Building hope: art triumphs over war at London Design Biennale

LONDON, Sept 4 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Maps of destroyed Yazidi shrines and flat-pack emergency shelters were among exhibits focusing on the destructive legacy of war at the London Design Biennale which opened on Tuesday.

The art and design festival featured 40 decorative and digitally immersive installations along the theme of “emotional states”, seeking to illustrate how design influences feelings.

“A lot of those installations are looking at architecture and design to find social justice and to also restore war-torn cities,” the biennale’s artistic director, Christopher Turner, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“Obviously design can cause that damage - bombs, guns, they’re all designs - but design can also serve to heal.”

Wars, persecution and other violence have driven a record 68.5 million people from their homes, more than the population of Britain or France, the United Nations refugee agency says.

With often conflict taking part in urban settings, ancient cities are increasingly coming under fire, such as Yemen’s capital Sanaa and Syria’s Damascus.

Walls lined with images of historic churches and market places in the Somali capital Mogadishu offered up a glimpse of the war-torn nation’s past architectural glories as a means of inspiration for the future, said curator, Yusuf Shegow.

“We’re trying to start a conversation on architecture,” said Shegow, who hopes his work will challenge images of the Horn of Africa nation as a failed state. “We lose of lot of lives, but we also lose a lot of important architecture.”

Somalia has been wracked by civil war since 1991, with many of Mogadishu’s ancient mosques and colonial-era buildings reduced to rubble amid fighting, drought and famine.

“We want to divert people’s attention to focus on rebuilding rather than just destruction,” said Shegow.

“If we can use design, or any type of creativity, we can envision how the city can look and we can bring hope.”


Another exhibit examining the carnage of war is “Maps of Defiance”, co-curated by London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, showing how architects, archaeologists, software developers and lawyers are working together to document destruction in Iraq.

Yazidis are using kites, plastic bottles and digital images to collect evidence of shrines and mausoleums destroyed by Islamic State to create 3D models which can be used for future litigation.

Islamic State fighters have destroyed many Muslim religious sites and Christian churches and shrines, as well as ancient Assyrian and Roman-era sites in Iraq and in Syria.

The exhibit’s curators hope the forensic techniques can be replicated in conflict zones elsewhere.

Also exploring the impact of war, the “Better Shelter” installation, nestled among scratch-and-sniff wallpaper from Hong Kong and a giant skeletal Greek wall, is a makeshift home that can be unpacked an assembled in four hours.

The shelter, which comes with curtains and solar lights, was co-designed with refugees and about 20,000 are being used by uprooted people in emergencies from Nepal to Niger.

“It allows them to live securely, live safely and have a family home,” said Adrian Jankowiak, an industrial designer curating the installation.

“Architecture has a real role to play with refugees ... these structures are evolving all the time.”