May is a good month for design in Europe, and the UK in particular, with London Craft Week, Clerkenwell Design Week and Chelsea Flower Show all proving that design, whether inside, outside or conceptual, is alive and well in the UK. Look out too for PhotoLondon and Art16. And don’t miss the always inspiring DesignMonat Graz in Germany.
Architects and aficionados will be making their way to Venice for the launch of the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale with its theme Reporting from the Front, and we’re looking forward to the start of The V&A’s Engineering Season, celebrating the unsung heroes of architecture and design.

Architecture and building

The 15th Venice Architecture Biennale (28 May – 27 November) will take place as usual in the Giardini, the Arsenale and in various other venues in Venice. The theme this year, chosen by Alejandro Aravena is: Reporting From The Front. Aravena is setting out to interrogate the difficulties facing modern architecture – the juxtaposition between spectacular buildings reflecting of the power and ambitions of the clients and the poor quality of ordinary community architecture in so many places. It focuses on success stories and exemplary cases where architecture did and will make a difference in winning ordinary battles and expanding frontiers.

From there many architectural historians will visit Ljubljana for ICAM 18, (29 May-4 June) the 2016 biennial conference of the International Confederation of Architectural Museums. This is the first ICAM conference to take place in Slovenia and will run under the title Architectural Institutions at the Crossroads.

Grand Designs Live in London (to 8 May) is based on the hugely popular TV series about innovative building and design, and unsurprisingly features interiors, exteriors, garden technology and build sections as well as celebrity speakers.

Arch Moscow (18-22 May) is less consumer facing, and features international and Russian architects and a major discussion platform for business issues plus planning, technology, design lighting and products. Look out too for the Europe-travelling architect/client/planning event architect@work, this month in Copenhagen (24-26 May). Meanwhile the UK-travelling Homebuilding & Renovating Show is in Glasgow (20-22 May). This is the ideal place to get in touch with Scotland’s self-build experts, and a good way to self-source all the products you want.

Tektonica in Lisboa is Portugal’s largest construction fair (4-7 May), features several strands: SK offers floors, ceramic tiles plus bathroom and kitchen, Simace materials and equipment, Siror is all about natural stone, Tekgreen focuses on energy efficiency and sustainable construction, Tekwood on wood and cork and Tekmaquinas on machinery and equipment.

Other construction fairs include Yapi TurkeyBuild in Istanbul (10-14 May), the largest building & construction fair in Turkey and a meeting point for many of the countries in the Near and Middle East.

Arts and antiques

Bucharest Biennale 7 (26 May-30 June) takes place in the city where East meets West, and this is the theme of its seventh biennale. Its curatorial is concept entitled ‘What are we building down there?’ and will highlight the themes of privatisation, commercialisation, and corporatisation while looking at how the city has changed and reacted since the end of socialism. Events include talks, seminars and exhibitions.

Le Salon de Montrouge, France (4-31 May), now in its 61st year, is an unusual proposition – an art month arranged solely by the city to promote emerging artists. Their rationale is, “if we are convinced that artists play a major role in society, and if we wish to foster the constant renewal and proliferation of forms, we must offer concrete support to artists after they graduate”. All media is accepted.

In London visit Photo London at the lovely Somerset House (20-22 May). It’s a relatively new kid on the block but growing every year, featuring the best of international photography. Art16 (21-23 May), also a young buck, showcases global art from places like India, Africa and South America and selects only ‘outstanding artworks’.
Art Athina in Athens (26-29 May) is the largest annual visual arts event in Greece. A meeting point for international artistic creation, Art Athina brings together significant Greek and foreign art galleries, cultural institutions, curators, collectors, art critics and art lovers against an ancient backdrop.

Salon ArtShopping in Paris (28-29 May) is a biannual ‘accessible art show’ held in the Carrousek du Louvre. It features 450 French artists with a further roster of 150 from China, Brazil, Spain, Japan, Russia and more.

Continuing with the accessible theme, two big, famous flea markets happen in Paris this month: Salon Antiquité Brocante 2016 (5-16 May) and Puces du design (19-21 May). Find furniture, fashion, collectibles, jewellery and more.

