Es Devlin’s forest pops up at Somerset House for London Design Biennale

Es Devlin’s Forest for Change – The Global Goals Pavilion, created in partnership with Project Everyone for London Design Biennale, is now live at Somerset House’s central square, with 400 trees in a bid to spark debate on the path to a better world

Forest installation by Es Devlin with Somerset House architecture in the backdrop
(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

Es Devlin's Forest For Change has popped up at Somerset House as part of London Design Biennale 2021 (on view until 27 June 2021), in partnership with Project Everyone. The initiative aims to showcase the facts behind the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (which include eradicating poverty, establishing gender equality, and fighting the climate crisis) and offer a glimpse into the ‘urgent pathway of action to a better and fairer future’.

When Devlin first visited Somerset House, something attracted her attention: ‘I discovered that the Enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived specifically forbade the introduction of trees into the courtyard,’ she recalls. So naturally, as soon as she was able to leave her mark on the historical London venue, the first thing she had in mind was to plant a forest in it. 

An installation in the central clearing of the forest driving awareness of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development

An installation in the central clearing of the forest drives awareness of the United Nations’ Global Goals for Sustainable Development

(Image credit: Ed Reeve)

‘The first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s biennale,’ says Devlin, ‘was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature, by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard. In literature, forests are often places of transformation: the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare, the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm.’ The installation was created in collaboration with landscape designer Philip Jaffa and urban greening specialist Scotscape, and features 400 trees, representing 23 species local to the UK and Northern Europe. The installation includes an immersive Bird Song Soundscape by Brian Eno, Cheryl Tipp and the British Library Board, and each tree will be replanted in the city after the exhibition is over.

The forest's impressive presence within the courtyard will serve as an interactive green landscape set to encourage debate around themes of climate change, inequality and post-pandemic recovery. ‘The UN Sustainable Development Goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behaviour,’ says Devlin. ‘It is our hope that an interaction with the goals in the forest will be transformative.’  

In literature, forests are often places of transformation: the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare, the enchanted forests of the Brothers Grimm - Es Devlin

Devlin’s forest is part of the London Design Biennale’s rich programme of pavilions and events, including Ini Archibong’s Pavilion of the African Diaspora and ‘Design in an Age of Crisis’, an exhibition showcasing radical thinking, and the result of an open call to the design community at large. 

‘In our global, digital era, design can instantly permeate borders and bridge cultures,’ said Devlin on the occasion of the London Design Biennale opening on 1 June 2021. ‘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. I am delighted to be working alongside such an extraordinary group of designers, thinkers, artists and makers who have the power to influence and change minds in order to help build a more sustainable future.’

‘Great design ideas can help change things for the better, inspire people and give them hope for the future – never more needed than now,’ says London Design Biennale president Sir John Sorrell. ‘At Somerset House in June, the London Design Biennale will present inspired thinking from across the world in a unique exhibition designed to entertain, inform and spark action.’

Watch: a time-lapse of Es Devlin's Forest being built at Somerset house


London Design Biennale is now on view at Somerset House, 1-27 June 2021.


Somerset House Strand


Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.

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