We have waited, and waited long enough! The Design Biennale has finally arrived in central London in a mere three week period during September 2016, in the Neoclassical Somerset House by the River Thames.
To mark this commemorative moment, 37 countries have responded in various engaging exhibitions and installations to the theme ‘Utopia by Design’ chosen by the director Dr. Christopher Turner, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the inspirational publication of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.
So what is so significant about More’s Utopia you ask? It is a neologism meaning both ‘good place’ and ‘no place’, it is a fictitious island with 54 near identical cities that are described as a triumph of design. A perfect world that does not exist, but provokes the mind to envision a dream.
There were several impressive installations that caught our attention, to name a few that transported you into another part of the world were India’s ‘Chakraview’, which envelops you in a range of colourful contemporary textiles using traditional weaving methods in circular disks.
Stepping outside by the River Thames, you are as close to Lebanon’s bustling street life in Bierut as you can get in London, with a small lounge cinema, to a wet shave at the barber shop, smoke a Shisha to authentic falafel wraps and fresh juices. Definitely an atmospheric place to take a break from all the walking around!
Turkey creates an eternal space of mirrors where ‘The Wish Machine’ will transport your hopes, wishes, visions of utopia and aspirations of the future vacuumed around the building and into the unknown.
Just as Austria realizes that Utopia is an impossible ideal, installing an interactive 'LeveL' kinetic light sculpture that will dim at the slightest movement created by the visitor passing through.
With new advanced virtual-reality technology, Spain had us dive into the future 100 years from now using the ‘VR Polis’, exploring a smart-city of a sustainable urban-living, allowing us to interact and discover the possible strategies for the future.
On a more concerning issue, Mexico proposes a ‘Border City’ as it proposes an ambitious solution to emigration, production and population growth. By building an adaptable system for this bi-national city, expressed in the form of a large-scale model, enhanced with video mapping and audio-visual effects.
In the child’s utopia (or the inner child in us), South Africa has designed several hanging ferocious animal mobiles that is ludicrously inviting as you want to snuggle into the cosy, soft fur in the mouths of these animals. They are handcrafted by locals; expressing traditions, craft and heritage.
For some others, ‘Eatopia’ might have won some hearts over, food, is always something that brings people together, Taiwan brings a unique culinary experience that explores its contemporary culture through beautifully curated dishes to amuse your taste-buds.
Somerset House actually homes a permanent exhibition in the ‘Utopia Treasury’, which includes a library of Utopian themed literature. Talks were also held in this area where each of the countries had a presentation on their outtake of Utopia. So if you’ve missed the ‘Utopia by Design’, make sure you visit here instead!
By the end of the day, you are most likely to have enjoyed being overwhelmed by all these intriguing and inspiring exhibits, it leads you hoping that some of these ideas can really put us a step closer to Utopia, and possibly solve the current problems in migration, pollution, sustainability, cities and social equality. Now, we shall just patiently wait for the next Biennale in two years’ time and let it continue to inspire us as designers.
Participating countries include: Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Chile, Shenzhen, Croatia, Cuba, France, Germany, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Lebanon, Mexico, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tunisia, Turkey, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, United States of America.