10 Pavilions To See:
London Design Biennale

The fourth London Design Biennale is now open at Somerset House, presenting the works of more than 40 international creatives. The fair is one of the most important platforms to introduce and test the latest innovations within the design field. This year’s theme is The Global Game: Remapping Collaborations — and participants developed projects in relation to the overarching motif. It was by Artistic Director for 2023: the Nieuwe Instituut, the Dutch National Museum and Institute for Architecture, Design, and Digital culture. The aim of their initiative is to use design as a means to create and explore new cooperation between the national pavilions. Designers were asked “to create an alternative geopolitical landscape driven not by competition nor conflict, but rather cooperation” — said Ari Chen, General Director of Nieuwe Instituut. The following list surveys ten countries’ responses to the idea.

Denmark & Switzerland | Blue Nomad

This collaborative project imagines a self-sufficient floating habitat that is powered by solar energy. Blue Nomad is a small living space that travels on the ocean and exemplifies a fossil-free future. By presenting this alternative way of life, Denmark and Switzerland ask questions about what comes after the climate catastrophe, amidst rising sea levels. The structure is made of optimised woven flax fibre, an organic and regenerative material source. The modest domestic space “draws inspiration from the lifestyle of the first Polynesian nomadic settlements. They explored the world via an outrigger – a boat projection made of organic materials with ocean stability through a side pontoon.” Blue Nomad proposes an objective for future travelling and living on water for two occupants and their two guests.

Abu Dhabi | Formation of Soof

In their pavilion, Abu Dhabi introduces a traditional weaving technique called Al-Sadu, which was recorded on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in 2011. The method — practiced by Bedouin women in the United Arab Emirates — resulted in a material called “soof.” This means wool or woollen cloth in Arabic. The Formation of Soof  is an immersive installation that presents the importance of turning a raw material into textile. The wool of camels, goats and sheep was turned into yarn balls. The repetitive and therefore hypnotic practice of spinning was a group task and the final product was used in communal living spaces and social areas. Displaying this handmade craft shows the power of collaborative human labour. 

The European Union Delegation to the United Kingdom | The New European Bauhaus

In 1919 German architect Walter Gropius established Bauhaus, an influential school that has shaped the character of architecture and design ever since. It brought together creators from disciplines – including graphic design, textile art and metalwork – to unify creativity for enhanced workmanship. The institution’s holistic programme provided an inspiration for the Delegates of the European Union. The New European Bauhaus is an establishment that looks to bring together and transform European societies through aesthetics, inclusion and sustainability. Their aim is to declare the European Green Deal, a program of policies that will enable Europe to become the first climate-neutral continent. It introduces ideas such as innovative new façade technologies that incorporate plants and nests for birds.

Democratic Republic of the Congo | Virtual Congo

“Congo is the wealthiest country in theory, but one of the poorest in practice” – states the introduction to the pavilion. To raise awareness about the discrepancies between the vast number of resources and the challenging living conditions in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the exhibition presents a rich virtual art collection. It is a futuristic reimagining of the country’s national museum, brought to the people with the help of Virtual Reality. The Musée National de la République Démocratique du Congo is notable sight in the capital of Kinshasa. It houses thousands of artefacts, artworks and objects from the communities across the Congo. It brings together traditional design and visionary engineering. The computerised display proves the possibilities and the wilful spirit of the country.

Automorph Network | Creative Differences

Automorph Network is an artistic collaboration between architects, designers, physicists and scientists. They operate as a team to explore the concept of “self-shaping matter.” In nature, change is constant. As cells divide and organisms transform, our surroundings continuously develop. Automorph materialises the notion of growth and survival; their installation displays self-morphing systems which evoke imaginary habitats and artificial landscapes above and below water. “Differences and incompatibilities are traditionally seen as sources of instability, but they can create unique and original outcomes in our hybridized environment.” The pavilion features a collection of sea creatures made from silicone and video works that introduce self-shaping elements from nature and laboratories. The display presents the potential of generative mechanisms that could shape the future of design.

Taiwan | Visual Shop

This year, Taiwan participates in the Design Biennale with an installation that emphasises the country’s important role in the global manufacturing supply chain. The small island located between Northeast and Southeast Asia on the Tropic of Cancer, is a vital part of the international economy. Visual Shop celebrates the country’s trade networks which are full of creativity, movement and vitality. The region has been known for its small- and medium sized enterprises producing electronics, vehicles, organic chemicals and resourcing iron and steel. The pavilion draws attention to the positive outcome of constructive teamwork. An installation shaped as a metal supply area and a workshop reminds visitors of products that Taiwan exports worldwide. The display was awarded the London Design Biennale Best Design Medal.

Spain and Peru | Common Vibrations

This year Spain and Peru teamed up to present their shared cultural heritage. Common Vibrations uses the universal language of music to connect the two countries through an instrument: the cajón. This interactive audio and visual installation invites visitors to explore the history of the interconnected European and Latin American nations and enjoy the rhythm. Guitarist Paco de Lucía (1947-2014) and percussionist Rubem Dantas (b. 1954) discovered the instrument in 1977 during their visit to Peru and introduced it to Spain. Today the cajón — originally part of the Peruvian mestizo culture — is an essential part of the traditional Flamenco music. The pavilion as a whole is a collaborative project in itself. There was an academic discourse involving over 50 students from various design and architecture schools from the participating nations cooperated during the construction of the installation. 

Poland | Windows for Ukraine: The Poetics of Necessity

To offer support in connection with the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the Polish pavilion combines architectural and design solutions with social activism. As the description states: “In times of crisis, especially when available resources change and shrink, the world relies on new communities and new processes.” The team of curators explores the practice of diverting from aesthetics to function by building the country’s representative exhibition around one object — the window. The overall theme of the fair – “collaboration” – is the inspiration behind the project. It collects building elements from Polish families and reuses them in the homes of their Ukrainian neighbours. The humble idea acknowledges the primary needs of the war-impacted area and raises awareness about generous but simple partnerships.

Turkey | Openwork

Inside the central courtyard, Turkey’s pavilion is shaped around the metaphor of a gate. Gates have been used throughout history to illustrate an array of concepts: borders, power, ownership, class, nationhood. Here, Openwork plays with these concepts, commenting on changing political dynamics and rigid societal structures. In so doing, it offers a critique of the current state-of-play. The experimental large-scale installation is interactive: visitors are invited to take control of it, changing its surfaces by touch. The result is an unpredictable and constantly shifting experience that reflects on the history of humankind.

Malta | Urban Fabric

This year, Malta gets the opportunity to exhibit their project in the central courtyard at Somerset House. As their first presentation at the London Design Biennale, the country creates a large-scale installation, made out of simple, eco-friendly and sustainable materials: stone, organic fabric and wood. The artwork — a playful labyrinth — is inspired by the long-established layout of Maltese villages. At the same time, the material involved is a result of the practice of the Phoenician-Maltese tradition of fabric producing and dyeing. Urban Fabric raises awareness about our environment by creating a unique physical space for the visitors. The project is a result of the team effort between architects, an artist and a fashion designer.

The Global Game: Remapping Collaborations, Somerset House, London | From 1 – 25 June June


Words: Fruzsina Vida