Going back to the UK, there’s a number of antiques markets around the country. The Alexandra Palace International Antiques ands Collectables Fair (1 May) Shepton Mallet (6-8 May) the Edinburgh Antiques and Collectors Fair is held four times a year, (7-8 May) and the vast Swinderby/Newark International Antiques and Collectors Fair (23 May) has more than 600 stalls.

Interiors and design

There’s some superb design events in May. First up is DesignMonat Graz, (1-29 May) featuring design in all its diversity. Look out for Selected 2016, featuring interior design trends from 15 nations, and Design in the City, which changes the entire city into a design course and highlighting design from Detroit and Croatia. We also like the sound of the exhibition Slow, which focuses on deceleration and slow production processes.

The very first London Craft Week in 2015 shone a spotlight on the phenomenal artisanal talent in the city. From 3-6 May some 350 makers feature in 70 events ranging from silversmiths and chandlers via watch-makers and leather workers showcase exceptional craftsmanship through a journey-of-discovery programme featuring hidden workshops and unknown makers alongside celebrated masters, famous studios, galleries, shops and luxury brands. The aim is to experience craft not just as an ‘object’ but also within its context, why it’s are special and even have a go at some skills yourself. On 6 May look out for a talk with Christine Van Der Hurd, Creative Director of Vanderhurd, and Kit Kemp, co-owner and Design Director of Firmdale Hotels, explain how they work with artists and craftsmen from around the world to create individual spaces by playing with scale, colour and pattern.

Pulse London (15-17 May) is the UK’s biggest design-led retail event, focusing on trends within the giftware and modern living sectors. They pride themselves on locating new brands and trend insight.

The annual and inspiring Clerkenwell Design Week, London (24-26 May) celebrates its reputation as the home to more creative businesses, designers and architects than anywhere else in the world. Discover more than 300 brands via showroom events, pop-up exhibitions, parties and special installations across the area.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show, also in London (24-28 May) is quite simply the biggest, most glamorous, most innovative garden expo in the world. If you want to know what to plant now or how to landscape your space, this is where it’s at. Winning a coveted gold medal for their show garden can make a garden designer’s reputation.

Moving on to interiors, the Ideal Home Show Scotland in Glasgow (7-30 May) has seven dedicated show areas including interiors, home improvements, gardens, gadgets and housewares. For anyone with an interest in carpets, Domotex Turkey in Istanbul (23-26 May) is a must-see. It’s a major international (albeit Middle East focused) trade fair for carpets and floor covering.


Since 2007, internationally renowned contemporary artists have been filling the Nave of the Grand Palais in Paris with masterful works designed for the occasion. After Anselm Kiefer, Richard Serra, Christian Boltanski, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren and Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Huang Yong Ping, the founder of contemporary art in China takes up the challenge. Monumenta16 opens on 8 May.

If you live in the UK, you may have noticed that there’s been a lot of focus on a certain playwright. You may have heard of him: one William Shakespeare. In celebration of 400 years since his birth there’s a cornucopia of events around his life and plays, mainly focused on his birthplace Stratford on Avon and his workplace, London. Look out for By Me William Shakespeare, at Somerset House to 29 May, revealing the stories behind key moments in Shakespeare’s life, from the birth of the Globe theatre in London to his last days in Stratford-upon-Avon 400 years ago, including a once-in-a-generation opportunity to explore Shakespeare’s will, a bountiful crop of plays and many other events. Find out more at

On our don’t-miss list is The V&A’s Engineering Season, starting 18 May. It will celebrate the ‘unsung heroes’ of design that create and shape the built world. The exciting line-up includes a major retrospective of the engineering legend Ove Arup, a display highlighting the global impact of contemporary British engineers (in June) and a packed events programme exploring some of the most advanced engineering taking place in the world today. Look out for a fabulous installation in the museum’s courtyard: inspired by nature and fabricated by robots, the Elytra Filament Pavilion will explore the impact of emerging robotic technologies on architectural design, engineering and making.