In praise of urban design

Features Posted 22/08/19
Directors of a new festival prepare to share the best “showcase of talent” a contemporary city has to offer – with the help of a celebrity sibling.

Preparations for “an urban revolution” are occupying the waking hours of Sophie Law-Smith, but being at the forefront of an exciting movement in the design world was always going to be challenging.

The 35-year-old co-director of Design Brighton, a new four-day UK festival celebrating the city’s unique architectural and creative offering, admits that when she’s not at her desk doing her part-time business development consultancy job at an architect’s office, she is devoting all her energy to planning next April’s big event.

It’s been a lengthy process, from the first discussions two years ago with her co-director John Cowell – brother of music producer Simon. She explained: “John runs a consultancy promoting property development and construction businesses in the South East and we were chatting one evening about how we could put Brighton on the map with a design-rich showcase of talent.

“We both felt that there was such a wealth of talent here that needed promoting and, after a couple of glasses of wine, we came up with the idea of the festival.”

Development of that initial idea has been far from smooth and the two directors have had to change format and ideas along the way. At first, they planned to open the festival in October this year, using the newly refurbished Brighton Corn Exchange building as a hub for activities.

Sophie explained: “We soon realised the work on the Corn Exchange was running behind schedule, so we moved the date of the festival to April, 2020. Then, a few weeks ago, the builders stopped trading and we had to give up our original idea and think again.”

Several brainstorming sessions later, Sophie and John have gathered like-minded people around them to promote a four-day festival of activities at several sites across Brighton which they believe will draw the crowds and provide a showcase for businesses related to the urban street scene. John describes it as “a beacon to attract investment, visitors and students to the unique offering of Greater Brighton”.

Sophie said: “The way we’re heading now feels right. We want to highlight the challenges facing contemporary cities like Brighton, to look at its past, present and future and create a collective dialogue.” She hinted at a series of “really exciting installations” across the city, but could not reveal more until negotiations were complete.

The festival will be promoted fully at a series of monthly events, starting in September, including a number of talks on a variety of design-related subjects. Simon Cowell has agreed to be patron of the enterprise and will be invited to the launch day. Brighton and Hove City Council has agreed to support the activities, as well as property developers First Base and investment and trade enterprise Inward Development.

When she’s not fully immersed in plans for the festival, Sophie enjoys long walks with her husband, a director with American Express. She also let slip a guilty secret pleasure – vacuuming!

“I’ve got three sweepers, including one that’s perfect for keeping our artificial turf clean”, she told me. “I find it really calming.”

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