London design Biennale 2016:
[Utopia by Design]

 
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Functioning as both a strategic PR move and reassuring promise, the #LondonIsOpen campaign launched earnestly following months of isolationist and xenophobic rhetoric. This culminated in the Brexit vote that saw the majority of the United Kingdom voting in favour of leaving the European Union. It is within this socio-political landscape that the inaugural London Design Biennale opened from September 7th to the 27th at Somerset House. The theme, “Utopia by Design”, was not chosen incidentally. While it does mark the 500th anniversary of Sir Thomas More’s prolific text, the subject matter and questions Utopia raises are gravely relevant considering London’s current position as a ‘global’ city striving to keep its doors open while the rest of the nation pushes them closed: What does Utopia look like? Does it look like More’s self-contained, mono-cultural island? Is Utopia even possible?

With 37 countries and territories interpreting the theme and presenting newly commissioned works, the London Design Biennale explored big questions and ideas about sustainability, migration, pollution, energy, cities, and social equality. Visitors saw engaging and interactive installations, innovations, artworks, and proposed design solutions - all in an immersive, inspiring and entertaining tour of the world.

The following images and descriptions illustrate some of the highlights of The [204] Design Collective’s visit.

  [Albania, ‘Bliss’ designed by Helidon Xhixha]   A nod to utopian city planning; the mirrored columns and benches are designed and oriented to encourage self-reflection and solidarity. The circular layout of the benches is meant to ‘facilitate democratic discussion and exchange’ and arrange themselves around the engraved outline of Europe’s borders that many refugees see as a modern-day utopia.

[Albania, ‘Bliss’ designed by Helidon Xhixha]

A nod to utopian city planning; the mirrored columns and benches are designed and oriented to encourage self-reflection and solidarity. The circular layout of the benches is meant to ‘facilitate democratic discussion and exchange’ and arrange themselves around the engraved outline of Europe’s borders that many refugees see as a modern-day utopia.

  [Austria, ‘LeveL’ designed by mischer'traxler studio]   This mobile burns bright when it is completely still, however as visitors walk through the space and the structure tilts and the LEDs dim. The delicate and ever-changing sculpture reflects on the precariousness of the utopian ideal.

[Austria, ‘LeveL’ designed by mischer'traxler studio]

This mobile burns bright when it is completely still, however as visitors walk through the space and the structure tilts and the LEDs dim. The delicate and ever-changing sculpture reflects on the precariousness of the utopian ideal.

  [Cuba – ‘PARAWIFI’ designed by Luis Ramirez, Michel Aguilar]   On the cusp of a digital revolution, this modular system was developed to give structure to this revolution. Designed pods can be clustered and built up as a way to re-think the use of urban space with the growing number of Wi-Fi spots in Havana (currently 135 spots in the city).

[Cuba – ‘PARAWIFI’ designed by Luis Ramirez, Michel Aguilar]

On the cusp of a digital revolution, this modular system was developed to give structure to this revolution. Designed pods can be clustered and built up as a way to re-think the use of urban space with the growing number of Wi-Fi spots in Havana (currently 135 spots in the city).

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  [India, ‘Chakraview’ designed by Sumant Jayakrishnan]   Installation constructed of circular forms, textiles, and mythology woven together to highlight India’s diversity and to highlight the intersection of the ancient and the modern in design.

[India, ‘Chakraview’ designed by Sumant Jayakrishnan]

Installation constructed of circular forms, textiles, and mythology woven together to highlight India’s diversity and to highlight the intersection of the ancient and the modern in design.

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  [Israel, ‘Human.Touch’ designed by Yaniv Kadosh, Sharona Merlin]   Using design as a strategic tool to help resolve social and political challenges, this AlDrop first-aid distribution system uses self-rotating units to drop cartons of supplies over disaster zones.

[Israel, ‘Human.Touch’ designed by Yaniv Kadosh, Sharona Merlin]

Using design as a strategic tool to help resolve social and political challenges, this AlDrop first-aid distribution system uses self-rotating units to drop cartons of supplies over disaster zones.

  [Mexico, ‘Border City’ designed by Fernando Romero EnterprisE; Pentagram; BuroHappold]   Exploring a hexagonal integrated urban masterplan on the Mexico and United States border. “Border City” is to be realized over twelve years along the state borders of New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua. This bi-national city, developed on this important boundary, was proposed to offer a new model for globalized cities and economies as populations grow, cultures clash, and migration increases.

