This year’s edition of the Surface Design Show firmly upheld the event’s legacy as a relevant and highly valuable tool for industry professionals. Exhibitors were, on the whole, greatly encouraged by the footfall – said to be 15% up on last year – and espoused the show’s reputation for attracting serious buyers, Hospitality Interiors’ Gemma Ralph reports.

Despite, or perhaps due to, its relatively select community of exhibitors, the show’s intent focus on innovation in the surface design sector encompassed an impressive array of materials and themes. Those visiting the show with the intention of sourcing new and inspiring surfacing solutions surely did not go away disappointed, as the show’s interesting mix of established and start-up companies reflected the reformative spirit ever-present within the industry.

Indeed, whether rethinking the composition and lifecycle of a product in order to enhance its sustainability credentials, evaluating the potentially costly implications of lengthy manufacturing processes, or considering how products might endure the shifting trends and attitudes towards interior design, this necessity and thirst for constant adaptation was eminently visible at the show.

The inaugural Surface Design Awards, encouragingly well-attended, celebrated such outstanding examples of progressive design. “We were very excited by the range and quality of the projects entered for these inaugural awards,” says Christopher Newton, show director. “The judges had a very hard time in picking those projects that had that something extra in style or innovation or inspiration that edged them onto the winners’ podium.”

Following a stirring keynote address by architect Eric Parry, Anabelle Filer from SCIN announced the nine winning projects, with two further projects awarded highly commended accolades. Amongst these winning designs was Philip Connor’s Velvet Underground Nightclub in Singapore which, having won the Commercial Interior Surface award, also went on to win the Supreme Award.

Judges recognised the intelligent scheme of contemporary and contrasting surface designs incorporated within the refurbishment – a particular point of interest being the 300 elbow fins used to connect varying areas of the space.

The Exterior Surface award went to 50 Great Sutton Street by Archer Architects  – the imaginative facade it created shifting from translucent to opaque based on one’s viewpoint of the postwar structure.

Another particularly imaginative project was recognised within the Temporary Structure category. Chun Qing Li’s KREOD Pavilion, comprising thee pods in a series of interlocking hexagons, was not only deemed magnificently intricate, but also greatly practical due to its weatherproof properties.

Meeting demand for the integration of technology within surfacing, the Korean Film Archive project by JAIA Architects won the Public Building Interior Surface award – intertwining light, sound and colour through use of an LED-lit polycarbonate wall, LFD panelled walls and film desks with 27in LED screens.

In the Retail Exterior Surface category, Timorous Beasties’ playful foliage design in Princes Square, Glasgow, was favoured, while the Interior Surfaces award went to Simon Cochrane for an artful ceiling design in Stratford City.

Just some of the celebrated projects, these multifarious and artful employments of surfacing encapsulate both the vast potential offered by this particular field of design, and the immense talent and vision that sustains it.

The roster of debates and seminars which took place throughout the three days, to the same degree, expounded the challenges and fresh avenues faced by the industry. Far from framing these issues in an overwhelming light, these events were thought provoking, if not inspiring in delivery.

The FX Live Debate, for example, examined varying perspectives on our relation to and investment in materials. Jane Ni Dhulchaointigh explained how her self-setting rubber product, Sugru, challenged the passive philosophy with which we treat our belongings. Moulding to any shape or surface, Jane intended Sugru as a means of restoring power and pride to end-users, who were able to use the material to adapt and repair products on a daily basis.

Artist Lauren Ella Bacon, on the other hand, spoke of her passion for blending the natural and built environments. Through her contemporary sculptures – predominantly formed from willow – Lauren explores nest-like forms, attaching them to buildings in unexpected and creative ways.

The PechaKucha evening on the second day of the show certainly drew in the crowds, and proved to be a varied and entertaining event. The challenge of incorporating traditional cultural preferences within contemporary structures; the spaces between fabric and body; the transformation of existing conditions to support contemporary life; the rethinking of the conventional design of institutions and the emergence of a new urban vernacular; were just some of the themes drawn upon by the 20 architects and designers taking part.

The speed of delivery required by the 20-slides/20-second format negated rehearsed delivery, giving the event a raw and unaffected air that seemed to prove popular with visitors.

In addition to these rather more philosophical debates, the show’s comprehensive programme of CPD seminars provided visitors with practical and expert advice on the technical attributes of materials, the demands placed on them within a particular setting, or the trends that might inform their advancement in the coming years. Despite varying attendance, no doubt due to the natural wax and wane of visitors throughout the course of the day, these seminars were well thought out, and provided visitors with a valuable chance to quiz leading experts.

From instructive talks founded in real and extensive professional experience, to rich and rather more lofty debates, the Surface Design Show approached surfacing materials from every conceivable perspective.