Review of London Design Biennale 2018

11 October 2018

By Dieneke Ferguson

The Second London Design Biennale took place from 4-23 September 2018 and as the previous one it was held again at Somerset House.

London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus

London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus

The Theme this year was Emotional States and it had been chosen to provoke a broad interpretation across design disciplines, with immersive and engaging installations that interrogate how design affects every aspect of people’s lives, and how it influences our very being, emotions and experiences.  As intended the participants’ responses to the theme presented an exciting laboratory of ideas that investigated the important relationship between design, strong emotional responses and real social needs.

Sustainability, migration and conflict, civic responsibility, pollution, water, social equality, and innovative solutions for issues in 21st-century life were just some of the big issues of our time being explored.

In total there were 40 countries, cities and territories from six continents that participated.

In this article we provide an overview of the ones we most liked.

London Design Biennale 2018. Guatemala. Palopo

London Design Biennale 2018. Guatemala. Palopo



by Diego Olivero from Olivero & Bland Studio. Administered by Embassy of Guatemala in the UK.

Guatemala’s installation tells the story of PALOPÓ, an impoverished town on Lake Atitlan and how a project to paint the whole town (Pintando Santa Catarina Palopó ) in vibrant patterns inspired by their ancestral textile patterns is transforming its economy and instilling hope for its future. The intention is to boost tourism by creating a unique and beautiful townscape as well as engendering a sense of civic pride.

The floating installation of contemporary geometric forms resemble the multi-coloured houses of the town designed and developed by Diego Olivero from Olivero Bland Studio while a textile mobile, designed by Zyle using repurposed local textiles, hints at the volcanic mountains that surround it.  The design efforts were led by Designer Diego Olivero from Olivero & Bland Studio, a team of designers, architects and local leaders have worked with the community to paint the town’s 800 houses using patterns inspired by local textiles.

It received the London Design Biennale 2018 Public Medal as voted for by visitors to Somerset House.

London Design Biennale 2018. Guatemala. Palopo

London Design Biennale 2018. Guatemala. Palopo




by Studio Ini  

This installation is a 17 m long kinetic wall that challenges our perception of design and architecture as something static or emotionally inert.  The Installation explores the duality in the nature of disobedience.

In the courtyard of Somerset House, visitors were presented with an innocuous wall. As they step inside, this dynamic skin exes and morphs in response to their movements: they have transgressed a boundary, transitioning from obedient spectator to disobedient actor.

The undulation and transformation of the structure – a steel spring skeleton built up with recycled plastic – is experienced by both the “actor” and the audience in the courtyard

London Design Biennale 2018. Greece, Disobedience

London Design Biennale 2018. Greece, Disobedience


London Design Biennale 2018. Greece, Disobedience

London Design Biennale 2018. Greece, Disobedience



Design by the Hungarian Fashion and Design Agency’s Creative Team

Hungary’s installation explores the relationship between digital culture and human emotions by inviting participants to share a Kiss in Budapest and create a virtual memory.

Couples enter the darkened installation from opposite sides and meet in a clean, homogeneous space equipped with LEDs, cameras and a green screen, as well as sensors detecting the couple’s movements and the intimate moment of the kiss. Meanwhile, those who stay outside see the couple on large LED displays, meeting and kissing in front of Budapest’s art nouveau and neo-renaissance sights. The result is a virtual memory with a real emotional charge: their first kiss in Budapest.

London Design Biennale 2018. Hungary, A kiss in Budapest

London Design Biennale 2018. Hungary, A kiss in Budapest


London Design Biennale 2018. Hungary, A kiss in Budapest

London Design Biennale 2018. Hungary, A kiss in Budapest



by Arthur Analts (Variant Studio)

In Matter to Matter, Arthur Analts of Variant Studio was inspired by his native city of Riga and its surrounding forests – which cover more than half of the country. Due to its proximity to the Baltic Sea, Riga has its own unique climate, with a constant humidity that often leads to condensation. Analts has recreated this using a large green-glazed surface as an interactive platform for the transition of matter to matter: gas to liquid.

Each visitor is encouraged to leave a message in the glass – an expression of emotion that will disappear within minutes. It is a statement about culture and transience, and the ways in which nature can cover over human traces.


London Design Biennale 2018. Latvia, Matter to Matter

London Design Biennale 2018. Latvia, Matter to Matter




Why is smell so evocative of memories of a time and place? How do aromas resuscitate so vividly our dormant emotional states? The Hong Kong entry, Sensorial Estates, is an aromatic journey – blending stories about emotional connection of aroma to food cultures, worship and the very origins of the meaning of the name Hong Kong – which translates as ‘Fragrant Harbour’.  Passing through the Sensorial Estates pavilion, visitors can open boxes of objects infused with Hong Kong aromas and smell the scratch-and-sniff wallpaper, breathing in scents associated with Hong Kong, such as opium, egg tarts, incense or the roast ducks that hang in the windows of restaurants.

