London Design Biennale is a must for design hunters, bringing inspiring global ideas to Somerset House
BY SOPHIE DAVIES
One of our top tips for London Design Festival, London Design Biennale gathers creatives from 40 countries, cities and territories across six continents at Somerset House, all responding to 2018’s theme of ‘Emotional States’. Exploring ideas through design, architecture and technology – addressing social, political and environmental challenges – the second edition is a thought-provoking showcase, running until 23 September.
Influential museums and institutions are among the curators, including London’s V&A (‘Maps of Defiance’), New York’s Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum (‘Face Values’) and Milan’s Triennale (‘L’Architettura degli Alberi’). All the participants are worth a look, but here are 10 of our favourite FizzPicks…
AUSTRALIA: ‘Full Spectrum’
London-based Australian designer Flynn Talbot channels Australia’s recent referendum vote to legalise same-sex marriage with vibrant light installation ‘Full Spectrum’. A celebration of diversity, the ecstatic, immersive work incorporates an arcing curve of rainbow colour, inspired by the Pride flag, embracing the whole spectrum. Its suspended light screen is formed from 150 strands of fibre-optic light, each a different hue, using custom-made hidden LED modules and electronics. You can touch and move through the strands or simply feel the love.
LATVIA: ‘Matter to Matter’
Visitors can leave fleeting messages on a wall of condensation at Latvia’s entry ‘Matter to Matter’, designed by Arthur Analts of Variant Studio, which shares the emotional impact of mark making. Taking its cue from the Baltic state’s humid climate, with capital Riga surrounded by forests and the sea, it’s a statement about culture, transience and nature’s power to reclaim human traces. Each message lasts only a few minutes on the green glass surface, before fading away. Complete with a wooden bench, the simple, sensory space won ‘Best Design Medal’ at the Biennale.
LEBANON: ‘The Silent Room’
Escape from city stress in ‘The Silent Room’, Lebanon’s blue-hued retreat from the pressures of public space. Enter the perforated brick-and-timber tower and a staircase leads to a dimly lit upper level. Within this fabric-lined, insulated cocoon, speakers play a field recording of quiet urban moments. ‘Silence is becoming a commodity for the privileged,’ says designer Nathalie Harb, whose private shelter offers ‘the luxury of silence to everyone, regardless of background or status.’ Influenced by her crowded home city Beirut, she hopes her soundscape provides a sensory respite from the madding crowd.
INDIA: ‘State of Indigo’
We love blue, especially dreamy indigo, but the dark history of indigo farming has remained mysterious. India’s pavilion, backed by The Gujral Foundation, illuminates the ‘State of Indigo’, sharing the colonial slavery and contemporary social issues behind this emotionally charged pigment. A natural colour created from the indigofera plant, indigo was used ‘to dye fabric, repel insects, treat ailments, disinfect, ward off spirits and even decorate an entire city’, says curator Priya Khanchandani, who wants us to experience the working conditions behind this blue beauty.
Pattern and colour can transform lives and economies as ‘Palopó’, Guatemala’s pavilion, proves. It promotes a project to paint a whole town in vibrant hues, inspired by local, ancestral textile patterns, turning it into a vast artwork to attract tourism. Led by designer Diego Olivero of Olivero & Bland Studio, Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó aims to support an impoverished town on Lake Atitlán. The London installation celebrates this social design initiative, harnessing floating geometric forms resembling the multi-coloured houses, flanked by a textile mobile by Zyle.
GREECE: ‘ΑΝΥΠΑΚΟΗ – Disobedience’
Championing the ancient Greek concept of civil disobedience, Greece’s kinetic ‘ΑΝΥΠΑΚΟΗ’ installation challenges our perception of static architecture. Designed by Nassia Inglessis-led Studio INI, its 17-metre-long wall is formed from a steel spring skeleton and recycled plastic, so it flexes and morphs around the human body. Visitors can enjoy the transgressive walkway, passing through the wall and feeling it respond in return. A boundary, but also a rebellious, exciting space to explore, it suggests a new, more dynamic shape for future city buildings.
ITALY: ‘L’Architettura degli Alberi’
Based on a 20-year study of trees, Italian pavilion ‘L’Architettura degli Alberi’ reflects a labour of love by architects Cesare Leonardi and studio partner Franca Stagi. The duo documented Italy’s trees to help landscape designers, crafting accurate, beautifully detailed drawings of different trees at a 1:100 scale. Expanding to include European and Central American trees, the book was finally published in 1982, featuring 374 evocative illustrations of 211 species. This installation presented by La Triennale di Milano shares 24 of them, ideal for inspiring parks and public spaces.
EGYPT: ‘Modernist Indignation’
Winner of the London Design Biennale 2018 Medal, Egypt’s display ‘Modernist Indignation’ charts the sad loss of the country’s once-vaunted modernist architecture, now left to rot or actively destroyed by critics. The pavilion is an elegy to that vulnerable and dying design language, featuring a contemporary reinterpretation of a fictional 1939 exhibition put on by Al Emara, the first Arabic design magazine (published from 1939 to 1959). It also includes a video shot in the house of its founding architect Sayed Karim, his manifesto and logo, gradually erased on the floor.
SWEDEN: ‘Coal: Post-Fuel’
Coal could have emotional value, becoming a desirable design material, according to this intriguing Swedish exhibit by Jesper Eriksson. ‘Coal: Post Fuel’ considers an alternative future for this Industrial Age power source, imagining its life beyond a dirty fuel for burning. His installation features furniture, flooring and objects made from solid coal, some in their raw state and other pieces processed into a black marble-like finish. Eriksson reckons ‘Britain’s most iconic material’ can be rebranded for architecture and interior design. Think organic, quarried luxury…
THE NETHERLANDS: ‘Power Plant’
Fearful about food security and the future environment? Luckily, The Netherlands is on top of things, with its ‘Power Plant’ pavilion showing how design can solve the problem of population-pressured food production. A futuristic greenhouse, it uses sunlight to generate both food and the electricity needed to grow it. Designer Marjan van Aubel is behind this elegant solution, with the building’s transparent solar glass, hydroponic system, vertical growth structure and specifically coloured LEDs fostering a year-round, high-yield indoor harvest.
Finally, don’t miss The Refugees’ Pavilion, a temporary shelter housing objects designed by displaced people. The pavilion itself is the ‘Better Shelter’, winner of the Design Museum’s Design of the Year 2016, a structure that unpacks from two cardboard boxes, and can be assembled by four people with one hammer in just a few hours. Inside, visitors can see how refugees worldwide have customised the flatpack making it their own. Social design in action.
London Design Biennale is at Somerset House, Strand, London WC2 from 4 to 23 September 2018. Book tickets online or opt for a guided tour.
Photos: Mark Cocksedge (Australia Pavilion); Ed Reeve