Design Hotels
Search Destination
Check-in - Check-out
Show search capsule Menu Close
01 Yinka Llori


At Play with Yinka Ilori


Words Vidula KotianDate 22 March 2024

How can we bring joy to the grayscapes of city streets?

British Nigerian artists and designer Yinka Ilori uses an explosion of colors to transform public spaces into playgrounds for adults and children alike. In London, he designed Canary Wharf’s first-ever basketball court in his signature graphic color palette with bold compositions inspired by his Nigerian heritage. “I love that the court is free to use, creating a feeling of inclusivity and giving communities a place to get together,” says the North London designer whose community-focused commissions, murals, and installations highlight his belief that art and design should be accessible to all.

The multifaceted creative’s playful, optimistic aesthetic can be seen in upcycled furniture, buildings, and permanent structures, to his homeware brand, Yinka Ilori Objects. Beyond an exercise in color, the designer’s rich portfolio of work is a powerful amalgamation of Black identity and West African culture. We chatted with Ilori on how he uses design to evoke feelings of playfulness, and empowerment, and how, above all else, aims to put a smile on the faces of those who interact with his work.

03 Yinka Llori

The Flamboyance of Flamingos is an imaginative playground that pays homage to Parsloes Park's wildlife

Excerpts from "In the studio: artist and designer Yinka Ilori" courtesy of the Design Museum

Do you believe that color can alter someone’s emotional state of mind?

Absolutely! Every time I wear a pair of colorful sweatpants or a T-shirt, I find that people want to engage with me more. They want to have a conversation, share acts of kindness, or a smile. Fabrics and colors are the easiest tools I have to start a conversation.

Your work often explores joy and play, which is something that we all need more of…how do you prioritize play in your everyday?

Well, I don’t do it enough. I’ve got nieces and children who bring out the youth in me. We spend a lot of time in playgrounds and swimming...that’s where I’m able to tap into my inner child. It’s a nice way to remember the power and benefits of playing with no restraints.

I think with most public spaces, there are lots of rules, especially where I grew up in North London. There were always signs that said no games, no riding—there were lots of nos. So, you were told not to play, like playing was something bad. This is why I try to really engage in my public spaces’ playgrounds. We worked on a project a couple years ago with Lego called “The Launderette of Dreams”. I tapped into a younger Yinka who wanted to play basketball or tennis in a launderette. I had all these ideas for play in a space where you’re not supposed to play.

04 Yinka Llori

Beacon of Dreams The monolithic shell-like structure was inspired by Ilroi's childhood memories of visiting the British seaside

Are you surprised by how kids are using the spaces you’ve designed?

We had a bunch of school kids visiting our project, “Listening to Joy” at the V&A Dundee. We wanted to capture the sounds of joy when they were running around in the play spaces. We used it as the soundscape for this installation. I had set out this route within the playscape, but kids make their own rules of how they want to move in a space. The response was loud and chaotic and for me, when you don’t realize how loud you’re being, that is what joy sounds like. When I watch people in my installation, I get the biggest joy seeing that they’re able to experience something that will hopefully live in their hearts for a long time. I think that’s what public spaces can do—allow people to connect with someone new and play collaboratively.

What do you think is your greatest achievement?

That’s a hard one. I studied furniture and product design. I’ve wanted to work in the public space for a long time. A couple of years ago, we were selected by the London Festival of Architecture to design a pavilion. The “Colour Palace” was my first public commission and my first architectural project. We beat other architectural firms who have a lot of experience in the field. We were a small team, and the design was very ambitious. This project then led to other projects like the “Happy Street” bridge, “Beacon of Dreams” at Soho Farmhouse, and “Filtered Rays” in Berlin. It just opened a new world for me.

07 Yinka Llori

Listening to Joy is an interactive playscape at the V&A Dundee

08 Yinka Llori

Bright zippable mesh walls form a maze that can be opened and closed

What is your idea of sustainability in architecture?

Before we even start a project, we try to work out ways the structure can be reimagined or reused. For examples, we might take material from a pavilion and turn it into planters for schools to plant flowers or trees. Outside of architecture, I’ve always been interested in repurposing and upcycling objects—particularly chairs. My studio has a whole wall of chairs in different shapes and silhouettes, decorated with material offcuts.

I love giving new life to things that are unwanted. There’s respect and understanding for things that are new, but that same respect doesn’t always extend to items formed from repurposed materials, yet these are just as interesting and worthy of praise—in some ways, even more so. This is best shown through my “If Chairs Could Talk” exhibition. This exhibition showcased a collection that I created by repurposing and restoring discarded and damaged objects found on the street. 

What is your most treasured possession?

It’s my sketchbook. When I was in Miami last year, the place we rented was broken into. The burglar robbed some of our clothes. It seems like they handpicked their favorite pieces in my wardrobe and left the ones they didn’t fancy taking. They also took my sketchbook, which hurt the most because that’s where I put my ideas. It’s just so personal. I collect all my sketchbooks. I like looking back over the years to see how I’ve evolved.

09 Yinka Llori

“Most adults have lost the desire to play because it’s been drained out of them, and they must deal with life’s other stresses. So, I try to continue having some playfulness within my practice but also personally.

Yinka Ilori

What is your current state of mind?

Right now, it’s learning to be present in the moment and not constantly try to do the next thing. This year, for me, is about traveling and spending time with family. I tend to start the year saying to myself, “slow down” and I’ll end up getting to March/April and I’m running around like mad. I’m being quite strict this time around. I lost a family friend a couple of months ago in Nigeria. He went to see his family. There was a bomb blast, and he was one of the people who died. It made me realize that you have to take life slow because it is precious. It’s also a reminder to make memories when you can with your loved ones.

What is your favorite restaurant? 

805 in West London. It’s West African cuisine. I hang out there with my friends, we eat lots of Nigerian food and drink Guinness and palm wine. We just have the most amazing time.

11 Yinka Llori

Filtered Rays features re-used scaffolding and conical discs made from recyclable PTFE membrane

10 Yinka Llori

Ilori’s installation explores how architecture, material, and color can create a new perspective for audiences

“The biggest thing for me is about how to create spaces and invite those communities into pavilions, galleries, and public spaces that normally dont have access to them.

Gallery or Museum?

Victoria Miro on City Road. There’s also one in Miami. I love the shows they put on and the space in general. The last show I saw there was a show by Kusama for the Mirrors exhibition three or four years ago.

Who are you listening to?

I’m always listening to all different types of music. However, at the moment, I’d have to say Usher because of the Super Bowl.

12 Yinka Llori (1)

Flamboyance of Flamingos playground includes a refurbished basketball court

13 Yinka Llori

A playful nod to the flamingos that previously inhabited the area

Flamboyance of Flamingos image courtesy Thierry Bal
Beacon of Dreams images courtesy Gina Soden
Listening to Joy images courtesy Michael McGurk
Yinka Ilori’s portrait images courtesy Daniil Lavrovski
Filtered Rays images courtesy Linus Muellerschoen
Flamboyance of Flamingos images courtesy Taran Wilkhu

Next article