The event design Biennale Interieur is a non-profit organization acting in the field of design, product development and innovation. In 1967, the founder members of the Biennale Interieur 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 layout 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, 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 in 1967 were closely related to the motives and ideas 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 organization 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 organizers, the Biennale Interieur immediately adopted the status of a non-profit institution.
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 graphics work is changed every edition. 2012 brought a curatorial change: for the first time, the Biennale Interieur 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.
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 that 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, the change was upon the Biennale Interieur and the decision was taken to also venture into the 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 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
See also: Exhibition Design: SUR/FACE- Mirrors