Beginning in 2016 with 37 countries, the London Design Biennale aimed to bring designers and architects together to highlight the innovative work being done, globally, to tackle ongoing and new issues. The 2018 Biennale is the second edition of the showcase and has now grown to over 40 countries. For three weeks in September, attendees were able to explore the designs and exhibits housed in Somerset House boasting thought-provoking and awe-inspiring designs from each country represented.
The Biennale’s theme was ‘Emotional States’ and the entries hit at the heart of the world’s issues. Lebanon’s The Silent Room, the second in a conceptual series designed by Nathalie Harb, highlighted silence as a commodity. Meanwhile the UK’s Maps of Defiance put the loss of heritage and culture as well as the genocide against the Yazidi people by ISIS on display.
Four medals were awarded, three by jury vote and one by public vote. Egypt took the London Design Biennale 2018 Medal for Modernist Indignation, curated by Mohamed Elshahed, the USA earned the Emotional States Medal with Cooper Hewitt’s Face Values installation, and Latvia won the Best Design Medal for their interactive installation designed and curated by Arthur Analts. The Public Medal was awarded to Guatemala’s installation which told the story of Pintando Santa Catarina Palopo – a city that was more or less saved by being turned into a monumental artwork.
The Refugee’s Pavilion, though, stood out as its mere inclusion highlighted an issue at the forefront of most daily news: the refugee crisis. Consisting of a temporary housing structure that comes in two cardboard boxes and can be assembled by four people with rudimentary tools, the center of the exhibit was an IKEA Foundations Better Shelter. The pavilion showed ways in which the shelter is made into a home and represented the stories of refugees before, during, and after resettlement through design. Created by Nairobi Design Week in collaboration with organizations focused on refugees like RefuSHE, Better Shelter, and Makers Unite, the Refugee’s Pavilion creates space for the minds and ideas of those who are in a state of statelessness.
What is significant about the Refugee Pavilion is not only the design contributions exhibited during the London Design Biennale, but the recognition given to individuals who do not have a country to represent. Refugees spend six years, on average, in refugee camps then if and when they are relocated, spend countless more years working to assimilate to new environments and cultures. The talents of stateless individuals can therefore fall through the cracks as they live in limbo. Making space for those who cannot be represented by a specific place is a step in making sure the invaluable experience, ideas, and abilities of refugees is not lost.
The Refugee Pavilion may not have taken any medals this year, but its impact is undoubtedly one of the London Design Biennale’s most exciting legacies.