You can just tell this area has a rich history. I visited probably half a dozen times, and each time the area was buzzing with café chitchat, street performances, and those just strolling along the waterfront. From the famous London Eye and beautiful Country Hall to the small details like pop-up coffee shops and neon installations, the South Bank exudes an energetic, modern and color-infused gathering place.
At nighttime, walking the Waterloo Bridge, you wonder why Paris and not London is considered the most romantic city. Everyone on the South Bank seems to be in a blissfully good mood. Another amazement is the happy communion of all walks of life. You have the high society couples waltzing in for an opera show next to hundreds of tourists lined up for miles to take a ride on the London Eye. Then of course there are the crowds of young Londoners, taking it all in over a late night dinner with wine and close friends.
Curious to understand how this area became “the living room of London” (as South Bank’s website proclaims), I set out to do a bit of background research.
In a nutshell, this waterfront area went from drab to fab following the end of WW2, when it was declared that both the nation and South Bank station needed a bit of rejuvenation. In response to this proclamation, the Festival of Britain was born. This famous celebration showed off Britain’s recent achievements in science, technology and art. Royal Festival Hall, built in honor of the new festival, instantly became an iconic haven for the performing arts. As time went on, the area saw accelerated expansion, and even today plans for growth are currently underway.
London As a Design Capital
At the South Bank Center gift shop, I faced a difficult decision: which book should I attempt to fit into my already overflowing suitcase? I finally decided on London Design Guide, an ultimate list of London’s top design shops all organized by neighborhoods.
Though the area is know for a myriad of artistic pursuits, I was especially interested in the South Bank’s influence on the city’s leadership as a design capital. Commenting on the subject, New York Times author Julie Lasky boldly proclaims: “Apologies to Milan and Tokyo. Regrets to Stockholm and Paris. Forgive me, Eindhoven, Berlin, Barcelona and, most particularly, New York. But London is the design capital of the world.” Reading this prompted me to investigate how London holds up to such a flattering assertion. I discovered that neither the South Bank, nor any other region of London is the primary powerhouse of London’s design. Instead a strong influence can be found in all neighborhoods of the city. Bearing that in mind, I decided to take a new approach to my investigation: uncover the people and events that make London live up to the quote above. In the aftermath of my findings I’ve made a short list of those who I found to be London’s best designers, and a quick overview of the famous Design Festival held every September.
London’s Top Tier Designers
Sir Terence Conran
5 Things to Know about Conran
1. He was featured at the 2012 Design Museum exhibit Terence Conran – The Way We Live Now and that same year was awarded The Prince of Wales Medal for Arts Philanthropy
2. I guess he deserves the above exhibition considering he also help found the London’s Design Museum, which opened at its current location in 1989
3. He also initiated Habitat, a chain of home furnishing stores designed in the 60s and 70s.
4. Ten years later, he established Conran Holdings, a global network of designers who all stand behind the philosophy that “intelligent design improves people’s quality of life.”
5. Finally, he has written 30+ books. Some of his best include:
Design: Intelligence Made Visible
The House Book
Essential House Book
(post to be continued)