London Design Festival Announces Winners

Every year London Design Festival recognises the contribution made by leading design figures and emerging talents to London and the industry. This year the four London Design Medals: The London Design Medal, Design Innovation Medal, Emerging Design Medal and Lifetime Achievement Medal was awarded to Hanif Kara OBE, Pooja Agrawal, Poor Collective and Magdalene Odundo DBE, respectively.

According to London Design Festival Director, Ben Evans CBE, “This year’s winners of the London Design Festival are representative of the industry and forces in the world of creativity: engineering, craftsmanship, social justice, architecture, and city planning. They are empowering the youth and talents of tomorrow, founding architecture practices with impact, embedding work with cultural identity, and creating real change with local authority placemaking,”

He said, “The 2023 London Design Medal winners are exemplary individuals and collectives, embodying the spirit of design excellence and its transformative power. Their work, from pushing the boundaries of architecture to fostering social change, inspires us all.”

The 2023 winners:

  • London Design Medal: Hanif Kara OBE
  • Design Innovation Medal: Pooja Agrawal
  • Emerging Design Medal: POoR Collective
  • Lifetime Achievement Medal: Magdalene Odundo DBE

London Design Medal: Hanif Kara

The London Design Medal, is the highest accolade bestowed upon an individual whohas distinguished themselves within the industry and demonstrated consistent design excellence.

This year’s winner, Hanif Kara, is Design Director and Co-Founder of AKT II. Kara was born in Bombo, Uganda. Inspired by his father’s work in a construction company, he developed an affinity to building, and the desire to improve quality of life through the built environment. Moving to the UK in the 1970s as a refugee, he worked at a car manufacturer and as a draughtsman before landing a place at the University of Salford to study engineering, sponsored by his then-employer, Joseph Parks & Son steel fabricators in Cheshire.

Projects that Hanif Kara was involved in for designing and construction.

Kara’s particular ‘design-led’ approach and interest in innovative form, pushing material uses, sustainable construction and complex analysis methods have seen him work on numerous pioneering projects at the forefront of the many challenges facing the built environment.

Kara’s career extends into wider areas of design beyond the structural engineering disciplines. He is the first engineer to be appointed on the Steering Committee for the highly regarded international AKAA (Aga Khan Award for Architecture) where he continues today.

He was awarded an OBE for his services to architecture, engineering and education in the 2022 New Years List of honours.

Hanif Kara OBE, said: “The goal was to do well by designing a non-combustible model of practice, one that does not simply light up bright like a star and burn out but goes on to make a wider impact on the field beyond the narrow gaze of our own profession. This is why wider peer recognition and awards like this one specifically, matter. I am so grateful to the jury.”

Design Innovation: Pooja Agrawal

The Design Innovation Medal, celebrates entrepreneurship in all its forms, both locally and internationally. It honours an individual for whom design lies at the core of their development and success.

Pooja Agrawal is an architect and planner who is the Co-Founder and CEO of the not-for-profit company Public Practice. She grew up in Mumbai, moved to London aged 16 and studied architecture at the University of Cambridge and the Bartlett, University of London. Interested in urban design and place-making, she gained experience at Publica and We Made That, before moving to the public sector to work at Homes England and the Greater London Authority (GLA), where she worked on housing strategy, delivery of a community centre, policy on diversity and inclusion, and the Good Growth by Design programme, later to influence the Mayor’s 50 Design Advocates.

Agrawal co-founded Public Practice with Finn Williams in 2017. They consistently work with local authorities to improve the built environment and the learning programme equips two annual cohorts of 30 architects with the practical skills, confidence and network required to accelerate change in the public sector. In Spring 2023, Public Practice announced they had their 10th cohort which consisted of 28 associates joining 23 local councils across the country. To date, Public Practice has placed 296 associates into 78 authorities, expanding nationally this year with two new programmes in the north and southeast. Public Practice functions as a social enterprise with 8 employees and carries out progressive research such as their recent trial of the 9-day fortnight within their working style.

Pooja Agrawal, said: “Cities are organisms, they’re always evolving and changing. You don’t want to pause a city, change is a positive thing. The worry is when change is causing consequences of extreme inequality. I hope London continues to be a very vibrant, diverse place where everyone has the right to own parts of the city. I am delighted to have won the award for design innovation. This is a great example of public sector innovation and it is fantastic to see Public Practice being recognised as a design that has positively impacted London. As a framework, it enables passionate and socially led designers and architects to make meaningful changes within local authorities. We emerged out of London but continue to design and scale the organisation to ensure we can spread its impact across the country.”

Emerging Design Medal: POoR Collective

Emerging Design Medal, recognises an individual or practice that has made a recent impact on the design scene and has an emerging practice showing design promise. POoR Collective (Power out of Restriction) – is a London-based social enterprise, launched in 2019 and helmed by architects Shawn Adams, Larry Botchway and Ben Spry, and accountant Matt Harvey-Agyemang. It is dedicated to the development of communities within the built environment and driving positive social change.

POoR achieves empowerment via community-led projects that seek to give the rising generation more say in the planning outcomes of their locales; representing the under-represented by fostering their voices and having them assist in the co-design process.

POoR works with school children, community groups, and local councils to inspire the next generation of designers. Teaming up with industry partners to offer paid opportunities to those interested in pursuing a career in architecture or design. POoR has facilitated initiatives including the Makers & Mentors scheme, in conjunction with The Office Group (TOG).

Larry Botchway from POoR Collective, said: “Our design approach allows us to act as a conduit for young people. Therefore, winning the Emerging Talent Medal isn’t just a win for us, but a win for the numerous communities we have connected with. This award reinforces that there is value in championing young voices and providing opportunities for others.”

Lifetime Achievement Medal: Magdalene Odundo DBE

Lifetime Achievement Medal, honours an individual who has made significant and fundamental contributions to the design industry over their career. Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi in 1950. After education in Kenya and India, she studied at West Surrey College of Art and Design, Farnham, gaining a first class degree in Ceramics with Printmaking and Photography in 1976. She then taught at the Commonwealth Institute in London before studying Ceramics at the Royal College of Art, London. For her dissertation at Farnham she visited Uganda to research ceramic techniques. At the RCA, she developed the hand-coiling technique with which she builds up her asymmetrical vase-forms. The pots are unglazed; the colour comes from the clay body and thin layers of slip clay while the smooth, glowing surface is achieved by burnishing by hand before and after firing. The pots are sometimes fired many times to achieve the right effect. This is a traditional Ugandan pottery technique called emsubi.

Her work draws on varied sources including Mexican traditional pottery and Greek Cycladic sculpture as well as sub-Saharan ceramics. Her use of multiple oxidised firings at high temperatures gives the great depth of colour and subtlety of reflection and, as each firing is an added risk, makes them more precious.

Odundo’s inclusive approach to the practice of her craft and interest in many clay traditions have made her a celebrated ceramic artist across the world. Examples of her work are in nearly 50 international museums and many public collections including African Heritage, Nairobi, The Art Institute of Chicago and the British Museum, London.

Odundo has been recognised as a significant player in contemporary ceramics, making her name a large contributor to African Art in the US during the 1990s.

Magdalene Odundo DBE said: “I have always been curious to discover why human beings make and surround themselves with objects that are not just utilitarian, but also give pleasure, have spiritual significance, and tell the stories of the people who made the objects.”