[Mexico, ‘Border City’ designed by Fernando Romero EnterprisE; Pentagram; BuroHappold]

Exploring a hexagonal integrated urban masterplan on the Mexico and United States border. “Border City” is to be realized over twelve years along the state borders of New Mexico, Texas and Chihuahua. This bi-national city, developed on this important boundary, was proposed to offer a new model for globalized cities and economies as populations grow, cultures clash, and migration increases.

  [Pakistan, ‘Daalaan’ designed by Salman Jawed, Ali S Hussain, Faiza Adamjee, Hina Fancy, Zaid Hameed, Mustafa Mehdi]   A collaboratively designed abstract playground that invites interaction between strangers. Using vernacular materials, the designers hope to inspire open conversation and open minds by encouraging play.

[Pakistan, ‘Daalaan’ designed by Salman Jawed, Ali S Hussain, Faiza Adamjee, Hina Fancy, Zaid Hameed, Mustafa Mehdi]

A collaboratively designed abstract playground that invites interaction between strangers. Using vernacular materials, the designers hope to inspire open conversation and open minds by encouraging play.

  [South Africa, ‘Otium and Acedia’ designed by Porky Hefer]   Suspended animal nests that celebrate liberation, playfulness, and innocence as a bold statement standing alongside the theme of Utopia, and coming from a country with a complicated and visceral history.

[South Africa, ‘Otium and Acedia’ designed by Porky Hefer]

Suspended animal nests that celebrate liberation, playfulness, and innocence as a bold statement standing alongside the theme of Utopia, and coming from a country with a complicated and visceral history.

  [Turkey, ‘The Wish Machine’ designed by Seyhan Özdemir, Sefer Ça ğ lar, Ça ğ la Gürbay, Zeynep Akten (Autoban); Paul McMillen, Zehra Uçar,Koray Malhan (curatorial advisors); Umut Südüak (graphic design)]   A contemporary wish tree where messages are fed through transparent pneumatic tubes that spiral away through Somerset house, and are deposited into ‘the unknown’. The gesture of casting a wish or desire into the dark is reflective of the hope of those who are among the biggest movement of people in recorded history who are in search of utopian lands with better futures.

[Turkey, ‘The Wish Machine’ designed by Seyhan Özdemir, Sefer Çağlar, Çağla Gürbay, Zeynep Akten (Autoban); Paul McMillen, Zehra Uçar,Koray Malhan (curatorial advisors); Umut Südüak (graphic design)]

A contemporary wish tree where messages are fed through transparent pneumatic tubes that spiral away through Somerset house, and are deposited into ‘the unknown’. The gesture of casting a wish or desire into the dark is reflective of the hope of those who are among the biggest movement of people in recorded history who are in search of utopian lands with better futures.

  [United Arab Emirates, “Al Falaj: Water Systems of the Gulf's Oases: designed by Cultural Engineering and Case Design]   A utopian idea in nature, Al Falaj seeks to propose a comprehensive system of planned irrigation across the Gulf. The integrated network blends private and public realms together, encouraging meeting and socializing.

[United Arab Emirates, “Al Falaj: Water Systems of the Gulf's Oases: designed by Cultural Engineering and Case Design]

A utopian idea in nature, Al Falaj seeks to propose a comprehensive system of planned irrigation across the Gulf. The integrated network blends private and public realms together, encouraging meeting and socializing.

  [United Kingdom, ‘Forecast’ designed by Edward Barber OBE and Jay Osgerby OBE]   This kinetic sculpture moves with the wind, as a nod to Britain's nautical past, and its future in renewable energy. The sculpture is designed to resemble a ship sail, and promote a sustainable future in wind energy.

[United Kingdom, ‘Forecast’ designed by Edward Barber OBE and Jay Osgerby OBE]

This kinetic sculpture moves with the wind, as a nod to Britain's nautical past, and its future in renewable energy. The sculpture is designed to resemble a ship sail, and promote a sustainable future in wind energy.

While common threads run through many of the installations (mass migration, limited resources, climate change), the questions that Utopia poses were mostly deliberated and answered within a localized context. Designers and creatives each found the problem and the solution internally. Utopia, it seems, is possible, and is tied to the people and places themselves. Using existing ideas and resources in different ways and seeing them through various perspectives.

With the pathway to the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU still being deliberated, it is unclear what effect this may have on events such as this, that require freedom of open discussion and cultural exchange across borders. The next London Biennale is set for September 2018.

Descriptions provided by the respective designers in the 2016 London Design Biennale Catalogue can be found at:
http://www.londondesignbiennale.com/participants
Photographs provided by The [204] Design Collective.