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Es Devlin to fill Somerset House courtyard with 400 trees for London Design Biennale

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Render of Es Devlin's Forest for Change installation at Somerset House for London Design Biennale 2021

A forest is set to be planted in the heart of central London this summer as part of an installation that set designer Es Devlin has designed for the city’s design biennale.

The Forest for Change will fill the entire courtyard of Somerset House, which will be home to the London Design Biennale from 1-27 June. It will include 400 trees of 23 different varieties that are native to the UK and northern Europe.

“When I was first shown around Somerset House many years ago, I discovered that the enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard,” said Devlin, who is the event’s artistic director for 2021.

“Of course, the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard.”

Pentagram identity for London Design Biennale 2021 based on Es Devlin's Forest for Change installation
Top image: Forest for Change will be set up in the courtyard of Somerset House. Above: Pentagram designed the identity for the 2021 London Design Biennale

The trees will remain in planters, surrounded by shrubs and landscaping to create the illusion of a biodiverse woodland emerging from the paved courtyard without physically breaking through its cobblestones.

“We are working closely with landscape designer Phil Jaffa and the horticulturalists of Scotscape, and are sourcing trees from nurseries who will take them forward to new forests at the end of the biennale,” Devlin told Dezeen.

Installation shows “vision of a better, fairer world”

Visitors will be able to make their way through the labyrinth of trees to find a clearing at its centre, housing a pavilion created in partnership with non-profit communications agency Project Everyone and dedicated to the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

First set out in 2015 these outline 17 steps the global community can take to help combat climate change and inequality.

“We are planning an interactive sculpture in the luminous colours of the global goals, which will communicate how we are progressing on each goal and offer direct ways in which each of us can engage and alter our behaviour and our perspective,” Devlin explained.

“In the forest, we put the power of creativity behind the global goals to make something truly beautiful that would communicate our vision of a better, fairer world,” added Project Everyone co-founder and filmmaker Richard Curtis.

Third edition of LDB to tackle pressing global issues

This is in line with the guiding question of this year’s biennale, which will explore how design can provide solutions to the major challenges of our time.

The event is set to feature delegations from six different continents and a number of countries and cities, from Hong Kong to Venezuela and Antarctica to the Middle East and north Africa.

After being rescheduled from September 2020 due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the third edition of the London Design Biennale will have a one-way route and timed tickets to allow for social distancing while for those who are unable to attend in person there will be an accompanying digital programme.

The Forest for Change is part of a growing movement that is calling for our cities to be rewilded.

Its proponents, which include Winy Maas of MVRDV, Austrian architect Chris Precht and New York designer Julia Watson, argue that bringing nature and biodiversity back into urban environments is ultimately not just beneficial for both city dwellers and the planet.

With this aim, Watson has previously covered Manhattan’s Rockefeller Center plaza with a menagerie of native plants while Swiss curator Klaus Littmann planted a forest in an Austrian football stadium to allow visitors to witness the spectacle of their changing colours.

The 2021 London Design Biennale will take place from 1 to 27 June at Somerset House. See Dezeen Events Guide for an up-to-date list of architecture and design events taking place around the world.

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