My design London: Whitechapel Gallery director Iwona Blazwick's guide to the best of the city’s architecture, design, homeware shops and secret spaces

Iwona Blazwick has been director of the Whitechapel Gallery for the past 15 years and is credited with discovering Damien Hirst.

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Director of the Whitechapel Gallery for the past 15 years, Iwona Blazwick discovered Damien Hirst. As a young curator she gave him his first solo show at a public art gallery, the Institute of Contemporary Arts in St James's, in 1991.

Then as director of exhibitions and displays at the Tate in the late Nineties, she played a vital role in the development of Tate Modern.

Next month, Whitechapel Gallery is curating Art Night, a programme of architecture, art, dance, design and music at sites around east London.


I live off the Caledonian Road. Islington is up a hill, very urban, has elegant Georgian squares and big old Victorian houses.

It is close to the Heath and, for my husband, near the Arsenal stadium. It's like an enclave away from the city. There was one Islington councillor who stopped any building over three storeys high — he protected that whole area up from City Road to Holloway Road.

We have an 1890s Arts & Crafts house with marble fireplaces, wide stairwells and ceiling cornices.


I am an inveterate collector but a curator's salary only takes you so far, so I collect editions and works on paper. Every two years I call on a roving band of technicians who hang all the museums and galleries in London.

They're all artists and musicians with an amazing eye and they conserve, frame and clean everything. They come to the house for two days and we re-hang everything.

Most people get blind to what they see on their walls, so it's a way of reinvigorating your environment. You can hang works that resonate with what is happening in the world. And we have converted our attic to a proper art store with cedar wood to keep the moths away.

It's my private heaven.


I would love to own a Barbara Hepworth. I'm very proud that the Whitechapel gave Hepworth her first show in 1962.

I also really want a Green Light, right, by artist Olafur Eliasson. It's a sustainable LED lamp produced in a collaborative artistic workshop by refugees and visitors.

The lamps can be ordered from for a minimum donation of $250 (£221).


Camden Arts Centre. Tony Fretton Architects did the renovation and it's beautifully done. You immediately feel you are leaving the city with the old Arts & Crafts entrance and then there's that beautiful terrazzo space with one of the best independent art bookshops in Britain.

It has a garden and a very nice café. The shows are always original, at a navigable scale, and it's risk-taking.

Christ Church Spitalfields from Commercial Street, E1 (Alamy)


Christ Church Spitalfields, of course. And I've just been to see Farshid Moussavi's shop for Victoria Beckham on Dover Street. It is absolutely beautiful… the are interested in graphics, in the book as a work of art, and combining art and language.

And I’ve just been to see Farshid Moussavi’s shop for Victoria Beckham on Dover Street. It is absolutely beautiful… the way she has made the ceiling and these screens with projections on them, it’s really exciting.

I thought, wow, good for her that she took a chance on a relatively young female architect. Big admiration.


I love artists who work with communities to change their environments, especially in areas abandoned by politicians and developers.

Theaster Gates is an African-American artist who works with White Cube and he has devised what he calls The Soul Manufacturing Corporation, linking art, design and social engagement.

He trained a group of unemployed 16-year-olds, in one of the most deprived areas of Chicago, to recycle old buildings and transform furniture as new pieces. He gave an amazing talk at the V&A about it.

They produce bricks, ceramics, wood- and textile-based objects. And a parallel group is architecture collective Assemble ( who work with local communities to regenerate derelict properties.

They are teaching people to have some control over their own destiny. They have just done a project with Transport for London, running ceramics workshops for people at Seven Sisters Tube.

In a digital age we have never been more interested in the tactility of making.

Bookartbookshop  is located on Pitfield Street near Hoxton Square


Bookartbookshop on Pitfield Street near Hoxton Square is full of small works by artists who are interested in graphics, in the book as a work of art, and combining art and language. You’ll see concrete poetry there and little performances.


Go to Herald Street for the most intense concentration of galleries. There's Maureen Paley, right, Herald St gallery, the Campoli Presti gallery and five minutes up the road, the Wilkinson Gallery on Vyner Street.

It's a fantastic little journey and then you can polish it off with a gin and tonic at the Approach Tavern. I love the gallery there and they do barbecues.


A friend introduced me to David Mellor's shop in Sloane Square and it's just beautiful. There's real practical kitchenware with that wonderful modernist aesthetic. I've just discovered Jasper Morrison's outlet on Kingsland Road and also The Dark Room on Lamb's Conduit Street.

On Hanwell Street, off Brick Lane, some really nice experimental vintage and homeware shops are opening up — like a new generation of Labour and Wait.

Tower Bridge’s subterranean Bascule Chamber, a 2017 Art Night venue, has hosted music concerts (Alamy)


This year we're delving into the great architectural masterpieces of the East End with 11 different and sitespecific works.

Our young Turkish curator, Fatos Ustek, is fascinated by the influence of diverse groups coming into the area. So one of the Art Night locations will be one of the great Huguenot houses, Dennis Severs' House, where the Chapman Brothers will insert prints into the existing 18th-century furnishings.

You'll have access to spaces not normally open to the public — for example inside Tower Bridge's Bascule Chamber — the bit where the bridge lifts up — a huge masterpiece of Victorian design and engineering, where Ian Whittlesea will invite audiences to take part in an illuminated meditation.

And for me the most exciting discovery is the fully formed Grade-II listed masonic temple at the Andaz Hotel.

  • Art Night: A Free Contemporary Arts Festival in Extraordinary Spaces runs July 1, 6pm-4am, free. Visit

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