The brainchild of London Design Festival founders Sir John Sorrell and Ben Evans, the London Design Biennale was brought to life in 2016 as a way for nations across the world to show off their design ideas and ingenuity.
The 2016 biennale – which was met with some mixed reviews – saw pavilions from 35 countries based on the theme ‘utopia’, inspired by Sir Thomas More’s text of the same name and a year-long programme of events marking the 500th anniversary of its publication.
Two years on, the second edition of the biennale will return to London’s Somerset House this September and is set to be bigger than its debut, with design teams from more than 40 countries, cities and other territories coming together to present their work to the public.
A new theme, ‘emotional states’, has been set for this year’s event, with participants being asked to explore how design can affect both our emotions and experiences through their installations.
Taking the mantel from Edward Barber and Jay Osgerby (of Barber & Osgerby) who designed the UK’s pavilion in 2016, the V&A has been chosen to curate this year’s entry. It has collaborated with the Turner Prize-nominated Forensic Architecture, a research agency comprising an interdisciplinary team of filmmakers, software developers, architects, archaeologists, journalists and lawyers.
In preparation for the biennale, Forensic Architecture has been working in the Sinjar area of Iraq, supporting and training members of the Kurdish-speaking Yazidi people to collect, document and preserve evidence of the destruction, genocide and enslavement carried out by terrorist group ISIS against them.
The finished installation will look at the role digital cultural preservation has played in communities who have experienced trauma, and will show the process of how the images in Sinjar have been collected.
Other highlights will include US-based Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s contribution to the biennale for the second time running, which will focus on facial analysis technologies, and a Refugees’ pavilion featuring a temporary shelter and objects designed by displaced people.
Sorrell’s hope is that this year’s event will offer something for everyone. “Biennales can be very serious and a bit worthy, but for the first biennale in 2016 Lebanon’s entry was a Beirut street market out on the terrace, and Turkey did an exhibit where you made a wish, rolled it up into a scroll and inserted it in a tube which then whizzed off using the old system that used to take your money.
“This time around for the second edition, we’re going to have 40 nations, cities and territories, plus some special projects, and fill every nook and cranny of Somerset house…. It’s a bit like a gathering like the Olympics or the World Cup – but for people who love design.”