London Design Biennale 2016 – review

Out of the numerous exciting events held over the last month to celebrate design in London, the Design Biennale at Somerset House caught our eye. The key, was the presence of the word ‘sustainability’ on the front page of the website. How original, sadly, that the word actually popped up!

So Nicole and I dropped in for what we prepared ourselves to be a rather long display. We were not disappointed, the show was indeed extensive with 37 countries taking part and interpreting their own versions of Utopia.

austriaWe found the approaches extremely varied but there was also a common thread; the subjects of immigration/migration and environmental issues. Aiming for Utopia, it seemed, was to avoid a life where these issues are part of. Design was used as the means to express geopolitical and existential purpose. Not an easy task, but some of the thinking and challenges were inspiring, and the whole group showed how, as a world, we all fill in some part of the puzzle that keeps us all ticking along as a smooth ecosystem. Each country expressed those cultural features many times unspoken, which were distilled following retrospection.

We offer insight of the ones that stood out the most and, in one form or another (literally) dealt with an environmental or wellbeing theme.


Starting with India, who created the perfect harmony with shapes and colours and leading to the ‘inner chamber’ expressing the perfect balance that can be found within a person’s own being. The colours and shapes demonstrated how our physical environment can affect us by supporting harmony or stimulation.

The USA offered an extremely innovative approach with the interactive, hands on, immersed wallpaper installation. You create your own pattern and then immerse yourself within it. Great idea on personalisation, sense of control and the ability for creativity. Taking it to the next level literally; would we ever consider having light electronic wall surfaces within our day-to-day living environments? What if the surface being electronic, also absorbed the rays of light and fed them back into the supply? We see this already happening with some ‘smart’ fabrics…

China and South Africa felt that they were being true to their souls! China dealing with mega city issues and fast light-weight construction methods, SA with having fun and responding to local cultural nods, nature and comfort.


Italy, kept it real and definitely hit home with a large number of creations all around the issue of a ‘white flag’ and migration of people. An issue as a country, they are affected heavily by, as is Greece. The interpretations of Utopia being a recognition of the issue and a search for solutions, of the effects from immigration; but central being the humans within it, not a statistical number.

Standing out were: the twist of a QR code pattern that looked like lace, one piece of cloth with dashed lines folding as a boat (lines indicating the distances migrants travel from).


Taiwan’s approach was around eating; food, the display and presentation of this as a ceremony, and the surrounding environment that backed the whole effect. Any restaurant owner worth their forks would aspire to this holistic approach as does every interior designer worth her tablecloths! Supporting the whole experience is an interior designer’s dream when it comes to restaurant and bar design, and this installation definitely ticked the harmony between the interior space and food style ethos. Even down to the space temperature being warm to balance the white ice looking colours and textures, supported the senses to focus on simple nuances rather than brash dramatic strokes.

Mexico’s approach of a border city was inspiring as an installation with major digital ‘minority report’ look-a-like surrounding immersed screen graphics and accompanying sounds. The city it showed though, in the middle of a sand desert, was a western styled environment. Rather un-sustainable and missing the huge opportunities to re-invent a city using the natural resources these locations have and going ‘passive’. The western style of architecture and urban planning is completely wrong for hot countries and we see it replicated as a symbol of professionalism, commercialism and ‘big boys’ arena games. Get with it world, cities need to evolve to serve all the cultures around the world sustainably!


Australia’s table from recycled ocean plastic waste was beautiful. However, within Grigoriou Interiors we do question the re-introduction of plastics back from an Air Quality preventative. This table will be ideal on a terrace or garden location though!

Israel surprised us with the humanitarian and non-religious focus in their project Human.Touch which uses self-rotating units to drop emergency food into inaccessible locations. Highly effective and somehow made me think of Vietnam… The life-cycle of the solution being relevant to the use was very clear and would also support a low cost and fast roll out which is key to their need.

JapanSuch a clever installation throughout the room. Bordering genius twist on every day life. The room hit a personal satisfaction button!

Germany kept it simple and summarised Utopia as moments in life where comfort and reflection are attained. All that Nicole (German!!) and I were in need of, while sitting in the uber comfortable armchairs provided, was a glass of liquid red… The fire spluttered and crackled away in a room that was warm and calm. Mission executed to perfection!


Inclusive design is a national campaign in Norway. How amazing is that? We champion the creation of User Profiles in the briefing process of our design projects and fight for the time to create them in the UK and wider afield in Europe, but in Norway it is a national approach. Some countries have it sussed out…

Austria and Spain were certainly fun and playful installations, both stimulating the senses through the way they took over the interior environment with colour, texture, movement and use of spatial mass.pakistan

Pakistan felt like the interior setting for the most harmonious feel of wellness. The colours, patterns and shapes, on a first look, took us towards ethnic Africa but on closer inspection and stepping into their midst, one clearly felt a difference. The installation was meant to connect people and find playfulness. It did accomplish that with the spinning stools that took you back to playgrounds and the soft colours balancing the overall stimulation from the activity. We slowly left the room to the sounds of a woman spinning herself on a stool and laughing away happily… Utopia indeed.

Nics and I reflected over a glass of wine, that it was well worth the visit and were impressed with the size and variety of approach brought together from around the world. What a great planet we live on and what great minds and hearts make up humanity.

And if you want to discuss any sustainable and/or wellbeing issues with us, just get in touch: or +44 20 7580 0611

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