Design in an Age of Crisis Launches

Design open call receives 500 submissions from over 50 countries across six continents.

News release Published 14 January 2021 Updated 9 April 2021 4 minute READ

Launching today, the digital gallery Design in an Age of Crisis shows the vital role of design in addressing worldwide challenges and providing solutions. Devised by the Biennale in partnership with Chatham House, this initiative marks the beginning of a new platform for international exchange of radical design ideas to tackle critical issues facing society, visible to policy makers and influencers beyond the design sector.  

By moving influential design discussion online, London Design Biennale and international affairs think-tank Chatham House has brought together over 500 designers and the general public, from over 50 countries, who responded to design briefs to tackle critical issues across Health, Environment, Society and Work. 

The briefs were compiled by a steering group of academics, entrepreneurs, and business leaders, reflecting on problems created or exacerbated by the pandemic. The overwhelming number of responses shows the sheer determination of individuals to contribute to creating healthier, greener, equal, and prosperous societies, with many submissions considering ideas across multiple issues. 

A selection of these designs will be presented at the London Design Biennale at Somerset House In June 2021.


The climate change crisis is widely addressed, and as countries around the world look to the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November, submissions focus on a desire to rebalance our relationship with nature, presenting ideas to increase urban sustainability, better envisage the use of public space and the built environment, provide access to green space, and repurpose materials as well as futuristic and utopian concepts for future cities. Submissions include:

  • Pop-up ecosystems to attach green spaces to existing buildings, bettering mental health, submitted by Stephanie Chaltiel, Felix Raspall, Carlos Banon, AirLab and MuDD architects;
  • Radio Remade is engineered entirely from electrical waste and everyday materials, sourced during Anisha Sharma’s time in lockdown, raising awareness of legislation that prevents recycling of e-waste;
  • LOT – London’s land bank is a digital platform that enables citizens to claim patches of unused land to start community greening projects, from Royal College of Art students Francesco Cagnola and Astha Johri;
  • TURF submitted by Guy Genney of PriestmanGoode, suggests an app and manifesto to promote more people growing their own food, and sharing surplus with immediate neighbours and local business;
  • The High Pad aims to reduce pollution and traffic congestion in cities, with a vision of moving transport into the skies and returning streets to the public, from Steve Jensen Design. 
  • Kajkao by Lako, a material research and design studio, explores bio-based circular materials from coca harvesting processes in Ecuador.


In a year that has focused on the physical and mental health of people all over the world, responses explore removing healthcare barriers and how to provide open-source access to resources, thoughts on preparing for an ageing society as well as products to promote healthier living, coping with the pandemic and promoting better mental health. Submissions include:

  • London Orchestra From Waste Materials aims to promote wellbeing through the power of music, whilst highlighting the potential of waste materials, from Andrew Scott at the Royal College of Art in collaboration with composer Hangrui Zhang from the Royal College of Music;
  • Pillow Talk- Technology for Awkward Questions are four devices designed by Stephanie Kneissl to encourage conversations around sex education;
  • Ellen Fowles submits a collection of clothing to combat reduced mobility, titled Marian, prioritising dignity and function with tailored yet practical designs;
  • Dutch Design Academy Eindhoven student Anna Dienemann has created a compressible accessory Bounding Spaces that playfully transforms to adapt to social distancing;
  • Julian Evans proposes a vehicle specifically designed for senior people, to inspire confidence and safety when driving


Our relationship with work has changed dramatically this year, reflected in the submissions that include apps to address work/life balance, repurposing and redesigning space – whether converting local spaces into offices or creative hubs that put a focus on local community and economic activity - as well as ideas to support greater inclusion in the workplace. Submissions include:

  • Out of (Paper) Office is a playful response to remote working and repurposing vacant high street premises for community spaces, with a set of printable, customisable templates featuring office props, from Brown Office x Jon Abbott Studio;
  • Cyclic workspace presents an interactive installation considering the different stages of the menstrual cycle, and different workspaces designed to best support each phase, by Nora Jongen;
  • Work from Home Clock helps to organise time across work, families, friends, and leisure whilst working remotely, by Wareesa Lakanthampichit;
  • Ergonomic Sculpture Parks & Remote Working Pods is an idea to reclaim outdoor spaces within urban and suburban neighbourhoods, for remote working as well as fostering a sense of community spirit and local connection from Charlotte Broadribb.


Responses address issues around human identity, social inclusion and diversity, community building and resilience in the face of crisis. Submissions include:

  • Radical Gravity is a vision for an innovative, self-sustaining air-drop shelter system that provides emergency protection against natural disaster, using the free fall to self-build, submitted by Angelina Kozhevnikova, Kyungha Kwon, Konuralp Senol;
  • Imagicly aims to make education about robotics accessible for all, with robots made out of cardboard and 3-D printed parts, encouraging learning and creativity, by Meret Wacker;
  • The Alley Project considers activating underutilised back alleys in Singapore by installing natural and artificial solutions to create vibrant public spaces, by TCA Think Tank;
  • Aqueous Communes – Low-Cost Flood Resilient Housing looks to the Sonbarsa Village in India, with a design that enables a safe habitat resilient to floods, and that recycles flood water for the benefit of the community, by Mayuri Sisodia & Kalpit Ashar of Mad(e) in Mumbai;
  • CitizenSim Data Bank by Paul Russell considers how to ease digital poverty in the UK.

The 500 submissions are from countries around the world including Australia, Austria, China, Denmark, India, Israel, South Africa, Singapore, Switzerland, The Netherlands, United States and United Kingdom.

Design and architecture studios, organisations and academies represented include Deepr, Design Academy Eindhoven, Other Architects, Royal College of Art, SPACE10, Nairobi Design Week, PriestmanGoode, Pratt Institute, University of Ljubljana - Academy of Fine Arts and Design and WilkinsonEyre. 

Chatham House Events  

To continue the conversation ahead of the Biennale in June and investigate how radical design ideas can shape Health, Work, Environment and Society, a series of online public events will bring together panels of policy and design experts to further explore the submissions

Sir John Sorrell CBE, President, London Design Biennale, said:  

“The Design in An Age of Crisis submissions from over 50 countries demonstrate the huge desire to develop and communicate how global design thinking can address some of the major issues of our time.  They offer an insight into the ability of design to better the world we inhabit and the creativity that grows out of times of crisis.”

Robin Niblett, Director and Chief Executive, Chatham House, said:

“The submissions to the Design in An Age of Crisis included in this online gallery demonstrate the very best of lateral, creative thinking and innovative solutions to global problems that have been exacerbated by the pandemic. Chatham House very much looks forward to working with these remarkable designers, bringing their pioneering, vibrant ideas to the attention of international policy makers and building pathways to making them reality.”

Victoria Broackes, Director, London Design Biennale, said:  

Design in an Age of Crisis brings together submissions from all over the world, from architecture and design firms to individuals forming ideas whilst at home during the pandemic. The range of ideas illustrates how anyone, anywhere can contribute to design thinking, and acts as a launch pad for further international collaboration, seeking out solutions to some of the major crises we face.”

Rose Abdollahzadeh, Managing Director, Research Partnerships, Chatham House, said:

“The breadth and creativity of the submissions to Design in an Age of Crisis is inspiring. Our aim now is to bring these ideas to the attention of members of the public and the global policymaking community to foster new thinking, international dialogue and cooperation towards resolving the critical global issues facing us today.

“This partnership with the London Design Biennale – enabled by the Chatham House-SNF CoLab – is a major initiative in delivering these goals.”