A multi-sensory installation rethinks an east London hotel's interiors

Words by Elise Bousquet

I never wanted to make pretty pictures and put them on a wall and you sort of go, ‘Well that’s nice.’ I wanted to create a conversation.

‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ is the latest design venture by Hart Shoreditch, created with east London illustrator and artist James Daw. For its second project with London Design Festival, the hotel – part of Hilton’s Curio Collection– presents a multi-sensory installation featuring visuals, sounds, smells, textures and more across an establishment that hints, architecturally, at Shoreditch’s industrial legacy.

“LDF is very close to our hearts, as we put great importance on working with talented local artists and designers,” says Lina Zakzeckyte, the hotel’s general manager. “We’re delighted to be working with James for this year’s festival, as he takes inspiration from Hart Shoreditch’s heritage and the history of East London’s craftsmanship, by utilising various aspects of the hotel for the installation.”

The evolution of the ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ was organic; Daw’s vision was one of deconstructing the hotel’s contemporary aesthetic, and brainstorming with collaborators including 4D animator Lisa Sheehan and photographer Anna Rotar, among others. “Almost under a microscope, I wanted to look at all the design details of the hotel and break them down into basic elements including shape, form and colour,” he explains.

Using Hart’s interior design and spaces as a blank canvas, he engaged with everything from the wrap-around video screens in the hotel’s lounge, to the interior staircase and the hundreds of breeze blocks that frame it. “The little spaces within the breeze blocks reminded me of miniature individual display cases,” he says. Normally working in a kaleidoscope of colours and shapes, the project was a new challenge for the artist, who limited himself to creating simple sculptural forms using mainly tones of black, grey and copper. Having previously worked with Jo Malone, Meta and Soho House, Daw is no stranger to developing eye-catching initiatives. ‘The Fundamentals of Caring’ took him “back to the first interactions with design we have as kids, with toddler’s building blocks and simple shapes”, he explains. “The sculptures I am creating are taking up their own personalities, creating a little army of characters that will speak for the hotel.”

“The hotel will exhibit itself through the installation”

For the grand spiral staircase, Daw reimagined its design elements – from the dark, structural metal beams to the globe-like ceiling lighting – creating a ‘collapsed’ version of the form as an installation at the base of the stairs. The result is a playful interpretation of the staircase’s facets via ‘touchable’ sculptures of light and metal formations, and the fragrance of industrial elements including iron, wood and leather, in an olfactory contribution by scent company Aromatise.

Through the collaboration, Daw hopes that visitors will discover a new-found appreciation for the hotel’s design minutiae – and allow his engaging array of sculptures, colours and shapes to speak to the viewer in otherwise unprecedented ways.

“The hotel will exhibit itself through the installation,” he says. “I was keen for it to be a conversation between the hotel and the viewer. I never wanted to make pretty pictures and put them on a wall and you sort of go, ‘Well that’s nice.’ I wanted to create a conversation.