The London Design Festival kicked off at Trafalgar Square with six robotic arms from Audi's assembly line drawing spectators' text messages in the air with beams of light. Perhaps because the surrounding area was too floodlit to make out the words, or perhaps because we tired of interactive design for it's own sake over a decade ago – the audience responded to German-Swedish design team Kram/Weisshaar's installation with dissatisfied tweets before heading off. The majestic robots, used to a far more interesting day job, just looked a bit embarrassed. Thankfully this year's London Design Festival looks to be better than its flagship spectacle, simply because many of the city's designers have put energy, effort, and (in short) their own resources into putting on events.
A definite highlight is Further Instructions by emerging London based designers Tuur van Balen and Revital Cohen. Both disciples of Dunne and Raby's "critical design," the duo use biotechnology and scientific research to design potential future scenarios. Van Balen's proposal has finally found a use for London's pigeons by making them defecate biological soaps that "clean up the city." It sounds far-fetched, but the designer has worked with a biotechnologist to design several edible bacteria that break down dirt – and are as harmless to pigeons as yoghurt is to us. To accompany the concept is a wooden sorting depot that attaches to windows, so each pigeon type is given a task – and the appropriate bacteria – to suit its assets. Revital Cohen, meanwhile, poses some questions about the kind of inheritance we should be hoping for now that it's possible to understand our genetic make-up; she suggests nano-gold particles that target tumours could make very practical family heirlooms. Both projects are meticulously calculated and scientifically sound, the only thing keeping them in a gallery space is the ethical issues you debate when you look at the work. It's pioneering stuff – and evidence of the innovative thinking coming from this city's designers. The show opens to the public on Thursday.
Over by Green Park London's design superbrand Established & Sons hosts a designer daily to make objects live in its gallery space – Richard Woods was building hay bales out of wood the day we visited (and giving the staff tinnitus in the process). The activity certainly lends the white cube a sense of occasion – and helps distract visitors from the recent revelation that E&S front man Alasdhair Willis has resigned to become David Beckham's style guru.
Our day central finished at the Architecture Foundation's new rooftop venue Skyroom for opening drinks. Designed by David Kohn Architects (winner of the UK Young Architect of the Year Award 2009), the social space is constructed of a steel frame filled with a delicate copper mesh. The structure is a mix of covered areas with most of the space entirely open to the sky, framing different views across the city. The space is busy with openings and parties all week and well worth a look by day or night. Anna Bates