London Design Biennale 2018. Hong Kong, Sensorial States

London Design Biennale 2018. Hong Kong, Sensorial States



Curated by Abid Majid and designed by Mariam Majid, Mehrbano Khattak and Ahmed Nasir.

Aangan – Courtyard – celebrates the pivotal, but largely unrecognised role of women in Pakistan’s cotton industry, revealing the social context in which much of what we wear is made. The installation comprises a rising helix of garments hand-stitched and embroidered by female artisans. Responding to the movement of the viewer, the garments turn into a live canvas, with film projections revealing the human stories of the makers.

“ The garments come alive with words, patterns and moving imagery, giving a glimpse into the inner world of the artisans as the crafts” says designer Mariam Majid. “ We want to celebrate these unsung heroes, as breadwinners, mothers and creators, focusing on their resilience, courage and their emotional relationship to their craft”.


London Design Biennale 2018. Pakistan, Aangan

London Design Biennale 2018. Pakistan, Aangan


by Berghaus

As we wrestle with our hectic lives, it’s all too easy for us to get swept into spending time on things which, in the grand scheme of things, aren’t really that important. Berghaus’s installation, Time To Get Out, calls out these superficial touchpoints and offers an alternative.  Visitors will be taken on a journey from an enclosed space in the middle of a big city to a light-filled expanse representative of the outdoors. They first enter a tunnel of corrugated metal that reflects the everyday pressures of modern urban life and invokes a claustrophobic feeling. An oppressive misophonia of sound adds to the growing sense of stressfulness as visitors become increasingly disconnected from the outside world.

Eventually, however, they emerge into a translucent, full-height space, where a painting representing the different seasons is projected onto a vast canvas. In the heart of Somerset House, the outdoors is brought to life, giving visitors an opportunity to reflect on how they spend their valuable time.

London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus

London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus


London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus

London Design Biennale 2018. Time to Get Out by Berghaus



by The Adam Mickiewicz Institute

Poland’s installation displays objects that appear meaningless but are loaded with emotional weight.   Ten everyday items have been selected that are strongly connected to emotionally charged events in recent Polish history. They range from a manhole –  a symbol of the Warsaw Uprising, during which the sewer network was vital for moving Resistance troops and equipment – to a camp bed, which as a makeshift shop counter came to embody the black-market boom of the 1990s.

Each object is presented as a generic model, given the status of a cultural symbol. They are reminiscent of prototypes awaiting the final touches, such as texture, material and colour. Moodboards put these objects into historical context, combining comic- book-style drawings, archival photographs and still.

London Design Biennale 2018. Poland, A Matter of Things

London Design Biennale 2018. Poland, A Matter of Things



Administered by Institut fur Auslandsbeziehungen.

Pure Gold highlights the ecological damage we inflict with our waste, and explores our emotional responses to transformed trash. Pure Gold showcases 30 approaches to creative waste and considers their emotional resonance: how can we give a value and new context to waste, turning ecological anger into objects of desire?

In contrast to industrial recycling processes, upcycling methods do not aim for mass production. The focus is more on the artistic redesign of already used materials, with the aim of making high-quality functional and consumer goods.

London Design Biennale 2018. Germany: Pore God - upcycling and its emotional touch

London Design Biennale 2018. Germany: Pore God – upcycling and its emotional touch



Administered by Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum

In Cooper Hewitt’s Face Values installation, live facial data becomes the basis of dynamic graphic images and provocative conversations between humans and machines. Visitors are invited to perform emotions and transform identities by interacting with original digital works by R. Luke DuBois and Zachary Lieberman, framed by a canopy of synthetic reeds designed by Matter Architecture Practice. A visual essay by Jessica Helf and will explore the historical context of facial analysis.

The exhibition explores alternative uses of technologies that are typically used for security, surveillance, and behavioural profiling. As identities mix, merge, and reconfigure, visitors are invited to engage in emotional expression as mask and public performance. They will learn how their facial movements can control the cameras and software, and may begin to use their faces in unfamiliar ways to produce unexpected results, subverting the codes and habits of emotional expression

London Design Biennale 2018. USA, Face Values

London Design Biennale 2018. USA, Face Values



by Nathalie Harb

To live in an urban environment is to be subject to a torrent of information and distraction. The Silent Room responds to this context, providing a cocoon-like, meditative space isolated from the city’s noise.

