London Design Biennale

The first celebration and showcase of conceptual design from across the world has arrived at Somerset House, London. Part of London Design Festival, the London Design Biennale provides a platform for countries to showcase their design talents and share ideas. Over 30 countries are participating by creating installations around the theme of ‘utopia by design’.

The theme is inspired by the five-hundred-year anniversary of ‘Utopia’ a book written by Thomas More, the infamous thorn in the side of Henry VIII. In the book, More sets out the inequalities and injustices of European societies and suggests solutions to the problems. Similarly, design teams have been challenged to show how design can solve the problems faced today.

The result is a provocative and engaging show that presents some interesting ideas, challenges the inequalities of society and most of all encourages visitors to think differently about the world and the role of design.

With so many remarkable and interesting installations, it was hard to pick our favourites. Nevertheless, we have narrowed the field down to five picks (and a few honorable mentions, because it was too hard!).

In the French pavilion, buy a bag of pink sweets to enjoy while you watch refugees talk about their sweet memories. It is very poignant. (Image courtesy of London Design Biennale)

France has one of most moving exhibitions. Visitors are invited to sit on cushions and watch “memories of sweets” – a collection of living memories. Syrian refugees talk about the times they bought and shared sweets, before the war, with friends, family, every day or for special occasions. Alongside the film room, is a vending machine where people can buy pink sweets created for the Biennale, with proceeds going to charities. The film’s power lies in its ability to strip away the labels of nationality, religion, race and so on, to show that we are all the same: people who want to enjoy life with those we love.

India captures the spirit and vitality of the country and brings it to London: an explosion of colour, images and sound. The installation explores what utopia means to this diverse nation where ancient religions and beliefs now sit alongside modern ideas and practices.

Petri dishes scratched with two types of bacteria that will grow red or blue, before merging to become purple – a powerful visual presentation of the difference in wages for men and women.

Portugal explores sexism through the use of seeds and bacteria. On one table square petri dishes, impregnated with seeds, are laid out as a map of Portugal. Each dish represents an area of Portugal. The greater the number of women with higher education qualifications in an area, the more seeds in a dish. Over the coming weeks, the seeds will bloom and flower creating a visualisation of educational discrepancies. On the adjacent table, round petri dishes scratched with two coloured bacteria show the difference in wages between men and women. The bigger the white band, the bigger the inequality. Over the coming weeks, the bacteria will grow red and blue, before growing into one another and turning the whole dish purple.

A new village structure is proposed as a response to the dramatic growth of Shenzen. Is this a good way to accommodate the world’s growing population and protecting the environment? (Image courtesy of London Design Biennale)

Shenzen, China shows a fascinating, yet terrifying film of the growth of Shenzhen from a series of villages with a population on 300,000 to a metropolis of over 15 million people. Watch the ancient tree forest disappear and a skyscraper forest grow in its place. The film then looks to the future and asks how can so many people be accommodated without losing the forest. An intriguing vertical village is proposed, with a real life model to explore. Is this the future?

Write a wish on a piece of paper, fold it up and pop it into a tube. The tube goes into the wish tree where it flies. Let’s hope some come true!

Turkey brings hope to London: the Wish Tree. In a mirrored room, the team have built a Perspex hexagon into which visitors will place wishes and watch them fly. As the epicentre of the current migration crisis and with a war on its border, Turkey and the world needs hope. Make a wish!

Our honourable mentions:

  • See the flying saucer in the Indonesia pavilion and learn about the 1955 Asian commitment to creating a utopia
  • Who will you meet in Pakistan’s beautiful craft inspired ‘play room’?
  • Play drafts while you sip a glass of pomegranate juice and soon you’ll think you are in Lebanon
  • Stick your head into the mouth of a lion in South Africa
  • Admire the stuff of Donald Trump’s nightmares in Mexico’s Border City – a city that straddles the Mexico/USA border
  • Join Australia’s outrage at the amount of waste plastic in our oceans and admire the installation made of washed-up fragments
  • Close your eyes and ‘feel’ the music with Israel



Useful Links: London Design Biennale, London Design Festival


Feature image: Israel have developed drones that can deliver aid to disaster stricken regions quickly and efficiently.

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