Biennale Interieur 2016, 14–23/10. Belgium

Biennale Interieur 2016, Belgium. 14–23 October 2016

The Biennale Interieur npo is a non-profit organisation acting in the field of design, product development and innovation. In 1967, the founder members of the Biennale Interieur npo in Kortrijk (Belgium) were excited by the impossible. One of their aims was to put contemporary design for the home and interior innovations on display for a broad general public and not only for professionals, as was the case with most other fairs. They dreamed of creating a space and an atmosphere that did not obey the laws of traditional lay-out and stage design. The uniqueness of the concept and the increase in international outreach, turnover, number of visitors, number of exhibitors and world-renowned design brands, press articles etc., show that there was a true need for an innovative model for design as a cultural as well as a commercial entity.

The making of a biennale

The ideals that lay behind the establishment of the Biennale Interieur npo in 1967 were closely related to the motives and ideals behind the student and worker rebellions of the late sixties in France, then in Europe and the US. Unlike other furniture shows, which offered a mixture of old, new, kitsch and design, the organisation wanted its Biennale only to promote the latest contemporary forms and creativity in interior design. Moreover, the initiators had much more in mind than pure aesthetics or commercial considerations. The ultimate goal was to encourage a broad public debate, which might lead to the design discipline contributing towards a better world. Unlike other trade fair organisers, the Biennale Interieur immediately adopted the status of a non-profit institution. Interieur took place for the first time in 1968 and will celebrate its 25th ‘silver’ Biennale from 14 to 23 October 2016.

Much investment was made in inspired cultural satellite events: a central guest of honour, the Interieur Awards (since 1972), debates and lectures. Among the guests of honour and curators where world-famous design personalities including :

  • 1968 Simon Mari Pruys (NL)
  • 1970 Raymond Loewy (VS)
  • 1972 Gio Ponti (IT)
  • 1974 Verner Panton (DK/CH)
  • 1976 Gillo Dorfles (IT)
  • 1978 Philip Rosenthal (DE)
  • 1980 Jean Prouvé (FR)
  • 1982 Alessandro Mendini (IT)
  • 1984 Herman Liebaers (BE)
  • 1986 Philippe Starck (FR)
  • 1988 Geert Bekaert (BE)
  • 1990 Andrea Branzi (IT)
  • 1992 Dieter Rams (DE)
  • 1994 Jasper Morrison (UK)
  • 1996 Jean Nouvel (FR)
  • 1998 Rolf Fehlbaum (CH)
  • 2000 Konstantin Grcic (DE)
  • 2002 Michael Young (UK)
  • 2004 James Irvine (UK) & Kirsti Paakkanen (FI)
  • 2006 Alfredo Häberli (CH/ARG)
  • 2008 Jaime Hayon (ES)
  • 2010 Junya Ishigami (JP)
  • 2012 Nendo (JP)
    Ross Lovegrove (UK)
    Greg Lynn (US)
    Studio Makkink & Bey (NL)
    Troika (UK)
    David Bowen (US)
    Muller Van Severen (BE)

With a new artistic direction in 2012, rather than having one guest of honour, the Biennale Interieur invited 7 groundbreaking artists, architects and designers to create an installation based on one central theme: Future Primitives.

  • 2014 Joseph Grima (UK) – Curator cultural programme
  • 2016 OFFICE Kersten Geers David Van Severen (BE)

25 Biennales

With the 25th edition of the Biennale Interieur coming up in October 2016, the list of the guests of honour and members of the jury of the Interieur Awards reads like a ‘Who’s Who of the design world’. Elsewhere in the meantime, at trade fairs or in museums, the approach to design was mainly from a single point of view, either commercial or cultural. Interieur emerged, clearly striving towards a symbiosis of culture and the strictly commercial, to become the ideal platform for the world of design. All too often one forgets that the difference between design and everyday furniture lies in the fact that design is a focus where the commercial play of supply and demand merges with the very latest developments across a range of sectors. Most of these take root in the cultural field – art, architecture, environmental planning, philosophy, sociology and psychology, the media, marketing, music and fashion.

Worldwide recognition

The fact that the Biennale Interieur, awarded with the European Community Design Prize in 1994 and the European DME Design Management Prize in 2008, gained worldwide recognition as a shining model, is due to several factors. Not only the extremely strict criteria imposed on the selection and the quality of exhibitors, but also the fact that for each new Biennale, the layout was entrusted to an architect and the coordination to a design critic (Jan-Pieter Ballegeer, Moniek E. Bucquoye, Marc Dubois, Max Borka, Farida O Seery, Dieter Van Den Storm) whose task it was to strive for synergy within the diverse amalgam of commercial and cultural interests. Against all rules of the game, the layout of the exhibition and all graphic work is changed every edition. 2012 brought a curatorial change: for the first time the Biennale Interieur npo appointed a designer to act as curator. Lowie Vermeersch’s vision to use design as a tool to create a unique visitor experience resulted in a Biennale with a strong identity and scenography. It turned out to be a public success enjoyed by 84,000 visitors.

As Wallpaper Magazine stated in its review of the Biennale Interieur 2012: “The Interieur design biennale set a new standard for the design fair experience during its 23rd outing in Kortrijk. (…) Every aspect of the exhibition got the design treatment – from the stands themselves right down to the ‘host’ and ‘hostess’ uniforms and the numerous bars and eateries.”

Growing and leading

Kortrijk Xpo’s exhibition halls have grown with Interieur over the years – from one hall (4.000 m²) to six exhibition halls (40.000 m²), with the new Rambla added to the complex in 1999. However, this has not been sufficient to cope with the growing number of applications. Candidates who satisfy the quality requirements of the selection committee are reluctantly rejected, while many others are allocated much less stand space than would do them justice. Precisely because the Interieur Biennale would never be able to satisfy the ever-growing demand for stand space, would-be exhibitors are submitted to extremely strict requirements covering the construction of their stand as well as the specific collections on display. Moreover, the fact that the best of furniture design is assembled in a relatively small and convenient site, where it is easy to see almost all the leading businesses and innovations in one day, remains the most important secret behind Interieur’s public success.

In 2012, change was upon the Biennale Interieur and the decision was taken to also venture into city of Kortrijk. The Buda Island in the cultural heart of the city brought an integrated programme with exhibitors, cultural installations and a custom-designed bistro. This model, which spread the Biennale Interieur over two compact sites linked by a unique and free shuttle service, proved to be a success. Rather than giving in to groundless economic expansion, the new location offered the opportunity to bring an extended Biennale with a balanced mix between commerce and culture.

The Biennale Interieur npo has grown through strategic decision-making: never change a winning concept, grow slowly but surely, look after your customers, evaluate the definition of design day by day, encourage the mix between economics and culture, and try to understand the market.