Es Devlin asks designers: how can design fix the world’s problems?

As artistic director of this year’s London Design Biennale, Devlin invites creatives from 28 global regions to offer ground-breaking solutions to society’s biggest challenges.

27 May 2021


It’s Nice That is the official media partner of the London Design Biennale 2021, taking place at Somerset House from 1–27 June 2021.

As galleries, and indeed the world, start to slowly and carefully open back up, the London Design Biennale and its pavilions by 33 countries, cities and regions, seems to summarise all that is exciting about our new horizons. Overseen by artistic director Es Devlin, the event at Somerset House from 1–27 June promises to be vast, diverse, innovative and ambitious, tied neatly together by an important theme: Resonance, exploring the ripple effect of creativity to spark real change. Devlin made a call to action to contributors, who hail from six continents, to share their wide-ranging perspective and creative know-how to answer a broad question: How can design address the challenges and provide solutions to the major crises of our time?

The results tackle issues from the pandemic to climate change, migration and equality, and range geographically from Antarctica to Venezuela, via special collective projects representing the African diaspora and the MENA region. Antarctica’s pavilion designed by Ben Cullen Williams considers if “this global peril is reversible” via an AI-generated video installation titled Cold Flux, soundtracked by Gaika. The Pavilion of the African Diaspora, designed by Ini Archibong, will take the form of an architectural cowrie shell emerging from sand, and serve as an educational and event space to voice stories from the diaspora.

Finland’s pavilion by Enni-Kukka Tuomala is titled the Empathy Echo Chamber, an inflatable and reflective space – literally and emotionally as it’s made of mirrored material – and poised in a moment when society is looking for ways to reconnect and re-enter public life. Meanwhile, Indonesia’s installation by Dea Widya looks at the shortcomings in modern domestic space, and how that affects the homes of indigenous communities, by portraying the home as a transient, fluid space through immersive audio and video projections.


Ini Archibong: Pavilion of the African Diaspora (Courtesy London Design Biennale)


Ben Cullen Williams: Cold Flux (Courtesy London Design Biennale)

Ghana’s installation by Ghanaian-British textile designer Chrissa Amuah and architect Alice Asafu-Adjaye, looks closely at the historical relationship between the country and two of its former colonial rulers, Britain and Denmark, over four centuries. New York City has its own exhibit by Studio Elsewhere, which in 2020 worked alongside Mount Sinai Hospital’s neuroscientists, clinicians, patients and caregivers to create Recharge Rooms – spaces to support frontline workers’ mental health and resilience. Adapted versions of these multisensory environments are recreated for the Biennale.

Guatemala reflects on the loss of water as a national resource, with artist and designer Maria Adela Díaz creating a sound installation of rain sticks. India’s pavilion, curated by Nisha Mathew Ghosh, brings together stories from across the country that map ideas of ecology, sustainability and design. Venezuela’s installation by María Elena Pombo looks into the possibilities of new raw materials such as avocado seeds, in place of economic reliance on fossil fuels.

A collective of designers from the MENA region called Designers in the Middle uses the theme of the Casbah to examine the urban and socioeconomic contribution of the MENA region and its modern architecture, in an installation titled Stream of Consciousness.

Also, outside in Somerset House’s main courtyard, Devlin herself has designed an installation for The Global Goals Pavilion, titled Forest for Change – marking the first time trees have been allowed into the space. Apparently, trees were forbidden from the courtyard when the building was conceived 250 years ago, and so the designer decided to “counter this attitude of human dominance over nature” with her contribution to the Biennale. It is made in partnership with Project Everyone, to further awareness of the 17 Global Goals for sustainable development agreed by world leaders.

As official media partner of the London Design Biennale, It’s Nice That is happy to offer its readers two special offers:

For discounted tickets (£22 and £22.50 tickets reduced to £18 for Monday to Wednesdays, 11.00 – 17.15, 2–16 June) use code ITSNICE when purchasing via the Somerset House website.

To be among the first to visit the London Design Biennale at the private view on 1 June, book tickets here.


Es Devlin: Forest for Change (Courtesy London Design Biennale)


Studio Elsewhere: Recharge Rooms (Courtesy London Design Biennale). Photo by Maksim Axelrod.


Dea Widya: Indonesia pavilion (Courtesy London Design Biennale)

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Pentagram: London Design Biennale visual identity (Copyright © London Design Biennale, 2021)

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