London Design Biennale 2016 at the Somerset House


The first ever London Design Biennale, in partnership with Jaguar and Somerset House, runs from 7-27 September. Installations, artworks, prototypes and designs from 37 countries and territories have come together in an entertaining and inspiring exploration of the role of design in our collective futures.
Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment

Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment, The Netherlands

Considering the archive as utopian, Studio Makkink & Bey present Design Diorama: The Archive as a Utopic Environment, a narrative installation of objects, products and memorabilia drawn from the home of architect Rianne Makkink and designer Jurgen Bey. This autobiographical representation is exhibited as a blue foam diorama, accompanied by a digital archive in which the Dutch design studio elaborate on the narrative power of objects and index their relations to the world. The display explores how designers curate and keep their own archives, but also asks questions about how institutions collect history.


LeveL, Austria

A reflection on the fragile balance of utopia, mischer’traxler’s kinetic light sculpture, LeveL, is poised to unsteady itself at the slightest movement. When the mobile is perfectly still, the lights are at their brightest, illuminating the room fully. As you enter and move around the space, your breath and the drafts of air you create make the rods tilt and the LEDs dim, setting the mobile out of balance. The delicate and ever-changing sculpture reflects on the precariousness of the utopian ideal, and its potential to unravel when subjected to the reality of everyday life.


Chakraview, India

Circular forms, traditional textiles and ancient mythology weave together a sense of modern India in Chakraview. “India’s utopias articulate the intersections between ancient myth and modern design”, says curator Rajshree Pathy. “Like the seven chakras, our visions of utopia are simultaneously spiritual and progressive.” Pathy wanted mythology to work in dialogue with contemporary design developments; with leading scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan, she explored the continuities between India’s past and future, myth and reality. “Like More’s Utopia,” Pathy explains, “or installation is a narrative of India’s diverse religious, social and political journeys and a constantly metamorphosing churn of all the above”.

A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe

A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe, Japan

Yasuhiro Suzuki’s installation, A Journey Around the Neighbourhood Globe, promises to change the way we look at everyday things. Suzuki likes to take a sideways look at everyday objects, a Japanese concept called ‘mitate’ or ‘looking at one thing as if it were another’. His installation consists of a large inflatable human figure, titled ‘Napping Traveller’, and acrylic suitcases that contain Suzuki’s works inspired by everyday objects. “Although everything inside will be familiar to visitors, they can use these objects to look at things in a fresh way,” Suzuki says. “When they leave the room, visitors’ way of looking at the world will have changed.”


Daalaan, Pakistan

Pakistan’s installation, Daalaan, is a collaboratively designed abstract ‘playground’ that breaks down social barriers and invites interaction between strangers. Taking the simplicities of our childhoods as a reference, the Pakistani team created a playroom ‘where imagination has no bounds’, to encourage people to meet through play and transport them back to a time when they were unhindered by adult anxieties. They hope their playful installation – which features sheesham wood objects, Lattoo Stools (spinning tops), hand-drawn artworks and screen prints made using natural henna dyes – will encourage people to converse and share ideas with open minds.

Cadavre Exquis: an Anatomy of Utopia

Cadavre Exquis: an Anatomy of Utopia, Poland

Cadavre Exquis: an Anatomy of Utopia, a spatial version of the Surrealist game, playfully invites you to arrive at your own utopia through a series of decisive moves. The Polish team — designer Maria Jeglinska and art historian and critic Klara Czerniewska—were more fascinated by the imaginary journey that leads to Thomas More’s island than the destination itself. To this end, Jeglinska and Czerniewska have devised a site-specific spatial game of Cadavre Exquis (or “Exquisite Corpse”), in which you must construct your own ideas of utopia (or dystopia) by navigating various questions and making subsequent moves.

Peach Blossom

Peach Blossom, Republic of Korea

An international team blends East, West, ancient and modern with Peach Blossom, a digital map that you can explore virtually and co-create by adding your own utopian thoughts. The starting point for the Republic of Korea’s installation is Ahn Gyeon’s 1447 drawing Mong Yu Do Won Do (Dream Journey to the Peach Blossom Land). Ahn Gyeon’s ideal vista – of a serene orchard surrounded by craggy mountains – has been digitally transformed into an interactive map that you can manipulate with physical gestures, zooming in and navigating through different levels of abstractions, and by adding your own visions of utopia.

Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design

Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design, Russia

Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design offers a glimpse into an idealised world created by Soviet designers that, for the most part, never left the space of their workshops. In the Soviet Union, designers developed daring projects that were inspired by ‘utopian’ visions of the future. The Russian installation, presented as a rediscovered archive, tells the story of the forgotten projects created at the All-Union Soviet Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) and Soviet Design Studios (SHKB) between the 1960s and 1980s. The institute brought together designers, sociologists, philosophers, cultural and art historians, working at the forefront of design theory and research.

Water Machine

Water Machine, Saudi Arabia

Water Machine is a giant gumball machine, of the kind familiar from newsagents and corner shops, which will distribute globes of water if you insert the right money. Water is an increasingly scarce resource the world over, but there are few places that this fact is felt as keenly as Saudi Arabia. Primarily desert, the country relies on desalinisation plants to reclaim fresh water from the sea, an expensive and energy-hungry process. Sisters Noura and Basma Bouzo have drawn on this situation in their installation to highlight the need for a global structural change towards sustainable use of resources.

Otium and Acedia

Otium and Acedia, South Africa

South Africa’s installation, Otium and Acedia, celebrates liberation and playfulness as fitting statements of a country reborn from a convoluted, visceral history. Porky Hefer has designed a series of hanging nests in the form of animals, into which you can climb. The animals are fairly ferocious: aquatic predators such as the killer whale and the piranha whose gaping maws bristle with teeth. But Hefer’s sub-aquatic utopia is also quirky and cheerful. For a country ’emerging’ from its past struggles, a pervading sense of liberation and innocence takes on an emboldened meaning alongside the theme of utopia.

VRPolis, Diving into the Future

VRPolis, Diving into the Future, Spain

With thousands of sensors that monitor things such as air pollution, noise and temperature, the smart city of Santander uses technology to improve urban life and the environment. Inspired by its success, VRPolis, Diving into the Future asks what a smart city could be capable of 100 years from now. An immersive 360-degree virtual-reality film imagines how medium-sized towns of the future could harness new technologies to make improvements in the fields of energy, mobility, connectivity, habitat, architecture, water and waste. This project shows prospective and possible sustainable futures based on emerging trends. It is a practical tool and could play an inspirational role for inventors and innovators.

Pulse Diagram

Pulse Diagram, Tunisia

In Pulse Diagram, architect Chacha Atallah, working in collaboration with artist Haythem Zakaria, reflects on the fragile foundations of so-called utopias. It is composed of 54 pylons, which refer to the 54 cities in More’s Utopia, linked to each other by charred beams, created using an ancient Japanese technique that scorches the wood to extend its lifespan. In the early 1960s, the architect Yona Friedman proposed a ‘mobile city’, a series of moveable and floating megastructures, suspended on a grid of stilts so that they left a minimal footprint. With its burned wood supports, the Tunisian installation both celebrates Friedman’s ‘feasible utopia’, and points to its fragile foundations.

The Wish Machine

The Wish Machine, Turkey

The Wish Machine, by multi-disciplinary practice Autoban, is a contemporary version of the ‘wish tree’ on which people tie notes of hope. Messages fed into the Wish Machine are carried through a tunnel of transparent pneumatic tubes and around the West Wing of Somerset House, before being deposited into the unknown, like coins tossed into the bottom of a well. The gesture of casting a wish into the dark reflects the profound hope of those among the biggest movement of people in recorded history, who search for utopian lands with dreams of a better future.

White Flag

White Flag, Italy

Twenty Italian designers have been asked to rethink the symbolic White Flag as a utopian emblem of global truce. The results are placed on the world map at the heart of the installation, but each day of the Biennale, one of the flags is removed and replaced by an object chosen or created by the designer. The intention is to instill a sense of urgency, even emergency, for the chosen places marked on the map. In the end there will be only a landscape of objects, as an offertory brought about in a time of truce.

September 7 – 27, 2016 | Somerset House, London

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