Reflections on Utopia
By Josie Mills and Dieneke Ferguson
14 October 2016
This was the first edition of the London Design Biennale which was set in the stunning surroundings of 18th century Somerset House from 7 – 27 September 2016. Curated by Christopher Turner, 37 countries from six continents presented newly commissioned works that explored the theme Utopia by Design. The Theme celebrates the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas Moore’s classic, Utopia, and it offers reflections on the history of modernist design that Utopia inspired such as the Bauhaus and le Corbusier.
The 37 installations explored how architecture, design and engineering can contribute in some small way to making the world a better place and our cities more liveable.
Countries were invited to interrogate the history of the utopian idea and engage with some of the fundamental issues faced by humanity and suggest solutions to them that use design and environment
Among winners of the first London Design Biennale were the Lebanese Street Market and an archive of ‘forgotten’ Soviet designs.
Mezzing in Lebanon by architect Annabel Karim Kassar.
The Lebanese installation was awarded the London Design Biennale Medal 2016. It brings a slice of Beirut life to the centre of London, celebrating utopia through the everyday designs of the people of Lebanon.
The focus is on a city street as a workshop of designing and making. Beiruti designers and makers were invited to contribute in making the installation feel authentic. The use of humble street materials and objects aims to show design as an evolving process.
Discovering Utopia: lost archives of Soviet Design by Alexandra Sankova, director of the Moscow Design Museum.
This contribution received the London Design Biennale Utopia Medal – the most inspiring interpretation of the Biennale’s 2016 theme.
Discovering Utopia offers a glimpse into an idealised world dreamt up by Soviet designers that, for the most part, never left the space of their workshops. ‘Under communism, Soviet designers dreamt u daring projects that searched for ‘utopian’ visions of the future. But any projects were so progressive that they never became a reality because they were beyond the capabilities of modern industry.
The Russian installation presents a rediscovered archive, which tells the story of these ‘forgotten projects’, created at the All-Union Soviet Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) from the 1960s to the 1980s. This institute brought together designers, sociologists, philosophers, cultural and art historians.
The London Design Biennale is the first place where these materials have ever been on public display.
Forecast by Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby
Their 14 metre kinetic sculpture Forecast moves with the wind, evoking the UKs nautical history and its future use of renewable energy. It is installed in the centre of the Edmond J. Safra Fountain Court of Somerset House.
Movement will be triggered as the wind picks up or changes direction, creating a simple kinetic sculpture that corresponds to the elements,
Forecast suggests that utopia doesn’t have to be unattainable, it can be here and now and is intended as a symbolic reminder that every individual can make a difference.
A journey around the Neighbourhood Globe by Yasuhiro Suzuki’s
This installation promises to change the way we look at everyday things and consists of a large inflatable human figure, titled Napping Traveller, and acrylic suit cases that contain Suzuki’s work inspired by everyday’s objects.
Chakraview by Sumant Jayakrishnan
The Chakraview was a walk-in installation designed with brightly coloured Jamdani and Ikat silks adorning the ceiling. Hundreds of hand-painted signs enclosed in hoops with multiple chakras on them hung around the walls. The installation wove together the sense of modern India in Chakraview.
As Rajshree Pathy explained, “Like the seven chakras, our visions of utopia are simultaneously spiritual and progressive”, “our installation is a narrative of India’s diverse religious, social and political journeys and a constantly metamorphosing churn of all the above” she says. Therefore, India’s idea of Utopia connected the past with the future.
LeveL by mischer’traxler studio, curator Thomas Geisler, MAK Vienna
The Austrian team created a kinetic light installation entitled LeveL: displaying the concept of the fragile balance of utopia. The designers stated ‘We see a utopia as an interconnected system where all the elements have to stay in balance, but such a moment will never endure. Some people will enjoy the imbalance of the installations, which others will maybe try to ‘fix it’ to calm it down.’
To reflect this idea of Utopia in their work, LeveL, is poised to unsteady itself at the slightest movement. When the mobile is perfectly still, the lights are at their brightest, illuminating the room fully. As you move around the installation the very act of moving and breathing creates drafts of air making the LEDs dim and setting the mobile out of balance. In essence Austria used LeveL as a metaphor to reflect the precariousness of the utopian ideal, and its fragility when subjected to everyday life.
Cadavre Exquis : an Anatomy of Utopia By Maria Jegklinska and art historian and critic Clara Czerniewska
A spatial version of the surrealist game, playfully invites visitors to arrive at their own utopia through a series of decisive moves.
Shenzhen: New Peak by Xiaodu Liu from Urbanus.
This installation addresses the problem of the megalopolis with a proposal for a series of towers that are small cities in themselves. Visitors can explore and outsized model of one of these megastructures. Shenzhen has undergone rapid urbanisation from 300,000 people 35 years ago to over 15 million people now and is now considered a megacity.
To address this Urbanus proposes a ‘new building type’ – buildings as self sustained communities like a small city and promotes sustainable living.
Inside the buildings there is a reduced focus on private space, and a greater emphasis on shared public facilities, integrating technology solutions to address problems such as poor ventilation and temperature control.
Otium and Acedia by Porky Hefer
This installation celebrates liberation and playfulness as fitting statements of a country reborn from a convoluted, visceral history. Hefer has designed a series of nests in the form of animals, into which visitors can climb.
Pulse Diagram by Architect Chacha Atallah in collaboration with artist Haytherm Zakaria
This installation reflects on the fragile foundations of so-called utopias and is influenced by the ‘floating architecture’ of the Hungarian-born French architect and urban planner Yona Friedman.