VENICE — It was maybe inevitable that lots of the questions requested of Hashim Sarkis, the curator the 17th International Architecture Biennale, throughout the occasion’s media preview, had been about the pandemic.
After all, the exhibition, which opened in May and runs by Nov. 21, received bumped by a yr, and numerous restrictions stay in place, limiting journey to Venice.
And after a weird 15 months that blurred the boundaries between the workplace and residential, and challenged the very theme of the Biennale’s primary exhibition — “How Will We Live Together?” — it was solely pure for journalists to ask, “in a persistent and anxious way,” as Sarkis put it at the information convention, “how the pandemic changed architecture and how architecture is responding.”
Although the exhibition had been deliberate earlier than the coronavirus swept the world, Sarkis, a Lebanese architect and dean of structure at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, mentioned that it spoke to a sequence of longstanding international points — local weather change, mass migration, political polarization and rising social, financial and racial inequalities — that had contributed to the virus’s international unfold.
“The pandemic will hopefully go away,” he instructed reporters in Venice. “But unless we address these causes, we will not be able to move forward.”
Sarkis’s present brings collectively a plethora of (at occasions confounding) initiatives, packed largely into the exhibition’s two principal websites: one in the shipbuilding yard that for hundreds of years launched Venice as a seafaring powerhouse, the different in the Giardini della Biennale, which additionally home pavilions the place taking part international locations are presenting their very own architectural displays that talk to the primary theme.
Visitors anticipating to see room after room of shows utilizing the conventional language of structure — scale fashions, prototypes and drawings — had come to the improper place.
Instead, many featured initiatives had been extra like conceptual flights of fancy than plans for constructed environments: There had been whimsical bird cages, a bust of Nefertiti made in beeswax and a chunky oak table designed to host an interspecies conference. There were projects that would have been at home in a school science fair, like proposals to feed the world with microalgae or to explore the relationship between nature and technology using a robotic arm.
The question of living together is a political issue, as well as a spatial one, Sarkis said, and several projects in the show highlight architecture’s potential in conflict resolution.
“Elemental,” an initiative spearheaded by the Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena, is a striking structure of tall poles arranged in a circle that evokes a Koyauwe, or a place to parley and resolve conflicts among the Mapuche, an Indigenous population of Chile. It was commissioned by a Mapuche territorial organization as part of a rapprochement process between the group and a forest company in conflict over shared land.
Had it not been for the pandemic, representatives for the two sides would have met at the Biennale — “a neutral territory,” Aravena said — for negotiations inside the structure. It will return to Chile after the Biennale, and talks will be staged there instead, Aravena said.
A more traditional urban planning project comes from EMBT, a Barcelona-based studio, exhibiting scale models for the redevelopment of a neighborhood in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, including plans for collective housing, a market and a subway station. The initiative is part of a broader initiative in Paris that will extend the city’s subway lines to better link the suburbs to the center, “to make them feel more connected,” said Benedetta Tagliabue, a partner at EMBT.
To liven up a drab neighborhood, the architects created a colorful pergola for the station, inspired by the decorative patterns of the various African migrants who live in the area. “The space has to belong to the people,” she said.
The issue of coexistence between people and other life-forms was also explored.
The New York design firm the Living has constructed a tall, cylinder-shaped room made of luffa — yes, the sponge — to showcase what the organization’s founder, David Benjamin, described as “probiotic architecture.” The room’s materials were “literally alive because of an invisible layer of microbes in their tiny cavities,” he said. “Just as we’re thinking more and more in our society about how a healthy gut microbiome, the microbes in our stomach, can promote our individual health, a healthy urban microbiome might promote our collective health,” he added.
“Yes, in a Biennale, this is a little bit conceptual,” he conceded.
The national pavilions, whose contents are selected by curators at home, rather than by Sarkis, also tackled the main show’s theme of coexistence, taking varied approaches.
The curators for the pavilion of Uzbekistan, a first-time participant in the Biennale, recreated a section of a house found in a mahalla, a low-rise, high-density community with shared spaces found in many parts of Asia. Mahallas offered an alternative to “generic global architecture,” said one of the curators, Emanuel Christ.
There are more than 9,000 mahallas in Uzbekistan, housing between 150 to 9,000 residents, Christ said. Embodying a scale that “relates to our everyday experience,” they could be an antidote to “the anonymous solitude of citizens” and “scarcity of nature” in modern cities, Christ added.
The United States’ pavilion is unabashedly pragmatic, highlighting the predominance of timber framing in American households (90 percent of new homes are still wood framed), with a climbable, multistory timber structure that has been erected in front of the pavilion, a sharp contrast to its neo-Classical style.
“Affordable, normal wood housing is an obvious fit with the theme of living together,” said Paul Andersen, who co-curated the pavilion. Inside, photographs of undocumented day laborers, by Chris Strong, hint at the construction industry’s darker side. “Unfortunately, there is still cruelty, but hopefully more awareness,” Andersen said.
In the case of some other pavilions, like Israel’s, the postponement of the biennale by a year gave the curators extra time to develop their installation. Israel’s presentation examines the relationship between humans, the environment and animals (specifically cows, goats, honey bees, water buffalos and bats).
The curators had won a competition in August 2019 to present their multimedia project at the Biennale, which was originally scheduled for the following May. But when they set out to film bats for one of the show’s (key) videos that fall, the animals had migrated, and it was too late, said Iddo Ginat, one of the curators.
“We realized that nature has its own time and doesn’t run on that of the Biennale,” he said. “The postponement gave us a full cycle in nature.”
And in the case of Lebanon’s pavilion, the extra year allowed Hala Wardé, its curator, to integrate a tragic memento into her multimedia installation, “A Roof for Silence”: glass from the blast that devastated Beirut on Aug. 4, 2020, which was transformed by the glassworker Jeremy Maxwell Wintrebert into a tall, transparent cylindrical structure.
That structure is used as a backdrop for 16 paintings by the poet, author and artist Etel Adnan. “I chose to present Lebanon through it’s culture,” Wardé said. “It’s what is left when you’ve lost everything.”
Wardé said the project was about the need for silence, in architecture and in cities. But also, she added, “Architecture should be able to provoke this kind of emotion, just to be, and to feel good somewhere, and then be able to dream.”