Five works at Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 led by ecologically sensible principles

From listening to nature to exploring algae’s possibilities in reducing CO2, STIR rounds up key ‘green’ works at the Venice Architecture Biennale, to mark World Environment Day 2021.

by Jincy IypePublished on : Jun 04, 2021

The global architecture and design industry are on an immense shift (or they claim to be), and ‘sustainability' has become a standard, irrefutable part of it. But some go further than others, their works focusing on ecofriendly ways of being, encouraging and probing much-needed discussions and processes on how our current and future communities can become sufficiently greener.  

This year's Venice Architecture Biennale brings together artists, designers as well as architects to explore its powerful theme “How will we live together?”, eliciting equally powerful, philosophical as well as solution driven installations and pavilions sewn with a planet friendly narrative urging one to listen to nature.

To mark the World Environment Day, here is a significant, ‘green’ roundup by STIR, of works on display at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021, ranging from recreating earthy caves that were our original homes to experimenting with algae to reduce carbon levels; works pushing the envelope of what encompasses thought-provoking ideas and exploratory practices united by an ethos of respecting and preserving the natural environment.

1. BIT.BIO.BOT by ecoLogicStudio

Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio present BIT.BIO.BOT at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale | Green Roundup | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto of ecoLogicStudio present BIT.BIO.BOT at the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale Image: ©Marco Cappelletti

This 1:1 scale, immersive installation encourages visitors to grow their own algae, which has proved to ingest more carbon than full grown trees, demonstrating how it can help purify the air in urban settlements, and in the process, become a new, healthy, self-cultivated and sustainable food source. “The experimental space is designed to test the co-existence between the human and non-human organisms in the post-pandemic urban sphere,” share Claudia Pasquero and Marco Poletto, founders of the London-based ecoLogicStudio, who worked with research partners The Synthetic Landscape Lab at Innsbruck University and the Urban Morphogenesis Lab at the Bartlett UCL.

  • The Convivium explores the consumption of freshly harvested algae, presented inside 36 unique crystal glassware pieces designed by ecoLogicStudio and 3D printed by Swarovski | Green Roundup | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| STIRworld
    The Convivium explores the consumption of freshly harvested algae, presented inside 36 unique crystal glassware pieces designed by ecoLogicStudio and 3D printed by Swarovski Image: ©Marco Cappelletti
  • The immersive, experimental installation demonstrates how algae can absorb more carbon than adult trees | Green Roundup | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
    The immersive, experimental installation demonstrates how algae can absorb more carbon than adult trees Image: ©Marco Cappelletti

Part architecture, part advanced microbiology, the installation is based on 10 years of bio-digital design research, and is composed of three fluidly interconnected systems: The Living Cladding where curtains containing seven litres of micro-algae cultures help clean the air; the Vertical Garden as an intensive model of algae farming and the Convivium that explores the consumption of freshly harvested algae as nutritious food, presented inside 36 unique pieces of crystal glassware designed by ecoLogicStudio and 3D printed by Swarovski.

“The core biological mechanisms of BIT.BIO.BOT is the process of photosynthesis, powered by the sun and the metabolism of living cultures of Spirulina Platensis, single-celled microbes that are often referred to as blue-green microalgae and Chlorella SP. These living organisms are among the oldest on earth and have developed a unique biological intelligence that enables them to convert solar radiation into actual oxygen and biomass with unrivalled efficiency,” explains ecoLogicStudio.

2. The Listener by Giuseppe Penone

The Listener by Italian artist and sculptor Giuseppe Penone at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 Image: Courtesy of Vuslat Foundation @generouslistening

An elm tree rises from a Venetian lagoon, cradling a hefty boulder between its meandering branches to form The Listener, a monumental, philosophical work by Italian artist and sculptor, Giuseppe Penone. Curated by Chus Martínez, the nine-meter-high sculpture was commissioned by the Vuslat Foundation and presents Penone’s Idee di Pietra – Olmo (Ideas of Stone - Elm), representing “a symbolic prompt of the potential generous listener within each of us,” states the Vuslat Foundation’s official website.

The monumental work represents a symbolic prompt of the potential generous listener within each of us Image: Courtesy of Vuslat Foundation @generouslistening
Italian artist and sculptor Giuseppe Penone Image: Courtesy of Vuslat Foundation @generouslistening

“Why a tree? Because the tree holds the wisdom of listening as it has listened to the earth and all living beings for centuries. The Listener thus is an invitation to a moment of reflection on the vitality and magic of what listening— to ourselves, to others and to nature— can bring to our inner and outer worlds,” it continues, responding to the Biennale’s theme in a more artistic and spiritual sense.

3. Obsidian Rain by Cave_Bureau

Front view of Obsidian Rain, The Anthropocene Museum: Exhibit 3.0 by Cave_Bureau | Green Roundup | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
Rear view of Obsidian Rain, The Anthropocene Museum: Exhibit 3.0 by Cave_Bureau Image: Courtesy of Cave_Bureau

Nairobi-based studio, Cave_Bureau, makes an impressive debut at the Venice Architecture Biennale with their installation Obsidian Rain, built of 1,695 sisal hung obsidian stones shipped from Kenya. These are supported by an octagonal steel braced timber structure that matches the existing geometry of the dome it hangs under. Below this floating cave rests a space of convening and reflection, with sisal stools placed around a sisal table of museum artefacts.

