A giant wind chime, touch-sensing bio-textiles and windows for Ukraine are among the most intriguing installations from the London Design Biennale, which opens at Somerset House today.
The biennale’s fourth edition was curated by the Nieuwe Instituut and its artistic director, Aric Chen. With the theme of The Global Game: Remapping Collaboration, the event aims to rethink how nations communicate and collaborate.
“Why don’t we use this as a trial run, a microcosm, to see how design can crate an alternative geopolitical landscape – driven not by competition and conflict, but instead through cooperation,” Chen said at the biennale’s opening.
The event features 40 exhibitors from around the world from Chile to Nigeria, as well as the event’s first-ever humanitarian pavilion designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban.
Here are the key installations not to miss:
Poetics of necessity, Poland, by TŁO Michał Sikorski Architects
This multi-national pavilion is based on a humanitarian project by architects Petro Vladimirov and Zofia Jaworowska, which has seen the duo collect disused windows from Poland to help rebuild homes in Ukraine.
This is crucial as windows are frequently destroyed by Russian shelling, but most of Ukraine’s glass supply comes from Russia.
As part of the biennale, the project was extended to the UK with more than 30 windows donated by Londoners displayed in the exhibition before they are sent on to Ukraine.
The installation also demonstrates one of the more than 100 techniques, devised by Vladimirov and Jaworowska in collaboration with local architects, for how the windows can be installed regardless of size or shape.
Materia Prestada, Chile, by Borrowed Matter
Sheets of bio-textiles made from tree cellulose and natural dyes are suspended from the ceiling in the Chilean pavilion, one of which is dipped in water and will slowly degrade over the course of the exhibition.
Others act as touch sensors, interwoven with conductive metal yarn and hooked up to speakers that emit different sounds as the textiles are stroked and prodded.
The aim is to explore the value and possible future uses of the biomaterial, which is one of the main products of the forestry industry in both Chile and Finland – the home of designer Sofía Guridi, who conceived of the pavilion.
Openwork, Turkey, by Melek Zeynep Bulut
Set in the central courtyard of Somerset House, the Turkish pavilion acts like a giant hexagonal wind chime that forms a series of steel gates.
Steel rods dangle from the three progressively smaller arches that make up each gateway, musically jingling in the breeze.
The pavilion was conceived by architect Melek Zeynep Bulut to act as a theatrical exhibition on the concept of gates and their role in enforcing borders and social hierarchies.
Creative Differences by Automorph Network
Self-burying seed pods that unfurl in response to moisture and tiles that curve in the firing process through strategically placed grooves feature in this showcase from the Automorph Network collective.
The group of designers, architects and scientists has dedicated itself to exploring self-shaped objects, which get their form as much through natural forces such as air or heat as through the hand of their maker.
Also featured in the show is a more playful take on the topic in the form of many-limbed sea creatures made from silicone, that appear to flop around of their own accord as their internal air channels are inflated and deflated.
Bidi Bidi Music & Arts Centre by Hassell and To.org
Visitors can try their hand at pressing raw earth building blocks as part of this installation by Australian architecture firm Hassell and the To.org foundation, who are currently using the bio-bricks to construct a music centre for refugees in northern Uganda.
The eathen blocks are displayed alongside a full-scale mock-up of the building’s roof, which will collect rainwater through a huge funnel, informed by the work of Burkinabé architect Diébédo Francis Kéré.
The aim is to explore how simple local resources and techniques can be used to create low-impact buildings and contribute to sustainable development.
Natural Synthesis, Nigeria, by Omotunwase Osinaike
A giant stick-insect like metallic form filled with sand occupies the centre of the Nigerian installation.
Designed to draw attention to the global connections between ecosystems, the sand is slowly falling through the insect’s central section to represent the tonnes of phosphorus-loaded sand that is blow from the Sahara to the Amazon basin each year replenishing its mineral composition.
Set alongside of the insect-like form are a series of pieces of furniture informed by arthropodal forms. “Using animals to tell stories is part of our West African cultural production, this is an advancement of this method,” Omotunwase Osinaike told Dezeen.
Paper Sanctuary by Shigeru Ban
The biennale’s first-ever humanitarian pavilion comes in the form of Japanese architect Ban’s modular Paper Partition System, which has most recently been used inside temporary shelters housing Ukrainian refugees.
Typically, the system composed of cardboard tubes and textile screens provides privacy in crowded refugee centres. But in this case, its function is reversed as the fabric is emblazoned with poems and anecdotes illustrating the experience of everyday Ukrainians, collected in collaboration with writer and translator Svetlana Lavochkin.
The pavilion also encourages donations to help Ban to fund a more long-term system of prefabricated houses for those displaced by the war.
Baking the Future, Austria, by Chmara.Rosinke
Throughout the biennale, designers Anna Rosinke and Maciej Chmara, will be baking bread in the Austrian pavilion as part of ongoing research project into the geopolitical contexts and microbiological processes behind this common food.
Alongside the bakery, the designers have created a collection of exhibits aimed at investigating the sensory experience of bread including a record player that allows visitors to listen to the bread.
“A loaf or slice of bread may seem simple, but there is a curious complexity to the matter of bread,” said the designers.
Chowk & Charpai: An Urban Living Room, India, by Archohm
Set on the riverside terrace, this pavilion explores two vernacular Indian design typologies that create spaces for community and conversation – a traditional woven day bed known as a chairpai and an open-air chowk market, which design studio Archohm describes as “the urban Indian living room”.
The pavilion is formed from woven ropes set over an angular frame, with a metal stall at its centre decorated in hundreds of kullad clay cups used for drinking chai.
The cups are left unglazed and fixed to the structure with magnets, so they can ultimately be returned to the earth.
ImPrinting: the artist’s brain by Beatie Wolfe
Artist and musician Beatie Wolfe has contributed an installation on the brain and its different functions in the form of a “thinking cap”, custom-made by fashion designer Michael Fish who famously dressed David Bowie and Mick Jagger.
Woven into the cap are glass discs encoded with musings and conversations, which Wolfe had with a range of different artists on everything from collaboration and music to memories, fears and a range of other topics, each embedded into the cap in the area where this information is processed in the brain.
Visitors can listen in to these insights and get a glimpse into the brain of an artist via a row of old-school telephones mounted to the wall.
The photography is by Taran Wilkhu, unless stated.
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