A First Look At The London Design Biennale

London Design Biennale 2016 ★★★★★

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 14 months ago

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A First Look At The London Design Biennale London Design Biennale 2016 5
The brightly coloured, many mirrored Indian pavilion, presented by India Design Forum, is a feast for the eyes.

London's inaugural Design Biennale opens today. We've already had a look inside — and here's the inside scoop. Each of the 37 participating countries has their own area within Somerset House to showcase their designs, and several have delivered spectacular displays.

This mirrored tunnels leads into Spain's virtual reality cities of the future.

The theme for the biennale is of utopia — although with many of the exhibits, there's a sense of dystopia too. France's pavilion sells sweets from a vending machine with the proceeds going to Syria. It's accompanied with a video of Syrian refugees reminiscing about their favourite sweets, a theme that unites most human beings.

Water is becoming more scarce and the Saudi Arabian pavilion explores its commodification.

Sweets crop up again with Saudi Arabia, which explores water shortage with 'drops' dispensed from a giant gumball machine.

Housing is a matter close to the hearts of Londoners, and Poland captures this brilliantly by making us choose our futures through different panels. These choices ultimately lead to a utopia or a dystopia — a great case of design looking to draw attention to the major issues affecting the world today.

The spinning lights of Austria respond to the lightest of body movements.

So many pavilions impressed us with their designs. Israel provides giant speakers to stand on, sending ripples of music through our bodies. Austria presents a series of lights, like Alexander Calder's spinning mobiles, and South Africa has us sitting in suspended chairs which look like terrifying animal heads.

Take a seat inside this mouth if you dare. All handmade and surprisingly comfortable.

India gives us bright colours and a multi-faith installation representing the diversity of the country, while Germany has created a meditative digital fire to sit in front of. Even the sponsors, Jaguar, don't disappoint with their laser grid of a sports car.

Jaguar's addition to the Biennale is also spectacular.

A special mention goes to the authentic Lebanese pavilion on the River Terrace. They have recreated traditional Lebanese shops where you can get a wet shave, eat Lebanese food, smoke a shisha or simply sit and play backgammon. It's about as close to being in Lebanon as we're likely to get.

Backgammon anyone? The multi-faceted and authentic Lebanese pavilion.

There are too many great pavilions for us to mention and they've been designed to be engaging and often interactive. The whole biennale is really accessible, very impressive.

We loved the futuristic feel of Indonesia's design which squeaks away as it represents the communications needed for countries to reach consensus on major global issues.

Let's hope the London Design Biennale is the resounding success it deserves to be, and lives up to its name by returning every two years.

The London Design Biennale 2016 is on at Somerset House until 27 September. Tickets are £15 for adults, concessions available.

Last Updated 07 September 2016