Shedding their stodgy and elite image, London's foreign embassies are strutting their design stuff in unusual places. As part of the International Architecture and Design Showcase 2012, they are exhibiting in London Design Festival venues (USA, Hungary, Taiwan), art galleries (Switzerland), 19th century townhouse (Poland),store fronts (Norway) as well as opening their doors to the public to allow them to see the insides of the embassies (Japan).
Japan's contribution is the most unusual. The iconic Kintaikyo Bridge, first built in 1673 over a river, was destroyed by a typhoon in 1950. It has always been a national tourist site. When it was rebuilt they were able to use the design of the original bridge because the techniques used way back when were "in perfect accordance with modern dynamical principles. Modern engineering cannot improve it."
Students from Kingston University have recreated one of the five graceful arches of the bridge out of sustainable timber in the Embassy.
This lovely display of contemporary Zimbabwean basketry, Building Baskets, is the result of a collaboration between Kingston University designers and students from a basket weaving enterprise, the Lupane Women’s Centre.
Two Kingston designers worked with 25 weavers, encouraging them to think "outside the box", i.e. more creatively about their traditional skills. In this example, two baskets were to be joined to make transport easier. The results were charming, such as the use of recycled cups and plastic bottles woven into the baskets.
America Made Me celebrates the "spirit, personality and talent behind contemporary American design" with the work of a thirteen designers and manufacturers. The unfinished solid wood cone (above) will gain a patina over the years and the mirror will let the user see their changes too.
This table and chairs are interpretations of classic Shaker furniture, which was so influential in contemporary American furniture design.
The wonder cabinets of Europe is a collection of 8 wooden cases. Each is a display box for a different designer in which they show their work and the cultural ideas that make up their identity as designers.
Norway had their own storefront: 100% Norway, with a big show of established and new designers. The fabrics and glass and furniture looked very Scandinavian, but the designers recognized that they are being influenced by global trends, as geographical and cultural barriers are shifting.
Hungary had an impressive display called Look, Love, Keep In Mind: Here Comes Hungarian Design. It was quirky and original, with all the work from the Studio of Young Hungarian Designer's Association. This beautiful hand carved cherry wood box has a lid that is impossible to discern because it is made with such precision.
Fresh Taiwan is a large and interesting display of work by 18 designers, showing furniture, jewellery, ceramics and lighting. The work is a mix of old Chinese culture and western influences. This witty set of plates is a map of Taiwan and the cutlery is in the shape of famous Taiwanese places.
Switzerland's display is at an art gallery in the centre of London. They are showing the work of students who had participated in a workshop with the designer Ronan Bouroullec and glassblower Matteo Gonet.