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London Design Biennale: 5 pavilions that resonate with us

The theme of this year’s London Design Biennale, which runs from 1-27 June, is “resonance” – and it’s all about addressing the world’s biggest challenges through design.

London Design Biennale: 5 pavilions that resonate with us

The London Design Biennale was originally set to go ahead in September 2020 – but was put on hold due to COVID-19 and is now taking place at Somerset House from 1-27 June 2021. Given the way the event has been shaped by global events, it’s perhaps fitting that this year’s theme, as chosen by Artistic Director and renowned stage designer, Es Devlin, is “Resonance”.

“We live in an age of hyper resonance, the consequences of which are both exhilarating and devastating,” says Devlin. “In our global, digital era, design can instantly permeate borders and bridge cultures. As a community of designers approaching shared global challenges from culturally diverse viewpoints, the collective resonance of our ideas and our actions has the power to be truly transformative.”

There are 29 design teams from around the world taking part this year, and they have tackled everything from climate change, water scarcity and colonialism to the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. And, the result is set to be a thought-provoking exploration of some of the world’s most pressing issues. Below is our pick of the pavilions that shouldn’t be missed…


Global Goals Pavilion – Forest for Change

Forest for Change. Somerset House photographed by Kevin Meredith with renders by Es Devlin Studio for Global Goals Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2021

Visitors are welcomed to Somerset House by this powerful interactive installation that illuminates the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development. The lush forest of 400 trees – all of which will be replanted in London after the event – is the vision of Artistic Director, Es Devlin. Intriguingly, it was inspired by the banning of trees in the Somerset House courtyard when it was originally built 250 years ago. Wander through the forest accompanied by a soundtrack of birdsong curated by Brian Eno to discover a clearing with a pavilion of 17 mirrored pillars. Here, visitors can choose the goal that most resonates with them and record a short message expressing their hopes for change.

Global Goals Pavilion


Guatemala – Nostalgia

Nostalgia, London Design Biennale 2021. Image courtesy of Guatemala Pavilion

Throughout Central and Latin America, rainsticks have traditionally been played by indigenous populations in the belief they had the power to bring about life-giving rainstorms. This multidisciplinary installation by artist María Adela Díaz in collaboration with composer Joaquín Orellana, features a handmade sound sculpture of 60 Guatemalan rainsticks that can be activated by visitors to create a sound that resembles water. The installation is accompanied by Bambuvento, a new soundscape by Orellana that represents how “the heart of the water might sound”. This ever-evolving performance questions the role – and scarcity – of water in much of the world today.



Antarctica – Cold Flux

Cold Flux. Installation by Ben Cullen Williams for Antartica Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2021.

British artist Ben Cullen Williams’ installation questions whether there is still hope if we act now to stop the devastating melt of the global icecaps. The immersive video installation is created from footage the artist filmed of the Larsen-B Ice Shelf while on an expedition to Antarctica. Williams then collaborated with creative technologist Bryce Cronkite-Ratcliff, using the footage to train machine learning algorithms to generate video landscapes that seemingly melt and freeze in an endless loop, accompanied by a haunting soundtrack by British musician Gaika. The result is a poignant reflection on the complex relationship between the environment and technology.



New York City – Recharge Room

Recharge Room by Studio Elsewhere at London Design Biennale 2021. Photo by Maksim Axelrod, courtesy of New York City pavilion.

There’s arguably no event that has had a bigger impact on the world over the past year than the COVID-19 pandemic – and the effects on frontline healthcare workers have been well documented. In response to this, New York-based designers Studio Elsewhere partnered with Mount Sinai Hospital to create “Recharge Rooms” to support the mental health of healthcare workers. Research shows that just 15 minutes spent in these nature-filled, multisensory healing environments – which feature music, scent, lighting, and sound – can result in an average 60% reduction in stress levels.

New York 


Ghana – Amplify

Amplify, London Design Biennale 2021. Image courtesy of Ghana pavilion.

This finely crafted site-specific installation by textile designer Chrissa Amuah and architect Alice Asufu-Adjaya, both of Ghanaian-British nationality, re-imagines what Somerset House could have been in a world where contact between Ghana and two of its former colonial rulers – Britain and Denmark – was a balanced interchange of ideas and trade. “Amplify demonstrates how mutual growth and development benefits all, in contrast to a period when Europeans were developing societies with art and culture at their core, at the expense of their colonies,” say the designers. It’s also a timely comment on the continuing effects of racial injustice.



London Design Biennale 2021, Resonance, runs from 1-27 June, at Somerset House in London. Stay tuned for more event insights to come later in the month, on Indesignlive.

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