Sunday 30 October 2016

More from the London Design Biennale 2016

A few other brief snippets from the London Design Biennale, where the theme was Utopia, interpreted in a variety of ways at different national pavilions

Shenzhen: New Peak by URBANUS

The population of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong, has grown in 35 years from 300,000 to over 17 million. In this exhibit, the architecture team from URBANUS illustrated a proposal for a megastructure, as an alternative to urban sprawl. In the middle was a model of the megastructure. What struck me was that it was not a solid monolith, but had lots of openings and spaces within it, so that there would be lots of light and fresh air even in the middle of the structure.

There’s nothing new in the concept of a megastructure housing an entire city, but I thought this one was rather well illustrated, with a video on the wall of the pavilion showing it being built on the proposed site, and another animation showing what life might be like in one of these  places.

I’m sure that none of the technical issues have been worked out, and I don’t know if such a structure could actually be built. The animation did look a little like a video game, but it was nevertheless a seductive vision. If something like that were to be built, I’d quite like to visit.

More details from the designers' page here.

AIDrop by Yaniv Kadosh

This is a system which allows 3 kg packages of  supplies to be air-dropped to disaster zones. The payload is carried in a unit, inspired by the sycamore tree, which rotates and thereby slows its descent without the need for a parachute.

This seemed like a clever idea. The item itself was on display, and it would appear that it has actually been tested and does work.

Here is the designer's website.

Eatopia by Rain Wu, Shikai Tseng, et al

This was a beautifully designed room, with dishes laid out on a table. The food was meant to “explore the creative melting pot of Taiwanese identities”. It looked pretty, but unlike the Lebanese pavilion, it was not for public consumption, except during special events. No matter, it was lovely to look at, and enjoyable to walk through.

here is something I saw by the reception desk at the Spanish pavilion which you could make yourself for your own home:


Thursday 13 October 2016

Two versions of socialist utopianism at the London Design Biennale

The theme of the 2016 London Design Biennale, was “Utopia”. This was explored in many different ways in the various national pavilions. The displays ranged from the abstract and conceptual, to practical projects and real objects, intended for use in the real world.

Two fascinating pavilions were those of two former socialist countries, Russia, and Chile, showing two different aspects of socialist utopianism.

The Russian exhibition, Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design, was a catalogue of projects from created at the All-Union Soviet Institute of Technical Aesthetics (VNIITE) and Soviet Design Studios (SHKB) between the 1960s and the 1980s. Here were the designs for products which would contribute to realising the socialist utopia. The institute employed not only designers, but also philosophers, sociologists and historians of art and culture. On display were a wide range of products: vehicles, trains, a hydrofoil, kitchen utensils, electronic goods (including a precusor of modern computers and tablets), and much more. Some of these went into production, like the hydrofoil which was exported to Britain, but most were never realised due to economic or technical constraints.

Here are some examples of the projects, from the website of the Moscow Design Museum

Seating in this section was provided in the form of cardboard chairs, made from an old Soviet design discovered by the curators. They were very comfortable, in fact. But note, should you be tempted to have a go at making one, that the cardboard from which they were made was of a heavier grade than that used for your usual mail order delivery.


The Chilean pavilion, The Counterculture Room, was an exhibition about the Chilean Cybersyn project, which took place from 1971 – 1973 during the time of the socialist president Salvador Allende. Using the computer technology available at the time, such as telex machines, the aim of the project was to provide the government with real time data that would help them run the economy. The architect of the system was an English business consultant Stafford Beer. This was a sort of precursor of the internet and “big data” of today. The experiment ended with the assassination of Allende in a military coup.

The heart of the display was a reconstruction of the operations room , deigned by Gui Bonsiepe, with its futuristic swivel chairs, and screens for displaying data. Each chair had a control panel on one of the armrests. On the other armrest was that other essential accessory of the period, an ashtray.

Here are some images of the original design and the original room:

You can find out more about Project Cybersyn here

That's all for today. There was lots more at the biennale, so please come back next week.

Friday 7 October 2016

London Design Biennale 2016: Lebanon and South Africa

A Beirut Street, and Giant Stuffed Animals

At the first London Design Biennale, held at Somerset House from 7 - 27 September this year. There were 37 countries represented, each with their own installation, on the theme of Utopia. The exhibits ranged from the highly conceptual, to collections of practical objects. I thought it was a good selection, and immensely enjoyable.

Here are two of them, to begin with.

Mezzing in Lebanon

This was a delightful outdoor installation on the terrace, a re-creation or re-imagining of the streets of Beirut, with a barber shop cum mini-cinema, rooms for relaxing and playing board games, a quilt maker, and food and drink stalls.

The food was by a well-known London restaurant, Momo. I have never been to Momo, but the shawarma was delicious, so it's on my list. I've never been to Beirut either, but now I'm curious, and the UK government advice is that it's only moderately dangerous, so we'll see.

South Africa
Otium and Acedia

Hanging nests in the form of ferocious animals. They were charming and funny.

I'm sure, like me, everyone must have been wondering what they would be like to sit in, but that was forbidden. This was as close as I got.

You can see more of the designer's work in his website, which is worth a visit.

That's all for today.
More next time.