With a plethora of events organised around the London Design Festival (LDF), there is one absolutely not to be missed: the London Design Biennale (LDB).  Organised by Somerset House in partnership with Jaguar and overlapping with the LDF, it’s on until the 27th of September

Featuring 37 countries and territories that have interpreted and explored the theme of ‘UTOPIA 2016: A Year of Imagination and Possibility’, to mark the 500th anniversary of the publication of Thomas More’s text, it’s a response to the Biennale’s 2016 theme: Utopia by Design.

Among all the installations, artworks, prototypes, and designs created by renowned architects, designers, scientists, writers and artists there are some that actively engage visitors like a large-scale kinetic sculpture, immersive digital installations, culinary pop-ups, performances and VR renderings of the future.

Some of the works presented are more philosophical and, at times, a bit enigmatic; others manage to cleverly convey complex issues.  Overall most of them see recurring themes such as pollution, global warming, overpopulation, sustainability, migration and conflict, pollution, technological innovation, water scarcity and social equality.

Below there is a selection of some not to be missed!

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South Africa – Sud Africa

This fun – and one of the most Instagrammed!-  installation features suspended giant size animal-cocoons designed by Cape Town designer Porky Hefer. The animals are handcrafted and realised following  Hefer’s sketches. No computer programs/designs here, just pure talent. 

The protagonists are M.Heloise (manta ray), Crocodylus Eugenie (crocodile), Lolita Blackfish (lover whale), Piranha 1: Nerina (piranha) and Panthera leo (lion). Panthera leo is the designer’s self-portrait, and the only animal displaying sheepskin, rather than leather, on the inside.

Although very playful, the animals are Hefer’s personal reflection on the theme of Utopia.

The floating of the designs is a synonym of ‘a society dangling by a thread’ while the inviting interiors are the place where to seek refuge when you become eager to take a step back and look at the world from a different perspective.

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Lebanon – Libano

If you haven’t been in Lebanon, after being at the LDB you might change your travel plans. Architect Annabel Karim Kassar’s installation has tried to bring Lebanon to London by recreating Lebanese streets as they are in Beirut.

The structure recreates the façade of Lebanese buildings, characterised by tangled electric cabling, street signs, and the overflowing barrows of street sellers. There is a small cinema, and an installation of traditional shops from foods such as falafel, shawarma, orange juice and bread, to an authentic barber shop and even a vendor of ceramic toilets. The final boost that makes the experience unforgettable is the possibility to sample Lebanese food by Mourad Mazouz, the brain of 404 and Derriere restaurants in Paris and Momo and Sketch in London.

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Spain – Spagna

One of the most loved installations thanks to the use of VR (Virtual Reality), it features an artistic and audio-visual installation. By accessing the space through a tunnel of multicolour threads, you end up in a room where through a VR eye mask you are able to explore how it will look like the city of Santander (Cantabria, Spain) in 100 years showing possible future developments based on emerging trends in current innovation.

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right: a frame from ‘The Astounding Eyes of Syria’

France – Francia

In this simple yet powerful installation, essayist, artist, designer and filmmaker Benjamin Loyauté investigates the unifying power of sweets. A documentary titled The Astounding Eyes of Syria, explores the unifying power of the sweets by recollecting memories of Syrian refugees related to the Louloupti, enigmatically sculpted versions of the pink, damask sweets beloved of all Syrians.

The 18 minutes film has been shot in secret in the Beqaa Valley refugee camp in the winter of 2016 and it mixes fictional scenes with recorded interviews with displaced Syrians living in the camp. Along with the short movie, Loyauté has recreated the sweets and he had them placed in small packets in a vending machine in the same room where the film is streamed ready to be bought by the visitors for a small fee of £5. Once collected, the proceedings will go towards a specially chosen charity that supports educational initiatives for refugees and displaced children.

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Saudi Arabia – Arabia Saudita

The ‘Water Machine’ takes the idea of water usage habits to another level. A giant candy machine structure stands in the middle of the room and it’s  developed to allow visitors to buy water stored in plastic capsules.

The aim of this is to draw into focus the commodification of natural resources in a trivial and seemingly effortless manner.

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Russia 

A special mention goes to Russia that through the exhibition Discovering Utopia: Lost Archives of Soviet Design allow the visitors to discover its amazing design past through never seen before records, interviews, and prototypes.

The exhibition features mini frames covering all the four walls of the room almost up until the ceiling in which you can see prototypes and design projects by Soviet designers, shots of  exhibitions  and  conferences  held  by  VNIITE (All-Union  Research Institute  of Technical Aesthetics), and day-to-day  activities  in  a Soviet design studio from 1960 to the late 80s. There is also a documentary which features Russian designers, design historians, and designers from leading Soviet manufacturers.

Soviet designers were dreamers, creating daring projects, many of them were too much ahead of their time and beyond the capabilities of modern industry. In that sense they were, in essence, utopian.

The LDB is open daily from 11AM

Tickets: £15/£10 concessions • On sale via ticketmaster 

For further information: www.londondesignbiennale.com • @londonbiennale | #LDB16

• All photos by Viviana Attard, except where otherwise noted •