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The London Design Biennale takes you on a world tour.

Updated: Jun 22, 2019

I love September; its means one thing usually for me the London Design Festival but luckily this year it means two great things, LDF and the almost month long London Design Biennale. Returning to Somerset House with 40 countries, cities and territories sharing how design influences (and improves) ever aspect of modern existence.

In response to the theme Emotional States, participants from six continents have created engaging and interactive design installations that challenge, education, inspire, surprise, delight, confuse ... with the whole site being taken over by one show there is something that speaks to everyone.

To simplify if you've never been to anything like it, it's the Eurovision of design; each are trying to get your attention, make a political/economic statement, tug at your heart strings, or just tell a story about themselves. The last Biennale in 2016 showed the potential in the idea this year I think has many more thought through ideas, less conceptual and more visually pleasing but still in need of a little explaining to truly appreciate. There are also a couple of complete weirdo idea that just freaked me out but that's what keeps the visit exciting.

I turned up with the sun, bright and early for the press breakfast; don't worry I didn't see anything you can't see. Just beat the crowds the day before it opened so I could get you these pictures to enjoy. Plus you are getting this post now instead of at the end of the show with no time to go. I was also lucky to be punching above my weight when it came to companions to explore with; Sarah (@girlabouthouse) Russell (@2lgstudio) Athina (@topologyinteriors) Mark (@forwardfeatures) all award wining more than bloggers who gave great perspectives and laughs on our long morning adventure.

Also thanks always for the invite Emma (@emmajanepalin) who's part of the hard working team behind LDB and the rest of LDF this year.

So finally time for some countries I think; going to share with you just my top 10 personal favourites so not give too much away. Starting with...



Design Team < TRImarchi Collective

The Wichi people are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Argentina, who are experts in weaving these complex type of geometric shapes. Visitors walkthrough a bending walkway that is a textural education on not just the process or the makers but the region as well. Creating its own landscape with soft colour shades and barriers to navigate, the 'forest' isn't a homage to ancestral design but an ongoing celebration of self-sustainability whilst giving a glimpse at the cultures hidden potential.



Designer < Flynn Talbot>

You might know how much I like a good light show, so when I was told about the curtained dark room in the basement with a rainbow inside we left it till last. Flynn Talbot returns to London with a wave of overwhelming pride; after a decade of bitter debate his native country became the 26th country to legalise gay marriage. Australia has opened its up to a new notion of what love is and Flynn wanted to visualise that using light & the global symbol of love, the pride rainbow. 150 strands of fibre optic cable form a freestanding circular structure perfectly fit under the arches, reflecting on the ceiling, the floors ... surrounding you in light.



Curators < Volker Albus, Axel Kufus, Lapatsch/Unger >

This curation of designers from Germany have highlighted the uses waste products can still have, transforming trash via upcycling it in to new original items of furniture. They are not aiming for mass production ideas but showing the connection we have to familiar materials and how they can still be used to create quality items with their own characters/purpose. Do you think this style and process is still niche? Or is it becoming more mainstream?



Designer < Nassia Inglessis, Studio INI>

This one is hard to miss as it sits centre stage in the courtyard, the lovely Nassia has produced a very engaging representation of Disobedience. A term at the centre of greek mythology and often used to describe the temperament of the nation, this simple wall takes on a whole new life when stepped in to. The slim opening flexes and morphs to respond to movement, transforming from a stationery object to a slightly daunting passage to transverse. The undulating structure is made up of a steal skeleton and recycled plastic tessellating bricks giving restricted views from outside and within. There is going to be a line for this one, if possible wear flats if like me you have the balance of a slightly drunk faun.



Design Team < Olivero Bland Studio in Collaboration with Zyle

Guatemala's installation tells a fantastic story of Pintando Santa Catarina Palopo - an initiative that is trying to transform an entire town through design. The community is going to paint the towns 800 houses using patterns inspired by local textiles in an effort to boost tourism with a very unique landscape. The hopes is to build connections, both locally and internationally, I am hoping for an immediate positive impact. The whole installation takes the whole idea to new heights literally floating off the floor, hinting at the dreamlike feeling of hope the project has for the region.


