The London Design Biennale imagines a “reachable utopia” of open borders and social connection.

The first London Design Biennale has opened at Somerset House, featuring contributions from over 30 countries and territories. Alongside the overarching theme of “Utopia by Design,” another pertinent trend to emerge from the event is the concept of borderless societies.

The Mexican pavilion presents Border City, a vision for future of the US-Mexico border. FR-EE, the design firm behind the project, offers a vision of an organized city with industrial, trade and employment opportunities, a “binational” culture and a transport system offering commutes of 40 minutes or less. The compelling, positive vision stands in contrast to prevailing media depictions of the border region, which often focus on social conflict.

Border City concept at The Mexican pavilion

Sérgio Rebelo, Design Director at FR-EE, highlights the importance of breaking down borders and creating connections. “We’re living a very important cultural transformation,” he tells JWT Intelligence. “My generation and the next generation sees a society that is permanently connected. They’re permanently aligned.”

China’s pavilion also highlights the concept of breaking down borders. Titled DenCity, the project focuses on creating an alternative, “reachable utopia” for the city of Shenzhen in 10 to 30 years’ time. In a short time, the Chinese city has grown from a baseline of 300,000 people to a metropolis of 17 million. In order to deal with overpopulation and rising living costs, traditional urban development methods have to be challenged.


The DenCity project puts forward sustainable co-living and co-working megastructures in which communities live and work together under the same roof, breaking down the borders between work and life and reinventing the concept of “home.” The megastructures, which are intended to hold between 30,000 and 50,000 people, would be available to people of all incomes, and present a range of housing options.

On the same theme, Norway’s pavilion explored “Inclusive Design” which is described as the “design of products and environments in such a way that they can be used by all people.” Six projects from the public sector were presented, including examples from colleges, hospitals, airports and urban areas. St Olav’s hospital, for example, created hubs for its patients, with a communal area for every eight rooms. This reduces isolation between patients, creating a sense of community.

Bergen Light Rail by Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture

The London Design Biennial shows that despite geopolitical concerns around open borders, there is a universal need for us to connect and belong. The rise of social networks, co-living spaces and even platonic dating apps speak to the fact that consumers are seeking to break down social barriers and promote connection and inclusivity.

With the rise of single-person households, there is even more of a need to break down artificial barriers and build communities. For brands, the London Design Biennial is a lesson in the need to combat human isolation by bringing people together. Brands that support such efforts can create powerful emotional bonds with their customers.

The London Design Biennial is open at Somerset House through September 27th.