The first London Design Biennale is currently underway. We couldn’t miss the chance to offer some first hand impressions about the event so we went there and now we’re back and ready to share. The event started on September 7 and ends on the 27th. It follows the model of the art and architecture events in Venice and it’s to be followed by similar events around the world. The theme chosen for this first edition is Utopia by Design and it’s based on a book by Thomas More from 1516 in which the author depicts a fictional island society in the context of its religious and political customs.
The location chosen for the event is Somerset House in central London, a building that has been reinvented and currently hosts a variety of cultural exhibitions. Here, on the North bank of the Thames, all those interested can admire installations and creations of leading museums and design organizations. They focus on a variety of subjects such as sustainability, pollution, migration or social equality, offering new and fresh perspectives on these concepts. More than 30 nations from six contents are gathered here and we’ll show you a few that caught our eye.
USA – The Immersion Room.
The representatives of the United States presented an interactive installation called The Immersion Room. The design is based on the concept of digitized wallpapers which depict images from the extensive archives of the Smithsonian Design Museum.
A console table allows users to design a custom wallpaper and to save it to be viewed later. There is a total of 100 backdrops offered by the museum, all intended to create utopian decors and ambiances.
India – Chakraview.
The idea behind Chakraview is to create a natural dialogue between mythology and contemporary design. Old and new, past and present come together in an installation based on circular forms, vibrant colors and traditional textiles.
Curator Rajshree Pathy explains that this utopia is inspired by the seven chakras and is meant to be spiritual and progressive at the same time. She worked with scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan to depict the continuity of Indi’a past and future and the religious, social and political diversity that defines the country.
South Africa – Otium and Acedia.
The utopia designed by the representatives of South Africa at the event is a beautiful mixture of ferocious and playful. The installation is called Otium and Acedia and is composed of a series of hanging beds or nests in the form of predatory animals such as the orca, the piranha, the crocodile or the lion.
Visitors can climb inside the nests without fearing the sharp teeth. They get to see the playful and cute side of each of these animals which represent something deeper than that.
The core idea behind this entire installation is the liberation felt by an emerging country with a drastic and complicated history. The design attempts to make us see things from a different perspective and to try to look beyond the striking appearances.
Italy – White Flag.
Italy has chosen to depict the idea of peace using an interactive installation that changes with each day of the event. The project is called White Flag, a concept that has been rethought by 20 designers in an effort to create a symbol of global truce.
A huge world map is at the heart of the installation. Each day of the event one of the flags is removed and replaced by an object selected or created by one of the designers. This way, by the 27th of September there will be no white flags felt on the map, only a collection of objects.
By the time the event ends the world map would be completely redesigned. The installation is a representation of the careful balance of the utopia. One day there’s a piece flag on a country and the next it’s all gone and replaced by something completely different.
The Netherlands – Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment.
What you see here is a blue foam diorama put together by Studio Makkink & Bey. It’s called Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment. The installation puts together objects and memorabilia taken from the home of architect Rianne Makking and designer Jurgen Bey.
This unusual autobiography is completed by a digital archive meant to tell a story about the power and relation of objects to the world and to show how designers form their own archives and how institutions collect history. The installation becomes a blueprint filled with copies of all the objects belonging to the designers and several other artists.
Austria – LeveL.
Austria brought to the event a unique kinetic light sculpture with some really interesting characteristics. When the installation is perfectly still the LED lights are at their brightest but as one moves through the room this balance is destroyed and the gentle drafts of air make the lights dim.
The sculpture shows us just how easy it can be to disrupt the balance and to destroy the wonderful utopia by exposing it to the reality of everyday life. The installation covers an area of around 40 square meters and the idea behind it is goes beyond the balance that we mentioned just now. The designers reveal that their idea of an utopia is a system in which personal freedom and communal interdependency are closely connected and juxtaposed.
Taiwan – Eatopia.
This is Eatopia, a place where diversity is celebrated in a beautiful and serene forest-like decor. The installation is inspired by a scene in the book that’s at the core of the event’s theme. The dining experience described in the book was recreated here by architect Rain Wu and designer Shikai Tseng.
The menu created for the event reflects Taiwan’s identity and inspires visitors to reflect and form social bonds. The idea behind the installation was to engage all the senses and to bring people together at the dinner table.
Albania – Bliss.
With Bliss, Albania encourages visitors to reflect and interact with others. The installation is a collection of stainless steel columns and benches all oriented towards a central point.
They have mirrored surfaces which reflect the environment and everything around them, inviting visitors to be friendly with each other and to interact with others. It’s an installation that shows the need for unification and that tries to form a diverse community, an idea inspired by the recent migrations.
United Kingdom – Forecast.
Designed as a representation of a more sustainable future, the Forecast installation was created by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby and it uses the wind to come to life. The design is inspired by Britain’s nautical history and the hope for a future that relies more on renewable energy.
