Multidisciplinary and international collaborations at heart of London Design Biennale 2023

The London Design Biennale 2023 in June will be a showcase of how designers from around the world can contribute towards a better and fairer world. Key elements are: working together, embracing different perspectives, listening to each other and sharing knowledge. Designers from the Netherlands are also chipping in. Their pavilion will send the message that it’s important to facilitate international dialogue to find solutions for global challenges. Unexpectedly, the location of the biennale – Somerset House in London – has become a major source of inspiration for creators of the Dutch pavilion, explains the curator of the Dutch pavilion, Colin Keays.

Proposed interior of the Dutch Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2023
Image: ©Studio Verter
Proposed interior of the Dutch Pavilion at London Design Biennale 2023

Playing with the concept of disorientation

“Before becoming a grand civic landmark, Somerset House was a fairly mundane collection of different administrative spaces. From the offices of Inland Revenue to the administrative headquarters of the Royal Navy throughout the British colonial period, the building stands testament to both the mundanity and violence of bureaucracy”, says Keays.

When Keays – an Englishman living in the Netherlands – submitted his proposal for a Dutch pavilion, he hadn’t been fully aware of Somerset House’s history. But ever since the team working on the Dutch pavilion learnt about the site’s bureaucratic past, they’ve been inspired by it. As a result, the centre piece of the Dutch pavilion will be a ‘stamping desk’, deliberately designed to look old. At this desk, the curatorial teams of other pavilions are required to fill out paperwork when they are borrowing goods from the Dutch pavilion. The theme of bureaucracy fits in very well with the theme Keays came up with for the Dutch pavilion: disorientation and reorientation. Keays says: “Entering a bureaucratic environment in the real world can be disorientating, but creating such a space in Somerset House is not entirely out of place.”

‘The Dutch are good at facilitating international collaboration’

From the start, the vision for the Dutch pavilion was to be a hub within the biennale that facilitates other design pavilions to host events and gatherings, by lending them intriguingly designed furniture. It’s the Dutch designers’ response to the biennale’s theme: 'The Global Game, Remapping Collaborations'. The message of the Dutch being: we can’t solve global problems on our own, but we are good at bringing people from around the world together and supporting them in working together. Unfortunately, often that is a slow process, and one that involves bureaucracy too. That narrative – and more! – is beautifully captured in a unique experience in the Dutch pavilion of London Design Biennale 2023.

Multidisciplinary collaboration to build ‘Out of Joint’

The Dutch pavilion is all about disorientation and reorientation. ‘Out of Joint’ is the name of the exhibition. This Dutch showcase of creativity is cocreated by a multidisciplinary design team, brought together by Colin Keays. Fabulous Future is responsible for the general art direction and experimental activation of the scenography, Studio Verter is in charge of exhibition architecture and production, Tim Teven Studio is doing the materialisation and production of all objects and Jeanine van Berkel is the graphic designer for the Dutch showcase ‘Out of Joint’.

Overhauling the biennale concept

Being a little bit disruptive might be a Dutch trait. The Artistic Director of the London Design Biennale 2023 is the Rotterdam-based museum the Nieuwe Instituut and it has taken this task as an opportunity to question the whole idea of biennales. Can you believe it?! You get approached to set the artistic framework for a biennale and you decide to tell the directors of the biennale: I don’t believe that design is bound by borders, so I propose we let designers from different countries work together during the biennale, rather than each country showcasing what their design sector has to offer. That is exactly what the Nieuwe Instituut told the London Design Biennale and surprisingly the response was: that’s interesting, let’s make it work.

‘The Global Game: Remapping Collaborations’ is the theme for 2023. One of the first things the Nieuwe Instituut did after it announced this theme was to commission game developers Play the City to build a platform where all designers contributing towards the biennale could connect with each other, share what they were working on and see if there were opportunities for collaborations. The online game works much like a dating app. Each “country pavilion” puts its profile online and expresses what interests they have and what it has to offer. Whether or not that has led to new, unexpected collaborations will become clear during the London Design Biennale in Somerset House from 1 to 25 June.

Relevant links

Supported by the Dutch Embassy in the UK

In line with the international cultural policy of the government of the Netherlands, the Dutch Embassy in the UK has financial support available for venues and festivals in the UK that give artists and designers from the Netherlands international exposure and international experience. The London Design Biennale provides a great platform for Netherlands-based designers, as well as for the Nieuwe Instituut. Therefore, the Embassy of the Netherlands in the UK has decided to support this international collaboration; financially and otherwise.

For more information about the Embassy’s efforts to supports Dutch culture in the UK, please visit