Visitors enter a perforated brick and timber tower and ascend a staircase to the wooden upper level, which houses the Silent Room. The light inside is very dim, providing the absolute minimum of visual information, with the aim that visitors feel peaceful when they leave. The only sound is a field recording of the city at its quieter moments. “I hope that it gives the visitor a different way of thinking about the urban environment. “ says designer Nathalie harb , “ of understanding it in terms of noise and silence, over-stimulation and peace; that you’ll come away from it with an increased awareness of the soundscape around you and its effects”.

London Design Biennale 2018. Lebanon, The Silent Room

London Design Biennale 2018. Lebanon, The Silent Room



by Flynn Talbot

The inspiration for Flynn Talbot’s installation came just before Christmas 2017 when, after a decade of bitter debate, Australia became the 25th country to legalise same-sex marriage. The designer has sought to capture something of this fleeting emotion in visible light.

Visitors were presented with a circular, freestanding structure, from which hangs a rainbow-coloured light screen. The light screen is made from 150 strands of fibre-optic light, each one a different colour. Visitors can touch and move through the light strands, feeling the coloured light in their hands, or they can simply stand within the space and be surrounded with a rainbow colour wash.  “ I wanted people to be able to feel and experience every colour of light” says Talbot, “just as now in Australia people are open to every way of loving”.

London Design Biennale 2018. Australia, Full Spectrum

London Design Biennale 2018. Australia, Full Spectrum



designed by Oyuna

TOIROG –  Mongolian for circle –  invites you to explore the rich emotional story involved in the crafting of cashmere design pieces and the many lives touched along the way.

From tough nomads who nurture cashmere goats to craftspeople who transform raw cashmere into design pieces, the installation demonstrates the cyclical nature of the cashmere story.

Visitors are encouraged to touch and feel the precious cashmere, evoking a sense of serenity, like that felt from a close relationship with the land, drawing on a sensory connection with many aspects of Mongolian life through one of its most treasured materials.

OYUNA supports the vision of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance, that all cashmere is produced in an environmentally friendly way that safeguards the livelihoods of herding communities and protects the important, fragile environment in which they live.

London Design Biennale 2018. Mongolia, Toiroc

London Design Biennale 2018. Mongolia, Toiroc



Design team: Than Vu, Le Than Tung, Giang Nguyen

In Vietnam, design has long been driven by social need.  alongside this exists a rich history of craft, within which are embedded a wealth of emotions. Around these processes, stories are told, secrets are shared and lives are lived.

KHẢI (which means “the welcome beginning of something new”) consists of two rooms that explore contemporary interpretations of traditional textile production. Room one is a laboratory showing natural dye techniques. Constructed over an indigo pool, the lab shows the steps of the dyeing process and reveals how Thao Vũ reinterprets these methods to create new kinds of sustainable textiles.  Room two is an interactive video installation that uses video mapping to overlay images of these  dyeing techniques to create an immersive experience of indigenous traditions and languages.

London Design Biennale 2018. Vietnam, Khai

London Design Biennale 2018. Vietnam, Khai



Design Team: Shota Sakami, Miriam Brockel, Lia Forslund and curated by Jesper Eriksson

Coal is traditionally seen as a completely functional raw material, its value derived solely from its own destruction. Jesper Eriksson’s installation considers an alternative future for the material that powered the industrial age and whether this cheap and dirty fossil fuel has a more complex emotional significance – particularly in Britain – “ Problematic, glorious, scandalous, essential – coal has many facets to it, “ Eriksson says.

The exhibition presents a speculative future for coal as an organic material for architecture and interior design. It contains flooring, furniture and other objects in solid coal, with some pieces left in the material’s raw state, and others processed into a finish similar to black marble. By changing the material’s aesthetic, Eriksson provokes a debate about our relationship to this utilitarian substance; from a fuel that releases carbon dioxide to a material that encloses it.

London Design Biennale 2018. Sweden. Coal, Post-Fuel

London Design Biennale 2018. Sweden. Coal, Post-Fuel



Design Team: Tinkah

The speed of change throughout the seven Emirates provides the inspiration for the United Arab Emirates’ installation, Time is Subjective.  Rows of hourglasses appear suspended in mid-air and rotate intermittently. “Time can sometimes feel so tactile, something you can almost touch” the designers explain. “ Our project elevates the UAE’s primary texture, desert sand, into the controllable element of passing time. “

The UAL, Tinkah says, is in a constant state of motion, achieving milestones no one thought possible: whilst time is inevitable, it is also malleab le depending on mental and emotional states. “ In youth, a year feels like forever, but as you grow a decade seemingly passes in an instant. The speed of time is a subjective, ever-changing and even controllable element.

70 hourglasses act as a monument to the most important decade in the UAE’s history. The 70’s marked is unification and its all-encompassing transformation.

London Design Biennale 2018. UAE, Time is Subjective

London Design Biennale 2018. UAE, Time is Subjective

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