A design for life: 4th Istanbul Design Biennial ‘A School of Schools’
Organized by the Istanbul Foundation for Culture and Arts (İKSV) and curated by the artistic director Jan Boelen, the 4th Istanbul Design Biennial aims to present an unconventional approach to reflect on design and knowledge.

By Yao Hsiao

The 4th Istanbul Design Biennial, A School of Schools, will take place from September 22 to November 4 at six prestigious arts venues around the city—Akbank Sanat, Arter, Pera Museum, SALT Galata, Studio-X İstanbul, and Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat—each focusing on a specific theme within the wider aim of transforming design education. 

The biennial’s slogan “design as learning, and learning as design,” reflects a desire to question the current orthodoxies of design education, seek alternatives, and create new knowledge.

Nur Horsanalı, Halletmek

Call for a change

The idea of A School of Schools starts from an observation of the design field’s status quo. Born out of the industrial revolution, design has now “become pervasive in almost all aspects of everyday life,” Boelen told The Guide lstanbul. Some design schools in the early twentieth century, such as Bauhaus in Germany and Black Mountain College in the US, had a powerful influence not only on the design field and pedagogic system, but also on our ways of living. However, “99 years after the Bauhaus, the world is a very different place—and yet design education has mostly remained the same,” Boelen said. This is how the idea of A School of Schools was born, aiming to transform the education system and seek more ambitious possibilities.

Speaking of the relationship between learning and design, Boelen believes in learning as a lifelong pursuit which is essential for the design field to thrive. Boelen further explained that today, education no longer happens only in academic spaces; learning can take place anytime, anywhere: from libraries to large scale conferences to personal research through the internet. “Learning is now distributed across spaces and dimensions,” said Boelon. While the methods of learning has changed, design schools and education also need to be reformed.

Map of the biennial

The six schools

The six biennial venues are located in Beyoğlu and Karaköy neighborhoods, and each venue represents a school—Akbank Sanat: Unmaking School, Arter: Earth School, Pera Museum: Scale School, SALT Galata: Time School, Studio-X İstanbul: Digestion School, and Yapı Kredi Kültür Sanat: Currents School. The themes of the six schools were born out of more than 700 submissions from an open call, which made the biennial itself a learning process, reflecting the idea of “design as learning, and learning as design.” The six themes “are the representatives of many fields that design has an impact on today,” Boelen explained, showing that the notion of design covers a wide scope and affects many aspects of our lives.

“A biennial cannot be merely a stage for projection and spotlight,” said Boelen. For him, instead of only presenting projects, “biennials should become events that create stronger networks and connections; not only between participants, but also with the place where they occur.” In order to create an non exhibition-centered biennial, the open call was not only for presented projects (“schools”), but also for “learners” who want to participate in the exchanges of knowledge.

Through the participation of schools and learners, the biennial functions as an ongoing learning field and experimental environment where general visitors can also engage in many exhibitions, projects, and public events over six weeks. Boelen pointed out that the process of shaping the program intended to “push participants out of their comfort zone and to explore their learning processes as part of the biennial.”

Ongoing learning progress

With the idea of building connections between people and place, A School of Schools is a site-specific production. “Istanbul informs and defines it,” said Boelen. “It is born out of local research; made for and with Istanbul.” Besides how the event is designed and presented, the six event venues and how the biennial crew and participants interact with the local cultural context is also important. Boelen went on research trips within Turkey to İznik, Bozüyük, Eskişehir, and Izmir in the summer of 2017, where he met with members of Turkey’s design community and aimed to bring what he had learned to the biennial.

With its burning ambition, A School of Schools is a biennial that is not only about presenting, but also producing new works and knowledge for design and education. Being a multi-platform for design and learning, the 4th Istanbul Biennial is an opportunity to research, experiment, learn, and create; aiming to trigger discussions and practices that will continue to develop in the coming years.

Free admission; to fully engaged in the biennial, download the free audio guide on phone or book a guided tour. For more information visit www.aschoolofschools.iksv.org