What to see at the 2021 London Design Biennale



The London Design Biennale 2021 is now open until June 27 at Somerset House. An in-depth view of the power of design to change the world, the London Design Biennale is a multisensory exhibition where critical thinking is demonstrated through creative installations that often combine sound and scent to catapult visitors on an immersive journey of discovery. Responding to the theme of “Resonance”, each installation, project or pavilion offers an experience of reflection through design.

“Good design ideas can help change things for the better, inspire people and give them hope for the future – never more needed than today,” said Sir John Sorrell CBE, President of the London Design Biennale, noting that the event was designed to ‘entertain, inform and spark action.’

The forest by Es Devlin

Es Devlin’s immersive installation Forest acts as an anchor for the London Design Biennale was created in collaboration with Project Everyone, and its impressive scale provides a welcome retreat in the courtyard of Somerset House. Visitors are invited to take a walk in the forest, featuring 400 trees of 23 local species and with an immersive soundscape from Brian Eno, Cheryl Tipp and the British Library Board. A central clearing features totems each representing one of the 17 Global Goals with additional information about each goal.

African Diaspora Pavilion: program of conferences and events

The inaugural Ini Archibong African Diaspora Pavilion has landed at Somerset House and will be the center of a rich program of events and discussions throughout the month. Serve as a conversation stage and platform that will honor African contributions and celebrate the black community. The conference and events program will start on June 5, 2021, with Archibong participating in discussions including ‘Navigating Design industry while black’, in collaboration with Chrissa Amuah (who co-designed the Ghana pavilion, below), and a round table on the origin of the African Diaspora Pavilion with Es Devlin.

Design in the era of crisis

The London Design Biennale and Chatham House exhibition, Design in an Age of Crisis is the result of an open call for proposals on how to tackle important issues in the fields of health, environment, society and work. The 500 submissions cover more than 50 countries and six continents, covering the themes of environment, society, work and health.

Souvenir from the London Design Biennale

Instead of a traditional exhibition catalog, the London Design Biennale Souvenir is a keepsake box (available for purchase from Somerset House) that extends the exhibition experience. Organized by former Wallpaper * digital design editor Sujata Burman and designed by Pentagram, the box includes a publication that acts as a companion exhibit and features Es Devlin’s contributions on the topic of resonance as well as information on each national contribution and special project, a series of limited edition prints, stickers and even an acorn; something to plant for future generations to cherish and enjoy.

The creators of the environment

Hamsa, a reference to the Arabic word meaning “five” and relating to the fingers of one hand. Photography: Mark Cocksedge

“Stream of Consciousness” is an exhibition of works by designers from the MENA region, showcasing pieces inspired by their Levantine heritage with a contemporary take on themes of nomadism, craftsmanship, tradition and diversity. All of the exhibits were made in London using sustainable wood supplied by Spanish manufacturer FINSA.

Co-founded by designer Rona Meyuchas Koblenz and Wallpaper * curator and editor Suzanne Trocme, Designers in the Middle is a celebration of the creativity and culture of Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Qatar. “2021 is the first time that we are able to bring our thoughts and our motivation to a physical exhibition, by creating works from an unknown material which has allowed us to create a contemporary Kasbah,” explains Trocme.

Rujum, which means “pile of stones” or “cairns of stone” in Arabic as well as in modern Hebrew. Photography: Mark Cocksedge

The objects were inspired by the concept of the Casbah (old town) as a living habitat module, a nod to the shift in life / work boundaries caused by the current pandemic. Co-founded by designer Rona Meyuchas Koblenz and Wallpaper * curator and editor Suzanne Trocme, Designers in the Middle is a celebration of the creativity and culture of Israel, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine and Qatar. “I have always been curious to explore different cultures of design, because there is a rich culture of arts and crafts in the Middle East,” says Meyuchas Koblenz. “Local and traditional crafts are the backbone of the design industry, and this has a strong social impact on our lives.”

National pavilions at the 2021 London Design Biennale

The 30 pavilions of the London Design Biennale 2021 are arranged in the east and west wings of Somerset House, as well as in Seaman’s Hall to the south of the courtyard. Each national participation responds to the theme “Resonance” and to the call to action of the artistic director of the Biennale, Es Devlin, answering the question: “how can design provide solutions to the great challenges and crises facing the world is facing today?

Highlights of the pavilions include the Amplify installation in Ghana by textile designer Chrissa Amuah and architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye, exploring the links between Ghana, Britain and Denmark across the centuries.

From Argentina, designer Cristian Mohaded and his longtime collaborator, artisan Lorenzo Reyes, have created pieces using Simbol, a plant that grows in the north of the country, to create an installation that comes to life through the light.

The archeology of the spoon in Germany, inspired by the European ban on plastic cutlery, is a colorful exploration of a soon-forgotten and still ubiquitous product design category.

The Canadian Pavilion’s “Duckt” installation is an awe-inspiring physical reflection on the threat of global warming, expressed in a large-scale replica of the heating ducts commonly found in buildings around the world. Guests are invited to hide under the exaggerated golden conduits, triggering “personal reflection towards a common threat.”

The immersive Greece Pavilion installation by the country’s Prince Nikolaos features a golden, illuminated olive tree as the sounds of nature fill the room. “Not much has changed in the way we cultivate and harvest olive trees from ancient times until today,” reads an exhibition statement: Through the project, the olive tree is celebrated for its properties and its century-old history.

Artist Ben Cullen Williams’ installation for the Antarctic Pavilion features three screens depicting an AI-generated video created from images of the Larsen-B Ice Shelf, which broke apart of the Antarctic Peninsula in 2002. The images were collected by the artist during an expedition to Antarctica. with polar explorer Robert Swan, and the project is supported by fashion label Pangaia.

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