London Design Biennale briefs call for “radical design thinking”

The biannual London design event and Chatham House are inviting submissions on issues from health to work from the international creative community.

London Design Biennale and Chatham House have revealed the full details of their four open briefs, which aim to “harness the creativity that comes from crisis”.

The competition – entitled Design in an Age of Crisis – is seeking responses from young designers and more established practices. There are four briefs, which have been created by a steering committee of over 50 designers and industry leaders:

  • Environment: Building back greener. How can we design better places?
  • Health: From illness to wellness. How can design make it easier to be healthy?
  • Society: Equality for all. How can design help empower everyone?
  • Work: Making work work for us. How can work be designed to be more meaningful?

Exploring COVID’s impact

These briefs have been chosen as a way to “address the many issues which the current COVID-19 pandemic has either shone a light on or further exacerbated”, organisers say. Those include the climate crisis, social and economic inequality as well as the “rapid transformations in work and the economy”.

There is also a brief especially geared towards young people. It follows the same topics, though includes school as well as the workplace. The deadlines for submissions is 31 August 2020 and they can take any form, from a “simple sketch” to a fully-realised concept. Full details of the briefs and submission guidelines are available on the website.

The projects selected will go on display at an online exhibition in Autumn 2020. They will then be exhibited at the biennale at Somerset House the following summer. Chatham House will work with selected submissions on development and to “accelerate policy pathways” around the concepts. This year’s London Design Biennale – the third edition of the biannual festival – has been postponed to 2021 following the coronavirus outbreak.

What are the requirements of the 21st century?

IOC’s acoustic walls, designed for a shared workspace

The briefs aim to explore the four topics in a holistic manner. In the work brief, for example, the festival asks: “What do we want from work in the 21st century?” It is now “required to be more networked, more human-scale and people-centred” as well as incorporate a greater flexibility. The “radical design thinking” could focus on “whole policy frameworks, architecture and buildings, to the desk and home space, the body or communication tools”. It could also question the role of work in the community.

Among the prompts, the biennale asks designers to consider a use for empty shops and offices and how design can create “strong and coherent work teams, even when they are not physically connected”. The future of the workplace is a pressing issue for designers, from designing for shared spaces to the ultimate working from home table.

“Smart design thinking is an invaluable resource”

London Design Biennale president John Sorrell says: “In the face of a crisis, smart design thinking proves time and again to be an invaluable resource – designers are hard-wired to respond to complex problems with agility and ingenuity.”

The theme for the biennale is Resonance, and it will be curated by set designer Es Devlin. Creatives from over 50 countries have been invited to “consider the ripple effect of ground-breaking design concepts on the way we live, and the choices we make”.

London Design Festival, meanwhile, will take place in September 2020 with some virtual adjustments. It recently announced the first details of its line up, including a Victorian glasshouse-inspired installation and a user-focused inflatable structure in King’s Cross. It has also announced a special focus on freelancers who have been especially badly hit by the pandemic.

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