  • Stella Mutegi and Kabage Karanja, founders of Cave_Bureau photographed at Shimoni Caves | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
    Stella Mutegi and Kabage Karanja, founders of Cave_Bureau photographed at Shimoni Caves Image: Courtesy of Cave_Bureau
  • Front view of Obsidian Rain built of 1,695 sisal hung obsidian stones shipped from Kenya | Green Roundup | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
    Front view of Obsidian Rain built of 1,695 sisal hung obsidian stones shipped from Kenya Image: Courtesy of Cave_Bureau
  • A render of Obsidian Rain that evokes the Kenyan Mbai caves | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| STIRworld
    A render of Obsidian Rain that evokes the Kenyan Mbai caves Image: Courtesy of Cave_Bureau

The installation evokes in its transposed 1:1 section a Mbai cave from Nairobi, as an extension of their long-term research and project The Anthropocene Museum, that outlines and explores the typology and significance of natural, earthy caves in the evolution of humankind and their subsequently evolving homes.

“Caves as habitable spaces and structures are nature’s manifestation of a museum, by virtue of the fact that on their walls, and within their spaces, moments of cultural and historical importance are enshrined. Experiencing these caves that geologically date back millions of years is a celebration of our rich architectural heritage of cave inhabitation by our early and more recent ancestors, whose records stretch back almost a quarter of a million years,” shares Kabage Karanja and Stella Mutegi, founders of Cave_Bureau.

“The Anthropocene Museum revisits this genesis albeit with more sophisticated tools to grow a repository of architectural and geological recordings as written, drawn and built elements. A kind of reverse architecture is employed by using three-dimensional laser scanning technology to extract traditional architectural information of the caves, which is then etched on leather maps, scaled in bronze models, narrated in short stories, and transposed to different locations. We convene inside these with diverse indigenous communities to address complex environmental and cultural challenges faced on the continent of Africa and across the planet,” they add.

4. Resilient Communities, the Italian Pavilion

The Italian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
The Italian Pavilion at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 Image: Andrea Avezzù

The host country’s pavilion titled Resilient Communities is coloured as a remedial measure against climate change. “Like the human brain and genome, the pavilion will be a jungle inhabited by strange and fascinating creatures, on a journey that cannot leave indifferent those seeking novel responses to urgent epochal challenges,” shares the team led by Alessandro Melis. This marks the first Italian Pavilion with next to no carbon emissions and includes 14 thematic sections encompassing workshops, research centres, and case studies. Its body is made from materials sourced from the last edition of the Pavilion.

  • It includes 14 thematic sections encompassing workshops, research centres and case studies, made from materials sourced from the last edition of the Pavilion | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| STIRworld
    It includes 14 thematic sections encompassing workshops, research centres and case studies, made from materials sourced from the last edition of the Pavilion Image: Andrea Avezzù
  • The pavilion reflects on the theme of Resilient Communities, coloured as a remedial measure against climate change | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
    The pavilion reflects on the theme of Resilient Communities, coloured as a remedial measure against climate change Image: Andrea Avezzù

“In particular, it highlights how climate change challenges the resilience of urban, productive, and agricultural systems. The project is based on the belief that architecture must significantly contribute to the improvement of the quality of life and health, providing adequate responses to the epochal environmental and social changes we are facing today,” says the official description on the La Biennale website.

5. Ego to Eco by EFFEKT

Ego to Eco by EFFEKT helps visitors connect directly with nature | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| STIRworld
Ego to Eco by EFFEKT helps visitors connect directly with nature Image: Marco Zorzanello

Danish design studio EFFEKT helps visitors connect directly with nature with their lasting effort, by planting 1,200 seedlings that will grow into a miniature forest by the end of the Venice Architecture Biennale. These are planted around seven architectural models of EFFEKT’s research and projects that they feel respond aptly to the theme, via a hydroponics system on a ‘grow table’, remotely controlled in real time from their office in Copenhagen, Denmark.

  • Post the Biennale, the trees will be tranported to Denmark and planted safely | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021 | STIRworld
    Post the Biennale, the trees will be tranported to Denmark and planted safely Image: Marco Zorzanello
  • EFFEKT planted 1,200 seedlings which will grow into a miniature forest by the end of the six month event | Venice Architecture Biennale 2021| STIRworld
    EFFEKT planted 1,200 seedlings which will grow into a miniature forest by the end of the six month event Image: Marco Zorzanello

Each selected architectural project that forms Ego to Eco (including forest tower and nature village) aims to initiate dialogue on ways of resource-efficient living and building. These projects nestled between the fictional landscape of trees also explore how communities of the future can be built in sync with nature and its course.

The saplings will take root and grow into trees inside the VAB exhibition hall in the six months of its duration, post which, they will be transported to Denmark and planted. "Ego to Eco is built upon the idea of creating an exhibition with a lasting positive impact. Considering social, environmental and economic aspects of any project can help address some of the greatest challenges we face as a result of our human existence,” shares EFFEKT. "They investigate new ideas for living and building, for producing, consuming and revitalising the ecosystems we are part of and depend upon”.

Click here to read more about STIRing Together, a series by STIR that introduces readers to the many facets of the Venice Architecture Biennale 2021.  

Learn more about the programs of the 17th Venice Architecture Biennale here.

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