceramics, furniture and jewellery, Romen Gouveia was making waves, turning outdoor furniture into exuberant sculpture that exudes the carnival culture of Brazil, his homeland. His interlocking, bulging shapes are for louche lounging, covered with explosive patterns printed on to Kvadrat textiles.

Beautifully made cupboards by Michael Beaney had inscrutable super-clever concealed compartments. Improbably-shaped tables, called Poise, by Desmond Lim were anchored by smoothly wrought chunks of stone. Tijana Kostić’s Subversion tables were surreal assemblies of glass and metal tubes held together with playful “crab” clamps. 

The Sir John Cass School of Art, Architecture and Design at Aldgate has absorbed the London College of Furniture. Star graduate is Finnish Anton Mikkonen, who scooped several awards. The curves of his sinuous and silky stools look complicated but are simply routed out of solid timber on a CNC machine. 

At the RCA, the Innovation Design Engineering department had several strong ideas. Luis Paco Bockelmann has built a tool to cast complicated computer curves. By twisting fabric, he can make organic shapes to create pieces of ceramic and glass, for example, at relatively low cost.

An extensive spread of rust-red vessels lined with a shiny glaze were tagged Red Mud — that’s the nickname for Bauxite residue, the waste from the alumina industry, which is plentiful in many parts of the world and currently dumped in huge pits.  

Heleen Sintobin’s lovely ceramic tables, from her Digi-Terra collection, depict with ridges the topography of where the clay was mined: terracotta from a clay pit at Cranleigh in Surrey and porcelain from two mines in Cornwall.

Kenneth Arnold has built cheeky Olga, the articulated “Waterside Gobbler”, whose jaw clamps are for removing litter from canals and rivers. This playful creature has already been cleaning Little Venice and the Regent’s Canal.

The GoodWaste project is repurposing waste from factories in Park Royal, London’s largest industrial site. Its designers think their furniture from marble offcuts could go to some of the 25,000 new homes of the area. 

New Designers was a group show over two weeks for 3,000 students from more than 170 UK courses. Part One, showcasing fashion, textiles, ceramics and glass, throbbed with colour and accomplished patterns, notably from Leeds and Loughborough colleges.

A marine textile medley by Flora Daly was inspired by the Galapagos Islands, with crazy crabs, galloping grasshoppers, seabirds, and rampant vegetation.  

“Ethical” fabrics came from Francesca Smyth of Pinner. A newbie graduate from Edinburgh College of Art, she immersed herself in hand-crafted textiles, travelling to India to take photos, track down suppliers, experiment with dyes, and learn to block print. The result: an enchanting multilayered collection with subtle abstract motifs and flashes of gold, sustainably sourced and stamped with the region that supplied the cloth.

Lauren Veasey made the Wildmore collection, with subtle beasts from the jungle and savannah, and exuberant Paisley patterns. Kamile Balciunaite imposed a minimalist aesthetic on to her drawings of London buildings.

The second part of New Designers was full of furniture, notably from Kingston College of Art, plus elegant handmade pieces from the Building Crafts College. A vibrant print by Callum Langfield printed on to a plywood chair elevated it to art.

Other graduates tackled social and environmental problems. Sophie Coiley from Plymouth University made a new material out of discarded cardboard, bonding it together with starch and a coating of beeswax. The resulting bowls resemble oxidised metal.

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