The Malta Pavilion takes centre stage at London Design Biennale

DESIGN lovers should flock to Somerset House this month, as the historic grounds become home to the London Design Biennale. Over 40 exhibitors from around the world will be coming to the city to showcase their innovations through imaginative, interactive installations and research-focused exhibitions.

One project that will be difficult to miss is Urban Fabric, a monumental installation by the Malta-based Open Square Collective, which will take over the central courtyard at Somerset House. This is the first presentation by Malta at the biennale and their offering is inspired by their commitment to sustainability within the design sector, as well as a deep-seated respect for their country’s history.

Commissioned by Arts Council Malta, Urban Fabric is an intriguing fusion of architecture and design. Taking the form of a vast maze-like structure, held together by vibrant segments of pink and purple cloth, the Open Square Collective designers have aimed to put forward a contemporary reading of the traditional Maltese village. Specifically, the project makes reference to ancient settings, such as the renowned mediaeval town of Mdina, which can be traced back more than 4000 years, or the beautiful Cittadella in nearby Gozo, which can be reached by boat. Such places were recognised for bringing the community together, as a place to meet and enjoy life.

Marine life in Malta

In their striking installation, which radiates with colour, the ancient Phoenician-Maltese practice of fabric production and dyeing is also brought to the fore, while the structural components themselves also make reference to the city’s present-day infrastructure.

Urban Fabric at Somerset House as part of the London Design Biennial

Imagery by Taran Wilkhu

Imagery by Jamie Iain Genovese

The starting point for Urban Fabric was firmly ensconced within Malta’s rich artistic history, with ideas being generated through research that was undertaken at the National Museum of Archaeology in Valletta, the country’s capital. The design team sought to replicate the experiences of artisans who engaged with the fine fabrics and artefacts being produced at the time. Famous for their textile production, the Phoenicians mastered the art of dyeing wool and linen garments using two major types of sea-snail species, which are common to the country’s coastline.

Maltese antiquities – the inspiration for the Malta Pavilion at London Design Biennial

The colour purple could be extracted from these creatures and at one point such residue was even more valuable than gold. For Urban Fabric, though, thankfully no mollusks were utilised. Open Square Collective instead relied on vegetable and plant-based dyes to reach the purple shades they were hoping to replicate. And to meet their longer-term objectives, only sustainably-sourced British wood, stone and organic fabrics, were incorporated into the installation.

Open Square Collective

Bringing Maltese culture to the heart of London, Open Square Collective hope that their project will encourage visitors to connect with one another, through an inviting space that can be explored like the traditional pjazza (public square). The installation will be accessible from both the Strand and the riverside, with visitors from either entrance being greeted by a sea of stunning purple pigments.

by Derby Jones

Urban Fabric by Open Square Collective is on view at Somerset House until 25 June.