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Es Devlin, ‘Global Goals Pavilion’
Es Devlin, ‘Global Goals Pavilion’ | Photo: Chris Waywell

We hung out in Somerset House’s new forest

Es Devlin’s pop-up wood of 400 trees is the centrepiece of this year’s London Design Biennale

Chris Waywell
Written by
Chris Waywell

We told you about this year’s London Design Biennale a while back, particularly Es Devlin’s centrepiece: a temporary forest of 400 trees native to northern Europe which will occupy Somerset House’s courtyard (usually home to those fountains, an ice rink and some summer filmgoers) for the duration of the festival. Well, I went today and it’s as good as I was hoping.

Argentinian Pavilion, London Design Biennale, 2021
Argentinian Pavilion | Photo: Chris Waywell

The weather really helps, of course. The sunny June 1 set off Devlin’s ‘Global Goals Pavilion’ amazingly: a cluster of greenery has taken root in what is usually an exposed baking stone space. There is shade and dappled light and the scent of pine trees. Paths of tree bark wind through it. It’s magical but also disconcerting. You can read it as a message about needing to green our cities, look after people’s wellbeing and pay attention to the environments in which they live and work and socialise. But it could also be a JG Ballard-style warning, a forest growing among the neoclassical buildings in a derelict post-urban cityscape. 

London Design Biennale, 2021
Photo: Chris Waywell

Devlin’s work is getting all the column inches, of course, but once indoors, there’s loads more good stuff this year. From Marco Perry’s thumping sound installation to a soothing shiny giant metronome that spurts wafts of perfume from Servaire&Co and Alter-Projects, from lumps of Andean stone you hit with mallets to a room full of huge woven pots made from simbol, a kind of Argentinian plant. In the Latvian room, you ask a sort of wardrobe a question, and a drawer pops out with the answer on it. Mine said: ‘It was a mystery to me because I still didn’t know anything’, which was of limited help, frankly, though a nice lady did then give me a hip flask that said ‘Latvian Literature’ on it. Whatever it takes to help you through a global crisis, I guess… Go and check it out.

London Design Biennale, Somerset House, until Jun 27, tickets £22.50. 

No, there’s no pub in the forest, sorry. Here are some, though.

More gorgeous green spaces for a stroll in London

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