Venice Biennale: Will the pandemic usher in a new era of architecture?

The world's most prestigious architecture event, the Venice Architecture Biennale, opens on Saturday for a six-month show exploring the question of coexistence in a post-pandemic world.

Venice Biennale: Will the pandemic usher in a new era of architecture?
The US pavilion, American Framing, has drawn the most attention. Photo: Chris Strong/American Framing

Postponed from last year, the 17th International Architecture Exhibition is titled “How will we live together?”, with curator Hashim Sarkis asking architects to reflect on the future and its challenges.

“The hardest question is how to resolve the problems that led us to the pandemic. How are we going to solve climate change, poverty, the huge political differences between right and left,” he told AFP.

Sarkis, a Lebanese architect and dean of MIT’s School of Architecture and Planning, believes the city of the future will be born from the need to share collective spaces, consume less and create — or encourage — new forms of solidarity.

There would be “spaces to assemble, where people pass by, seeing the daily life of others… places where economic, ethnic differences are revealed”, he said.

In allowing different people to come together in spaces, Sarkis hopes to start a dialogue, hoping that “in this way architecture can help transform” society.

‘Most innovative’

Sarkis has brought together 112 architects and studios for the biennale, almost all of them working on the event for the first time and the majority of aged between 35 and 55.

As a new and more diverse generation challenges existing models and shows off a better mastery of the latest technology, does it mean the end of big-name architects?

“I looked everywhere for the solutions that were most innovative and creative. That was my criteria to choose the participants. It’s not a question of stars,” Sarkis said.

There are 63 national pavilions set up among the vast gardens on the eastern edge of Venice, as well as within the immense halls of the Arsenal, Venice’s former shipyard and armoury, and some areas of the city’s historic centre.

In the exhibition open through November 21, strict sanitary measures will remain in place, as Italy makes its first tentative steps towards normalcy amid a drop in new Covid-19 cases.

With Grenada, Iraq, Uzbekistan and Azerbaijan participating for the first time, this year’s show boasts a high number of participating countries from Africa, Latin America and Asia.

The Biennale poses the question whether the post-pandemic age is the start of a new era or just a passing phase.

Walking through the Arsenal’s 3,000 square metres (32,300 square feet) and the garden pavilions, that question is addressed through installations videos, projects and ideas.

Virtual maps, giant wooden models, interactive machines, designs for poor neighbourhoods — all of them proposals that question the model of coexistence for the future.

The Biennale will award its Special Golden Lion to the late architect Lina Bo Bardi (1914-1992), an Italian-Brazilian modernist who designed Sao Paolo’s Museum of Art.

Sarkis has said Bardi’s work best illustrates the themes covered in the 2021 exhibition.

“She exemplifies perseverance in difficult times, whether wars, political conflicts or immigration, and her ability to remain creative, generous and optimistic at all times,” he said in April at a press conference.

The living architect to be awarded this year the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement will be Spanish architect Rafael Moneo, 84.

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Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture

In an era when many countries are putting up border walls and barbed wire fences, the International Architecture Exhibition in Venice aims to showcase a "sense of humanity" through its displays, organizers said ahead of its opening on Saturday.

Venice Biennale shows the human face of architecture
A chapel designed by Javier Corvelan at the Venice Biennale's architecture showcase. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The world's most prestigious architecture festival – which is part of the Venice Biennale – has chosen the title “Freespace” for its 16th edition in the picturesque Italian city.

“The architect's creativity must be at the service of the community,” Irish architect Shelley McNamara, who curated the vast exhibition with colleague Yvonne Farrell, told AFP.

McNamara said “Freespace” aims to highlight collective spaces, “generosity of spirit” and the “sense of humanity” that architecture must place at the heart of its agenda.

Sixty-five different countries and one hundred architecture studios have been invited to display their interpretation of the theme in the vast 3,000-square-metre Venetian Arsenal and gardens.

A chapel designed by Terunobu Fujimori for the Vatican's pavilion. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Vatican newcomer

Several installations are minimalist but intricate, such as “The Dream,” created by studio RCR, winners of the 2017 Pritzker prize – considered to be the Nobel of architecture.

“The Dream” displays a kind of cave with moving lights achieved through the use of 6,000 magnifying glasses.

A chapel designed by Sean Godwell, part of the Vatican's display. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The exhibition, which runs until November 25th, sees seven countries – Antigua and Barbuda, Saudi Arabia, Guatemala, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan and the Vatican – participate for the first time.

The Vatican pavilion displays ten chapels, each one designed by a renowned architect, including the Brit Norman Foster and the Portuguese Eduardo Souto de Moura, both Pritzker prize winners.

“Each Biennale focuses on a specific aspect, in this case common space that is free and for everyone”, said Paolo Baratta, president of the exhibition.

Inside Norman Foster's chapel. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Breaking down barriers

Many participants have used the term “Freespace” to reflect on hot political topics such as migration and isolationist policies.

The British pavilion named “Island” hosts a huge rooftop platform which looks out over the lagoon.

The idea is to reflect on “tomorrow, yesterday, isolation and even our political situation,” architecture firm Caruso St John explained in a description, alluding to the UK's planned departure from the European Union.

Meanwhile the German pavilion chose to focus on the theme of “Unbuilding Walls”.

The Israeli pavilion. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Walls are also the inspiration for the Israeli installation. Under the title “In Statu Quo” their exhibition looks to explore the negotiation of sacred spaces – an issue which has been thrust into the spotlight after the US controversially moved their embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem earlier this month.

The United States exhibition looks at the concept of contemporary citizenship and how architecture relates to societies through five videos discussing migration, travel, and challenging societal norms.

READ ALSO: Meet the Italian architect living in a nine-square-metre home

Photo: Leonardo Di Chiara

By Kelly Velasquez