Utopia comes to the capital with the first London Design Biennale

Somerset House will host designs from 37 countries including an 'abstract playground' from Pakistan


Most design aspires to improve the world in some way, so it is appropriate that "Utopia" should be the theme of the first London Design Biennale that opens this week.

The event uses the magnificent setting of Somerset House, with its large quadrangle and riverside view, to showcase the work of creators from 37 countries.

Visitors are greeted in the great courtyard by the British exhibit. Entitled Forecast (illustrated above), it's a huge kinetic sculpture by Barber & Osgerby that's based on the instruments used at weather stations and is designed to evoke the nation's obsession with weather.

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The courtyard also showcases the entry from Albania, an arrangement of stainless steel columns and benches. The designers hope the circular layout and reflecting surfaces can help to foster democratic discussion and exchange.

In addition to installations from western design powerhouses in Italy, Sweden and the US, the Biennale includes contributions from major developing countries such as Indonesia, Nigeria and Pakistan that reflect their recent history and current political challenges.

Nigeria's entry, entitled Ula, looks at how to restore environmental balance to the fragile Niger Delta, while Indonesia's is inspired by the 1955 Bandung Conference. Pakistan’s contribution is an "abstract playground" that aims to break down social barriers.

Not all the designs have an obvious connection with the utopian theme. The British sculpture is a case in point, as is Otium and Acedia, South Africa's entry. It is made up of a series of hanging nests in the form of ferocious animals, such as the piranha, that the visitor can climb into.

Japan's exhibit goes a couple of notches up the evolutionary chain with a giant inflatable human. This and the other objects in the installation, by Yasuhiro Suzuki, invite people to look at everyday objects in a fresh way. "When they leave the room," Suzuki promises, "visitors' way of looking at the world will have changed."

The Biennale kicks off the 2016 London Design Festival and runs from 7 to 27 September at Somerset House.

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