Dezeen Magazine

First London Design Biennale to launch in 2016 at Somerset House

London is set to get its own international design biennial, based on the model of the Venice art and architecture biennales, and directed by former Icon editor Christopher Turner.

The inaugural London Design Bienniale will open to the public on 15 September 2016, with exhibitions and installations from international participants on the theme Utopia by Design.

"The Biennale will bring up to 40 design installations and exhibitions from nations around the world to London – a new global presence that will bring an entirely fresh perspective," Turner told Dezeen.

The event will take over Somerset House on the north bank of the River Thames in central London. The Neoclassical building was originally home to government offices, but has recently reinvented itself as a cultural hub that hosts exhibitions, design studios and events including London Fashion Week, which finishes its run at the venue this year.

The idea behind the event is to create a major international survey of the state of design, following the model of the biannual art and architecture events in Venice. While the Venice biennales run for three months, the London version will be open for just three weeks.

It will join a growing roster of similar events around the world, including the Istanbul Design Biennal, Biennale Interieur in Belgium and the Gwangju Design Biennale.

"There are of course other important biennales for design but few take Venice as their model – rather they tend to be curator-led exhibitions or trade-style shows," said Turner. "We are issuing an open invitation to any country to bring installations and projects to a single campus, following the model the Venice Biennale uses for art and architecture."

"Moreover, there is no major biennale in a capital city of London's size, and so we expect the event to reach a very large, diverse and creative audience with Somerset House as its canvas."

Christopher Turner
Christopher Turner. Main image of Somerset House by Richard Bryant/

Turner, who left his role as editor of architecture and design magazine Icon earlier this year to join the London Design Festival (LDF) organisation, was announced as the biennale's director yesterday.

The London Design Biennale will overlap with LDF, but will have a distinctly different purpose, Turner told Dezeen.

"The biennale is an entirely different initiative but one that will obviously complement what the Festival does," said Turner. "Its aim is to survey the global state of design and its transformative role in modern life and to showcase the leading design work coming out of countries around the world in a single London location."

The first international participants will be announced in September. An advisory committee and a jury to judge the entries from all of the countries will also be revealed soon.

The organisers hope that the event will be self-funding through a combination of ticket sales and fees from participating countries, as well as sponsorships.

The theme, Utopia in Design, is based on a book published in 1516 by English lawyer and philosopher Thomas More, in which he depicts a fictional island's society and its religious, social and political customs.

"More's fictional island of Utopia (which means 'no place') is entirely man-made, and this triumph of design and technology contributes to the apparent happiness of its population," explained Turner. "Indeed, many utopias – and dystopias – rely on the transformative power of technology for their plots – these fictions are a place where futuristic designs and ideas are often trialled."

"The question of how design can contribute to a better world could not be timelier. It's a contentious theme – perhaps design isn't making things better? Let's see how people respond."

Images courtesy of the London Design Biennale.