by Devanshi ShahApr 22, 2021
Twice delayed but far from deterred, the Venice Architecture Biennale (Biennale Architettura) is set to open its doors to the public in May this year. While the situation globally continues to remain in flux, the La Biennale di Venezia remains hopeful and has maintained its optimism to having the Architecture Biennale realised in its physical form this summer. The curatorial statement put forward by Hashim Sarkis last year asked, “How will we live together?” While the question may seem theatrical, it is actually a reference to an Aristotelian ideology asked in relation to defining politics. The statement further elaborates, “The question ‘How will we live together?’ is as much a social and political question as a spatial one.”
It is hard to think of architecture as a self-directed practice; ideas of form, space and details have constantly evolved in parallel not only with art movements but political, social and scientific changes. Sarkis reflects the sentiment in his statement: “Every generation asks it, and answers it, differently. More recently, rapidly changing social norms, growing political polarisation, climate change and vast global inequalities are making us ask this question more urgently and at different scales than before". The need for a multiple ‘scale’ approach is what has helped guide the categorisation of the invited presentations.
While it often seems that the entirety of Venice is activated as part of the Biennale, the two primary locations are the Giardini and the Arsenale. Keeping in line with previous art and architecture biennale, the Central Pavilion at the Giardini and part of the Arsenale will host the International Exhibition, which consists of installations created by 112 participants from 46 countries. These installations are distinct from the national pavilions and are curated to present a reaction and as possible responses to Sarkis’ vision for the Biennale. The combined exhibition is categorised into five scales, namely: Among Diverse Beings, As New Households, As Emerging Communities, Across Borders and As One Planet. Each of these sections are titled as conjunctions of the central theme; “How do we live… as”.
At the Giardini central pavilion, the two sections presented are Across Borders and As One Planet, while the Arsenale will present Among Diverse Beings, As New Households, and As Emerging Communities. Each section presents not only a variety of scale but also of medium, including video projections, models, drawings and diagrams. In addition to these, the exhibition will also present large installations connected to each of the five scales, interspersed across the outdoor spaces of the Arsenale and the Giardini. In recent years, Forte Marghera has become an important biennale location off the Venetian island. This year it will feature “How will we play together?”, a project devoted to children’s play, presented by five architects and an architectural photographer.
This year, there are 62 national participations, and will include for the first time participants from Grenada, Iraq and Uzbekistan. At the Giardini, enclosed within the park, are 29 pavilions which were constructed throughout the 20th century, creating an anthology of the architecture of that period. Many of the structures were designed by famous architects such as the Venezuela Pavilion, which was designed by Carlos Scarpa in 1954 and the Finish Pavilion by Alvar Aalto, which was completed in 1956. The remaining National Pavilions are presented at the Arsenale or in historic structures across the island of Venice. While the Arsenale does not have individual structures to house the pavilions, the spaces are usually subdivided based on individual pavilion requirements. In addition to the invited participants, the Biennale Architettura 2021 also includes 12 Stations and 14 Co-habitats. The Stations feature researchers who have done work on the themes of the exhibition, while the Co-habitats present projects developed by universities from around the world. One of the research that will be presented is developed by Rahul Mehrotra and Sourav Kumar Biswas through the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. Some of the other universities presenting include Hong Kong University, The Cooper Union and Università Iuav di Venezia.
With a robust participatory outline and multi-scaled dialogue, the biennale has all the makings of a stimulating event. Summarising the events that are to be, perhaps is best captivated in curator Hashim Sarkis own words, “As artists, we defy the inaction that comes from uncertainty to ask ‘What if?’. And as builders, we draw from our bottomless well of optimism. The confluence of roles in these nebulous times can only make our agency stronger and, we hope, our architecture more beautiful.”