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

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
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.

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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