Es Devlin’s ‘Forest for Change’ overtakes Somerset House courtyard with 400 trees

As the Global Goals Pavilion at the London Design Biennale 2021, the interactive installation by ES Devlin featuring birdsong and music invites visitors to learn and engage with the UN Goals.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jun 07, 2021

A viridescent picture of trees, birdsong, and music graces the courtyard of Somerset House to welcome visitors to the ongoing edition of the London Design Biennale. Christened Forest for Change, the miniature woodland landscape is a highlight feature - the 'Global Goals Pavilion' - among the myriad international pavilions and installations decorating the historic venue. Putting forth a powerful, moving statement to combat climate change, the pavilion means to collect voices from all across society to craft a compelling message, a plea for the world to recognise and make strides towards the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.

The installation’s vegetation provides an intriguing foil to the neoclassical facade of Somerset House | Forest for Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
The installation’s vegetation provides an intriguing foil to the neoclassical facade of Somerset House Image: Ed Reeve

Designed by none other than Es Devlin OBE, Artistic Director of this year's Biennale, the bosky scenery of Forest for Change provides an intriguing complementary foil to the neoclassical facade of Somerset House, hosting the Biennale's activities. Regarding her inspiration behind the pavilion's premise, Devlin states in a press release: “When I was first shown around Somerset House many years ago, I discovered that the enlightenment principles on which the building was conceived, specifically forbade the introduction of trees”.

She elaborates, "Of course, the first thing we wanted to do when considering this year’s Biennale was to counter this attitude of human dominance over nature, by allowing a forest to overtake the entire courtyard”. Through a captivating, multimedia experience, the pavilion illuminates the conditions of trees in urban areas, burdened with the debilitating fallout of human activity, to raise awareness about the UN Global Goals - its thematic focal point.

Es Devlin, the Biennale’s Artistic Director, was inspired by the historic restrictions on the introduction of trees within the building’s courtyard | Forest For Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
Es Devlin, the Biennale’s Artistic Director, was inspired by the historic restrictions on the introduction of trees within the building’s courtyard Image: Ed Reeve

While experiencing Forest for Change, the mellifluous tones of birdsong - curated by musician Brian Eno from the British Library Sound Archive - flood into the scene to absorb visitors with the sounds of nature. Moving through the lush landscape of 400 trees, they will be guided towards a clearing at its heart, featuring 17 mirrored pillars that correspond to the UN Goals, arranged in a circle. "The UN Global Goals offer us clear ways to engage and alter our behaviour and it is our hope that an interaction with the Goals in the forest will be transformative," relays Devlin on the intent behind this zone's design.

Moving through the installation, visitors will be greeted with birdsong and gradually lead towards a clearing at its heart | Forest for Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
Moving through the installation, visitors will be greeted with birdsong and gradually lead towards a clearing at its heart Image: Ed Reeve

Here, visitors can interact with and explore quotes, facts, and bytes of information explaining the significance of the UN Goals and how they are a top priority on the world's To-Do-List for the next decade. On reaching the 17th pillar - the journey's conclusion, representing 'Partnerships for the Goals’, visitors will be encouraged to select the goal that personally resonates with them and record a short message "expressing the change they wish to see in the world”. Instantly incorporated into a generative musical installation composed by Robert M. Thomas, its sound will then pour into the central clearing immediately afterward. Visitors will also receive the audio-visual file of their message and a photo of themselves to commemorate their visit. Moreover, their contributions will become part of 'Voices for Change' - a global initiative by Google Arts and Culture Lab to unite people in support of the Global Goals.

Featuring 17 mirrored pillars that correspond to the UN Goals, this space invites visitors to interact with and record a message about their favourite goal | Forest For Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
Featuring 17 mirrored pillars that correspond to the UN Goals, this space invites visitors to interact with and record a message about their favourite goal Image: Ed Reeve

Design, sourcing, construction, and dismantling processes for the pavilion were structured to ensure carbon positivity. Nearly all materials will be recycled or converted into biofuel. The 400 trees will be donated and replanted in London boroughs post the Biennale, as part of 'The Queen's Green Canopy' planting initiative, to offset the installation’s footprint approximately three times over - as per the organisers. Comprising 27 nursery-grown species with differing canopies, sizes, and shapes - including varieties such as Scots Pine, Silver Birch, and Hazel, they were selected to foster diversity and durability within the city's vegetation after replanting.

The 400 trees within the pavilion have been selected from among 27 diverse nursery grown species, that will all be replanted after the event's conclusion  | Forest For Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
The 400 trees within the pavilion have been selected from among 27 diverse nursery grown species, that will all be replanted after the event's conclusion Image: Ed Reeve

Forest for Change was designed in collaboration with landscape designer Philip Jaffa and Urban Greening Specialists, Scotscape, with the outdoor experience presented in association with 'Project Everyone' - a UK-based non-profit agency founded by Richard Curtis, Kate Garvey, and Gail Gallie to inform individuals about the Global Goals. Additionally, the production was supervised by 'Beautiful Wonder’, supported by John Cullen Lighting, Autograph sound, and Corticeira Amorim. 

Forest for Change was designed and constructed with sustainably sourced materials that will all be recycled or converted into biofuel to ensure carbon positivity | Forest For Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
Forest for Change was designed and constructed with sustainably sourced materials that will all be recycled or converted into biofuel to ensure carbon positivity Image: Ed Reeve

Screenwriter, director, UN SDG Advocate, and co-founder of Project Everyone, Richard Curtis, says, "We are thrilled to be collaborating on this project bringing to life the Global Goals in the heart of London. I hope people will leave the Forest for Change better informed about and more involved in the Global Goals - and more determined than ever to take action, as well as having had a beautiful stroll through a mysterious and magical urban forest”.

01 mins watch Timelapse documenting the installation of Forest for Change | Forest For Change by Es Devlin | STIRworld
Timelapse documenting the installation of Forest for Change Video: Scotscape

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