Exposed Nerves

Design Team < Asaf Hanuka, Nelly Agassi, Philip Thomanek, Nadav Barkan, Gali Cnaani, Dekel Bobrov, Pini Leibovich, David Amar, Danielle Weinberg, Maya Arazi, Rami Tareef, Alon Meron

Israel bumps convention but turning up to the show without their installation. Instead they brought everything they would need to make one and are providing live creation during the show. With a selection of inspirational found objects from home the multi-disciplinary team will expose the creative process whilst making a statement to the hectic fragility to an ever changing and unsure environment. You have to work fast, improvise, react, sometimes focusing on a small detail or abandoning an idea all together. No idea what you'll see when you visit.


Matter to Matter

Design Team Arthur Analts (Variant Studio)

Latvia's installation had immediate presence, a cool room and floor to ceiling green glass wall. Arthur's inspiration for the piece was his native city of Riga and it unique climate close to the Baltic sea and surrounded by forests. The wall is interactive encouraging you to draw in the condensation and leave fleeting messages which disappear within minutes. It's a real serene space, no distractions, the visually simple result hides a complex technological workings to further tell the developing story of Latvia.


Soft Identity Makers

Design Team < Muuaaa Design Studio>

Confronting the interesting topic of national identity, Muuaaa is a brand studio that is taking a very graphic approach to the emotional national topic in Puerto Rico. Visitors are given a tablet and 45 visuals to look through, selecting your 5 favourites that speak to you, then using their own algorithm creates a unique visual all you. Then to make the experience a true take away they hot press it on to a t-shirt and make you sign for receipt. It's a subversion on the often-intimidating identity making & custom process that is lightened even further with a complimentary nip bottle of rum. They are hard to miss with their matching pink boiler suits, chatty inclusive attitude and line of avid kinsmen.


Coal: Post Fuel

Designer < Jesper Eriksson>

Prepare for the interior stylists to go nuts. Jesper has come up with an alternative future for coal giving the material a value other than in its own destruction. A dirty fossil fuel transformed in to a black marble finish as both flooring and furniture that is sleek and touch worthy. It's an iconic and controversial material with lots of pre-dispositions so was engaging to see it contrast against Somerset Houses equally engaging setting. It also passed the ultimate white jeans test, thanks Sarah for taking the risk.



Design Team <Thao Vu, Le Thanh Tung, Giang Nguyen>

Another great pairing of two worlds using technology and science as a medium to show love for the rich history of craft. Two rooms each very modern in first appearance are actually homages to making. Each designer is from a different background so you get a full window in to dye techniques from ingredients to language. Full of respectful tradition but also a greater aesthetic ambition I wanted to ask lots of questions here.


For me what makes a good installation are: the raw idea, the quality of execution, the medium used, use of the venue and finally information available. I know lots to think about but just like with the creative work I do having just a great idea isn't enough, how you present it to people is the challenge. To be understood and engaged with just reams of copy or a tv screen doesn't usually do it for me, as powerful as those mediums can be.

There were some hot topics: the environment, people roles, craft practices all caught my attention and some great mediums, I was pleased by the amount that were re-claimed from a previous purpose too. We need to globally make the most of what we already have; the world is a plentiful place and should be shared and innovatively applied to many challenges but also enjoyed. Enjoy yourselves people.

There are still things I managed to find missing from the event (which I think you'll find in any event of this size with this many participants and moving parts) but don't let me point them out. Go to the show if you work in design, are studying design, have a fascination with design, your dad works in design, you know absolutely nothing about design, are from one of the participating countries, love Somerset House, need exciting long afternoon plans, want to get lost in a good conversation... Just go, I'd really like to know what you think of it.

Open now

4 - 23 September

Tickets available online or on the door


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