The large wind-powered sculpture is comprised of a series of wind masts and rotating elements inspired by weather-measuring instruments and maritime ships. With this installation Britain reminds us that we can build our own utopia and we can start right now.
Cuba – Parawifi.
We live in an era when people seem to live just as much in the virtual world than in the real one. Cuba depicts this connection through an installation called Parawifi. It’s a modular system of pods designed to be used by smartphone users as they surf the web.
The pods can be connected to form towers and large structures, bringing people together and forming communities. It’s a design that shows us how we’re all connected even when we seem to be alone and disconnected from the outside world.
Indonesia – Freedome.
Indonesia chose to display an installation called Freedome. It’s inspired by the 1955 Asian-African Conference which was held in Bandung. The conference was attended by 29 countries which agreed to a declaration of world peace and cooperation.
This dome brings back that idea. It’s made of coir and has a floating bowl at the top which hovers and stands as a symbol for a space free of spatial boundaries and political principles. The dome as a whole is a representation of independence, equality and peace.
Tunisia – The Pulse Diagram.
The Pulse Diagram also draws inspiration from Thomas More’s book. The 54 pylons that form the diagram are a representation of the 54 cities mentioned in the book. The pylons are connected by beams created using an ancient Japanese technique means to extends the wood’s lifespan using fire.
The installation is also inspired by a second idea: the one proposed in the 1960s by architect Yona Friedman who envisioned a mobile city made of floating structures suspended on stilts and with a minimal footprint. This installation shows the fragility of such a structure.
Croatia – Utopian Collective.
Croatia was represented by an installation named Utopian Collective. It’s based on the idea of collaboration and is linked to the numerous ways in which we all interact and work together in everyday life. The structures presented here feature designs which are meant to be collaborative.
Chile – Counterculture Room.
The Counterculture Room presented by Chile tells the story of an interesting project from the 1970s called Cybersyn. The installation was designed by FabLab Santiago and curated by Andres Briceno Gutierez and Tomas Vivanco Larrain.
Cybersyn was a project allowed ministers to view economic information in real time so this could help them make informed decisions. It was the start of a smart community, becoming a reference to the modern design world.
Russia – Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design.
Russia takes us back in time to the period of utopic designs created by Soviets. The installation showcased in London is called Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design. It speaks of the time when soviet designers created daring and dreamy projects inspired by utopian ideas of the future.
This year’s design is presented as a rediscovered archive which reflects forgotten projects from the VNIITE (All-Union Soviet Institute of Technical Aesthetics) and SHKB (Soviet Design Studios).
Spain – VRPolis, Diving into the Future.
Spain takes us 100 years into the future, in a virtual city that uses new technologies and designs inspired by the emerging trends. This project is called VRPolis, Diving into the Future.
The 360 degree virtual reality film presented here attempts to offer an imagine of what a smart city might look like 100 years into the future. It’s meant to make us envision a medium-sized town and could be used as a tool by inventors and innovators.
Pakistan – Daalaan.
We now go back to the idea of social interactions and we’ll have a look at Pakistan’s installation which is called Daalaan. The inspiration for it came from the playgrounds of our childhood and their simplicity and charm.
This is in fact a playground, a place where everyone can unleash their imagination and go back to a time when adult worries didn’t exist. This playful installation features wood stools and hand-drawn artwork which encourage visitors to dialogue and share ideas.
Sweden – Weden.
This is Welcome to Weden, the installation created by the representatives of Sweden for the event. The name and everything else about it is focused on the “we” and aims to suggest the idea of a future society envisioned as a wetopia. The project is the result of the collaboration between 15 designers and manufacturers and focuses on small-scale and non-hierarchical production.
Australia – Plastic Effects.
With Plastic Effects, designer Brodie Neill attempts to raise awareness about the five trillion plastic items which pollute our oceans today. The idea also reminds us of a time when plastic was considered a utopian material and shows how drastically the reality can change over time.
The installation highlights the problem that Australia faces: the thousands of tonnes of debris which are washed up on the continent’s coastline every year. The beautiful installation featured here is made of recycled marine micro-plastic and once again shows how wonderful it can be to change the world for the better.
Israel – Human.Touch.
Israel presented two projects, both focused on a positive idea. The projects focus on different elements, the first one being a first-aid distribution system that can be used to drop 3 kg cartons of supplies over disaster zones.
The second project is a pair of speakers designed for the deaf and hard of hearing. These speakers translate sounds into visual textures and vibrations, allowing those using them to feel the sounds and to overcome the challenges of our society.
Portugal – UN/BIASED.
The Portuguese design team used a rather unusual approach for their installation. It’s called UN/BIASED and it’s an installation that uses bacteria to offer a view of an issue present in the Portuguese society, sexism.
The project consists of four maps that show gender gaps in contrasting colors. It brings into attention that in order to reach a utopian society we must move upwards, not revive bad habits and ideas.